Los Angeles – A Californian Road Trip – Part Four

Los Angeles – A Californian Road Trip – Part Four

Los Angeles is a must visit destination for anyone doing a road trip through California and for our teens it was a much anticipated highlight of our holiday.

Leaving the opulence of Hearst Castle behind we left Highway 1 and took the well known and faster Route 101 towards LA, stopping off first for a couple of days in Santa Barbara.

Widely referred to as the American Riviera, Santa Barbara is a Southern Californian rarity in that it is a city with a single architectural style.  Following a devastating earthquake in 1952, the centre was rebuilt according to strict rules that dictated a Mediterranean style. The result is a city filled with white stucco buildings with red-tile roofs, which to a Brit abroad seem an incongruous feature on the sunny Californian coast.

The perfect stop off, Santa Barbara is an eclectic mix of just about everything.  With the Santa Ynez Mountains providing a dramatic backdrop as well as housing many wineries, Santa Barbara is perfect for aficionadas and novices alike to learn about and taste wines. There is history and culture at the Museum of Fine Arts and the gallery of El Paseo and the Mission Santa Barbara perched on a hilltop, houses Franciscan friars and a museum should it take your fancy.  For the green-fingered, the botanic garden is not to be sniffed at either, housing 40 acres of California’s native flora.

For us though Santa Barbara also provided the perfect opportunity to ease off on the sight-seeing and indulge in a bit of shopping.  State Street is the hub of Santa Barbara’s shopping district and it is and certainly was for us at least, easy to spend a whole day getting lost in the plethora of shops on offer.


After the almost suburban perfection of Santa Barbara, LA was the perfect antithesis, loud, brash and glitzy.

LA is best described as a series of interconnected villages, each with its own distinctive character from the affluence of Bel Air to the urban chic of Downtown LA.  The first thing that struck us on arriving was the traffic, the eight lane jams made a drive around the M25 seem like a walk in the park.

We chose not to stay in LA opting instead for the coastal community of Santa Monica.  The beach and that of its neighbour Venice is awash with people if not striving for, then certainly showing off their bodies beautiful.  A leisurely stroll along the boardwalk is littered with close encounters with skaters, surfers, cyclists, segways and then there are the guys pumping iron at the notorious Muscle Beach which of course fascinated our fitness obsessed eldest teenager.  It is an experience unlike any other, but one that is quintessentially LA.

The main attraction for us, or more particularly the teens on this section of our trip was a visit to Universal Studios, Hollywood. Housed in Burbank, the city’s media centre and home to Buena Vista, Disney and Warner Bros it is a must visit.  To be honest my natural aversion to theme parks didn’t put it high on my agenda but outnumbered 3 to 1, I went along for the ride.

Like everything in the US, it certainly didn’t disappoint.  We had booked Front of Line passes to make accessing the shows, rides and attractions easier, but that aside the park and its facilites are extremely clean and laid out on two levels are well organised, making it easy to navigate and an altogether more pleasant experience than some UK theme parks I have visited.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is particularly impressive with reconstructions of Hogwarts and the shops of Hogsmeade and houses one of the scariest rides (or so I was told anyway) in the park.

As you would expect there are a variety of film-themed rides, some of which make the most of motion simulation combined with 3D and 4D technology to bring the experience alive incuding Fast & Furious, King Kong and Transformers.

In addition there is the World Famous Studio Tour which takes in sets from past and present films and shows in the largest set construction project in studio history.  These include the smouldering wreckage from Spielbergs War Of The Worlds and Jaws which was a particular highlight for us as it provided our eldest teen with the chance to come face to face with the fibreglass construction that haunted his dreams in his tweens and has kept him firmly out of the sea both home and abroad ever since for fear of sharks!  What makes the tour particularly special though is that Universal is a real working movie studio and therefore there is a high likelihood of witnessing filming in progress, which we did on our trip.

Aside from this there is also a lot of live entertainment at Hollywood Studios.  Our favourites were the Special Effects Show which features real Hollywood stunt actors recreating unforgettable moments from your favourite movies and WaterWorld which is a full-on explosive display of pyrotechnic effects that literally has you standing on the edge of your seat.

Aside from Universal the other must sees in LA of course are the Hollywood sign on Mount Lee and the Walk Of Fame.  The former is quite frankly a massive anti-climax.  You can if you wish go on a tour and get up close and personal with the sign but we felt this was a bit OTT so opted for viewing it from afar.  I don’t know what I expected really but the best place to view it is from a bridge in the Hollywood and Highland shopping centre, a rather tacky construction on Hollywood Boulevard that offers peerless views of the sign. Maybe we should have gone on the tour because there was a definite “is that it?” sentiment to our viewing experience from the bridge.

The Walk of Fame however didn’t disappoint, although it is a battle to manoeuvre your way through the hoards of tourists to get a glimpse of the terrazzo and brass stars.  Close by is Grauman’s state-of-the-art Chinese Theatre where you can still check out Marilyn Monroe’s impossibly tiny handprints and revel in the array of celebrity hand and footprints on display.

All in all LA rocks.  A glittering city for sure, we had the best time and we left, if not with a bit of Hollywood glamour then at the very least a sense of having been there and done that to add to our memory catalogue of family holidays.

Los Angeles - A Californian Road Trip - Part Four


This post is the fourth in a series, you can read the other posts here:

A California Road Trip with Teens – Part One

Whale Watching in Monterey – California Part Two

The Big Sur – A Californian Road Trip – Part Three

Las Vegas – The Road Trip Finale








  1. July 30, 2017 / 4:21 pm

    This looks like an incredible trip and I really hope I get to go one day – it’s certainly on my list of places to go! Thanks so much for linking up to #TriumphantTales – hope to see you again on Tuesday!

    • Jo
      August 3, 2017 / 8:36 am

      It was Jaki and I hope you do get to go and experience it first hand one day. Thanks for hosting. #TriumphantTales

  2. Clare
    July 26, 2017 / 1:51 pm

    I love the sound of this trip and think you are v brave to do it with teens! We’re sticking with France this year but a big road trip is on our future list!

    • Jo
      July 27, 2017 / 3:19 pm

      You can’t go wrong with France and it’s close by which in my book is always a bonus quite frankly. Long haul flights are not all they are made out to be.

    • Jo
      July 25, 2017 / 1:54 pm

      It is definitely worth it and hope you get to go one day. #MondayEscapes

  3. July 23, 2017 / 7:44 pm

    What a great visit to LA. I think there would be some parts that I’d be less excited about too, but you kind of ‘have to’ see them, don’t you? Do yo know what was being filmed in the studios while you were there? #MondayEscapes

    • Jo
      July 25, 2017 / 1:56 pm

      Yes and with teens in tow they won’t let you get away without doing various things. The show being filmed was an American Sitcom the name of which has escaped me of course right now but will no doubt come back. #MondayEscapes

  4. July 21, 2017 / 8:13 pm

    Omg I had no idea Harry Potter World was there too, it all looks so incredible I so want to go. Thanks so much for sharing #MondayEscapes

    • Jo
      July 25, 2017 / 1:57 pm

      Yes I haven’t been to the one here so not sure how it compares but the teens weren’t disappointed and we did seem to spend alot of time there so it must have been okay. #MondayEscapes

  5. July 17, 2017 / 7:57 pm

    Aawww your hols stories inspire me to try something out of our comfort zone next year and try out a real adventure!!!
    daydreams of a mum recently posted…The Power of WomenMy Profile

    • Jo
      July 18, 2017 / 4:13 pm

      Oh Kelly I highly recommend it if you can, you will all have a ball! #TweensTeensBeyond

  6. July 17, 2017 / 3:03 pm

    This does remind me of our California trip pre kids. I think I may have said this to you before Jo. It also reminds me that this is something to be investigated for the future and whether we do the whole Disney experience. So much to see, you mention many of our favourite places here. One other for the list and one of our highlights was San Luis Obispo. A place we stumbled upon by chance and ended up loving it so much, we stayed longer. I do love a find! Thanks for the trip down memory lane #tweensteensbeyond

    • Jo
      July 18, 2017 / 4:15 pm

      Yes the Disney experience is certainly a great one for kids, I still remember very clearly my visit there with my own parents and having to abandon my mother to lay on a bench after too many roller-coaster rides. America is the place for making fantastic memories and you sound like you have some great ones of your own too. #TweensTeensBeyond

  7. July 17, 2017 / 6:56 am

    Ah everytime I read about your trip I go a little green and get full of inspiration for something to do with mine when they are older. I would love to go to California and how lucky they are to get such an experience. I have heard mixed reviews about LA but I think I’d still like to see it, preferably avoiding those 8 lanes of traffic! That Harry Potter world looks fantastic, we went to one in Florida and it was very impressive. Santa Barbara sounds awesome, it is definitely on my go to list! I am glad you all enjoyed. #tweentweensbeyond

    • Jo
      July 18, 2017 / 4:17 pm

      Oh I am so glad you enjoy reading about it. I have been stringing the posts out a bit but to cram it into one would have been too much. I love reading other people’s holiday posts and their recommendations so I am glad if mine are striking a chord too. Hope you get there one day. #TweensTeensBeyond

  8. July 16, 2017 / 9:48 pm

    I love reading about this trip because we did the very same trip pre-kids so it’s really interesting to hear what you got up to with your kids. I’d just love to do it again. Happy memories #TweensTeensBeyond
    Susie/So Happy In Town recently posted…Why Can’t We Let Our Kids Just Be?My Profile

    • Jo
      July 18, 2017 / 4:37 pm

      Coincidentally my husband and I have said there are some parts we would like to go back and do “post kids” particularly the Napa Valley which we excluded as they would not have been interested but would also love to go back and hang out in San Francisco without them too. #TweensTeensBeyond

  9. July 15, 2017 / 11:51 am

    This looks absolutely amazing. I have loved reading all your posts about your trip. Love the pictures too! I want to go now…..maybe next year? #TweensTeensBeyond
    Sharon Parry recently posted…Tweens, Teens and Beyond Linky #16My Profile

    • Jo
      July 18, 2017 / 4:38 pm

      Oh you would all love it Sharon and you know where to come if you need any advice on anything! #TweensTeensBeyond

  10. July 14, 2017 / 8:43 pm

    We’ve been to the one in Florida and it was amazing. I’d love to see California as well πŸ™‚ Thank you for letting me go there virtually

    • Jo
      July 18, 2017 / 4:38 pm

      Florida is an area I did as a child in my early teen years with my parents and would love to take mine there, maybe that is the next trip.

    • Jo
      July 18, 2017 / 4:39 pm

      Thank you, I am glad you have enjoyed them all – there is just one more to go! Las Vegas! A sensory explosion indeed. #TweensTeensBeyond

  11. July 12, 2017 / 9:30 am

    Oh I’m so envious as would love to do this trip. Santa Barbara sounds amazing – I think I’d love. The botanical gardens there too! Oh and the special effects displays my son would love. Something for everyone really and all that glorious sunshine too! #TweensTeensBeyond
    justsayingmum recently posted…Be YouMy Profile

    • Jo
      July 18, 2017 / 4:40 pm

      There really is nothing not to love and Santa Barbara for shopping and hanging out and lunching is fabulous. I can see you there now Helen. #TweensTeensBeyond

  12. July 12, 2017 / 1:29 am

    It sounds like you had a great trip but this is definitely a time when I feel like the odd one out as it’s not a trip that would appeal to me – though if i were younger and fitter I might be tempted by some Californian surf πŸ™‚ #tweensteensbeyond
    Mary Mayfield recently posted…Reacquainting ourselves with the tent – with some canine helpMy Profile

    • Jo
      July 18, 2017 / 4:43 pm

      It is not for everyone but I think if you have older teens and need a trip idea this is the perfect solution. On the other hand Mary you do have an adventurous spirit so it may be just the perfect trip for you. #TweensTeensBeyond

  13. Imperfect Mum
    July 11, 2017 / 7:08 pm

    What an amazing trip! I would love to visit muscle beach and the world of Harry Potter. Fantastic memories for your family. #TweensTeensBeyond
    Imperfect Mum recently posted…#PointShoot Week #17My Profile

    • Jo
      July 18, 2017 / 4:44 pm

      Muscle beach was a real eye opener – I felt decidedly out of place fully clothed even as a woman. Universal Studios was a real highlight for my teens and I have to admit I was impressed too. #TweensTeensBeyond

  14. July 11, 2017 / 3:22 pm

    I absolutely love LA and yes Universal Studios was a huge attraction back when I visited a decade ago. Enjoyed reading about your trip.

    • Jo
      July 18, 2017 / 4:44 pm

      It seems Rachna that those who have been all have great memories of their visit which speaks volumes really. Thanks for your lovely comment.

  15. July 11, 2017 / 1:46 pm

    I’m a native of Southern California and you captured it perfectly! Glad my home state didn’t disappoint. I’m trying to arrange a visit for me and my own kids soon. My midwest kiddos need to see the beauty and glamour of where mom came from!

    Katy @ Experienced Bad Mom recently posted…When Your Kid’s BFF is the Opposite GenderMy Profile

    • Jo
      July 18, 2017 / 4:45 pm

      Yah that is a huge accolade, thank you Katy that means alot, I worried that I haven’t done California due justice in my posts so that is great to hear. #TweensTeensBeyond

  16. July 11, 2017 / 12:49 pm

    You won’t believe this but just yesterday I was telling my tween that we should plan a trip to LA and Universal Studios on our next US sojourn. We were there in 2010 but couldn’t fit LA into the itinerary. It truly seems like a spectacular place to visit what with all the variety πŸ™‚
    Shailaja Vishwanath recently posted…Surprise Party for a Tween: What I learntMy Profile

    • Jo
      July 18, 2017 / 6:18 pm

      How funny! I am so glad that my post was so opportune then Sahilaja, do let me know if you do go and how you get on. I am sure you will all love it.

  17. July 11, 2017 / 12:29 pm

    This sounds like such a fun trip. My favourite bit would Universal Studios. A walk around Harry Potter’s Wizarding World would be a dream come true. I am not one for those simulated films – they scare me like crazy.
    Obsessivemom recently posted…The trouble with being a good girlMy Profile

    • Jo
      July 18, 2017 / 6:20 pm

      I was the same with the simulated films initially as I am not a great one for theme parks and roller coasters so imagined the simulation to be worse than it actually was. Also the whole 4DX technology is being used a lot in cinemas here now so it seems to be the way forward. It is clever.

  18. July 11, 2017 / 7:55 am

    oh, I loved this as we also did this trip about 4 years ago. It’s like reliving it! We didn’t go to universal as we had run out of money but now I wish we had, the kids would have loved it! Was the Harry Potter ride scary??
    Liz Deacle recently posted…30-40. What I wish I’d known then.My Profile

    • Jo
      July 18, 2017 / 6:21 pm

      I confess to not doing the Harry Potter ride as me and rides are not great together but my husband said it was the scariest of them all and that must mean something as he is generally unphased by things like that. #TweensTeensBeyond

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