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A Trip to Southern California with My Tween

by on June 27, 2016

I remember the day I got pregnant with my second child. I wasn’t ready. How could I adjust as the mother of two, when I was faring so poorly as the mother of one? How would I give her the attention she needs?

Over the years, I’ve discovered that one way to make my now thirteen year-old feel important is by taking trips alone, just the two of us. Very recently we spent a week in Southern California exploring every amusement park under the sun. The trip had her name written all over it, as you can imagine, and I’ll admit that we did take a week off from seventh grade to make it happen. From Disneyland to SeaWorld to Universal Studios to LEGOLAND, we covered the area’s attractions in five days. Here’s how it went:

One Day at Universal Studios Hollywood

My tween is a huge fan of Harry Potter, so it was a natural choice to first hit Universal Studio Hollywood’s new “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” theme park, inspired by J.K. Rowling’s popular stories and characters. From walking down Hogsmeade Village, to taking a trip on the park’s signature ride, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,” to drinking Butterbeer, we immersed ourselves in the Harry Potter experience. Once we were done exploring the fictional English village, we went on the Studio Tour to see where production on all our favorite TV shows and movies takes place, rode the Simpson’s ride, amongst others, and played carnival games at Krustyland. We stayed a short distance from the park at The Garland which offers renovated, spacious guestrooms, a revamped lobby and lobby bar, and the addition of The Front Yard, a trendy restaurant with dazzling food fit for all ages, made with healthy, organic ingredients.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter


Two Days in Disneyland

Needless to say, Disneyland was the highlight of my tween’s trip. In California Adventure Park, she took delight in the California Screamin’ coaster and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters. At Disneyland Park, we rode our favorites, from It’s a Small World to Snow White to the Jungle Cruise together, and she went on fast rides like Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain and the Matterhorn Bobsleds.


We were lucky to be at Disneyland during the park’s 60th anniversary to witness their spectacular evening performances, such as the “Paint the Night” parade and the “Disneyland Forever” fireworks display. We indulged in food at Wine Country Trattoria, River Belle Terrace, Goofy’s Kitchen and the Steakhouse 55 at the Disneyland Hotel (where we stayed), had a churro ice-cream sandwich in Downtown Disney and sat by the pool at our hotel. It was 2-1/2 days of pure bliss for the tween.

There were tricks to easing the stress of going to a Disney theme park. Firstly, we were thrilled to find that our CityPASS allowed us to get FastPass tickets so we were able to jump several lines. Secondly, since we were staying at a Disneyland resort, the Disneyland Hotel, we were allowed early morning access to both parks when the lines were relatively short and fast.

Disneyland Forever



At LEGOLAND in Carlsbad, a suburb of San Diego, we explored the new NINJAGO® World, which includes five new interactive attractions with NINJAGO The Ride being the main feature, designed to train guests to become a ninja.

While the majority of LEGOLAND was designed for younger kids (ages 3-12), we enjoyed walking through MiniLand, LEGO replicas of from landmarks around the world (the Freedom Tower is being built to join the rest of the NYC structures) and my tween rode Project X in the Technic section numerous times. We lunched at California’s Pizza & Pasta Buffet and stayed at LEGOLAND Hotel, a LEGO lover’s dream, complete with a disco-themed elevator, LEGO-themed rooms and onsite restaurants. The hotel sits at the entrance to the park, simplifying the experience for any parent.

One Day at SeaWorld

We kicked off our day in SeaWorld with a Dolphin Encounter where we came up close and personal with bottlenose dolphins. Afterwards, we went on a tour of their Animal Rescue Center. SeaWorld saves 100-200 animals a year, often more. Working with local, state and federal agencies, they help animals that are orphaned, ill, injured or in need of expert care. It was heartening to see their work and the animals being helped. We went to shows, went on a few rides, but our favorite experience without question was lunch with Shamu, the famous killer whale.




To sum up our five days in Southern California, my tween would describe it as pretty perfect. Not only were we able to spend quality time together, but she certainly got her amusement park fix.


This post was written by Holly Fink of The Culture Mom. Follow more of her travel adventures on Findery

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