A 7-Day Winter Family Vacation in California

This post is sponsored by Visit California

When most people hear “California,” they immediately think of palm trees, sunshine, and beaches. But there’s so much more to this state! California might be the one state where you can go skiing in the morning and surfing in the afternoon, all in the course of a single day. We recently got a chance to see what a winter vacation in California is like. Many thanks to Visit California and their partners for hosting us on this trip! Here’s how it went:

Day 1 – Dinner in Downtown Disney

As huge Disney fans, we were excited that we’d be starting this California adventure at Disneyland! We’ve been to Walt Disney World in Orlando so many times, but this would be our first time visiting the park where it all started! We checked into the Anaheim Marriott Suites, a very family-friendly hotel located just minutes away from Disneyland. The one-bedroom suite configuration worked well for our family, and though our transportation on this trip had been pre-arranged, it was good to know that the hotel had its own shuttle that runs hourly back and forth from Disneyland.

Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California. Photo: Max Whittaker

We headed to Downtown Disney, a dining and shopping destination right outside the parks, very similar to Disney Springs in Orlando. We had eaten at the original Manhattan location of Black Tap Burger once before, so the girls were very excited to see that we’d be dining at their Downtown Disney location. We enjoyed juicy burgers and huge, over-the-top milkshakes. It was fun getting to know the other families on the trip, who came from all over: London, Sydney, Mexico City and even Arkansas!

The Cake Shake at Black Tap Craft Burgers in Downtown Disney. Photo: Max Whittaker

Day 2 – Disney California Adventure

The next morning, we headed to Disney California Adventure Park. We started our day with a meet-and-greet with one other than Elsa from Frozen! The Disney team was kind enough to gift us special Frozen-themed ears, which the girls loved.

Ella and Sean at Elsa’s Royal Welcome at Disney California Adventure. Photo: Max Whittaker.

After a quick breakfast at Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe, we headed to Animation Academy in Hollywood Land. Here, we got to learn from an animator how to draw Olaf from scratch! I’m not particularly gifted artistically, so it was a credit to our instructor that my sketch came out pretty convincingly!

Drawn to Animation Class at Disney California Adventure. Photo: Max Whittaker
Sketching Olaf. Photo: Max Whittaker

Then it was time for more Frozen! This time, we went to see the live show at the Hyperion Theater. Even after having seen the Frozen Broadway musical here in New York, we were seriously impressed by this show at Disney California Adventure Park. It was like a mini-version of the Broadway show, but with costumes, stage design, special effects, and performances that honestly rivaled the big show!

Frozen, Live at the Hyperion. Photo: Max Whittaker

We spent the afternoon doing thrill ride after thrill ride (yes, my girls love to live on the edge). Our favorite attractions were the Incredicoaster, Radiator Springs Racer, and Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout!

Exploring Disney California Adventure. Photo: Max Whittaker

After dinner at Flo’s V8 Cafe, we headed to watch World of Color, the park’s nightly outdoor show. During the show, scenes from a variety of Disney and Pixar movies are projected onto fountains, with lots of cool fire, fog and laser effects.

World of Color at Disney California Adventure. Photo: Max Whittaker

Day 3 – Downtown Anaheim and Disneyland

The next morning we headed to Anaheim’s Center Street Promenade, part of Anaheim’s Center City. There’s a farmer’s market there that’s popular with both locals and visitors.

Farmer’s Market in Anaheim. Photo: Max Whittaker

We visited Okayama Kobo Bakery, a Japanese bakery that bakes all its breads and pastries using a special blend of Hokkaido wheat flour imported from Japan. The end result is unbelievably soft and fluffy! The girls had so much fun decorating their Anpan buns with icing. And all of us loved the bakery’s savory sandwiches and Japanese-style hot dogs.

Decorating emoji bread at Okayama Kobo Bakery in Anaheim. Photo: Max Whittaker

After lunch, we headed to Disneyland. It was so exciting to see the Sleeping Beauty Castle! Being in front of the castle felt extra-special knowing that Walt Disney himself put his stamp on it! We spent the afternoon on more thrill rides, with Big Thunder Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure and Matterhorn Bobsleds being our favorites.

Exploring Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Photo: Max Whittaker

Day 4 – Galaxy’s Edge and Mammoth Lakes

The next morning, we were in for a very special treat. We got to Disneyland super-early, before it opened to the public, and got to explore the Star Wars-themed Galaxy’s Edge before any other guests arrived! We had a special meet-and-greet with none other than Chewbacca himself, and rode Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, which was just as fun as we remembered from Disney World.

Sean and Ella meeting Chewbacca in Galaxy’s Edge. Photo: Max Whittaker
Riding Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run in Galaxy’s Edge. Photo: Max Whittaker

We enjoyed a lovely character dining breakfast at Plaza Inn, and had so much fun interacting with all the characters who stopped by! Chip and Dale were both adorable, and Serge and Captain Hook bonded over how tall both of them were! Then we got an important call: the Resistance needed us, so it was time to head back to Galaxy’s Edge!

I was beyond excited that the Disney team was able to arrange for our group to ride Rise of the Resistance – the brand-new attraction at Galaxy’s Edge. I don’t want to spoil it for you so I won’t give too much away here, but suffice it to say that this attraction more than lived up to its hype. I can’t wait to ride it again!

Rise of the Resistance at Galaxy’s Edge. Photo: Max Whittaker

After this incredibly eventful morning, we headed to LAX to get on our flight to the mountain destination Mammoth Lakes. It’s incredible that you can go from the middle of Los Angeles to a snowy mountain in less than an hour’s flight!

We checked in to our spacious 2-bedroom condo at The Village Lodge at Mammoth and enjoyed a delicious Italian dinner at Campo Mammoth. It was the perfect way to end a long but fun day, and fuel up for fun in the snow the next day.

Day 5 – Mammoth Lakes

We started our day at Toomey’s, a casual baseball-themed eatery with lots of hearty breakfast options. Then we headed off to our first adventure of the day: snowmobiling! A few weeks before this trip, we had spent a pretty epic day snowmobiling for 8 hours through Yellowstone National Park as part of our trip to Big Sky, Montana. Serge and I had loved the experience, but the girls were not as thrilled about it as we were. So I knew going into this snowmobiling experience in Mammoth Lakes that it probably wasn’t going to go that smoothly. Sure enough, Ella wasn’t thrilled about doing it, and to be honest, I felt a bit nervous too as the trails were narrower and the terrain more bumpy than I had experienced before. So Ella and I decided to end our tour a bit early, while Serge and Sean completed it with the rest of the group.

Serge and Sean snowmobiling at Mammoth Mountain in Mammoth Lakes. Photo: Max Whittaker

After snowmobiling, we had lunch at The Yodler, a German Bavarian-style restaurant and bar with a beautiful outdoor deck. By this time the temperatures had gotten up to about 60 degrees, so we didn’t even need our jackets. Skiing in California is definitely a very different experience than in other states!

Lunch at the Yodler in Mammoth Lakes. Photo: Max Whittaker

Then it was time for more fun in the snow. We headed to Woolly’s Tube Park & Snow Play and the girls had an amazing time tubing down the hill. Coming down was fun, of course, but they enjoyed the trip up just as much! Unlike the slow-moving magic carpet that many other snow tubing attractions use, Woolly’s has a lift where you sit in your tube, it’s hooked up to a cable, and it whisks you quickly up the hill!

Ella and Sean snowtubing at Woolly’s Tubing & Snow Play in Mammoth Lakes. Photo: Max Whittaker

That evening, we enjoyed dinner and bowling at Mammoth Rock N Bowl, and finished our night by roasting marshmallows and making s’mores at a fire pit in the village.

Bowling at Mammoth Rock ‘n’ Bowl. Photo: Max Whittaker
Making S’mores in the Village in Mammoth Lakes. Photo: Max Whittaker

Day 6 – Back to Los Angeles

The next day, we were originally supposed to take an afternoon flight back to LAX. However, because there was inclement weather that was likely to cause our flight to be cancelled, we ended up doing an impromptu road trip! Instead of flying, we actually drove all the way back to Los Angeles.

Though I’m usually not the biggest fan of road trips, this one was actually very enjoyable. It was pretty spectacular to be able to watch the scenery change gradually from snowy mountains to desert and rock formations. We also enjoyed our brief stop in Lone Pine, a tiny town of just 2,000 residents that, with its rugged terrain, looks like something straight out of a cowboy movie. And in fact, many movies have actually been filmed here, from classic Westerns like How the West Was Won to more recent hits like Django Unchained.

Road tripping through Southern California. Photo: Max Whittaker
Lone Pine, California. Photo: Max Whittaker

We got into Santa Monica that evening and checked into Hotel Shangri-La. I was thrilled with the hotel’s beachfront location, and the girls went nuts for the oversized jacuzzi tub in our suite’s bathroom! We enjoyed a room service dinner before going to sleep.

Day 7 – Santa Monica

The original plan for the next morning was to do some surfing. However, a serious cold front had moved in while we were in Mammoth Lakes. So with the temperatures in the mid-40s and the water being very choppy, we opted for plan B: biking around Santa Monica!

The iconic Route 66 sign in Santa Monica Pier. Photo: Max Whittaker

Now I’m embarrassed to say that the girls and I are… let’s just call it “bicyclally challenged.” So Serge joined the rest of the group to do a bicycle tour of Santa Monica beach, while the girls and I explored on our own two feet. They had a great time playing on all the swings, monkey bars and exercise equipment on the beach. (By the way, did you know that the original Muscle Beach was in Santa Monica, not Venice? This is an interesting article about that history.)

Exploring Santa Monica California, February 3, 2020.

After lunch at Seaside on the Pier, we headed to the Heal the Bay Aquarium, a marine education facility that promotes conservation of Southern California coastal waters. We got a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility, and all the kids in the group were absolutely riveted by the marine life there. And they loved getting to feed the baby shark!

Visiting Heal the Bay Aquarium in Santa Monica. Photo: Max Whittaker

We spent the rest of the afternoon doing rides at Pacific Park, the amusement park located on the Santa Monica pier. Even though the roller coaster “was way too slow,” according to the girls, they had a lot of fun running around with their new friends trying ride after ride.

Pacific Park in Santa Monica. Photo: Max Whittaker
Sean, Ella and their new friends riding the attractions at Pacific Park in Santa Monica. Photo: Max Whittaker

After Pacific Park, we walked over to Third Street Promenade, a lovely shopping and dining area. We visited The Void, a virtual reality attraction that was a lot of fun. We tried two of their experiences: one was Jumanji-themed, and the other was Star Wars-themed. They were both incredibly realistic and entertaining. So realistic, in fact, that it got a bit too real for Ella, so she ducked out early!

We ended our day… and our trip, with a dinner at The Gallery Food Hall, an indoor food court with lots of innovative restaurants under one roof. We really enjoyed the build-your-own bento concept of Supertoro, but couldn’t leave without trying some tacos from Azulé Taqueria as well.

California: An Alternative Winter Destination

If your family is somewhat interested in a snow or ski trip, but you’re not sure you want to commit a full vacation to it, adding a few days in the snow the way we did is a great way to ease into it. Many thanks to Visit California for hosting us on such an eye-opening trip! We can’t wait to explore more of this beautiful state.

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About Carmen Sognonvi

Carmen Sognonvi is a luxury family travel content creator at Top Flight Family, named a top 10 family travel Instagram account by Time Out New York and Brit + Co. Her insights on travel have been featured in The Washington Post, INSIDER, Huffington Post, Wanderlust Travel Magazine, TravelPulse, HOTELS Magazine, and more. Carmen firmly believes that you can (and should) travel with your kids from a young age. She offers families practical solutions for travel, as well as tips on how to travel in luxury for less. She lives in New York City with her multiracial and multicultural family of four. Follow her on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Click here to read Carmen's articles

When most people hear "California," they immediately think of palm trees, sunshine, and beaches. But there's so much more to this state! Here's what a winter vacation in California is like.

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