1. 1. Road Trip
  2. 2. Irvine (Around Orange County)
  3. 3. San Diego
  4. 4. Los Angeles
  5. 5. To Be Continued

This content was automatically generated by gpt-4-turbo-preview (No human review). The original post is in Chinese.

My parents and younger brother came to the United States from before Christmas 2023 until the end of January 2024, staying for a total of 36 days. Thus, for the past Christmas, New Year’s holidays, and most of January, we were accompanying our family. During this month-long period, we went on a road trip to a few national parks (Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon) and then visited some attractions in cities around Southern California, mainly San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles. Arranging for my parents to visit the US was not easy, with a lot of planning involved, including visas, flights, accommodations, and activities. This blog post will focus on the activities we did with my parents, with other content to be shared later when I have time.

It’s worth mentioning my family’s situation, which is a bit different from most students whose parents visit the US. I have a younger brother who is six years old, born after the policy change allowing a second child, so we had to consider not only what our parents might enjoy but also the preferences of a young child.

Road Trip

Our road trip was a total of 5 days and 4 nights with 5 of us (me, my husband, my parents, and my younger brother) driving our own car from home (Irvine). We visited:

  • Joshua Tree National Park (1 day)
    • We decided to stop at Joshua Tree NP because it was on our way, but my brother loved it, as he could climb around in the rocks, climbing quite high. We visited Hidden Valley, Skull Rock, and Cholla Cactus Garden.
  • Grand Canyon National Park (1.5 days)
    • We allocated a day and a half for the Grand Canyon because it’s the most famous attraction. Surprisingly, both the adults and child didn’t enjoy it as much as expected, even though the views were indeed magnificent. After about 1-2 hours, they seemed tired of it. It was quite cold and windy during our visit to the Grand Canyon, so we just walked around a few viewpoints on the South Rim without hiking any trails.
  • Horseshoe Bend (0.5 days)
    • We arrived at Horseshoe Bend after 3 pm, and the lighting wasn’t great, plus it seemed like there was less water than before. Overall, it wasn’t as impressive as our previous visit.
  • Bryce Canyon National Park (1 day)
    • Bryce Canyon was the favorite for both adults and children because of the beautiful snowscapes and Hoodoo rock formations, and we could have snowball fights. We walked a 5-kilometer route: Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trail, which is fairly easy for both the elderly and children. Some parts of the trail were icy or snow-covered, but we had brought along microspikes, so slipping wasn’t an issue.

We initially planned a road trip of 7-8 days, considering visiting Zion National Park, Antelope Canyon, Las Vegas (and the Hoover Dam), and even Death Valley. However, it was challenging to move around with my parents and younger brother, who couldn’t walk much. Additionally, my father wasn’t happy with the meals we had on the road (preferring homemade meals) and missed smoking and drinking shortly after arriving in the US, leading to severe withdrawal symptoms. So, he complained about wanting to go home from day 3 of our trip when he resumed smoking and drinking. My younger brother at first didn’t want to walk on his own, showing little interest in the scenery and asking to be carried by my father, which required a lot of coaxing (both through rewards and punishments) before he finally began to walk by himself. Hence, we ended the trip after 4 days, returning home on the fifth day.

Irvine (Around Orange County)

Places we visited around Irvine:

  • William R Mason Regional Park for walking and playing

    • Highly recommended because it is very close to UCI, just a 15-minute walk or a quick drive with a $3 parking fee. The park boasts beautiful scenery, including lush green lawns, a lake, and various birds such as ducks, Canadian geese, and turtles, as well as playgrounds, swings, and picnic tables. Both children and adults enjoyed the visits. We went there twice, staying for 1-2 hours each time.
  • Corona Del Mar State Beach for walks

    • You can navigate to Inspiration Point, where street parking is free. First, enjoy the views from Inspiration Point, then walk down to Corona Del Mar State Beach. It’s a typical beach where you can walk along the Jetty, without anything particularly special.
  • Crystal Cove State Park for walks and sunset watching

    • Parking costs $15. We went to the beach to walk and watch the sunset about an hour before sunset, then took pictures while the kids played in the sand. The sunset was particularly beautiful that day, resulting in many stunning photos.
  • Newport Beach and Balboa Island

    • We visited a few days before Christmas, first going to Newport Beach to walk and watch the sunset, then took the Balboa Island Ferry to Balboa Island to see the Christmas lights. Many houses were beautifully decorated. It was a great way to soak up the holiday atmosphere and also perfect for taking photographs.
    • Newport Beach looks very beautiful during the day. We navigated to Balboa Pier Parking Lot, where there are playgrounds, restrooms, and access to the pier, or you can simply walk along the Newport Balboa Bike Trail.
    • We specifically went to Newport Beach one evening to see bioluminescence, around 9 pm. It wasn’t very bright, but for those seeing it for the first time, it was a magical experience, definitely worth a visit.
  • Great Park for family fun

    • Great Park is excellent for family leisure, with free parking and amazing children’s playgrounds, including impressive slides. The kids loved it. There’s also a carousel costing $3 per ride, and a hot air balloon ride that’s free, though we found it often closed due to weather. Calling ahead to confirm its operation is important. Even without the balloon ride, it’s a good place to spend time.
  • Turtle Rock and French Hill Loop for hiking

    • We managed to convince the whole family to hike nearby, coaxing them through a 6-kilometer walk (turtle rock and french hill loop), which we only did once and never visited other Trails again, as they didn’t find it very appealing.
  • Little Corona Del Mar Beach Tide Pools

    • Wanting them to experience Tide Pools, we specifically looked up the Tide chart, choosing an afternoon with a -1.6 ft low tide. We saw various sea life (2 large octopuses, Sea hares, starfish, etc.), enjoyable for both adults and children.
  • Newport Bay for kayaking

    • After much persuasion, we convinced my parents and brother to try kayaking. We rented two tandem sit-on-top kayaks and paddled around Balboa Island for about 6 km in 2 hours, which cost almost $100. It was expensive at Southwind Kayak Center. They didn’t enjoy it much due to the inevitable wet clothes and somewhat monotonous scenery of yachts and luxury homes.
  • Newport Landing Whale Watching Tour

    • This whale-watching tour was very affordable, costing $15 / person, and you can even find tickets for $10. Simply search “Newport Landing Whale Watching Tour $15” for discount prices. The day we went was calm and sunny; we saw many dolphins, no whales, but didn’t get seasick. It felt worthwhile for the price, with beautiful views.
  • Dana Point Deep Sea Fishing Trip

    • This is the activity I regret the most. My father enjoys fishing, so we signed up for this tour, which wasn’t expensive. On Tuesdays, it was half-price at $30 per person. However, fishing licenses cost $20 per person per day, and renting the fishing equipment was an additional $20 per person, totaling $150.
    • Unfortunately, the sea was very rough that day. I started to feel seasick after an hour onboard, spending the next 4.5 hours vomiting continuously, without a moment of relief. I was either crouched in a corner of the boat or sitting on the deck with my head between my knees, enduring the ordeal without eating anything or fishing at all. My father also felt seasick but continued to fish, catching 3-4 small fish that had to be released because they were too small. We ended up not bringing any fish back home. It was a regrettable experience, paying to undergo such misery.
  • South Lake and North Lake

    • The Airbnb where my parents stayed was close to South Lake, roughly a 15-minute walk away, so they occasionally visited. Both South Lake and North Lake have beautiful scenery and are ideal for walking.

San Diego

We made two trips to San Diego, returning the same day to save on accommodation costs. On the first visit, we only went to San Diego Zoo. The remaining attractions were visited in a single day during the second trip.

  • First Visit: San Diego Zoo

    • We spent about 5 hours here, and both the child and adults enjoyed it. It’s essential to take the Skyfari and Bus Tour. To save money, I purchased a $159 San Diego Zoo annual pass, which included 1 free ticket and 2 half-off coupons, making it a better deal overall.
  • Second Visit:

    • 9:30 - 10 am: Unconditional Surrender (The Kiss Statue)

    • 10 am - 12 pm: USS Midway Museum

      • We specifically took them to see the USS Midway Museum. Tickets were purchased on Taobao at a good deal. The museum opens at 10 am. If one is patient, it’s possible to spend 3-4 hours or even longer exploring, but my parents and brother, who don’t understand English and lack the patience for detailed exploration, stayed for only 2 hours.
    • 12:30 pm - 2 pm: Picnic in Tidelands Park on Coronado Island

      • The picnic at this park served mainly to meet with my kayaking friends from San Diego, who were eager to meet my family from China. The park is delightful, with good views (overlooking downtown San Diego’s skyscrapers and the Coronado Bridge), free parking, picnic tables, restrooms, and children’s play areas. The drive across the Coronado Bridge also offers beautiful scenery.
    • 2:30 - 3:30 pm: UC San Diego Campus

      • As a UCSD alumna, my parents were naturally interested in visiting and touring the campus. I showed them several iconic spots, including the Stone Bear, House on the Roof, and Geisel Library. The area around the library offers particularly nice views for photos.
    • 4 - 5:30 pm: La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores

      • At the Cove, you can see seals and sea lions
        • Visit the Sea Cave
        • Hike the Coastal Trail
        • Watch the sunset at La Jolla Shores
      • La Jolla Cove seems more interesting with its sea lions, sea caves, and a Coastal Trail, though parking can be tricky. La Jolla Shores is an excellent place for a stroll and sunset viewing, arguably the most beautiful beach in San Diego. Both locations offer free parking.

Los Angeles

Excluding trips to the Los Angeles airport, we took my parents and brother to Los Angeles twice, making a round trip each time.

  • First Visit: California Science Center
    • Highly recommended. Admission is free, with a $15 parking fee. Kids absolutely love it here, with a huge aquarium, space shuttles, and many other fascinating exhibits. It was my third visit, and spending an entire day, about 4-5 hours, is advisable.
  • Second Visit: Getty and Getty Villa
    • Admission to both locations is free, with a $20 parking fee. However, if you visit both on the same day, you only need to pay for parking once. Remember to get a parking voucher from the Getty front desk (to avoid paying the parking fee twice). Although the museums might be a bit sophisticated for my family, who lacked the patience for art appreciation, it was still worth a cursory visit. Especially since it rained that weekend, and the Getty offers a commanding view of Los Angeles. Several gardens and viewpoints are quite picturesque, and Getty Villa has beautiful gardens. Even if you don’t understand the art exhibits, the architecture and gardens alone are worth seeing.
  • Getty offers Chinese audio tours, easily accessible by downloading the mobile App and using Bluetooth earphones. We only guided our family through exhibits with Chinese commentary. Unexpectedly, there was a crafting activity in the Getty entrance hall, which children especially enjoyed. After waiting for 15 minutes in line, they spent 45 minutes making a church-like stained glass window. Getty Villa also has a Family Room where children can play.

To Be Continued

What did we do when we weren’t out exploring? Due to limited time and word count, I’ll save that for the next blog post!

  1. 1. Road Trip
  2. 2. Irvine (Around Orange County)
  3. 3. San Diego
  4. 4. Los Angeles
  5. 5. To Be Continued