How to Turn a College Tour Into a Vacation: SoCal Edition

Parsons-Gates Hall on the campus of the California Institute of Technology.

Is your rising college student dreaming about plenty of sunshine and sandy beaches? Our touring itinerary below, focused on schools in the L.A. area, will give you a taste of campus and overall life in Southern California — plus time in between for living it up in the City of Angels.

The Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows is among our favorite homes away from home for this getaway, and a beachy oasis unto itself. Our Family Vacation Advisor team can book this for you with exclusive perks and amenities; contact us for more.

College Tour Vacation Ideas in Southern California
USC Village was built in 2017 as an extension of the main campus. Photo by Hanson/Adobe Stock

Southern California College Tour Vacation Ideas

Day 1

Start your trip with the University of Southern California, familiarly known as USC. The oldest private research university in California, it’s home to 20,000 undergraduate students. The pride of the Trojan campus is USC Village, which features eight residential colleges integrated into a retail and living town center. Its buildings are arranged around a large piazza to facilitate gathering and mingling.

Work up an appetite exploring the Gothic Revival campus, and then head 10 minutes north to Grand Central Market, where you can savor just about any cuisine imaginable for lunch.

If you’re feeling the urge for some retail therapy, stop by local shopping destination The Grove after lunch. Or simply get outside and enjoy the California sunshine. Beach choices are abundant, including the family-friendly beach and pier of Santa Monica, stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking at Marina del Rey, or tons of people watching and a skate park at Venice Beach. Take your pick.

College Tour Vacation Ideas in Southern California
Royce Hall, a performing arts center, is one of the iconic original buildings on the UCLA campus. Photo by wolterke/Adobe Stock

Day 2

Today is devoted to the flagship school of the University of California system, the University of California Los Angeles. UCLA is a huge school with more than 30,000 Bruin undergrads invested in more than 125 majors. The Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden is a favorite spot for visitors, and sports fans will appreciate the UCLA Sports Hall of Fame. While there, see if you can snag tickets for one of the many world-class performers visiting the Center for Art of Performance (CAP).

After touring campus, there is plenty to see and do at nearby Westwood Village. Espresso Profeta is a good spot for coffee, and there will likely be a line at Diddy Riese for ice cream sandwiches. If you are lucky, you might even catch a movie premiere tonight at Fox Village Theater. After all, you are a stone’s throw from Hollywood.

For more of a guaranteed cinematic experience this afternoon, take one of the Hollywood studio movie tours. Universal Studios is a popular choice, but you’ll need to purchase tickets to the theme park to take the tour, while Paramount offers both a backlot and an after-dark tour (kids must be 16 for the evening tour). Warner Brothers features its museum and backlot as well as the original Central Perk set for Friends. To continue the star-studded theme, head to Hollywood for a walk along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

College Tour Vacation Ideas in Southern California
Parsons-Gates Hall is among the oldest buildings at Caltech. Photo by wolterke/Adobe Stock

Day 3

Choose from an array of schools today depending on interest and aptitude. Exclusive California Institute of Technology is option number one. Caltech is esteemed for its natural sciences and engineering programs and has an extremely small enrollment; it is also among the most selective of U.S. universities.

Another choice for today is Pepperdine, a private Christian university nestled in beautiful Malibu. Or, visit the Claremont Colleges. A welcoming group of seven schools in eastern Los Angeles, Claremont is known for its need-blind admissions policy and includes schools such as Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd and Pomona.

Our top sightseeing pick for this afternoon is the Getty Center, an institution devoted to art and architecture that is perched atop the Santa Monica mountains and offers sweeping views of Los Angeles. If you’re after something more active, locals (and celebs) rave about hikes like Runyon Canyon or the trail in Griffith Park to the Hollywood sign or the Griffith Observatory.

With More Time

A quick hop on the ferry from Long Beach brings you to the tiny resort haven of Catalina Island. Either make a day trip to this gem that conjures Mediterranean vibes or stay overnight; the Pavilion Hotel is a winner with CB families. Catalina is a pint-size locale yet big on fun — it offers everything from ziplining, rock climbing and glass-bottom boat rides to falconry experiences. Teens will also enjoy the freedom of being able to explore the town of Avalon, and everyone will appreciate the chance to relax and drink in the sea views.

Relevant Links:

Browse all ideas for traveling with tweens and teens on Ciao Bambino

How to turn a college tour into a vacation: New York/Tri-State edition

How to turn a college tour into a vacation: Boston edition

How to turn a college tour into a vacation: Southeast edition

How to turn a college tour into a vacation: Midwest edition

How to turn a college tour into a vacation: Pacific Northwest edition

9 places to make family travel memories with college-age kids

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