California Family Vacation Ideas

Where to Go and What to Do With Kids in the Golden State

Few American states offer visitors such a varied selection of tourist attractions as California. You can choose from a lively nightlife, outstanding museums, diverse cuisine, and picturesque beaches. If you’re looking for California family vacation ideas, think about including the following cities on your itinerary.

Los Angeles

Disneyland, Los Angeles by: Robert Linsdell (CC)
Disneyland, Los Angeles by: Robert Linsdell (CC)

Home to over 17 million people and known as the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” Los Angeles boasts a lengthy list of attractions that range from cutting-edge movie studios and theme parks, to family-run vineyards and picturesque coastal roads. To experience the vibrant energy of southern California, take a family walk down Santa Monica Pier, a century-old wooden wharf servings as a major hub of entertainment and culture. To add a bit of magic to your L.A. visit, head to Disneyland Park, known to kids and parents as the “happiest place on earth.” To see the only active Ice Age excavation site in the world, visit La Brea Tar Pits, where scientists continue to discover ancient fossils buried deep below the city ages ago.

San Diego

San Diego Zoo by: Andy (CC)
San Diego Zoo by: Andy (CC)

Despite its size, San Diego prides itself on a laid-back atmosphere, which makes it an ideal destination for California family itineraries. People come here to swim surf, boat, kayak, skate, hike, and cycle through the region’s idyllic coastal areas. If you’re traveling with toddlers or teens, be sure to see the cage-free exhibits of San Diego Zoo, home to over 3,700 of some of the world’s rarest animals. You can also visit SeaWorld San Diego, which spreads over 77 hectares (190 acres) and features dozens of animal habitats and interactive exhibits depicting sea life in its many forms.

San Francisco

Wall of Sculls, California Academy of Sciences by: Ray Bouknight (CC)
Wall of Sculls, California Academy of Sciences by: Ray Bouknight (CC)

When visiting San Francisco, remember that you can explore most of its distinct neighborhoods on foot or by bicycle. If your kids enjoy ferries, take them to Alcatraz, a small island in the San Francisco Bay designated as a national park. While there, you can tour old prison facilities and explore protected recreational areas. Alternatively, visit California Academy of Sciences to discover the world’s only combined aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and living museum. Another outstanding indoor attraction, the city’s Cable Car Museum offers visitors a look at the history of cable cars, San Francisco’s iconic mode of transportation.

Lake Tahoe

Emerald Bay State Park, South Lake Tahoe by: Patrick Nouhailler (CC)
Emerald Bay State Park, South Lake Tahoe by: Patrick Nouhailler (CC)

A popular choice for kid-friendly holidays in California, Lake Tahoe captures the spirit of the outdoors and serves as a major hub of tourism in this part of the country. The area offers countless chances to hike, mountain bike, swim, and boat. If you visit the area during winter, head to Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, offering alpine activities suitable for visitors of all skill and fitness levels. At all other times of year you can enjoy a family adventure in the scenic Emerald Bay State Park, one of the most photographed locations in California. This glacier-carved bay features granite cliffs and pine trees framing a fjord-like inlet of sparkling water, which changes color throughout the day.

Monterey

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seahorses by: Jay Galvin (CC)
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seahorses by: Jay Galvin (CC)

Considered one of the prettiest coastal cities in California, Monterey makes a good day-trip option for visitors based in San Francisco. Known to many from John Steinbeck novels “Cannery Row” and “Tortilla Flat,” the city boasts the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. Home to thousands of plants and animals from 600 different species, the aquarium houses a giant tank featuring one of the biggest single-pane windows in the world. If sea creatures aren’t your family’s cup of tea or you just want the kids to let off some steam, head to Dennis the Menace Park, boasting a maze made of small hedges, a rock tunnel, and a skateboard area.

The Kid-Friendly Side of California

America’s most populous state, California includes forested northern coastlines and harsh southern deserts, with every other kind of landscape somewhere in between. If you’re not sure where to go and need some California family vacation ideas, base your trip in one of the state’s bigger cities, filled with kid-friendly attractions and offering easy access to surrounding parks, beaches, bays, and valleys.

Tamara

Tamara

Educated in Chicago and based in Serbia, Tamara travels with passion and believes that one written word can be worth at least a thousand pictures. When she's not conquering the world one blog post at a time, she likes to eat pizza and take long naps--preferably at the same time.
Tamara