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Planning a holiday in California with kids? Here are the top family friendly places to visit in California.
One of the best things about California is that it has plenty of kid friendly destinations. From places like Disneyland, Legoland, Universal Studios to scenic road trips to world class beaches to stunning national parks, you will find a plethora of things to do in California that will match up to your kid’s expectations, no matter what age they are. Whether you are looking for a short getaway to celebrate a milestone or birthday or you are planning a long vacation in California with kids, you will certainly find places that will suit your little ones the best. To help you plan we have also shared family friendly accommodations with each destination.
So, without a further ado, here are the 14 amazing places to visit in California with kids.
Best Places To Visit In California With Kids
1. Disneyland Resort, Anaheim
Disneyland Resort is lovingly known as the “”Happiest Place On Earth”. And why not? No matter what age your kid is, visiting Disneyland Resort is a gateway to a magical world filled with childhood fantasies and attractions. Wandering through Disney themed lanes and bridges, seeing the Disney characters, riding the railroad and going on those fantastic rides in the amusement park are the very best things to do in Disneyland that kids enjoy the most. The vision of Walt Disney and the atmosphere in the theme park is not only enjoyable for kids, but it will take you too back to your nostalgic times.
Places like Tomorrowland, Main Street USA, Radiator Springs Racers and Star Wars : Galaxy’ s Edge will get you very excited. There are many fun events, vibrant parades and more fun packed possibilities that keep you entertained throughout your trip at the Disneyland Resort. Experience Disneyland After Dark to see the magical firework show. It seems just out of the world and feels dreamy.
2. Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park is a national park of superlatives. It is home to the largest collection of sequoia trees in the world. Sequoias are the biggest trees on the planet, growing even larger in girth than redwoods. The national park is also home to the highest mountain peak in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney.
Kids will love seeing these gigantic trees. Start by visiting the General Sherman Tree, the most enormous tree on the planet. The trail from the parking lot goes through a tunnel cut through the trunk of a giant tree that fell across the path. From there, hike the easy 2-mile Congress Trail. A favourite for kids is the Room Tree. The tree is alive but has a large hollowed out section in its trunk that is as big as a room – you can even go inside it. Don’t miss the Giant Forest Museum too, where the whole family can learn all about these fascinating trees.
At dusk, head down to the Big Tree Trail, which circles around a meadow that is a favourite foraging ground for black bears (keep a safe distance and have bear spray handy just in case). The national park is best visited from late spring to early fall when the weather is perfect and everything is open.
Where To Stay Near Sequoia National Park : Plantation Bed & Breakfast – The Parks Inn
By James Ian of Parks Collecting
3. Universal Studios, Los Angeles
One of the best places to visit in California with kids is the Universal Studios. With over 400 acres to explore, it’s like a playground for adults and kids alike. Universal Studios gives visitors a sneak-peak behind the scenes of some of Hollywood’s most famous movies and TV shows. Go on a 13 block tram tour to see sets from movies like Jaws and Psycho. “Survive” a simulated earthquake and meet face-to-face with King Kong. You will feel like you have stepped into the movie itself. As you are walking about, be prepared to meet famous movie characters like Optimus Prime and Megatron from the Transformers. You may even meet Spiderman and Captain America.
Be ready to take pictures with them and don’t be surprised if they stop to talk with you. Universal Studios has some world-class rides, such as Revenge of the Mummy, California’s fastest indoor roller coaster. Harry Potter fans will be in Hogwarts heaven when they step into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Sip a mug of butter-beer and then sore above Hogwarts on a one-of-a-kind ride with spectacular state-of-the-art technology.
Your whole family will enjoy watching the Waterworld Live Show with its daredevil stunts and stunning pyrotechnic effects. You will even see a flaming seaplane crash with a splash in the water. Universal Studios has plenty to offer families, making it one of the best attractions to visit in California with kids.
Where To Stay Near Universal Studios : Hilton – Universal City
By Karee of Our Woven Journey
4. Lake Tahoe
A weekend getaway in Lake Tahoe with your kids is a great opportunity for relaxation and adventure. Nestled in the gorgeous Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful places to visit in California with kids. This Alpine Lake is the largest and second deepest lake in the USA. Not only kids, but you can also visit this place without leaving your furry friend at home as you will find plenty of dog-friendly beaches in Lake Tahoe.
Lake Tahoe is such a good place and can be visited throughout the year. With kids, March to May or September could be the best time to explore Lake Tahoe. There are numerous fun and adventure activities with some incredible ski resorts. If your kids love adventure, your first stop should be The Taylor Creek Visitor Centre. This fun-filled attraction is a great place where your kids can experience the diverse water life in Lake Tahoe and get an idea of this place. You can see raccoons, trout, crayfish, frogs, Stellar Jay, Bald Eagles, butterflies, and many more creatures.
Next, visit the beaches in Lake Tahoe. Kiva Beach is perfect for families with young children and dogs. Your kids and pets both can play and enjoy an amazing day on the sandy beach. Lake Tahoe and the surrounding areas are popular for the scenic trails. The Donner Peak Trail and The Sawmill Lake Trail are kid-friendly and offer fantastic views of Lake Tahoe.
There are some bike trails that go around Lake Tahoe. You can rent bikes and explore the place and enjoy the surrounding scenic views. Your kids will love the water sports activities in Lake Tahoe. Rent a kayak or jet ski and enjoy the beauty of the lake from a different angle.
Where To Stay In South Lake Tahoe : Marriott Grand Residence Club
By Trijit Mallick from DogTravelBuff
5. Santa Monica Pier
If you are looking for a fun place to visit in California with kids where you can’t go wrong, head to Santa Monica Pier. Located on Santa Monica beach, jutting in to the waters of the Pacific Ocean, this pier must be the most famous one in the world. It’s easy to reach from anywhere in the Los Angeles area and is the end of the famous Route 66. Built in 1909, it was the first concrete pier on the west coast. It was known as being a great fishing spot. While fishing is still popular on Santa Monica Pier today, it is much better known for other activities now.
Home to many family friendly activities, it’s also packed full with restaurants, shops and performers. Kids will love Pacific Park, the amusement park located on this pier. From the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel to the 55-feet roller coaster, there’s something for all ages. There’s also a small aquarium and many arcade games. If you need a break from the pier, you are surrounded by a beach and this is the perfect place for a picnic or a lazy afternoon building sandcastles. Santa Monica Pier is open year round and is a good attraction for any time of the year.
Where To Stay Near Santa Monica Pier : Shore Hotel
By Sharon Gourlay of Dive Into Philippines
6. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is an iconic destination in California and a wonderful place to show kids the incredible beauty of nature. From the meadows of Tuolumne to the huge rock formations of the Valley, kids will be blown away by the landscape of Yosemite, and you will find plenty of easy hikes for the whole family to explore. Yosemite is most popular in the summer, so late spring and early fall are great times to visit to avoid the massive crowds.
One of the best hikes in Yosemite is the family-friendly trail to Lower Yosemite Falls. This half-mile hike starts from Yosemite Village and takes you on a brief jaunt to the base of an incredible waterfall. Another cool hike for kids is the Mirror Lake hike, which is a 2.5 mile round trip through the Valley. The highlight of the hike is the reflection of Half Dome in the still water of the lake.
The grandeur of the granite formations of Half Dome and El Capitan will captivate kids – as well as people of all ages. While the Half Dome hike is only recommended for older kids and teenagers, you can point out the climbers on these massive rock walls if you have a budding Alex Honnold on your hands. The Glacier Point hike is a short and sweet hike for kids where you can end your epic day in Yosemite watching the sunset over Half Dome.
Where To Stay Near Yosemite National Park : Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite
By Allison of She Dreams Alpine
7. San Francisco
San Francisco is a perfect destination for a family-friendly weekend trip in the US. It’s one of the most iconic cities in the country, with attractions ranging from the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz. It’s also a great city to visit with kids – there are so many fun things to do that kids of all ages can enjoy.
San Francisco’s most famous landmark is undoubtedly the Golden Gate Bridge. The iconic red suspension bridge has been featured in countless TV shows and movies. One of the most fun family-friendly activities in San Francisco is to rent a bike and cycle across the Golden Gate. The ride is 1.7 miles each way, so this might be a better activity for older kids. Bike across the bridge while admiring the scenery; when you get to the other side, you can check the various viewpoints in the Marin Headlands or explore the cute town of Sausalito.
There are several different kid-friendly museums in San Francisco. The Exploratorium, for example, is a really fun museum to visit with children. It’s filled with interactive exhibits that teach kids about science and the world around them. The Museum of Ice Cream is a fun, interactive exhibition with fun photo ops and of course, lots of ice cream samples. Alcatraz, one of the most popular attractions in San Francisco, is also a must-visit if you have older kids interested in learning about the history of the former prison.
Where To Stay In San Francisco : Cavallo Point
By Sydney Richardson of A World In Reach
8. San Diego
There are plenty of things to do for kids in San Diego. Your kids will love Safari Park, it’s one of the best zoos in the country. The tram around African safari is a favourite along with the Cheetah run, where you can see a cheetah reach its top speed of nearly 60 mph. You can spend the entire day here learning about more than 3,000 animals. The other popular zoo is the San Diego Zoo, but if you are short on time, Safari Park is the way to go.
One of the best places to visit while in San Diego with kids is LEGOLAND California. It’s the perfect size theme park for kids. There is a waterpark, aquarium and of course the massive theme park with rides, Miniland USA, Imagination Zone, and so much more.
Another popular destination in Southern California is SeaWorld. Kids can spend the day learning about animals in the ocean and playing in the massive Sesame Street play area. Older kids have an area where they can hang out and play games, so everyone can have fun.
For adventurous outdoor lovers, head to La Jolla Cove to enjoy snorkelling, kayaking, or bicycle along the beach. The possibilities are endless at this beautiful oasis. Plus, the food is phenomenal. You can’t go wrong with the restaurants in La Jolla, even your kids will love the food.
Where To Stay In San Diego : Loews Coronado Bay Resort
By Corritta Lewis of Itz A Family Thing
9. Lake Arrowhead
Lake Arrowhead is a popular weekend destination in the San Bernardino mountains of Southern California and definitely a great place to travel with kids. Start your visit by taking a 50 minute tour of the lake on the Arrowhead Queen. A hilarious captain will share the history of the lake and point out notable houses owned by famous people.
After your lake tour, peruse Lake Arrowhead Village’s shops and get a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants. Those with little children will love the playground where they can run around and have fun. As the sun sets, live music on summer weekends fills the air.
One of the best things to do in Lake Arrowhead is a day of water-skiing with McKenzie ski school. Another fun activity that draws people from all over are the mountain bike trails at Skypark. In addition to the bike park, there is roller skating, rock climbing, zip lining, archery and so much more.
During winter, Skypark is transformed into Santa’s village. Kids can visit Santa, go ice skating, see Santa’s workshop, decorate gingerbread cookies, and see a show at the puppet theater among other activities. Nearby Snowdrift Snow Tubing Park and Snow Valley ski resort also offer tons of winter fun. Lake Arrowhead California is definitely a must visit for kids of all ages.
Where To Stay In Lake Arrowhead : UCLA Lake Arrowhead Lodge
By Jenifer of The Evolista
One of the most beautiful road trips to take in California with kids is along the Central California coastline at Monterey County. The old regional capital of Alta California during Spanish rule, Monterey maintains much of its Spanish colonial heritage. This includes the Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf, the 17 mile drive and down to visiting Carmel by the sea. The unique storybook and cottage look and vibe of this European style town endears attention of kids. You can do a drive down to visit scenic sites like Point Lobos, Big Sur and even wine country at Carmel Valley.
Other popular places to visit in Monterey area that kids love includes the iconic Monterey Bay Aquarium, the coastline area of Pacific grove and the old historic district of downtown Monterey. Staying overnight or having a longer stay will give you a wonderful way to explore the landscape and attractions in more detail and even enjoy sunrise and sunsets along this magnificent coastal region. Spending time outdoors and doing a variety of activities from biking, hiking, surfing or diving, horseback riding to world class golfing clubs to visit, are some of the more fantastic things to do in the Monterey County area.
Where To Stay In Monterey : Monterey Bay Inn
By Noel Morata of Visit California And Beyond
11. Huntington Beach
Surf away to fun with your kids at Huntington Beach, California. Nicknamed “Surf City USA,” Huntington Beach is an easy 42-mile drive from Santa Monica. Picture long golden beaches where toddlers can dump their sand pals and preteens can drag their surfboards. After a morning spent riding the waves, explore the little beach town. Also do not miss out visiting the International Surfing Museum. The museum is home to a collection of surf boards as well as a catalogued collection.
When the family is ready for lunch, head for the popular Sancho’s Tacos. Or enjoy a leisurely sit-down lunch on the patio at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa. The 1,850-feet Huntington Beach Pier is a great place to run, jump or walk Fido. It is one of the longest public piers on the West Coast. When it gets too hot to sunbath, head to the 350-acre Huntington Central Park to kick around a soccer ball. There are four playgrounds, a dog park and a nature centre. Bring a rod for fishing. Kids will love to play Frisbee/Disc golf or horseshoes.
Where To Stay In Huntington Beach : Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa
By Terri Markle of Female Solo Trek
12. Redwood National and State Parks
If you are visiting California, one place not to miss is the Redwood National and State Parks. Spend one day in the Redwoods and see the highlights, or spend multiple days and see all this amazing park has to offer. Visiting in the summer will give you the best chance for sunny weather, although in the winter you can enjoy fewer crowds if you can stand the rain.
Many of the hikes in the Redwoods are quite easy, with breathtaking views of the towering trees, making this the perfect place to vacation with kids. Two of the best hikes are the Lady Bird Johnson Trail and the Fern Canyon Loop.
Both hikes are a little over a mile and have some of the best views in California. As the name suggests Fern Canyon has a beautiful trail that leads through rock walls completely covered with ferns. Lady Bird Johnson Trail is a more classic Redwoods hike among the tall trees that give the park its name. It even has a self-guided educational tour to add to the experience.
If you are not up to hiking you can also take a family road trip up the Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway, a 10-mile scenic drive alongside Highway 101. There are several more trailheads along this road, as well as many spots worth stopping at right off the road. Near the Prairie Creek Visitor Center, wild elk can often be spotted and viewed from a distance.
Further North on the drive is several interesting trees to visit as well, including Big Tree, a giant 1500-year-old tree, and the uniquely shaped Corkscrew Tree. End your drive by continuing along the 101 to Wilson Creek Beach. This is a beautiful rocky coastal beach with some unique black sand and is a great spot for a picnic lunch or dinner.
Where To Stay Near Redwood National and State Parks : Holiday Inn Express
By Val Pope of Voyages With Val
13. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Are you looking for the type of vacation that allows you and the family to get away from everyday worries and immerse yourself in a vast and quiet desert landscape? Then Anza-Borrego Desert State Park may be for you. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in the lower 48 states, situated in southern California. It is a popular destination for visitors from nearby Borrego Springs, San Diego, and beyond. However, because of the sheer size of the park, it never feels crowded.
Anza-Borrego features scenic hikes that families and kids will enjoy, like the short Slot Canyon hike tucked secretly away in the earth. Hikers need to squeeze through narrow canyon walls but the trail itself is easy enough for even the little ones. It feels like a fun and winding maze. The Wind Caves hike offers a shaded reward for your efforts. Hikers will see everything from skinny canyons, spiky cacti, rugged mountains, and desert plants along the way. However, nothing is quite as popular for the kids as the giant metal dinosaurs rising up out of the earth.
Ricardo Breceda is a Mexican-American artist who created these unique metal sculptures. A 350-foot serpent appears to be swimming through the earth. A giant T-Rex roars silently. The Borrego Springs sand is just swimming with these incredible artworks. If you like to camp, this park offers excellent stargazing opportunities, as well. Plan to arrive in early morning to avoid the hot desert sun. The park opens at dawn and closes at dusk.
Where To Stay Near Anza-Borrego Desert State Park : Borrego Springs Resort and Spa
By Monica Chapon of This Rare Earth
14. Mammoth Lakes
No matter what season you visit Mammoth Lakes, there is plenty for the whole family to do. This small town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains has loads of outdoor activities along with great restaurants, a wide range of accommodations, and stunning scenery.
If you are coming in the winter, Mammoth is one of the top spots in California for skiing. There are chairlifts and ski runs appropriate for all ages and abilities. There is also a ski school offering private and group lessons for both children and adults. Sledding and snow play are other fun options for kids. Along the Mammoth Scenic Loop you will find several places for both.
Mammoth Lakes in the summer does not disappoint. First up, hit the trails. There are myriad short and easy hiking trails in the area. Two of the most popular are McLeod Lake and Convict Lake. Make a day of it with a picnic lunch. There are also miles of paved, relatively easy bike paths like the five mile Town Trail Loop. Bring your own bikes or rent them from a local store.
For rainy days–or when you need a break from the great outdoors–head to Mammoth Rock N Bowl. This stylish bowling alley will be fun for the kids, but parents will appreciate the good food and adult beverages as well.
Where To Stay In Mammoth Lakes : The Westin Monache Resort
By Wendy Lee of Empty Nesters Hit The Road
Have you visited any of these destinations in California with kids? Share your experience with us in the comments section below. Also let us know which of these kid friendly destinations will you be visiting.