Best vacation spots in California for families

Best vacation spots in California for families for 2022

Last updated on December 6th, 2021

California is one of the top destinations in the US for a family vacation. Offering a wide range of activities, scenery, and landscape, from cities to national parks, from beaches to mountains, you will easily find the perfect kid-friendly destination for your next vacation.

Whether you are looking for a relaxing vacation, lounging by the pool or taking the sun at the beach, for an adventurous trip, exploring national parks, or for a cultural experience, visiting a new town, California offers an impressive range of vacation ideas for families with kids of all ages.

Read on to discover some of the best vacation spots in California for families.

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Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

By Rasika from Bae Area and Beyond

Yosemite National Park is a beautiful and exciting place to visit, especially with kids, and makes for the perfect family vacation. The park is huge and offers many exciting things to do for families with kids of all ages.

The best places to visit in Yosemite with kids are Lower Yosemite Falls, Tunnel View, and Glacier Point.

All three attractions provide stunning views with minimal hiking. They also have guardrails so it’s much safer than some of the other attractions at the park. There are plenty of gorgeous views around the park for your children to enjoy in Yosemite as well.

The best time to visit is in spring when the waterfalls are in peak flow.

While hiking, make sure to take an adequate amount of water for you and the kids. And while viewing wildlife, be careful and view cautiously at a distance.

The best place to stay with kids in Yosemite is at Tenaya Lodge. The lodge has pools and an arcade for kids. The resort also offers activities for kids including camps, a climbing wall, an adventure course, and archery lessons. 

San Francisco

Golden Bridge, San Francisco

By Whitney from Designs for Travel

One of the best kid-friendly places to visit in Northern California is San Francisco. San Francisco is a great place to visit any time of year. One of the best hotels in the city is the Fairmont Hotel on top of Nob Hill. Make sure to book a room with a view of the Bay.

Kids will love taking a self-guided walking tour of San Francisco. Start at Aquatic Park, a beautiful park with a man-made pool in the bay. Walk along the ocean and stop at the famous Ghiradelli Square for some Ghiradelli chocolate.  The next fun stop is Fisherman’s Wharf, with lots of tourist activities along the street. 

Keep walking until you get to Pier 39. You may see some street performers along the way. Pier 39 is full of shops and restaurants, and the highlight is all of the resident sea lions that have taken over the piers!  After this entertainment, check out the interesting science museum, The Exploratorium.

For some local gourmet food, walk a little further along the water to the Ferry Building, where you can choose from any of the delicious restaurants for a great lunch.

Coronado

Beach in Coronado

By Maria from San Diego Explorer

There are so many kid-friendly things to do on Coronado Island  you can easily fill a full 2 week vacation or more without getting bored. It’s also a great weekend getaway for families looking for a beach break.

This Southern California island is a fun destination to visit year round, but it depends a little on your preference. If you want a beach vacation, come in July-September, if you prefer warm, but not hot and don’t mind overcast skies in the morning, May and June are more affordable and less crowded. If you like to experience the Coronado Holiday spirit, December is absolutely magical. 

Coronado is famous for its magical beaches and often makes the top 10 of various “best beaches in the US” lists. Whether your kids are happy with playing in the sand or want to learn surfing, Coronado has it all.

Another fun family experience is taking the ferry over to San Diego. From there, you can explore some downtown San Diego attractions, including the USS Midway, Seaport Village, Little Italy, Waterfront Park, Balboa Park, and the famous Gaslamp Quarter. 

A stay at the Hotel Del Coronado is a true bucket list item and fun for the whole family. You can go on a ghost tour in the hotel or try out the many kid activities for kids of all ages. Yes, it is a splurge, but oh so worth it!

While Coronado does not have a pure vegan restaurant, there are many that offer vegan options. One of my favorites is Buona Forchetta. Their pizzas and pastas are so satisfying and the atmosphere is cozy. 

If you plan on staying at a vacation rental or simply want to grab some healthy snacks, check out Boney’s Bayside Market, a health-food store with lots of options. 

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park

James Ian from Parks Collecting

Kids will love Sequoia National Park. Sequoia trees are the largest trees on earth and the national park has the biggest and most sequoias in the world. The highest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney, is also in the park. 

You can start your trip to the Giant Forest Museum, where the whole family can learn more about these incredible trees. Then visit the General Sherman Tree, the most enormous tree on the planet. The trail from the parking lot to General Sherman goes through a tunnel cut right through the trunk of a giant sequoia that fell across the path.

From there, you can take the easy two-mile loop on the Congress Trail. This trail has many of the largest trees in the park (world), most named after historical or political figures. There are even two small – but tall – groves of sequoias called The House and The Senate. Kids will especially love the Room Tree. The center is hollowed out and they can actually go inside a living tree!

Sequoia National Park also has several impressive granite domes, and the hike up to Miro Rock, which involves more than 350 steps, provides great views over the park. Even little kids can do this hike, though you will need to keep an eye on them, as there are steep drop offs.

Kids will also love visiting Crystal Cave. A half-mile loop takes you through this cool marble cavern.

The best time to visit Sequoia National Park is summer, as it does get heavy snow in winter due to the altitude. There are several places to stay inside and near the park, but the main lodge, which is right in the center of the Giant Forest, is Wuksachi Lodge.

Santa Cruz

Beach in Santa Cruz

By Aimee of Snap Happy Travel

Santa Cruz, a 1.5 hour drive from San Francisco, is one of the best towns near San Francisco and in northern California for families. It is famous for its long boardwalk, the longest of its kind in the U.S. In fact, the boardwalk which is also home to many rides like the Loggers Revenge and Giant Dipper roller coasters is often labelled as the “Coney Island of the West ”. Of course the many rides, arcade games and candy stands here at the boardwalk are popular with children and every day in the Summer (and weekends in other seasons) it is rammed with tourists. 

To escape the crowds, head into Santa Cruz town which is under-rated and great for boutique stores. The town is also where the best restaurants are, like the kid-friendly and vegan Cafe Gratitude on Lincoln Street and the casual Veg on the Edge in the Cooperhouse Shopping Center. After food, why not treat the kids (and yourself) to an ice-cream from the Penny Ice Creamery on Cedar Street, famous because all of their delicious flavors are organic and made-from-scratch!

The Mystery Spot, just outside of town in the Redwood Forest is a unique family-friendly activity that allows you to defy gravity. There is no real explanation as to why this trail defies the law of gravity, some people say a spaceship is the cause others say it is because of a hole in the Ozone layer, either way it’s a great way to challenge your thinking. 

A fantastic and budget-friendly hotel in Santa Cruz is the Edgewater Beach Inn on Second Street. 

Disneyland

Disneyland, California

By Debbie Fettback from World Adventurists

“The happiest place on earth” is one of the best theme park to run wild with kids of all ages in Southern California, even those young at heart. Visiting Disneyland with a large group is pure magic, too. With fantastically themed rides, plenty of character appearances, vibrant parades, and firework displays that will blow your mind; it is a dream world.

Visiting Disneyland is magical all year round. However, the décor changes with the seasons. Disneyland lit up for the holidays takes the Disney magic to a whole new level and is one of the busiest times to visit.

To not entirely break the bank when visiting Disneyland, stay in a hotel across the street from the entrance. The Best Western Plus Anaheim Inn is a five-minute walk to the gate of Disneyland.

Arrive at rope drop to make the most of your day and get on some of the most popular rides before the lines get too long. Download the Disneyland app. With the app you can check current wait times for rides, make dinner reservations, put in mobile food orders, and more. Also, use the rider switch pass to save a ton of time if a younger Disneyland guest doesn’t want to ride, or isn’t tall enough for an attraction.

San Simeon

Elephant Seals on San Simeon California beach

By Ada from Beyond the Yellow Brick Road

You’ll find San Simeon perfect for some family fun, especially for kids ages 8 and up, on the south end of the Pacific Coast Highway’s Big Sur region along California coast. 

If you’re not careful, a visit to Hearst Castle, William Randolph Hearst’s hilltop mansion, could consume an entire day. Break from the Hearst Castle spell and explore the area’s beautiful coastline. Picnic at William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach, then pop into MBNMS Coastal Discovery Center to take in the free and educational exhibits.  

The Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery, located about 4.5 miles up Highway 1 from San Simeon, is a huge area highlight for all ages. While you can join the crowds at the elephant seals observation platform, a hike on the 1.9 mile Boucher Trail towards Piedras Blancas lighthouse (which you can tour by reservation) provides several overlooks to safely observe hundreds of these gigantic creatures in their natural habitat. You’ll see the most seals if you visit in January, April, or October.

Nearby Moonstone Beach provides plenty of lodging options, including Cambria Landing Inn & Suites. Stay in a two-bedroom family suite or opt for a traditional hotel rooms. You can hike the Moonstone Beach boardwalk into downtown Cambria or Moonstone Beach Park.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National park

By Agnes from The Van Escape

With its cosmic-looking landscape, Death Valley National Park is a beautiful place in Northern California for a holiday with kids. Teens will be thrilled to find the otherworldly setting where Star Wars was filmed. At Badwater Basin, your kids can snap a photo while standing at the bottom of a continent. That’s because at 282 feet below sea level, Badwater is the lowest point in North America. You can walk along the boardwalk and out onto the salt flats. The scenery here is truly out of this world.

The perfect place for youth is also Racetrack Playa. It’s phenomenal, with some boulders sliding across the dry lake bed, leaving long trails. Since it’s not easy to get there, it’s best to take a tour or rent a 4×4 car.

Take your children on a trip to the volcano. The Ubehebe Crater was formed about 2,100 years ago. It’s 600 feet deep, and a 1.5-mile trail runs along the rim, offering views of the depths and 13 smaller craters. Just outside the national park is a great ghost town – Rhyolite. It is an abandoned mining settlement from the gold rush era.

Since Death Valley is the hottest place in the US, be well prepared for your vacation with kids. The heat might be extreme, so it is mandatory to bring an adequate supply of water and hydrating drinks. Remember head and full-body coverage, sunglasses, and high filter sunscreen.

The best months to travel are fall and winter. If you must go in summer, start your sightseeing early in the morning and take a long siesta around noon. What’s essential, pack a lot of snacks because there are no shops or restaurants inside the park. Also, fill up to full fuel.

An excellent place for staying for a night is the Ranch At Death Valley. It provides accommodations with an outdoor swimming pool. So you can relax after sightseeing. There is also a garden, a terrace, and a bar.

Palm Springs

Air museum, Palm Springs California

By Casandra from Karpiak Caravan​

Palm Springs is perched on the eastern slope of the San Jacinto Mountains, which form a beautiful backdrop to sparkling blue skies and warm temperatures. Palm Springs is one of the best kid-friendly destinations for a California trip because there are so many activities to do while visiting.

Palm Springs is a bike-friendly city, so bring along your bike shorts and helmets if you have them. There are cycle routes throughout Palm Springs, including the Indian Canyon trail that winds past 100-year old palm trees. Visit Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for an elevated ride up the San Jacinto mountains that offers amazing views and plenty of hiking trails to let the kids run off some energy.

The Palm Springs Air Museum should be on the top of your list of fun things to do in Palm Springs, there, kids can explore the planes and helicopters, learn to virtually fly an airplane and sit in the cockpit of many WWII aircraft. In addition, they will be able to learn about flight and enjoy listening to war stories from pilots who volunteer at the museum.

Stay at the family-friendly Omni Resort Rancho Las Palmas, which has a small waterpark and a couple of pools to cool off in the desert heat. The Omni Golf Course is also kid-friendly, offering several junior golf programs that even beginning golfers will enjoy.

Palm Springs kid-friendly destinations are perfect for out of state visitors due to the desert climate and resort-style living. When staying in Palm Springs, there are plenty of family-friendly activities to do around every corner.

Solvang

Solvang, California

By Olivia from the Girl With Blue Sails Travel Blog

A popular family vacation spot in Southern California is the Danish town of Solvang. This quaint and charming city proudly displays its heritage with windmills, decorated storefronts, and Danish themed restaurants and bakeries. It’s a destination that offers adult as well as kid-friendly activities, making it a perfect place to get away with the family.  

There are plenty of things to do in Solvang, but one of the top family friendly is to visit the Hans Christian Andersen Museum located in The Book Loft. Rediscover the work of this famous fairytale author like The Little Mermaid or The Ugly Duckling, and browse items and documents to get a glimpse into his life. Tip: plan to visit this location in the middle of the day for a nice break from the heat and walking. 

There is also a Little Mermaid statue in Solvang, based off the original children’s book. The statue sits in the middle of a fountain, and is a replica of the original statue that was built off the shore of Copenhagen in 1913. Visitors throw coins in the fountain for luck when they visit the mermaid. 

When looking for a place to stay in Solvang, The M Solvang hotel is highly recommended. It is centrally located, has charming decor, and a large public garden for kids to explore. There are plenty of nearby restaurants within walking distance. It is recommended to spend at least one night in this city, as Solvang is sure to have something for the whole family.  

Napa Valley

Napa Valley, California

By Jennifer from FamilyTripGuides

Napa Valley is world-famous for its wines and vineyards, but did you know it’s also a wonderful kid-friendly destination? My family of 3 generations had a wonderful trip filled with lots to do with the kids as well as delicious wine for the adults.

We started our trip with a reserved tour of Castello di Amorosa. It is a beautiful replica of an Italian Castle nestled into the Napa hills. My daughter wore a crown and had fun chasing the wandering chickens and peacocks. The tour was very interesting, and we got to see the process from grape to glass.

Our next stop was Sterling Vineyards, which is only 3 miles down the main State Route 29. Sterling Vineyards has the only gondola in the Valley which takes you up to beautiful views at the tasting room. My kids loved the ride!

Our final stop was 8 miles south of Sterling to Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena. We had a delicious farm-to-table meal at The Farmstead. There is also an outdoor café, a general store, and outdoor games for the kids. It’s very relaxed and we did not feel that kids were looked down upon. The food was the best of our trip.

We stayed in San Francisco at the Marriott Marquis which was a great location, and the concierge lounge was great for kids. 

Mammoth Lake

Mammoth Lakes

By Allison from She Dreams of Alpine

Mammoth Lakes is an awesome mountain town that is the perfect destination in California if you want to explore the outdoors with your kiddos. From amazing (but easy) hikes to cool lakes to a gondola ride, the whole family will have a blast in Mammoth!

While Mammoth is well-known for skiing in the winter, there are actually so many things to do in Mammoth to make a summer trip extra special. Kids will love riding the Mammoth Mountain gondola in the summer for a bird’s eye view of the Sierra Nevadas.

One of the most popular places to visit in Mammoth is Devil’s Postpile National Monument. A short trail will take you to the unique basalt columns, and older or more adventurous kids can extend the hike to Rainbow Falls, a stunning 101 foot waterfall named for the rainbows it often creates on sunny days.

Another must-see in Mammoth for the family is Mono Lake. The lake features unique tufa rock formations and is over a million years old. Kids will have a lot of fun swimming in the saltwater, which will make them float!

Spend your nights at the Cinnamon Bear Inn. It’s a quaint and cozy bed & breakfast in a great location to explore all around Mammoth Lakes.

Laguna Beach

Best vacation spots in California for families for 2022

By Daria from the Discovery Nut

Located along Orange County coast, Laguna Beach is a small town that makes for one of the best family vacations if you are looking for a classic California beach getaway.

The crown jewel of Laguna Beach is Crystal Cove State Park with an incredible array of marine wildlife and stunning wilderness areas that are great for hiking and exploring.

But it’s not only beaches that make Laguna Beach a popular vacation spot among families from Southern California and beyond: this town also boasts premier art galleries, parks, and opportunities for relaxation. Head to Heisler Park for superb views of the coast and sit down for a quick picnic. This destination is a popular spot for families who come here to enjoy the atmosphere of this place.


What to go on a mini adventure? Check out an old shipwreck off Laguna Beach coast located at Cleo Street. This huge barge called the Foss 125 went down in 1958 and today remains at the same spot.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

By Mary from Wanderu

Los Angeles’ year-round sun ensures your entire family will enjoy this bustling destination – just make sure to pack the sunscreen!

Kids of all ages and interests will adore a day (or three!) exploring Universal Studios Hollywood. This theme park brings to life some of your kids’ favorite movies, with rides and character sightings inspired by the Minions, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and more. The Studio Tour takes the family behind the scenes of real movie sets, for a perfect Tinseltown experience.

If you’re looking for a convenient place to stay, Le Parc Suite Hotel in West Hollywood is a short shuttle trip from Universal, and of course, there’s a pool!

Teens and ambitious young hikers will love the hike up to the Hollywood sign – a surefire win for social media posts. While in Griffith Park, don’t miss the free-admission Griffith Observatory, where aspiring astronauts can view the cosmos through impressive telescopes and learn more about space via kid-friendly exhibits.

You can always combine two destinations in one trip. Nearby San Diego is another excellent SoCal city filled with kid-friendly attractions, and a bus from San Diego to L.A. takes under 2 hours. Make the most of your California trip by visiting both exciting cities!

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree - Kid-Friendly Destinations in California

By Jenna of Up and Away Magazine

Towering boulders, other-worldly trees, and crystal clear night skies make Joshua Tree National Park one of the best outdoor destinations in California for families. The park is full of scenic vistas and easy hikes, and picnic areas are plenty.

When planning your itinerary, be sure to include Hidden Valley, a short 1-mile loop trail that ends at a picnic area and includes fun rock scrambling for kids. Another must is Barker Dam – a 1.3-mile loop trail leading to a small reservoir. Being one of Joshua Tree’s only water sources, hikers are sometimes lucky enough to spot bighorn sheep and mule deer in the area! If time permits, also squeeze in stops at Skull Rock and Cholla Cactus Garden.

Given its extreme temperatures, Joshua Tree National Park is best visited during the spring or fall season when daily highs average about 85 degrees. Even so, those traveling with babies or toddlers are advised to bring a carrier with a shade attachment.

In terms of family-friendly Joshua Tree lodging, Airbnbs abound in the area and Joshua Tree Roca Vista is a wonderful option for those traveling with little ones. For families hoping to camp, the national park also has 9 campgrounds to choose from, 2 of which offer potable drinking water.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

By Émily from Love Life Abroad

Lake Tahoe is an amazing kid-friendly destination to add to a California itinerary. It’s about a 2-hour drive from Sacramento and is located at the border of the states of California and Nevada. It’s a year-round destination famous for water activities in the summer and skiing in the winter.

Tahoe City on the north shore of the lake offers a great little town filled with coffee shops, restaurants, and shopping options. It can easily be visited on foot, and the beach access is right there downtown with a fun kids’ playground.

Another great spot is the Vikingsholm Trail in Emerald Bay State Park (halfway between Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe). It’s a short trail (1,7 miles out-and-back) that leads to a Scandinavian mansion, the Vikingsholm castle. There is a 10$ parking fee. At the bottom of the trail, there is also access to the lake and a great view of the lake at the top of the trailhead. If time allows, you can walk to Eagle Falls and enjoy the fresh mist from the waterfalls.

In South Lake Tahoe, Pope Beach is a great place to relax in the afternoon in the summer. There are some shaded spots, a large parking lot, and restroom facilities. There is a 10$ parking fee. In the winter, Heavenly Mountain Resort is the perfect place to ski with a view on the lake.

There are many lodging options around Lake Tahoe, from state campsites to luxury inns. If you’re planning on camping, make sure to reserve early in the year. Cedar Glen Lodge is a good option for a resort-style vacation by the lake, while Camp Richardson is a good option for a family camping trip.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica Pier

By Karee from Our Woven Journey

California has no shortage of entertainment options. If you haven’t spent any time in Santa Monica, you’re going to want to put it on your list of places to visit the next time you’re looking for kid-friendly destinations in California. 

Located only a half-hour from the Los Angeles Airport and right on the beach, the city’s biggest attraction is the Santa Monica Pier. The amusement park setting is a great atmosphere for families and has plenty to offer for a fun evening. 

For starters, the solar-powered Ferris Wheel is the only one of its kind in the world and lights up with over 174,000 LED lights. You’ll also find a fun roller coaster and a dozen other rides along with games and food reminiscent of a county fair located at the end of the Pier.

While these rides bring the area to life at night, there’s still plenty to do during the day. There are souvenir shops, restaurants like Bubba Gump Shrimp, and lots of photo opportunities along the pier. You’ll even find the end of Route 66 on the Santa Monica Pier.

Le Meridien Delfina hotel is only four blocks from the Pier and is a lovely place for families to stay. They offer free bike rentals for those who would like to pedal down to the Pier instead of driving.

Monterey and Point Lobos State Reserve

Point Lobos, California

By Candice from CS Ginger

If you’re looking for a great place to spend some time outdoors with your kids, Monterey and Point Lobos State Reserve is a great option. Monterey is a beautiful coastal town near Big Sur and Carmel-by-the-Sea. This area of California is known for its beautiful beaches and lots of opportunities to see wildlife.  

The best place to explore the coast in this area is at Point Lobos State Reserve. Point Lobos is about 15 minutes from downtown Monterey. There are lots of great Point Lobos hikes that will take you by some of the iconic places in the reserve like China Cove and wildlife viewing points. It is common to see whales, sea lions, and otters as well as lots of different kinds of birds.

On a sunny day, the Dennis the Menace Playground is a really fun place to take your kids. It is a free activity and is just a few steps from the ocean. Be sure to check out the maze and rock-climbing wall.

The Monterey Bay Inn is a great hotel to stay at in the area. It has close beach access as well as a hot tub. It is also really close to the fun places in town. It is 0.3 miles from Cannery Row and 0.7 miles from the City Center.

El Cantaro is a great vegan restaurant to visit that the kids will love!

Redwood National and State Parks

Redwoods

By Val from Voyages with Val

The Redwood National and State Parks are a great place to visit in California for anyone, perfect for all ages! Spend one or more days in the Redwoods with the family and learn all about these majestic and giant trees. 

Some of the best hiking in California can be found in the Redwoods! Start your trip by hiking the Fern Canyon Loop, a 1.1-mile, easy loop through fern-covered canyon walls and over rainforest boardwalks. Other amazing Redwoods hikes include Lady Bird Johnson Grove and Tall Trees Grove which take you through the massive tree groves. Lady Bird Johnson in particular has a self-guided tour great for all ages!

Other ways to enjoy the Redwoods include taking a scenic drive down the Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway and stopping to see elk, Big Tree, and Corkscrew Tree. You can keep driving to Wilson Creek Beach and spend some time on the black sand beaches. 

Stay at a campsite within one of the parks when you visit for an outdoorsy trip or stay in one of several hotels in nearby Cresent City or Eureka, California. 

Ventura

Ventura marina

By Sarah from Tiny Trailblazers

The laid-back central coast city of Ventura is the ideal base for a Californian family beach vacation. Not only are there plenty of fun activities to do in the town itself, but it’s also close to many of the state’s top attractions.

Top of the list is the Channel Islands, one of California’s hidden gems. This national park is a short ferry ride from Ventura but feels like another world. Book a kayak tour through the cliff caves of Santa Cruz Island to discover why this place is so special.

As you take the ferry back to Ventura, stay on deck and watch dolphins play in the boat’s wake.

Back in Ventura, visit Harbor Village to learn more about the Channel Islands at the visitor center, where kids can earn their Junior Ranger badge. Then to the games arcade for air hockey and video games.

Later, stroll through the vibrant downtown and stop for lunch at Harvest Cafe, a family-friendly spot serving organic and locally-sourced dishes.

The Ventura Beach Marriott is located near Ventura Pier. With a pool, sweeping views of the ocean, and a location close to downtown, it’s ideal for families who want to walk to restaurants and the beach.

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