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With its beaches, mountains, kid-friendly activities and an alluring array of exciting destinations, California is the perfect place to take a family vacation. Here are our top recommendations for where to take a memorable trip with your family in California.
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Across the entire United States, it doesn’t get much better than San Diego for a family vacation. This warm and sunny city is home to the famous San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld, and there are distinct neighborhoods to explore with your family here too. Make sure to check out the Historic Old Town area, the Gaslamp Quarter, and the local children’s museum. After a long day of sightseeing, retreat to one of San Diego’s top family hotels.
It’s also fun to take the whole family to Sequoia National Park to see the giant redwood trees and feel tiny while walking among them. This Northern California destination is home to some of the tallest trees in the world and has ample opportunities for hiking, biking, camping, and horseback riding. Even if your family isn’t a group of avid hikers, you can still access many of the viewpoints and best photo ops on very short hikes and scenic pull-offs.
San Francisco is great for family vacations too because of all of the entertainment available, there are even budget-friendly options. It’s fun to take a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, walk through Golden Gate Park, stop at the restaurants of Fisherman’s Wharf, and check out the city’s diverse neighborhoods and festivals. Other top attractions for families are the California Academy of Sciences, the San Francisco Zoo, the Aquarium of the Bay, and the Children’s Creativity Museum.
Disney is the go-to brand for family entertainment, which is why Disneyland in Anaheim is so popular for family vacations. There are Disney resorts onsite to make your family vacation easy and convenient to plan. In addition to this popular destination, you can also visit Knott’s Berry Farm, watch games for the Anaheim Ducks and Angels, and access the nearby Orange County beaches for some relaxing time together.
You can live the island life, even if just for a few days when you take a family vacation to Catalina Island off the Southern California coast. Hop on a one-hour ferry ride from the mainland to travel to the cute seaside town of Avalon on the island. There are lots of great shops and restaurants to explore here, as well as child-friendly programs at the library, zip lining, and various campground and lodging options.
Big Sur is an epic California destination with tons of things to do for everyone and it’s also a relaxing place to bring your family for a vacation. Come here for amazing coastal scenery, lovely drives, and plenty of time to play on the beach. Big Sur is a great spot to visit with older kids that can appreciate the dramatic coastline and beautiful trails. They’ll enjoy walking along Sand Dollar Beach, seeing McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and going for a horseback ride along the beach.
Joshua Tree National Park is a unique family vacation destination in Southern California and an ideal place to get in touch with your family’s outdoorsy side. Here you’ll find surreal landscapes and lots of opportunities for outdoor adventures, including hiking and rock climbing. Consider hiring a local guide to show your kids the ropes and keep them safe as they learn new skills while appreciating the rugged beauty of nature.
We also like Huntington Beach as a California family vacation because of its hip surf culture. This is a great place to sign your kids up for surfing lessons or give the waves a try for yourself. In town, you can dine together at some great restaurants, take a historic walking tour, and enjoy some awesome sunsets too. Other kid-friendly Huntington Beach attractions include the Adventure Playground, Shipley Nature Center, International Surfing Museum, and the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center.
With some of the most impressive natural scenery in the world, Yosemite is a must-visit destination for families. This is a great place to camp for your vacation getaway and spend as much time in the great outdoors as possible. There are also hotels and lodges right inside the park if your family isn’t up for roughing it. Keep in mind that this is a very popular park that draws in millions of tourists each year, so you might want to visit in the early spring or late fall to beat the biggest crowds.
Legoland is the top attraction for families in Carlsbad and an awesome place to bring your kids. This sprawling resort has lots of rides, shows, an aquarium, and a water park that are perfect for kids between the ages of four and 12. Some of the rides have height requirements, so be mindful of that as you plan your trip to Carlsbad. Otherwise in Carlsbad, you and your family can spend your vacation days getting active with watersports on the lagoon, exploring the Museum of Making Music and visiting a local skate park or go-kart track.
Many people think of Palms Springs as an ideal girls’ getaway weekend or couple’s destination, but it’s also a nice place to visit with your family. Palm Springs is a resort town that’s perfect to visit in the cooler months of the year when you’re looking for warmer weather than your home base has to offer. Make sure to check out the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert and the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens with your family when you take this vacation. Also, choose a hotel with a great pool so you can cool off while enjoying the California sunshine.
Death Valley will really “wow” your family with its extreme landscapes and natural formations that take your breath away. This is a great family vacation destination to experience the magic of the outdoors and get far away from big cities and busy schedules. To keep everyone in your family safe and comfortable, consider visiting Death Valley during the cooler months of the year because the temperatures get very intense here in the summer. This is a great trip for older kids because of the challenging and rugged park conditions rather than very young ones.