While Los Angeles is one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations, if you live there, you might want to enjoy an escape elsewhere once in a while. The good news is that there is a long list of options for families within reasonable driving distance, whether you want a holiday at the beach, in the mountains, at a lake, in the fascinating wilds of a desert or an exciting city with a wide range of attractions. Take your pick, start planning, and packing.
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Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas is just a four-hour drive from L.A. and it’s not just for hard-core parties or gamblers, in recent years it’s become a much more family-friendly destination with kid-friendly activities. It hosts all sorts of fun with resorts offering a variety of entertainment, multiple pools, fabulous food and more. Plus there are family-friendly live shows, including magicians, acrobats, circus and much more, captivating young and old, along with amusement rides like Ferris wheels, roller coasters, Venetian-style gondola rides and much more.
Santa Barbara is just two hours north along the coast offering lots of places to enjoy playing on beautiful beaches. Visit the pretty harbor to see the sights, dine and shop, and check out the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. You can also visit the Santa Barbara Zoo and Alameda Park which hosts Kids World with swings and slides and towers and turrets, beautiful grassy areas and gazebo shelters where musicians play when the weather’s warm.
Solvang is a place that looks like a town in Denmark was dropped right into the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, just a two to 2.5-hour drive from L.A. Its Scandinavian half-timbered architecture makes it feel as if you’ve really entered the streets of a European village, a great way to introduce kids to what a trip to Europe might be like. You can also learn about Danish culture in the Elverhoj Museum and explore the Hans Christian Anderson Museum located in the upstairs area of the Book Loft.
Mono Lake is located on the eastern side of the Sierras via Tioga Pass from Yosemite. Estimated to be 760,000 years old, it’s one of the oldest lakes in the western hemisphere, and one of the most unique sightseeing places in the world, thanks to water diversion efforts the city of Los Angeles started in 1941. Four decades later, a little over half the lake’s surface area had disappeared, revealing once-submerged limestone referred to as tufa. The form towers jut across the surface of the water, giving it hauntingly beautiful look with the snow-capped Sierra Nevada reflected in the calm, deep blue lake. The salt water makes swimmers float like a cork and it sustains trillions of brine shrimp, attracting millions of migratory birds to feast. It’s ideal for bird watching, kayaking and canoeing, with many islands to explore.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is a great spot for families. It features fascinatingly bizarre trees like the unique Joshua Tree, each of which seems to have a personality of their own, along with lots of other unique plant species. It also boasts massive boulder formations for climbing (along with smaller ones for younger kids to climb) and incredible stargazing and wildflowers galore in the springtime. It’s ideal for camping from winter through spring though it offers a wide range of accommodation options in the village of Joshua Tree just outside the park.
Giant Sequoia National Monument, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
The Giant Sequoia National Monument protects 30 lesser-known groves, with the habitat of these impressive trees limited to a narrow swath of conifer forest along the western edges of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range just outside of Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. It’s home to the 269-foot-high Boole Tree, one of the 10 largest Giant Sequoias, while General Grant Grove is an isolated section of Kings Canyon National Park that’s famous for the 1,500-year-old General Grant Tree, the third largest known tree on Earth. In the national parks, you can also view geological formations similar to what you’d find in Yosemite, but without the big crowds.
The Eastern Sierras offer an enchanting California vacation destination for adventurous families. While it’s especially popular for skiing in the winter, it offers year-round activities. Hike around the impressive Devils Postpile National Monument, go fishing in the region’s many lakes, and discover one beautiful view after another one the many hiking trails. Boating, camping, golfing, and paddleboarding, are just a few of the other options.
Only 20 miles across the Pacific from Los Angeles and you can be snorkeling in waters that have been compared to the Caribbean. Catalina Island is full of family-friendly activities, as it is one of the few destinations in the country offering such a stunning underwater world and it can be reached via ferry from Long Beach. Starfish, eels, anemones, octopi, and Garibaldi fish are just a few of the creatures you’re likely to see – dolphins and sea lions are commonly spotted as well, right from shore. The island also offers paths for cycling and hiking, boat excursions, golfing and more.
Coronado Island, San Diego
San Diego is renowned for its abundant year-round sunshine as well as miles and miles of magnificent stretches of sand to take advantage of it. Coronado Island, in particular, is often ranked as one of the finest in the entire nation thanks to its powdery, soft sands that glisten in the sun due to its high mineral content. Look forward to getting out and enjoying the water, wading, swimming and splashing around or launching a paddle board straight into the bay to paddle around the island and the massive bridge enjoying the gorgeous views of the city skyline. Of course, nearby are countless family-friendly attractions like the San Diego Zoo and exciting theme parks.