Looking for California Vacation Inspo? Check Out the 10 Top Spots for Families!

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Catalina Island Harbor aerial view
Santa Catalina Island is situated 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

California is a fantastic state for family vacations, and it’s no wonder why. Nicknamed the Golden State, it is full of sunshine, breathtaking beaches, wonderful towns and amazing national parks. Throw in Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood and it’s easy to understand why so many people have California at the top of their vacation destination list.

If you’re looking for family-friendly vacation ideas, look no further! We’ve put together 10 great places for your next California getaway with the best things to do for all ages.

1. San Diego

One of my family’s all-time favorite California family vacation locations, San Diego is definitely a place to visit with kids. With its sunny weather and beautiful beaches, San Diego is ideal all year round.

There are also plenty of family-friendly attractions like the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld, just to name a few. But there is so much here, you could spend a few weeks and not see it all. Here are the top must-sees in San Diego.

Highlights of San Diego for Families

  • Spend the day at one of the best zoos in the United States, the San Diego Zoo or check out animals up close at the San Diego Wild Zoo Safari Wild Animal Park.
  • Visit Balboa Park.
  • Step back in history at Old Town San Diego and enjoy a delicious meal.
  • Enjoy a boat ride to Catalina Island.
  • Visit a nearby theme park like Sea World or Legoland in nearby Carlsbad.
  • Climb aboard the USS Midway Museum.

Read More: The Best Kid-Friendly Restaurants in San Diego

Disneyland in California
Anaheim is home to Disneyland, one of the biggest attractions in the city. Photo credit: Gwen Kleist

2. Los Angeles

There’s so much to do in Los Angeles, it’s hard to know where to start! From Disneyland and Universal Studios to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Rodeo Drive, there’s something for everyone in this city.

My husband and I loved doing a behind-the-scenes studio tour of a favorite TV show years ago. And, we even attended a live taping of a show! It was so much fun to see how it works behind the lights, camera and action!

But, with kids, we have loved Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure as a great family vacation. It was a great way to get some of that Disney magic at the original Disney park on the Pacific coast.

Now, the Disneyland Resort can be its own family-friendly California vacation. You can easily spend several days here and enjoy lots of family fun. But if you are visiting Los Angeles, a day trip to Disneyland is definitely doable.

Highlights of visiting Los Angeles

  • Visit Disneyland California and Disney’s California Adventure located in nearby Anaheim.
  • Walk in the footsteps of celebrities in Hollywood on a studio tour.
  • Get your thrills at Universal’s Hollywood Studios
  • Visit Santa Monica Pier, enjoy the boardwalk and rides on the pier.
  • Tour Los Angeles on a bus tour.
  • Take a day trip to the beautiful town of Santa Barbara.
  • Ferry over to Catalina Island for the day.
  • Enjoy a day at Knott’s Berry Farm Theme Park.
Alcatraz Prison in California
A trip to Alcatraz is an interesting day trip on a family vacation to San Francisco. Photo credit: Cortney Fries

3. San Francisco

San Francisco is another great family-friendly destination in Northern California. There are plenty of kid-friendly attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and Fisherman’s Wharf.

And don’t forget to take a ride on one of the city’s famous cable cars! There are so many fun things to do in San Francisco that your kids won’t be bored. And, this is one of my top bucket list locations to visit in the next year.

Highlights of San Francisco

  • Take a Golden Gate Bridge tour to see the famous landmark.
  • Enjoy a cable car ride on the famous hills of this fantastic city.
  • Visit the Aquarium of the Bay and learn about the amazing animals that swim in the Pacific shores off of San Francisco.
  • Discover Alcatraz on a day trip from the city.
  • Visit the San Francisco Zoo, one of the best zoos in the country.
  • Take a day trip from the Bay Area to visit Sonoma or Napa Valley vineyards (many are kid-friendly!)
  • Enjoy a day in Santa Cruz and visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which kids of all ages love!

Read More: Fun Things to Do with Teens in San Francisco

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Lake Tahoe Resorts for families. Kirkwood
Kirkwood Mountain Resort near Lake Tahoe. credit: Vail Resorts/Kirkwood

4. Lake Tahoe

Looking for a more outdoorsy family vacation? Head to Lake Tahoe, where you can enjoy hiking, biking and swimming in the clear blue waters. There are also plenty of family-friendly resorts in the area if you’re looking for a place to relax.

What makes Lake Tahoe special is that it is a year-round destination and there is something for the whole family. You can ski there in the winter as well as enjoy it for all of its summer beauty. In fact, if you decide to visit here, you can look into home rentals from VRBO.

Highlights of Lake Tahoe

  • Discover Lake Tahoe on a self-driving road trip tour to see all of the beauty this location has to offer.
  • Take a boat cruise on the lake or try water sports like kayaking or paddle boarding.
  • Visit Emerald Bay State Park, one of the most photographed sightseeing locations with great hiking trails.
  • Enjoy Lake Tahoe from above in a gondola, hot air balloon ride or on a helicopter tour.
pier at Monterey California
Lover’s Point Park in Monterey, California. Photo credit: Julie Bigboy

5. Monterey

Monterey is a beautiful coastal beach town that’s perfect for a family vacation. There are plenty of things to do, from exploring the Monterey Bay Aquarium to taking a drive down 17-Mile Drive.

From Monterey, you can also visit the charming town of Carmel, also known as Carmel-by-the-Sea. And don’t skip the scenic drive on Highway 1, the Pacific Coast roadway featured in movies, tv shows and commercials.

Highlights of Monterey

  • Visit Monterey’s famous Cannery Row, full of shopping, family activities and hotels.
  • Drive the scenic and gorgeous Highway 1.
  • Enjoy the Monterey Bay Aquarium to see some gorgeous sealife.
  • Spot some whales on a whale watching tour.
  • Visit the gorgeous cottage-like village of Carmel for some shopping and a walk about.
family posing in front of Yosemite landscape
There are so many incredible vistas for family photos at Yosemite. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

6. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular family-friendly destinations in California. With its stunning scenery and abundance of activities, it’s no wonder why.

From hiking and camping to horseback riding and rock climbing, there’s something for everyone at this family vacation destination. One of the things that makes Yosemite National Park so special (and why it is on my bucket list) is its waterfalls and giant sequoias.

Highlights of Yosemite National Park:

Read More: What’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Yosemite?

Tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park in California
Joshua Tree National Park has such a special and unique landscape, it’s like a science lesson for kids! Photo credit: Yvonne Jasinski

7. Joshua Tree National Park

Another great family-friendly national park in California is Joshua Tree. This desert park is home to some of the most unique landscapes and plants in the world. But did you know it’s a great place to visit with kids?

And there are plenty of family-friendly activities, like hiking, stargazing and rock climbing. Joshua Tree is a fan favorite of families. According to Tripadvisor reviews, it’s super family-friendly with many rock formations and trails, some of which are short and easy enough for small children.

Highlights of Joshua Tree National Park:

  • Hiking the Hidden Valley Nature Trail.
  • Bird Watching and walking about at the Oasis of Mara.
  • Check out the cactus at the Cholla Cactus Garden Trail.
  • Visit the Joshua Tree Cultural Center and learn about the area’s indigenous communities.
Big Sur Bridge
Big Sur is one of the best beaches in California. Photo credit: © Lunamarina | Megapixl.com

8. Big Sur

If you’re looking for a family vacation that’s off the beaten path, head to Big Sur. This remote area of California is home to some of the most beautiful coastline views in the world. And there are plenty of family-friendly activities, like hiking and kayaking. Or make plans to sleep under the starts at one of the many campgrounds in the area.

Whether you are looking for a day at the beach, a view of the California coast or more of an outdoor adventure, Big Sur has stunning beauty for you to spend time together in a gorgeous setting.

Highlights of Big Sur:

  • Camp at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, enjoy the redwoods, hike and take a dip in the swimming hole!
  • Spend a beach day at Sand Dollar Beach.
  • Visit McKay Falls, an 80-foot waterfall!
  • Spot Marine Life at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.
  • Check out Pfeiffer Keyhole Rock at Pfeiffer Beach.
  • Take a panoramic view at Bixby Creek Bridge.
A lone hiker walk across the badlands at Zabriskie Point
A lone hiker follows the trail across the Badlands at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park, California, U.S. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

9. Death Valley National Park

Despite its name, Death Valley National Park is a great family-friendly destination for those who love the outdoors. With its stunning landscapes and abundance of wildlife, it’s no wonder why. In fact, its contrasting landscapes and range of temperatures make it a living science class for kids.

Plus, there are plenty of family-friendly activities like hiking and camping, to keep everyone happy. Because Death Valley National Park is so unique, it has made our top 10 list for exciting family-friendly California vacation ideas!

Highlights of Death Valley National Park:

  • Check out the highest viewing point and unique yellow stripes at Zabriskie Point.
  • Enjoy the Canyon walls, slot canyons, scurrying wildlife and unique golden hues of Golden Canyon with a hike through it.
  • Take in the colors of the hillsides through the 9-mile Artist’s Drive.
  • Visit Ballarat Ghost Town!
  • Try sandboarding at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
  • See Native American tools at the Borax Museum.
  • Step back in history with a visit to Scotty’s Castle and discover its fascinating history!
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The view is awesome from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Photo credit: Greater Palm Springs CVB

10. Palm Springs

The desert area of Palm Springs is a great family-friendly destination in Southern California. With its many resorts, golf courses and unique activities, it’s sure to keep the whole family happy.

Popular as a luxe getaway for the rich and famous, Palm Springs has a ton of fun things to do with kids. In fact, if you are visiting Joshua Tree National Park, you are not far from Palm Springs and all this desert paradise has to offer. It’s top of my bucket list of places to visit in California.

Highlights of Palm Springs:

  • The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway cable car gives you a 360-degree view of the area from above.
  • Feed giraffes and meet some animals at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.
  • Visit Indian Canyons, the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and home to the largest collection of Washingtonia filifera palm trees.
  • The Palm Air Museum is great fun for airplane fans!
  • Fans of dinosaurs will love the Cabazon Dinosaur Museum.
  • Explore the desert on a jeep ride!

Read More: Does a Tropical Resort Work in the Desert? 

Final Thoughts

With its diverse landscapes, towns and activities, California has so many places that make great family-friendly vacations. Whether you like the hustle and bustle of a city like San Francisco, a fab theme park like Disneyland, the beautiful California coastline or the tranquility of national parks, California has it all. These vacation ideas cover all the bases in the Golden State.