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Best California with Kids Destinations

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California is so jam-packed with family-friendly fun, the state could be renamed Kidifornia. In fact, there are so many destinations for families in the Golden State, you may not know where to begin planning your vacation. Read my picks for the best California with kids vacation destinations below.

Best California Vacation Destinations for Families

This story and giveaway are brought to you in partnership with Visit California.

San Diego

I lived in San Diego in Southern California for 15 years and birthed both of my kids in the self-proclaimed America's Best City, so I admit I am a bit partial to this California city. Home to the renowned San Diego Zoo, miles of shoreline, SeaWorld San Diego and tons of other attractions — San Diego pleases all ages. Sound like your cup of kid-friendly tea? Read about the best San Diego attractions for kids.

Home to pandas, the San Diego Zoo is one of the most well-known and beloved zoos in the world ~ California with Kids

Home to pandas, the San Diego Zoo is one of the most well-known and beloved zoos in the world (Photo credit: Visit San Diego)


Of course, no list of the best California with kids destinations would be complete without Disneyland and its sister park, Disney California Adventure. With memorable character meals, thrilling rides, and attractions aplenty, you're never too old or too young for a Disney vacation. Visiting with wee ones? Check out my picks for the best Disneyland rides and attractions for babies and toddlers. Headed to the Happiest Place on Earth with bigger kids? Take a peek at the 17 scariest rides at Disneyland, ranked for families.

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland ~ California with Kids

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland (Photo credit: Paul Hiffmeyer, Disneyland)

Huntington Beach

If your ideal California with kids vacation focuses on ocean waves, sandy beaches and hanging ten — book a trip to Huntington Beach. Also known as Surf City USA, be sure to sign up for family surf lessons during your visit. A visit to the Surfer Hall of Fame as well as a beach bonfire are musts in this walkable beach town. Read more about Huntington Beach with kids.

Huntington Beach is the ultimate surfer town to visit in California with kids

Huntington Beach is the ultimate surfer town (Photo credit: wolterke,

Ventura County

For a unique array of activities for families, consider a Ventura County vacation. Think gondola rides through canals, spying on wild foxes on an uninhabited island, and piloting a battery-operated boat. Discover more unique things to do in Ventura County with kids.

The Channel Islands are an intriguing place to visit with kids in Ventura Country

The Channel Islands are an intriguing place to visit with kids in Ventura Country (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

San Francisco

Ahh…San Francisco! What's not to love about this city by the sea? From the massive Golden Gate Park and the world's crookedest street, to the famous Pier 39 and Alcatraz Island, there's much to explore in San Francisco with kids. Got a Star Wars fan or comics lover in the family? Then you'll want to read our geek's guide to San Francisco before you go!

Kids might be surprised to find that the Golden Gate Bridge is red, not gold during a visit to San Francisco

Kids might be surprised to find that the Golden Gate Bridge is red, not gold during a visit to San Francisco (Photo credit: martinm303,


Along California's Central Coast lies the picturesque city of Monterey. The famous Monterey Bay Aquarium will wow kids with exhibits filled with tuxedoed penguins, playful sea otters and, of course, fish and sea creatures of all sorts. Seafood lovers rejoice in Monterey for its abundance of fresh-caught selections. Plus, hiking opportunities give families a chance to connect with nature and each other. If your family golfs (and even if it doesn't), a stop the famous Pebble Beach Golf Club is a must. Monterey is just four miles from the darling Carmel, a destination worthy of a day trip or additional stop on your California vacation.

Children and adults alike love Monterey Bay Aquarium

Children and adults alike love Monterey Bay Aquarium (Photo credit: Belyay,

Carlsbad and Legoland California

Located just over 30 miles north of downtown San Diego and less than an hour's drive south from Orange County's Irvine, you could easily spend your entire California family vacation in Carlsbad. Besides its seven miles of beaches, Legoland California is the star of the show here. This amusement park offers mellow roller coasters, interactive rides, colorful play areas, and other fun for kids. Also onsite is the Legoland Water Park for summer visitors and the SeaLife Aquarium, open year-round. The fun doesn't stop there, though. Learn more about all there is to do in Carlsbad for families.

Legoland California is the star of Carlsbad ~ California with kids

Legoland California is the star attraction in Carlsbad (Photo credit: Legoland California)

Kidifornia #KidsNTrips Twitter Party

Learn more about all that your family can experience during a California with kids vacation during this week's Kidifornia #KidsNTrips Twitter Party. You just might win a Legoland California getaway just for tweeting with us!

Hosts@lajollamom@jenleo@TravelMamas and @VisitCalifornia

Special Guests: @globalmunchkins from and @TripsWithTykes from

When: Thursday, March 22, 2018 from 9:30 am – 10:30 am Pacific Time

Where: On Twitter using hashtags #KidsNTrips and #Kidifornia (No need to RSVP!)

Prize: Four 2-Day Resort Hopper Tickets to Legoland and a one-night stay at the NEW Legoland Castle Hotel (prize package valued at $1037)

Terms: Must be 21+ to win. Open to U.S. residents only. No purchase necessary to win. Bearer must present the original winning certificate upon check-in. Complimentary stay dates are 5/14/18 – 5/25/18, 5/29/18 – 6/1/18, 9/4/18 – 11/16/18, 11/26/18 – 12/20/18 and 1/8/19 – 2/15/19. Reservations must be canceled at least 14 days prior to scheduled arrival date. Other restrictions may apply. Certificate valid at the Legoland Castle Hotel at Legoland California Resort only and has no cash value. Reservations must be made in advance. Does not include incidentals or other room upgrades. Read additional prize terms and conditions.

Learn more: Not sure what a Twitter party is or why to participate? Learn more about #KidsNTrips family travel Twitter parties now!

Where would you like to vacation in California with kids? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: I will receive compensation related to this blog post and the Kidifornia #KidsNTrips Twitter Party from Visit California.
About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show,, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. I would love to take my child to Anaheim California to visit Disneyland!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      I bet your family will love Disneyland and Disney California adventure – hope you can visit soon!

  2. Michelle D. says:

    Disneyland of course! My kid would love that trip!

  3. Melissa Chapman says:

    That review of California destinations makes me wish I lived on the left coast. I find it hard to choose but the picture of those fields in Ventura county looks so inviting, I would love to go for a run there.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      That photo was taken on Scorpion Island, which is part of the Channel Islands National Park. It’s so beautiful and peaceful there.

  4. I’ve heard many great things about the San Diego Zoo. I know I would love going, as would my kids. Of course, SeaWorld would be a great experience, as would LegoLand! Way too many exciting places to take the kids to comment on!

  5. Since we live in Las Vegas, we have been frequenting southern California theme parks for years, and we never get tired of them! The San Diego Zoo is a big family favorite and I love the idea of heading up north to explore San Francisco.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      California is such a diverse state – how lucky that you live close enough for easy escapes!

  6. This looks like an absolute blast! I need to take the boys to LegoLand!!

  7. Those are some pretty awesome destination choices for California with kids. Looks like Legoland California also has so much to offer, have to pass this along to my friends!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      It would be so fun to stay at their new Castle Hotel – good luck to you & your friends with the giveaway!

  8. Toni | Boulder Locavore says:

    This is an awesome list! My kids can’t wait to visit Legoland California!

  9. I’ve been to Legoland and Disney World in Florida. I’d love to do the versions in California.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      I love noticing the similarities & differences between the California and Florida parks.

  10. AnnMarie John says:

    So much to love about California especially if you’re going there with the kids. I love that they have Legoland aside from Disney. You can definitely plan your vacation around those.

  11. Mick Paul says:

    Traveling with kids is not an easy job. California is my dream place. Legoland California also has so much to offer, have to pass this along to my friends. I will travel there soon but I can’t travel with kids.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Enjoy your travels to California and thank you for sharing this story with your friends!

  12. Brenda Haines says:

    All my son talks about is going to Legoland! So, I have to make it happen. 🙂

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