15 Best Places to Visit in California with Kids (2024)

Looking for the best family trips in California? As a mom and longtime Californian who has explored much of the Golden State, I’ve got you covered! Discover this beautiful state’s shores, theme parks, national parks, and cities with this list of 15 amazing places to visit in California with kids in 2024.

The Pacific Coast in California
The Pacific Coast in California (Photo credit: haveseen, Depositphotos.com)

This story is brought to you in partnership with Visit California.

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1. San Diego

San Diego is the perfect place for a California family vacation. Having lived in San Diego for 15 years, I admit I’m partial to this coastal city.

San Diego sunset
Sunset in San Diego (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

San Diego pleases all ages with the renowned San Diego Zoo, miles of beautiful beaches, all sorts of marine life at SeaWorld San Diego, the always entertaining Balboa Park, and tons of other attractions.

Read about the 35 best things to do in San Diego with kids and my picks for the top restaurants in San Diego for families. Get comfy with this list of the best family hotels in San Diego, too.

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland in Orange County, California
Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Disneyland Resort in Orange County

Of course, no list of the best places to visit in California with kids would be complete without Disneyland Resort. With memorable character meals, thrilling rides, and attractions, you’re never too old or young for a Disney vacation.

Located in Orange County, this vacation destination consists of Disneyland and its sister theme park, Disney California Adventure. Three themed Disneyland hotels plus the Downtown Disney shopping and dining district add to the experience.

Visiting with little kids? Check out my picks for the best Disneyland attractions for babies and toddlers.

Headed to the Happiest Place on Earth with older kids? Take a peek at the best thrill rides at Disneyland.

Beach cruisers in front of a surfboard mural in Huntington Beach, California
Beach cruisers in Huntington Beach, California (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. Huntington Beach

If your ideal California family vacation focuses on ocean waves, sandy beaches, and hanging ten — book a trip to Huntington Beach!

Also known as Surf City USA, family surf lessons and a trip to the Surfer Hall of Fame are musts during your visit. Nighttime beach bonfires are mainstays in this walkable small town, too.

Read more about Huntington Beach with kids.

San Francisco's Pier 39 in California with kids
San Francisco’s Pier 39 (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. San Francisco

What’s not to love about this Northern California city by the sea? There’s much to explore in San Francisco, from the massive Golden Gate Park and Pier 39 to Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz Island, and the crookedest street in the world. Kids will especially get a kick from riding on one of the city’s famous cable cars.

San Francisco Bay is also home to the second-largest Chinatown in the country. Go see the ornate Dragon’s Gate and wander through the area’s many lively shops. Then you must eat some delicious Chinese cuisine. Fortune cookies were invented in San Francisco, so be sure to visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, where you can watch the production process and buy freshly made cookies. 

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!

Monterey, California
Monterey Bay in California (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. Monterey

Along California’s Central Coast lies the picturesque city of Monterey. The renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium wows kids with exhibits filled with tuxedoed penguins, playful sea otters, and fish of all sorts. Seafood lovers rejoice in Monterey for its abundance of fresh-caught selections.

Active families will especially appreciate Monterey. Hiking opportunities give families a chance to connect with nature and each other. If your family golfs (and even if you don’t), then a scenic drive to the Pebble Beach Golf Links can’t be missed.

Monterey is just four miles from Carmel, a darling destination worthy of a day trip or a few additional days in California with kids.

Lake Tahoe in winter
Lake Tahoe in winter (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. Lake Tahoe

Snow in California? Oh yes, indeed! Skiing may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you picture a California vacation, but maybe it should be.

Northstar California at Lake Tahoe offers a wintry wonderland for the whole family. This resort boasts over 3,000 skiable acres. There are trails for skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels. Snowshoeing, ice skating, s’mores, and more keep kids content during a California winter trip to Lake Tahoe.

The play doesn’t end when the snow melts, either. In summer, head to Lake Tahoe for jet skiing, paddle boarding, hiking, kayaking, and beyond.

Parents and kids in Carlsbad, California
My family at the Carlsbad Flower Fields (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

7. Carlsbad and Legoland California

Located just over 30 miles north of downtown San Diego and less than an hour’s drive south of 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 in Carlsbad. This amusement park offers mellow roller coasters, interactive rides, colorful play areas, and other fun for kids.

Splash fountain at Legoland Waterpark in Carlsbad with kids
Splash fountain at Legoland Water Park in Carlsbad (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Also onsite is Legoland Water Park, which has lots of slides and water rides for summer visitors. Open year-round, Legoland’s SeaLife Aquarium is filled with a fascinating assortment of marine life.

The famous Carlsbad Flower Fields, beach play, and a music museum add to the fun. Learn about all there is to do in Carlsbad with kids.

Venice Beach, California
Venice Beach in Los Angeles (Photo credit: oneinchpunch, Depositphotos.com)

8. Los Angeles

The second biggest city in the United States is filled with family-friendly activities. In fact, Los Angeles is home to over 90 museums and nearly 31,000 restaurants. No wonder L.A. is one of the best places to visit in California with kids!

Los Angeles also offers 24 miles of sandy beaches along the California Coast. One of the most well-known is Venice Beach. Take in its unique SoCal vibe, an expansive skate park, and an outdoor gym with musclebound locals lifting weights under the California sun.

Olvera Street in Los Angeles, California
Olvera Street in Los Angeles (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Los Angeles Family Attractions

The Getty Center is among the most popular attractions in the Los Angeles area. The museum is filled with artwork by such artists as Van Gogh, Monet, and Cezanne. The surrounding gardens are stunning as well.

Located on Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, Griffith Observatory wows visitors with its planetarium, high-powered telescopes for public use, and space exhibits.

Families feel like they’ve crossed the border into Mexico on Olivera Street, also known as El Pueblo Historic Monument. This is the birthplace of Los Angeles. It features 27 historic buildings and a central Mexican plaza. Come here to shop for handicrafts and taste traditional Mexican cuisine.

Step way back in time at La Brea Tar Pits and Natural History Museum. Kids might wonder if they’ve entered Jurassic Park as they stare at life-sized statues of wooly mammoths, massive sloths, and other extinct animals in pools of gooey asphalt bubbling from the earth.

Calico Mine Ride at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, CA
Calico Mine Ride at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, a suburb of Los Angeles (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

A personal favorite, Huntington Botanical Gardens stretch across 120 acres. Escape the hectic pace of the city in favor of a myriad of plants and fountains set in 16 themed gardens.

Cover a lot of ground with a Los Angeles Go City All-Inclusive Pass for 40+ Attractions, including the Los Angeles Zoo, Knott’s Berry Farm in nearby Buena Park, and much more.

Friends set on Warner Bros. Tour in Burbank, California with kids
The famous Central Perk set from “Friends” on the Warner Bros Tour in Burbank (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

9. Burbank and Hollywood

Head to the Media Capital of the World if your family goes gaga for glitz and glamour. A suburb of Los Angeles, Burbank has hundreds of major film and television studios.

Walt Disney Studios, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Warner Bros. Studio are all in Burbank. For an immersive look at sets and memorabilia from favorite shows and movies, book a Warner Bros. Studio Tour in advance.

For a delicious serving of movies and TV shows served with a side of roller coasters and live shows, Universal Studios Hollywood is an absolute must. This is especially true for Harry Potter fans who adore this theme park’s Wizarding World.

Of course, you will want to view the iconic Hollywood Sign and stroll along the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame. Learn more about this impressive suburb with this list of fun things to do in Burbank.

Yosemite National Park Valley landscape from Tunnel View
Yosemite National Park Valley landscape (Photo credit: haveseen, Depositphotos.com)

10. Yosemite National Park

Resplendent with hiking trails, waterfalls, and towering trees, Yosemite is a place of natural wonder for over 3.3 million guests each year. This national park spans nearly 750,000 acres.

It is home to a variety of wildlife, including foxes, deer, cougars, and black bears. Adventurous families will also be pleased to know that Yosemite is known as one of the best places in North America for rock climbing.

Yosemite opened in 1890 and remains one of the country’s finest examples of land conservation. Carved by glaciers over tens of thousands of years, Yosemite Valley features granite giants El Capitan and Half Dome.

Families seeking to explore California’s natural beauty will love visiting Yosemite. Plan your trip with these Yosemite National Park tips.

Renaissance Esmeralda pool in Palm Springs
Palm Springs pool (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

11. Palm Springs

Palm Springs lures vacationers to its desert locale with its vast golf courses and sparkling hotel swimming pools. While in this desert oasis, be sure to sip a crave-worthy date shake made with fruits from the area’s plentiful palm trees.

Families are enamored with The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. This impressive zoo and botanic garden offer innovative play spaces for kids and a fun model train exhibit.

Giant spinning wind turbines in the Palm Springs area produce an electrifying 1.5 million megawatt-hours. They also provide stunning photo ops.

Soar from the desert valley to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The car’s floor rotates throughout the ride, so passengers get a 360-degree view of Coachella Valley.

Intrigued? Discover more things to do in Palm Springs with kids.

The Channel Islands in Ventura County, California with kids
The Channel Islands in Ventura Country (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

12. Ventura County

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

Santa Monica Beach & Pier in California with kids
Santa Monica Beach & Pier (Photo credit: oneinchpunch, Depositphotos.com)

13. Santa Monica

Santa Monica epitomizes Southern California with its surfable waves, beachy downtown, and seaside amusements. This suburb of Los Angeles is best known for the Santa Monica Pier with its iconic Ferris wheel spinning beside the Pacific Ocean.

Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier features a dozen rides, including the 130-foot-tall Pacific Wheel and a full-sized roller coaster. You’ll also find every treat your sweet teeth could crave and a plethora of arcade games with prizes.

Santa Monica Beach is one of the best beaches in California. Click through to discover the rest!

Sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park
Sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park (Photo credit: luckyphotographer, Depositphotos.com)

14. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Sequoia National Park is located in Central California in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and is home to gorgeous groves of the world’s largest trees. Adults and kids of all ages can’t help but feel awe-struck by the massive sequoias in the Giant Forest.

This national park also boasts the world’s largest tree, General Sherman. You can even drive through another impressive giant sequoia called the Tunnel Log. This beautiful place provides an assortment of great things to do in nature, like hiking, mountain biking, camping, and horseback riding.

Sister park, Kings Canyon National Park, is less than 30 miles away and makes a great addition to a nature-focused holiday. Learn more about Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and other national parks in California, like Death Valley and Channel Islands, in our list of the best national parks in the U.S.

Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park (Photo credit: lunamarina, Depositphotos.com)

15. Joshua Tree National Park

Situated about an hour from Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park is essential for families who want to explore natural wonders in California. This is the best place to spot unique-looking Joshua trees with their outstretched arms and spiky leaves. These unusual trees grow only in the Mojave Desert in the Southwestern U.S.

Book a guided Joshua Tree National Park tour with our trusted partner, GetYourGuide.

Kids enjoying a Scottsdale, Arizona sunset
My family enjoying a Scottsdale sunset (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Explore More Western U.S. Family Vacations

For even more California bucket list ideas, check out this California road trip itinerary, a list of national parks in California, and our extensive catalog of California vacations and tips.

Discover the best things to do in Scottsdale in my current home state of Arizona.

Keep it weird with this list of things to do in Portland, Oregon, with kids.

Take the kids to the Valley Isle with these recommended Maui family activities.

Best Places to Visit in California with Kids

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Best Family Trips in California

Which places to visit in California with kids would you enjoy most? Let us know in the comments below!

Disclosure: I received monetary compensation from Visit California for this story. This article about the best family trips in California is updated annually to provide the most helpful information for readers. All opinions are mine, as usual.


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  1. Wow! I think we should plan a 2 week trip to California next Spring. I realize all the riches of this state that I have missed! Lake Tahoe, Joshua Tree, Sequoia National Park, Yosemite, Monterrey. And LA has changed sooooo much since I was there in my 20’s! Great post!

  2. Reading this article makes me want to visit California the soonest! Thank you for this. Keep it up!

  3. Hi Colleen, I’m planning a one week road trip with my family (husband and 2 year old toddler) to California, but we want to add a National Park like Sequoia or Yosemite, plus kids destinations in California and a Dodgers game (is in the couple bucket list)!! Do you have any suggestions? I would love any recommendation!

    Thank you very much

    1. Hi Belinda –

      A weeklong vacation in California sounds great! Keep in mind that the state is huge with attractions spread far apart so you will have to make some compromises.

      You could start in Los Angeles to take in your Dodgers game and other L.A. attractions for a couple days. From there it’s easy to reach Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Parks in Anaheim (34 miles away) and Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park (20 miles away). Keep in mind that L.A. traffic can be quite heavy, though, and add extra time on the road to your schedule.

      The closest national park to Los Angeles are the Channel Islands, which are part of Ventura County. A ferry from Ventura to the uninhabited Santa Cruz Island takes about 1.5 hours. You’ll likely see dolphins and seals along the way, but bring Dramamine because choppy waters can make for motion sickness.

      To visit Sequoia, that’s a 5+-hour drive from L.A. Meanwhile, Yosemite is about 4 hours aways by car. These national parks might be best saved for another visit unless you’re okay spending a lot of time on the road.

      Hope that helps! Enjoy your California vacay!

  4. Planning to take my family to San Francisco in the Spring. We will have a week vacation. Do you recommend staying in San Francisco for the whole week or should we do a few days in multiple place?

    1. Hi Alicia – San Francisco is a surprisingly compact city. I think you could do 3 or 4 days there and then add on Napa,
      Sonoma, or somewhere else in California Wine Country. It’s really gorgeous and there are wineries with playgrounds, tractor rides, and other fun things for kids. Plus, you can go hiking and see geysers in Calistoga. Alternatively, you could add a few days in Monterey/Carmel. The aquarium in Monterey is amazing and Carmel is such a charming, walkable town. Hope that helps! Have fun in Cali no matter what you choose!