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15 Best Places to Visit in California with Kids

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Looking for the absolute best family trips in California? As a mom and longtime Californian who has explored much of the Golden State, I've got you covered! Explore 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 2023.

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.

1. San Diego

San Diego is the perfect place for a California vacation with kids. Having lived in San Diego in Southern California for 15 years, I admit I'm partial to this California city.

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 best restaurants in San Diego for families.

Flamingos at the San Diego Zoo
Flamingos at the San Diego Zoo (Photo credit: pngstudio, Depositphotos.com)

2. Disneyland Resort

Of course, no list of the best family trips in California would be complete without Disneyland Resort. With memorable character meals, thrilling rides, and attractions aplenty, you're never too old or too young for a Disney vacation.

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

Visiting with little kids? Check out my picks for the best Disneyland rides and 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.

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

3. Huntington Beach

If your ideal California family vacation focuses on ocean waves, sandy beaches, and hanging ten — then book a trip to Huntington Beach. It's also known as Surf City USA so be sure to sign up for family surf lessons during your visit. A trip to the Surfer Hall of Fame and a nighttime beach bonfire are musts in this walkable small town, too.

Read more about Huntington Beach with kids.

Huntington Beach is the ultimate surfer town to visit in California
Huntington Beach, the ultimate surfer town (Photo credit: wolterke, Depositphotos.com)

4. San Francisco

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

San Francisco Bay is 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!

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco (Photo credit: martinm303, Depositphotos.com)

5. Monterey

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 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 it doesn't), then a scenic drive to the Pebble Beach Golf Links is a must.

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

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Monterey Bay Aquarium (Photo credit: Belyay, Depositphotos.com)

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.

California's Lake Tahoe in winter
Winter in Lake Tahoe (Photo credit: mblach, Depositphotos.com)

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. Also onsite is Legoland Water Park with 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, a music museum, and more add to the fun. Learn about all there is to do in Carlsbad with kids.

Legoland California in Carlsbad, California with kids
Legoland California in Carlsbad (Photo credit: Legoland California)

8. Los Angeles

The second biggest city in the United States is filled with family-friendly activities. Los Angeles is home to over 90 museums and nearly 31,000 restaurants.

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

The Getty Center is among the most popular attractions in the Los Angeles area. The museum is filled with precious works of art 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.

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 up from the earth.

A personal favorite, the Huntington Botanical Gardens spread across 120 acres. Escape the hectic pace of the city in favor of a myriad of flowers, 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, and much more.

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

9. Burbank and Hollywood

If your family is gaga about all things glitz and glamour, then head to the Media Capital of the World. A suburb of Los Angeles, Burbank is home to hundreds of major film and television studios. Of course, you will want to view the iconic Hollywood Sign and stroll along the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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

For 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.

Learn more about this impressive suburb with this list of fun things to do in Burbank.

Hollywood sign
The iconic Hollywood Sign, as viewed from Burbank (Photo credit: logoboom, 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 National Park. Plan your trip with these Yosemite National Park tips.

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

11. Palm Springs

Palm Springs lures vacationers to its desert locale with its vast golf courses and sparkling hotel swimming pools. 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 floor of the car rotates throughout the ride, so passengers get a 360-degree view of Coachella Valley without having to move around the car.

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

Iconic palm trees in Palm Springs, CA
Iconic palm trees in Palm Springs (Photo credit: welcomia, Depositphotos.com)

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.

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

13. Santa Monica

Santa Monica is the epitome of 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 a plethora of arcade games with prizes and every type of treat your sweet teeth could crave.

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

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

14. Sequoia National Park

Located in Central California in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sequoia National Park 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 is also home to the world's largest tree, General Sherman. You can even drive through another famous 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 round-up of the best national parks in the U.S.

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

15. Joshua Tree National Park

Located about an hour from Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park is a must for families who want to explore natural wonders in California. This is the best place to spot the 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 tour of Joshua Tree National Park with our trusted partner, GetYourGuide.

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

Explore More Family Vacation Destinations

For even more ideas for your California bucket list, check out this California road trip itinerary, this 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 activities for families.

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

Save this List of the Best Family Trips in California

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Best Family Trips in California

Which of these California family vacation destinations would your family enjoy most? Let us know in the comments below!

Disclosure: I received compensation related to this story from Visit California when it was first posted. This blog post about the best family trips in California is regularly updated to provide the most helpful information for readers. All opinions are mine, as usual.

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin, MBA, is the founder and editor-in-chief of the popular travel blog, TravelMamas.com. She is an expert in travel with kids and without. As the author of the book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents how to make the most of traveling with babies and children. Colleen loves sharing tips on hotels, cruises, spas, theme parks, and global lifestyle topics. When she is not traveling the world, she lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Alicia Walker says

    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?

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      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!

  2. i want to go😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍

  3. Shannon Entin says

    I’ve been to many of these spots – Lake Tahoe is my happy place! I still want to do a Highway 101 road trip though…

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Shannon – I’d love to get back to Lake Tahoe — this time for a summer vacation! It’s so beautiful there. Highway 101 is so pretty and chill, with so many cute little beach towns along the way. I hope your California vacation dreams come true once it’s safe to travel again!

  4. Lisa Goodmurphy says

    We have visited San Diego, Carlsbad, Disneyland and San Francisco and had a great time in all four. Monterey and Hollywood are on my wish list so I can’t wait until we have a chance to visit California again!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      There’s so much to explore in California — it’s almost like a mini country! I hope it will be safe for us all to travel again very soon and that your California travel dreams come true!

  5. Nicole Wiltrout says

    We spent spring break last year split between in Monterey, Yosemite, and San Francisco. Such a perfect mix for families that like a bit of variety… seaside/ocean, mountains/hiking, and a culturally interesting city. I’d love to do a long weekend in San Diego as a family. So much to do!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Nicole – That sounds like a WONDERFUL California itinerary! San Diego is so full of fun things for families to do — I hope you can visit someday when it’s safe to travel again!

  6. Brenda Haines says

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

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Brenda – I hope you can take your son soon & that it fulfills his Lego dreams!

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  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. Toni | Boulder Locavore says

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

  11. 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!

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

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      San Diego really does have SO MUCH FUN to offer families. I hope you can visit soon!

  15. 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.

  16. Michelle D. says

    Disneyland of course! My kid would love that trip!

  17. 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!

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