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Best California with Kids Destinations

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California is so jam-packed with fun for kids, you may not know where to begin planning your family vacation. As a mom and former Californian who has explored much of the Golden State's shores, theme parks, and cities — let me help you narrow down your choices with this list of the nine best places to visit in California with kids.

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

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

1. San Diego

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

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

2. Disneyland

Of course, no list of the best destinations in California for kids 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.

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

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, 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 beach town. Read more about Huntington Beach with kids.

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

4. 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.

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

5. 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!

Children and adults alike love Monterey Bay Aquarium
Monterey Bay Aquarium (Photo credit: Belyay, Depositphotos.com)

6. 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, of course, fish 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 at the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links is a must. Monterey is just four miles from the darling Carmel, a destination worthy of a day trip or additional stop during your California vacation.

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

7. 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 – with 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 fun doesn't stop when the snow melts, either. In summer, head to Lake Tahoe for jet skiing, paddleboarding, hiking, kayaking, and beyond.

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

8. 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 Legoland Water Park for summer visitors and SeaLife Aquarium, open year-round. The fun doesn't stop there, though. Learn about all there is to do in Carlsbad with kids.

Hollywood sign
The iconic Hollywood Sign, as viewed from Burbank (Photo credit: logoboom, Depositphotos.com)

9. Burbank and Hollywood

If you're gaga about all things glitz and glamour, head to the Media Capital of the World. Burbank is home to hundreds of major film and television studios, including Walt Disney Studios, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Warner Bros. Studio. For an immersive look at sets and memorabilia from favorite shows and movies β€” be sure to book a Warner Bros. Studio Tour in advance. For movies and TV shows served with a side of roller coaster 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 Los Angeles suburb with this list of things to do in Burbank.

Explore More of California

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.

Best California Vacation Destinations for Families

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

A Note from The Travel Mama: I received compensation related to this blog post from Visit California. 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😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍

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