If you are wondering about visiting California, book your tickets right away! The land of dreams is the perfect place to enjoy an unwinding vacation with your family.
Located along the Pacific Coast in the Western United States, California is best known for Hollywood. But there is a lot more to this gorgeous state. It has scenic mountains, white beaches, colorful deserts, attractive tourist locations, and so much more. It is the perfect vacation location for families looking for quality time together.
California is the third largest state in the US, spanning over 160,000 square miles. It is also known as the Golden State for its gold reserves. The Golden or Sunny State is among the most popular tourist destinations for people within the United States or abroad.
Fun Places to Go in California
California has something for every family member, from children to elders. You can visit Disneyland, Golden Gate Bridge, Buena Park, and numerous other places with your parents, siblings, spouse, children, or anyone else accompanying you. There are beaches and national parks with something to interest everyone. The rich history, cultural dynamism, and natural beauty make California the top state to travel to in America.
But so many options can also be confusing, and you might not make the best out of your time in California if you do not know the must-visit locations.
Let’s tell you the best places to visit in California with your family for an immersive, fun vacation.
You cannot skip Disneyland when you go to California, especially when you have children; they would not let you miss it anyway!
Disneyland is in Anaheim and any Disney fan’s biggest dream. Disneyland is not only a fun park for kids where they see their favorite fictional characters come to life; it is equally fascinating for adults who have seen animated movies growing up. You will love every moment of being there and bring memories to cherish forever.
As you enter Disneyland from Main Street, you will see the Disneyland railroad, a steam-powered train to take you around Disneyland. This 18-minute relaxing ride will allow you to see Disneyland at a glance to better plan your trip forward. Besides the train, many people use the horse-drawn street cart, the fire engine, and the omnibus to travel around the park.
Furthermore, the Disney Gallery brings memories and moments from Disneyland worldwide for Disney lovers. Moving past the main street USA, you can see Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, Fantasy Land, Mickey’s Downtown, and Tomorrowland. All these have fun activities for the kids, such as the Enchanted Tiki Room, the Jungle Cruise, the boat ride through Pirates of the Caribbean, the adventures of Winnie the Pooh, etc.
Universal Studios is the next on our list of best places to visit in California with a family that loves Hollywood!
Universal Studios is in Los Angeles and is an excellent place to see how everything takes place in the background of your favorite movies. You can see behind-the-scenes movie setups and learn how people perform unbelievable stunts. The Universal Studios park is divided into two sections allowing you to explore the park according to the ages of your children. The upper lot features family attractions, while the lower, smaller one has Universal Studios franchises.
As you enter the Universal Studios arches, you will first come across the Secret Lives of Pets Off the Leash, where you can enjoy audio-animatronics of animals from the Secret Lives of Pets. The next in the upper lot is Despicable Me, including the Super Silly Funland with various fun activities. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the most popular at Universal Studios, especially among Potterheads. Moreover, the Krusty Burger, Moe’s Tavern, Jurassic World, and the Walking Dead Attraction are worth visiting. Harry Potter fans can also relish Butterbeer at Universal Studios.
Meanwhile, the lower lot has the Jurassic World ride, Revenge of the Mummy ride, and Transformers, followed by the final area of the park, “Super Nintendo World,” added to Universal Studios Park in February 2023.
Universal Studios also have the largest 3D performance, where King Kong takes down skyscrapers in 3D while young children can enjoy the rides. It is suggested to take children only above the age of 3 to Universal Studios. You can also avail of discounts by booking your tickets online.
Legoland is another attraction for children, especially those of young age. Legoland California is located in Carlsbad with an uncountable number of activities for the children to have fun.
It has lots of rides, though they may have a long waiting time of as much as over an hour. So, first go to the Ninjago, the Technic Coaster, the Emmets Flying Adventure, Unikitty Disco Drop, the Dragon Coaster, and the Coastersaurus before the lines build up long. Other rides have a fifteen to thirty-minute wait. You can see huge structures made with plastic bricks that mimic Legos and enjoy the waterpark rides while you are in the park. The kids can indulge in a short driving experience at the Junior and Standard driving schools for ages 3 to 5 and 6 to 13. They can even get their own Legoland driving license!
The Build and Race Lego Ferrari has become a popular attraction that allows you to take pictures with a life-size Lego Ferrari and build Lego cars. Other attractions include Star Wars, Ninjago Playland, Lego movie world, Pirate Shores, Fun Town, etc. Moreover, the Police and Fire Academy at the Fun Town is excellent for families visiting California to team up and compete with other families.
The best part about Legoland is the Reserve ‘n’ ride that allows you to book a ride and get on the ride earlier than others. Legoland also offers lockers and stroller rentals.
Turtle Bay Exploration Park
If you are more into parks and greenery, California doesn’t disappoint!
California has some of the best natural parks in the US, and the Turtle Bay Exploration Park is proof of that. It spans over 300 acres towards the northernmost end of the Golden State. This park does not only have turtles, as the name indicates, but also botanical gardens, a sundial bridge, and a wildlife center with 64 animal species. Moreover, you can roam in the wildlife woods and botanical gardens with your children to show them various flora and fauna.
The variety of activities allows children to engage deeply and explore nature. You can find numerous science and art exhibitions in the park throughout the area to understand art and science better. Children can learn about microorganisms and plant growth in these exhibitions.
Enjoy activities at the forest adventure park or observe the live beehive there. Most importantly, do not miss the parrot playhouse when you visit the Turtle Bay Exploration Park with various hand-raised parrots of different species. You can feed them nectar and take pictures.
The forest camp and museum are open from Wednesday to Sunday, with free entry for children under three. The tickets cost $14 for children and $18 for adults.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is another popular park in California. It has deep lakes, breathtaking rivers, rushing waterfalls, unique animals, a safe hiking trail, and everything you look forward to in a park. The national park is spread over 750,000 acres and has a variety of wildlife, including black bears, deer, foxes, and cougars.
Most people prefer summer, making it very crowded. So, you may opt for late Spring to enjoy your trip to the fullest. When you reach the park, you will have to pay a $35 entry ticket for each vehicle. Alternatively, get a Park Pass to get you through different parks without paying the vehicle entry fees.
Whether you are all adults or have kids with you, we suggest renting bikes to avoid getting tired and roaming around the park. They are available at the Village store, Yosemite Valley Lodge, and Curry Village. Another choice is the free shuttles to go around the park. When you enter the park from the south entrance, the tunnel view at the end of the Wawona tunnel is a view you do not want to miss!
Yosemite National Park is known as one of the best parks in North America for rock climbing. It does not matter if you opt to hike to Taft Point or Sentinel Dome, be ready to be mesmerized! Another popular hiking trail is the Mist Trail, which you may take to see the Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, or move towards the John Muir Trail. These all are gorgeous hiking trails with stunning views, including the Upper Yosemite Fall, which is a tougher hike.
Get your day pass from the website if you plan the trip months in advance or at least seven days before you reach Yosemite. Remember to download maps or buy a paper map to track your way. However, you may find mobile service in the village store or shopping area. Find a space within the park as soon as possible, or you will have to park outside, adding to your travel time.
Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
The Living Desert is a conservation site and zoo at Palm Springs with a variety of exotic African and North American wildlife. The organisms from both regions are separated into two unique regions.
The zoo is one of the ideal recreational spots for any animal lover and a suitable choice for children interested in learning about animals. They can observe and take photographs of many species in the conservation site. There are giraffes to feed and camels to ride.
Also, the Living Desert offers hikers a hike along the San Andreas Nature Trail. Watch programs from the Tennity Amphitheater and take a shuttle ride to explore all nooks and corners of the park.
The zoo also has an endangered species carousel that lets you learn about endangered species. Going through the zoo and gardens properly takes two to three hours.
Did you know that Lake Tahoe in California is the second deepest lake in the US? If you have not seen this beauty yet, you are bound to get mesmerized by its wide length of shoreline.
Lake Tahoe is a natural beauty in California that the locals and visitors cannot help but get mesmerized. The mountains and forests around the lake provide a complete ecosystem for the children to explore all aspects of nature in one place. While most people spend their time swimming and hiking, some families enjoy a hearty BBQ on the shore – the choice is all yours!
There are places to learn about American history with child-friendly eco-lodges. In case you didn’t know, Lake Tahoe became a winter sports destination when the Winter Olympics were held there in 1960. In peak winter, snowboarding, skiing, snowmobiling, and sledding become the top choices for tourists. It is not only fun for kids but attracts adults as well.
Catalina Island is pretty much like any other island, land surrounded by water, but the charisma of this island is unmatched!
Santa Catalina is a small island with two major regions: Two Harbors and Avalon. Most tourists on the island stay in the Avalon area, as it is a tourist center with restaurants, hotels, and cruises. On the other hand, Two Harbors is a harbor with a campground and does not have much to offer visitors. You can wander the island using bicycles, golf carts, and taxis.
This island is also called Kidalina Island because of how children-friendly it is. This Pacific island is a complete package and one of the best places to visit in California with family.
You can swim in the sea with your children or go kayaking. The gorgeous sand is perfect for building sandcastles and enjoying bonding time with children. At the same time, the island also offers snorkeling, a once-in-a-lifetime experience with your family.
The Balboa Park in San Diego is a paradise for any history lover as it provides a wide array of sites and activities to make the most of your time in the sunny state. It is an excellent place for children to play and learn more about history and arts. It has art sculptures, museums, and theaters; the architecture is one-of-its-type.
Alcazar Garden, a Spanish-style oasis, is one of the main tourist attractions because of its calmness and serenity, followed by the San Diego Museum of Arts. Other museums in the region include the Mingei International Museum and Balboa Park Visitors Center.
If you are more of a nature person, you will love the lily pond and the botanical building beside the colorful Japanese Garden. Or, hike across the Palm Canyon Trail to enjoy beautiful views.
There is so much to do in Balboa that you can plan a week’s trip around this place. Balboa Park also has an IMAX Theatre, the Old Globe Theater, the San Diego Art and Space Museum, and more.
Golden Gate Bridge
The list of the best places to visit in California with family cannot be complete without the Golden Gate Bridge.
This historical icon in San Francisco is one of the most popular landmarks in California. Children can learn about history and enjoy the city sights from the beautiful bridge. The bridge is a treat to the eyes itself. The beautiful architecture lit at night gives a surreal view you can rarely enjoy.
You can park your car near the welcome center, but it has a limited capacity of twenty, and that is why many people, including us, prefer parking at Battery East. As you walk towards the bridge, you can see an animation of the bridge’s modification throughout the years.
Most tourists take a bike ride across the bridge to soak in the city’s beauty, but you may also walk across if your family is habitual of long walks; it’s a three-mile round trip. Make sure to stay in the respective lane and avoid bikers when walking.
Visiting the Golden Gate Bridge between noon and afternoon is best if you go to California with your family during winter. Also, make sure to layer up! The weather can be much colder than expected.
PS. Hold your phones and cameras tightly; the breeze is super-strong sometimes!
Six Flags Magic Mountain
Six Flags Magic Mountain is a popular entertainment park in Los Angeles. Magic Mountain is also known as the “Thrill Capital of the World.” It has over 100 games and rides for visitors with twenty different types of roller coasters, including the Scream, Full Throttle, Goliath, and Sunday the Ride. Get ready to scream at the top of your lungs while you enjoy these thrilling rides.
When you visit the park in an Uber or anyone else drops you off, head to the far left lane that takes you to the drop-off area. Alternatively, if you have a vehicle, take any available spots except the far left lane to park near the park. As you reach the main entrance, move towards the Magic Mountain area on your left. Your trip will begin with different stores like an ice cream shop, pass service location, photo, locker location, etc.
There’s a lot of foot space and seating areas if some of your family members want to sit and enjoy food while the children take the rides. While you walk through the park, the DC Universe is a popular attraction among children and adults of all ages. It has rides and activities based on your favorite heroes.
Children can also attend the Looney Toons meet-and-greet, meet their favorite Looney Toons and get autographs. The best age to go to the amusement park is three to eighteen years old. So, take your children or you’ll miss the chance!
Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier is perfect for people who love adventure and want to enjoy carnival rides with their families. It is one of the most iconic piers in California that gives you the experience to remember for a lifetime.
There is a lot to do at Santa Monica, including arcade games, rides, and enjoying the street performers that do tricks to make children happy. Past the amusement is an extensive food court with a huge variety of food choices after you enjoy the Ferris wheel and American-style arcade games.
You can also find painters along the boardwalk willing to do your portraits for a few dollars. There are various stalls selling magnets and other things. However, remember that these things can be quite expensive as the pier is slightly expensive.
While many people just go to the amusement park, moving towards the end of the pier, near the harbor office, gives you an entirely different view of the Santa Monica Pier that you might miss otherwise. Go fishing or get some souvenirs for your family back home.
The best part is that you can rent a room in one of the nearby hotels when visiting with your family to enjoy the trip to the fullest without much traveling. Park your car in one of the numerous parking lots and rent a bicycle around the pier. If you are unsure about the whereabouts of the Santa Monica Pier, get the brochures from Perry’s visitor’s information for your convenience.
USS Midway Museum
You must have been to museums where you can look at archaic objects and learn about history, but have you ever visited an audio museum?
The USS Midway Museum in San Diego is an audio museum that served as an aircraft carrier from 1945 to 1992. It is considered the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century. Once, the structure helped sustain life when sailors spent their time in the sea; now, it is an audio museum that tells you about maritime history.
The museum has various helicopters and jets with their details to inform children about the best of their time. Kids will also get to see models of pilots, showing what they wore. Furthermore, they can see the honor wing and commemorate the sacrifices of the forces made for us. Kids will love seeing the engineering works of different parts and aircrafts exhibited in the museum. Do not forget to visit the Battle of Midway theater when you visit.
You can climb to the top of the museum or ship and inside the military crafts in the museum. The ship’s top gives a view of the Harbor and Coronado Island, Downtown San Diego. It takes around three hours to explore the museum, and is suitable for children above six.
If your family is fond of greenery and likes spending time around nature, you must not miss the opportunity to visit Gilroy Gardens in Gilroy.
Gilroy Gardens got its name from its circus trees altered to form ladders, loops, and other interesting shapes for the children. The lush gardens have a family-friendly theme park with attractions and rides for young children. You can see various kinds of trees, including basket and arch trees, attracting children. Gilroy Gardens also offer a water park for everyone who loves water rides. It has various rides for children, most of which target young visitors.
Fun fact: It is the only horticultural-themed park in California.
The spin-around rides are better suited for children between the age of three and ten. Some popular rides at Gilroy Gardens include the Timber Twister Coaster and the Strawberry Sundae. Others include the Banana Split, Panoramic Wheel, Rainbow Garden’s Boat, Timber Twister, and Garlic Twirl. You can also visit the education centers in the region focusing on natural science and buy souvenirs from the shop.
Go around the park or take a quick train tour first to see everything Gilroy Gardens offers.
STAR Eco Station
The STAR Eco Station in Los Angeles is a beautiful learning experience for children about animal care. It is a wildlife rescue and environmental science center.
The Eco Station is an environmental science museum that brings and saves animals trafficked illegally. Visiting the STAR Eco Station enables children to see exotic creatures while volunteering to care for injured animals. The children are told why some animals must be left in the wild – as they call it: preservation through education. The eco-camp also allows you to understand and get more involved in the organization.
The center has an aquarium, rescued animals, and reptiles. Children can observe various fish, including clown fish followed by hedgehogs, alligators, and a gray fox. The children may also touch some of the friendly inhabitants in the reptile room. Furthermore, feed some animals or learn from the professionals there and practice conversation techniques.
Hollywood Walk of Fame
How can you miss the Hollywood Walk of Fame when you visit California?
The Hollywood Walk of Fame is one of the most iconic symbols in Los Angeles, featuring around 2700 stars of the most famous Hollywood celebrities. The Walk of Fame stretches 15 blocks from the Eastside and Westside of Hollywood Boulevard. Walk along the street and find your favorite celebrities’ names.
Children and adults can take pictures with street performers, watch a movie at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, visit the Dolby Theatre that hosts the Academy Awards, or learn about the history of Tinsel Town; it is the perfect place to get records as souvenirs. As you keep walking, you will see the Hollywood Wax Museum, the Museum of Illusions, and the Guinness World Record Museum.
End your trip with a good meal at one of the bakeries or restaurants; you can find many reasonably-priced decent food options.
While the Hollywood Walk of Fame is a popularly known location among Hollywood admirers worldwide, it is a lot of walking. So, bringing a stroller will be beneficial if you have young children. Alternatively, choose one of the sightseeing buses for a quick hop-on-hop-off tour around the boulevard.
San Simeon is another wonderful tourist location when visiting California with family. Located on the south end of the Pacific coast, the San Simeon region is perfect for children above 8.
This region has a lot to see, including the MBNMS Coastal Discovery Center, William Randolph Hearst’s hilltop mansion, and Hearst Castle. The Discovery Center is the best place to learn about the rich history through free educational exhibitions.
The Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery is another exciting attraction around that area. Observe the elephant seals or hike on the Boucher Trail towards Piedras Blancas lighthouse. January, April, and October are the most suitable months to visit San Simeon to see seals.
Roam around the coastline after visiting the castles and spend the night in one of the lodges. Remember that enjoying your time at San Simeon can take a whole day, so it would be better to reserve a room before reaching.
Pinnacles National Park
The Pinnacles National Park is one of the forgotten parks in California and thus less crowded than other parks. But the views are worth going to the park if you have time at hand.
Pinnacles National Park is another perfect spot for hikers as it allows you to enjoy the trail from the Bear Gulch Day Use Area and moves past the Bear Gulch Caves, ending at the Bear Gulch Reservoir. It’s amazing that you can observe native bats in that area in the High Caves. You can go to the Balconies Cliff and Balconies Cave on the west side. Enter the park from either side according to your area of interest.
Make sure to check the website to see when the High Caves are open. The trail has stairs and rails to guide you without worrying about being lost. There is also a lot for kids to enjoy at the national park, making it an ideal pick for the whole family. But remember that the park is small and dark, so carrying a torch is better. Moreover, you can go to the peak’s viewing area to enjoy a view you will cherish for a long time!
The Pinnacles campground is the best spot to stay at the National Park with your family. It has ample space for RVs, vans, and tents. It is suggested that larger vehicles only go to the west side. Alternatively, you can find hotels around the area. The best part is that the national park has a grocery store and Target within the premise, apart from the restaurants. So, don’t worry about food options.
While the choices of places to visit in California with family are endless, we’ll conclude this list with Death Valley.
The Death Valley National Park is in the Mojave desert, a colorful desert compared to the entertaining parks in the region. It is the driest and lowest place in North America. It is mainly a desert with a few attractions for children and adults interested in less-floral, unique sceneries. Death Valley Park has snow-capped mountains and colorful sand dunes that blow your mind!
While you are at Death Valley, visiting the Wildrose charcoal kilns, ruins of ghost towns, and Scotty’s castle is a must.
Though Death Valley has no extravagant activities, it will be a unique experience for kids and adults alike.
The Bottom Line
California is among the most valued tourist locations in the US and welcomes a large number of visitors annually. Its Mediterranean-like climate makes it a preferred choice during summers and winters. The best part is that there is something exciting for everyone at the best places to visit in California with family.
The trip cannot be complete without going to Disneyland and Six Flags Magic Mountain. You can also visit Legoland, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley, and Lake Tahoe to make the best out of your trip. When visiting with family, do not miss the opportunity to see the Golden Gate Bridge and take a memory of a lifetime with you; it’s a beauty unmatched!
In all, it would not be an exaggeration to say that you must visit California if you can visit only one state. So, are you ready to explore this gorgeous Sunny State?
What city in California is kid-friendly?
California is a versatile state with activities for all family members, including children. San Francisco, Anaheim, and San Diego are particularly kid-friendlier and preferred for family vacations.
How do I plan a trip to California with my family?
Read online about the current weather and pack clothes accordingly, as your family may not be able to enjoy it even if one person falls sick. Get information about booking tickets online to avoid last moment hassle. Mainly, enjoy your time outdoors more than in your hotel room to make the best of your trip.
Is California a good place for kids?
California is one of the top choices for traveling with family, offering uncountable entertainment options for kids. You can find everything from national reserve parks to museums, lakes, and playlands in the region.
Is California expensive to vacation?
The average vacation cost in California is around $125 – $330 per day. However, it depends on how you plan your trip; you can cut costs by exploring multiple options for activity, and sometimes booking ahead also helps you save. Check the websites of the places you want to visit to see how to plan the trip cost-efficiently.
What is the cheapest month to visit California?
January is the cheapest month to visit California, with fewer visitors, while June and July are peak seasons. Check tickets online, and booking in advance may get you better rates.
Diana was an active fitness model in the past. She has had numerous shoots done at different locations and found out that her true interest was in exploring the world! Later on, this passion motivated her to write multiple tarvel blogs about whatever place she visited and discovered, and here it is! Enjoy reading a variety of blogs by Diana to get a lively experience of several places.