Best Places To Visit In California With Kids

Beautiful family posing for photo in front of the ocean and sunset.
Photo Courtesy: Patience Byers

If you’re searching for the best places to visit in California with kids, the Golden State showcases attractions for every family member. From the beaches of Southern California to the majestic redwoods of the north, California boasts breathtaking natural landscapes that serve as the backdrop for unforgettable adventures. Families can explore theme parks such as Disneyland and Universal Studios, providing endless entertainment for children of all ages. Additionally, California’s vibrant cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles offer cultural attractions, museums, and delicious cuisine. Whether it’s building sandcastles on the shores of Santa Monica or marveling at the wonders of Yosemite National Park, here are the best places to visit in California with kids! 

Best Places To Visit In Northern California With Kids

From San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, northern California has some of the best things to do in California with kids. Here are some of the best family weekend getaways from northern California!

San Francisco

A family of three stands together with the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay behind them.
Photo Courtesy: Anonymous

San Francisco is surely one of the best places to visit in California with kids! From the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to its many winding streets, this picturesque city offers the perfect playground for your next family adventure in California. 

A family of six sits on their bikes while on a tour of Golden Gate Park, one of the best places to visit in California with kids!
Photo Courtesy: Emily Kapic

At Golden Gate Park, explore the California Academy of Sciences, featuring an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum. Other kid-friendly museums in San Francisco include the Children’s Creativity Museum, great for young kids, and the Exploratorium, ideal for science lovers. There’s also the San Francisco Zoo and the Aquarium of the Bay. Our Families Who Love To Travel group members also love Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. Watch sea lions bask in the sun and enjoy the street performers, too! 

Teens who want to learn more about the history of the Bay Area can venture to Alcatraz Island and take a tour of the infamous prison. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a stop at Ghirardelli Square and then stroll along the picturesque Embarcadero waterfront. Outdoorsy families can’t miss a chance to stroll the Lands’ End Trail!

Where to Stay in San Francisco With Kids

Looking for the best places to stay in San Francisco with kids? For a hotel with a pool, you can check out the Four Seasons San Francisco or the Hyatt Centric Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco. If you are a big family traveling to the Bay, then check out The Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square, Suites at Fisherman’s Wharf, and San Francisco Marriott Marquis. Some other popular hotels offering plenty of kids activities are Omni San Francisco Hotel, Hotel Fairmont San Francisco, and The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco.  Check out our list of the best hotels in San Francisco for families to find out more! 

Yosemite National Park

A dad and two children bike on a path within Yosemite Natioanl Park, large trees and mountains dot the background.
Photo Courtesy: Amanda Dunkin

Yosemite National Park is an outdoor paradise for adventurous families! Located among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it’s around 3 and a half hours from San Francisco, offering endless opportunities for family fun. 

Family posing on stone wall at Yosemite National Park, one of the best places to visit in California with kids!
Photo Courtesy: Melissa Dona

Kids will particularly love gazing up at towering sequoia trees, a staple feature within Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove. Or, hike to Glacier Point to overlook a 3,000-foot drop to Valley Floor, a beautiful excursion for older kids. There, you’ll also get a glimpse at Yosemite’s most impressive landmark: its 8,800-foot granite Half-Dome! Tuolumne Meadows also offers a ton of flat trails for little ones, perfect for a stroll along streams, glaciers, and more of Yosemite scenery. El Capitan, the park’s iconic summit, is another must-see, alongside its cascading Bridal Veil Falls. Families can also spend summer days along the Merced River, a calm and tranquil area perfect for toddlers or babies. In the meantime, teens can kayak, white-water raft, and more! 

Redwood National and State Park

A hiker looking up at the Redwood trees in Redwood National Park in California.
Photo Courtesy: Visit Redwoods

Redwood National and State Park offers a magical experience for families with kids! Children can let their imaginations run wild among the towering giants of the ancient redwood forest at this mesmerizing park in northern California. 

Hiking is a popular activity here. There are plenty of options for families such as the 1.5-mile Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail or the more moderate Tall Trees Trail. Learn about the park’s rich biodiversity and spot wildlife like banana slugs and Roosevelt elk! Then, take a break for a picnic or enjoy a peaceful drive along the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. For a dose of adventure, consider a guided kayak tour along the calm waters of the Smith River or a ranger-led program where kids can engage in hands-on activities and discover the wonders of nature up close. 

South Lake Tahoe

A man snowboards down a run at Heavenly Resort, one of the best places to visit in California with kids!
Photo Courtesy: Emily Kapic

South Lake Tahoe is a fantastic place to take your next family vacation in California! From winter skiing to summer hiking, offers an abundance of family-friendly activities year-round and is a favorite among our Families Who Love To Travel group members. 

Several families sit together, posing on a sail boat, while enjoying a sunny day on Lake Tahoe.
Photo Courtesy: Emily Kapic

In the winter, take advantage of the slopes at the Heavenly Ski Resort. Children can learn to ski or snowboard at the Heavenly Ski School or enjoy tubing and sledding in the dedicated snow play areas. During the summer, head to the shores of Lake Tahoe for a day of beach fun. Kids can swim, build sandcastles, and rent kayaks or paddleboards. To see the lake from a different perspective, kids will love riding on a gondola from the Heavenly Village Center. Once you reach the top, there are plenty of easy nearby hiking trails for little ones, like The East Peak Trail. For more adventures, visit the nearby Adventure Mountain Tahoe, offering activities like snowshoeing and snow play areas in the winter and disc golf in the summer. 

Best Places To Visit In Central California With Kids

Families searching for the best attractions in California will love the state’s central coast. From beach days to state parks, here are some California vacation ideas! 

Monterey/Carmel-By-The-Sea

A young girl looks through an exhibit window into an aquarium at Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Photo Courtesy: Lisa McGuigan

Plan a family trip to Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea for a delightful coastal experience! Located within 10-15 minutes of one another, these two California cities offer families plenty of things to do as a family. 

Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where your kids can marvel at fascinating marine life, from playful sea otters to mesmerizing sharks. Then, stroll along Cannery Row, enjoying the picturesque waterfront and exploring family-friendly shops. Plus, at Monterey State Historic Park, kids can learn about California’s early history by visiting the historic buildings and museums. Little ones can also burn some energy at the adorable Dennis the Menace Park. Located in El Estero Park, it features unique play structures, a maze, and open spaces for picnics.

A view of Carmel Beach in Carmel By The Sea, one of the best places to visit in California with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Carmel California

Families can also drive down to Carmel-by-the-Sea and spend a day at the iconic Carmel Beach. Or, wander through the enchanting streets of Carmel, discovering fairytale-like cottages and possibly stumbling upon hidden treasures. Don’t miss the chance to visit Carmel Mission, offering a mix of history and serene gardens for a cultural and tranquil experience. Round off your trip with a stop at Devendorf Park and Carmel Plaza

Big Sur

Three kids play in the sand on a beach near Big Sur, one of the best places to visit in California with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Steph Yu

Spanning Carmel to San Simeon, Big Sur features central California’s most beautiful natural attractions. Take in Big Sur via car down the Old Coast Road, passing through jagged seaside cliffs clouded by mist. Give kids a brief history lesson by reminding them the roadway was once used by early American settlers! Then, head to the uniquely-shaped Bixby Bridge, which was eventually built to replace the Old Coast Road. Big Sur can also be explored through various kid-friendly trails in the area, like McWay Falls Trail, which ends at an 80-foot-tall waterfall. Point Lobos, another great natural reserve for hiking, also features abundant wildlife to spot: otters, sea lions, and even hermit crabs! 

Family of three stands in front of the ocean in Big Sur, one of the best places to visit in California with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Jillian McComiskey

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park offers a magical playground for families amidst the natural beauty of Big Sur. Hiking the 1.1-mile River Gorge Trail is an excellent option for families, offering a gentle stroll along the Big Sur River with opportunities for wildlife spotting. 

Best Places To Visit In Southern California With Kids

Southern California is a kid-friendly paradise, from the theme parks surrounding Los Angeles to San Diego, home to the famous San Diego Zoo. Keep reading to find out the best places to visit in California with kids! 

San Diego

A mom with two daughters, one on each side of her, walks down a beach in San Diego, California on an overcast day.
Photo Courtesy: Elaine Chu Hickman

One of the best places to visit in California with kids is, without a doubt, San Diego! With its wealth of kid-friendly attractions, gorgeous beaches, and calm weather, it’s the ideal destination for a family vacation in California. 

A man and a young girl stand, looking over a fence, at flamingos.
Photo Courtesy: Emily Kapic

There are several famous attractions in San Diego, including SeaWorld, Legoland, and the San Diego Zoo. Plus, families can leave San Diego sun-kissed and tan after lounging on one of the many nearby beaches, including Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. Active families can also rent bicycles from one of the many shops along Mission Beach and cruise the oceanfront bike path down to Belmont Park. If you really want to impress kids in San Diego, embark on a sunset boat cruise around the harbor with Hornblower. Then, take nature-loving tweens and teens to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve for a hike along the beautiful jagged hills. In nearby La Jolla, you can even book a kayak tour through sea caves with La Jolla Sea Cave Kayaks. Not to mention, spot sea lions while you meander the beach area! 

Where To Stay In San Diego With Kids

Wondering where to stay in San Diego with kids? Situated on 400 sprawling acres, the Fairmont Grand Del Mar is centrally located, kid-friendly, and even has four pools. Families who want to stay directly on the beach will love Hotel Del Coronado, Curio Collection By Hilton. It’s housed on a Victorian property and is only five miles from downtown San Diego. For more San Diego hotel suggestions, read our article on the best waterfront hotels in San Diego for families.

Los Angeles

A kid doing Jedi training at Disney Hollywood Studios.
Photo Courtesy: Rebecca Rotem

No trip to California would be complete without a visit to Los Angeles! From Hollywood to its many nearby beaches, the City Of Angels is a hot spot for teens and young kids alike! 

A mom and her three kids stand outside the front exterior of the Griffith Observatory on a sunny day, one of the best things to do in LA with teens.
Photo Courtesy: Emily Kapic

Families can explore the stars of their favorite movies and TV shows at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Film buffs will also enjoy checking out Universal Studios Hollywood. Certainly, Harry Potter fans can’t miss a chance to visit The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter! For more thrills, check out nearby Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm. Young kids can explore Griffith Park and take in the views from the Griffith Observatory or head to the Los Angeles Zoo. Then, teens will also adore exploring Chinatown with its beautiful lanterns, historic architecture, and yummy restaurants. Finally, you can also stroll the Venice Beach Boardwalk, the Santa Monica Pier, or take surf lessons. Other fun beaches near LA include Playa del Ray and Little Corona del Mar.

Where To Stay In Los Angeles With Kids

If you’re searching for places to stay in Los Angeles, check out The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles, The Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites, the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles, and Loews Hollywood Hotel. Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort also offers a tranquil escape outside of the city. Check out our list of the best hotels for families in Los Angeles to learn more!

Disneyland

Two parents and their three kids stand together with the Disneyland castle behind them. This is surely one of the best places to visit in California with kids!
Photo Courtesy: Emily Kapic

Disneyland is a must when visiting California with kids! Located in Anaheim, it offers a magical experience for both young kids and teens, with a variety of attractions and activities to suit every age and interest. No wonder it’s one of the best places to visit in California with kids!

Young kids can’t get enough of classics like It’s a Small World and Dumbo the Flying Elephant. The interactive Pixar Pier features favorites like Toy Story Midway Mania and Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind. Meanwhile, teens will love attractions like Space Mountain and Indiana Jones Adventure, or challenge their bravery on the Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! ride. Everyone can enjoy the immersive experiences of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Here, they can pilot the Millennium Falcon on Smugglers Run or face off against the First Order on Rise of the Resistance. Additionally, character meet-and-greets, parades, and fireworks shows provide endless fun for all ages. 

Joshua Tree National Park

Two young boys sit laughing in Joshua Tree National Park, one of the best places to visit in California with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Amanda Short

Located where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet, Joshua Tree National Park is home to some of the most beautiful and unique natural rock formations in the world. Exploring the stunning desert landscape with your family will be a truly memorable experience!

Inside Joshua Tree National Park, snow-capped Joshua trees and rocky landmarks dot the foreground.
Photo Courtesy: Joshua Tree National Park

Take advantage of the park’s countless hiking trails. One family-friendly option is the 1.7-mile Skull Rock Trail. It starts under the famous rock resembling a skull and continues through the scenic landscape. You’ll get a little bit of everything on the 1.1-mile Barker Dam, including the park’s namesake Joshua Trees! For some of the best views, drive twenty minutes from Park Boulevard down Keys View Road to Keys View. This panoramic observation point is the highest in the park, providing picturesque views of Coachella Valley. If you’re planning to camp at Joshua Tree, book early – most sites are first-come, first-serve.

Palm Springs

A view of Palm Grove in downtown Palm Springs, one of the best places to visit in California with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Visit Palm Springs

Wondering where to plan your next vacation in California with kids? Palm Springs, nestled in the Sonoran Desert, is a dynamic location that offers plenty to do as a parent and also with your little one! 

Families can stroll through Moorten’s Botanical Garden to appreciate the native flora and fauna. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is also popular with kids, offering a chance to meet native wildlife. For amazing views over the city, hop on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. This cable car ascends through rugged mountain terrain towards Mount San Jacinto State Park. Don’t miss a visit to the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert! Or, cool off from the desert heat at Wet’n’Wild Palm Springs. Plus, since Palm Springs has a huge concentration of mid-century modern homes (the biggest in the world), you can take a self-guided tour. Kids will appreciate all the funky colors and shapes! 

Palm Springs is also a fantastic place for a romantic getaway in California! Couples can indulge in relaxation at one of Palm Springs’s luxurious spas, including Fall Spa Massage and the on-site spa at The Las Palmas Resort. The city also boasts numerous golf courses which provide an opportunity for couples to connect on beautifully manicured greens. 

Santa Barbara

A view of the beach in Santa Barbara, one of the best romantic getaways in the United States.

Santa Barbara tops our list of the best places to visit in California with kids! From exploring nature to learning about local history or simply enjoying quality time together, this southern California city offers something for everyone in the family to love.

At the Santa Barbara Zoo, kids can enjoy interactive experiences like feeding giraffes or riding the Zoo Train. Stearns Wharf, a historic spot lined with restaurants, cafes, and local boutiques, is the perfect place to stroll and even spot some sea lions! Meanwhile, art aficionados can visit Downtown Santa Barbara’s numerous galleries and museums. Or, learn more about the history of Santa Barbara at Old Mission Santa Barbara. At the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center, kids can touch tidepool creatures and learn about marine life. You can also spend time lounging on the beach. East Beach, West Beach, and Butterfly Beach are favorites among locals for their soft sand and pet-friendly atmosphere. Or, go kayaking to appreciate the view of the Santa Ynez Mountains! 

For a date night, adults can enjoy a candlelit dinner at one of downtown’s acclaimed restaurants like The Lark or Stonehouse. 

Happy Travels!

A young boy looks at the water from a beach near San Diego, with the full skyline across the bay.

We hope you liked this list of the Best Places To Visit In California With Kids! From San Francisco to San Diego, California has countless attractions for families. Enjoy your next family vacation to California! 

*This post may contain affiliate links that may earn us a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links in no way inform the hotels, sights, products, or other recommendations included in our articles. All opinions and recommendations expressed here are compiled from submissions submitted by the generous members of our Families Who Love To Travel community.

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The Families Love Travel Team has a zest for life and an even bigger passion for globetrotting! Comprised of real-life travel professionals, we work hard behind the scenes to provide dynamic solutions for adventuring with children. Our enthusiastic team understands the challenges that often accompany traveling with kids and is committed to making Families Love Travel an inclusive space to convey these experiences.