From towering redwood forests and world-class beaches to thrilling roller coasters and outdoor recreation, California destinations all across the state attract travelers with the promise of family fun. With so many great spots to choose from, it can be hard to narrow down your California family vacation destination. These 14 family-friendly locales are sure to please kids and adults alike, with plenty of exciting activities—on land, over water, and up in the air!
For accommodations that comfortably fit the whole gang, a vacation rental is tough to beat. You’ll enjoy extra living space, a full kitchen, washer and dryer, and maybe even a private patio/pool! Each of these Golden State destinations offer an ample selection of vacation rentals, which you can book right here on TripAdvisor! And once you decide on a location, you can book all your tours, activities, and attractions right on our site, too!
Home to the Happiest Place on Earth, Anaheim is a no-brainer for a California family vacation. Get away for a trip to Disneyland Resort—the city’s most popular attraction—complete with family favorites like Disney California Adventure Park and Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout! Swing by other top Anaheim attractions like Angel Stadium of Anaheim, or explore away from the crowds at Yorba Regional Park.
San Diego is a hit with visitors of all ages, families with kids included. This SoCal city is packed with activities that take full advantage of its nearly 300 days of year-round sunshine—from sea kayak tours to the San Diego Zoo, getting outside is a must. If you need a break from the sunshine, head inside the USS Midway Museum for an interactive museum experience the kids are sure to love.
“While in San Diego, we took our kids (7 and 12) to the USS Midway and we were really impressed. The collection of aircraft assembled on the deck of the ship were amazing. The kids enjoyed the flight simulators and the free audio tour of the ship. Highly recommend to all ages.” — Traveler Review of the USS Midway Museum
No California family vacation to Carlsbad is complete without visiting Legoland® California, which offers 60 rides, shows, and attractions that keep kids well entertained. And conveniently, Sea Life Aquarium is located right next door—talk about a full day of fun! Spring and summertime visitors can’t miss the Flower Fields, a nearly 50-acre display of blooms that burst into vibrant colors every March.
Monterey is one of the best family getaways in California, complete with outdoor activities (like this whale watching tour), historic sites, and quirky attractions like Selfieville that are sure to crack a smile. This is all in addition to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, considered one of the best aquariums in the US.
A premier SoCal getaway in the San Bernardino Mountains, Big Bear is an all-seasons destination for a California family vacation. Big Bear Lake itself is a hotspot for all things outdoors from jet skiing to hiking, while Big Bear Alpine Zoo and Big Bear Discovery Center offer fun ways for kids and grownups alike to learn all about local wildlife at a safe distance.
After checking out the wild seals at Children’s Pool and wandering the rocky shores of La Jolla Cove, make sure you still have some energy in the reserves for kid-friendly snorkel adventures, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, and the Birch Aquarium. Needless to say, you won’t be bored on a family vacation in La Jolla. If you need some down time, just head to any one of La Jolla’s endless beaches for a bit of bliss.
“I took my three year old here and we made a great morning of it! We were looking for something fun and educational to do and this was perfect. All the exhibits were easy for him to see and very kid friendly. The outdoor touch tanks and displays were fun and there was quite a bit too learn inside too. It is a small aquarium but worth the time to visit especially if you live in the region.” — Traveler Review of Birch Aquarium
For families who like to get outside, South Lake Tahoe is one of the best family vacation spots in California. Though it’s known as a ski destination in the winter, summertime visitors can hit up plenty of hiking trails—Fallen Leaf Trail is an easy pick for families. Pope Beach gives you a taste of beach bliss without heading out to the ocean. For the thrill-seekers in the family, this helicopter tour or boat rental should do the trick.
Only in Santa Cruz can you hang out with mermaids and get the photo evidence to prove it—a family-friendly activity little kids will undoubtedly love. Other attractions like the Roaring Camp Steam Train and the famous Santa Cruz Boardwalk are a must, while a kid-friendly surf lesson gets you catching waves at Santa Cruz’s famous beaches like a local.
There’s nothing but fun in Buena Park, an Orange County destination practically designed for a California family vacation. Try out your sea legs at Pirates Dinner Adventure or travel to the Renaissance era at Medieval Times. Knott’s Berry Farm and Knott’s Soak City are other top choices for kid-friendly attractions.
Visiting Yosemite National Park with kids is sure to be a good time. Though challenging hikes are the norm—and totally doable for families with teens—lowkey family-friendly hikes provide a less rigorous alternative for families with kids. The giant sequoias at Mariposa Grove or the views from Glacier Point will take your breath away at any age.
“Loved all the attention to details and the efforts that made our family trip a perfect experience. We had time to take our pictures, saw different plants, birds, and animals and our guide made it interesting for the kids and for us.” — Traveler review of a family hike in Yosemite
Whether you’re into classic boardwalk rides or combing the beach at sunset, Newport Beach has everything you need for a family getaway in California. Top off your day with a whale and dolphin watching cruise—who doesn’t like to see these animals in the wild?
“Our family loves the beach and have spent a good deal of time on the Southern California coast. Newport Beach (located at the Newport Pier at 21st street) is one of the safest beaches for families of all ages. From surfing north of the pier, casual boogie boarding, body surfing or just playing in the surf and sand it is the place to go.” — Traveler Review of Newport Beach
A family-friendly hike at Hidden Valley is the perfect way to kickstart your California family getaway in Joshua Tree. Pack a picnic to enjoy during this easy hike, where you’ll see desert wildlife and beautiful rock formations. If you prefer to explore the park through the ease of four wheels, no problem! You can tour this magical untamed wilderness by Hummer or by van.
A family vacation in Escondido offers SoCal sunshine without the big-city bustle. Take advantage of the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum and Queen Califia’s Magical Circle, a colorful sculpture garden in Kit Carson Park. Perhaps the top family attraction right near Escondido is the San Diego Zoo Safari Park—which showcases over 3,500 animals in an expansive, African safari-style setting.
California’s capital city entices travelers of all ages, and is a great spot for families with kids. Just spend a day wandering through the exhibits at the California State Railroad Museum and checking out fun activities at William Land Park—like Fairy Tale Town, the Sacramento Zoo, and a duck pond—to see why. Take in the sights and sounds of the city from the water on this boat tour, complete with historical commentary.