Things to Do in California for Families

California is one of the best places for traveling with kids, and not just because Mickey Mouse is in town. The state boasts a mix of world-famous theme parks, state and national parks, breathtaking landscapes and beaches, and some of the best hotel chains in the world. Simply, the Golden State is made for holidays.

Whether you're just finding your footing on traveling with kids, or a well-traveled family looking for their next stop, this new list will help you create a memorable California family vacation that will last for ages.

Planning to visit Florida with kids as well? Read here for more information.

Things to Do in California for Families - Disneyland

Disneyland

As parents, you can't pass up the chance for a meet and greet with Disney characters—for your kids, of course.

The cool thing about Disney's mega theme park franchise is that every Disneyland looks familiar but somewhat different each time. For California, that's even more important, since it has both Disneyland Park and California Adventure within its Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.

Luckily, exploring both parks is relatively easy as they are literally right across each other. But what you need to know as a first-time visitor is that both parks are considered separate theme parks and require separate tickets. Unless you purchase a Park Hopper pass to explore both sites in one day.

As you may have expected, these Disney parks boast different themed attractions and rides. Disneyland holds the fan favorites Splash Mountain and The Haunted Mansion, while Adventure has Mickey's Fun Wheel and Toy Story Midway Mania. Even the night shows are different!

Disneyland Park operates from 8:00 am to 12:00 am, while Disney California Adventure is open from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm in most seasons. Some of the best hotels to consider in Southern California are Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disneyland Hotel, and Best Western Plus Park Place Inn, Mini Suites.

Things to Do in California for Families - Universal Studios

Universal Studios

Not to be outdone is Universal Studio in San Fernando Valley, home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic World rides, Revenge of the Mummy, and more Hollywood-themed attractions. For your first visit, we recommend getting an express ticket to skip the lines and get the most out of your family trip.

The regular hours for the theme park are 9:00 am to 10:00 pm. For accommodation, we recommend Hilton Universal City, Sheraton Universal Hotel, and BLVD Hotel & Spa. Universal Studio is one of our must-visit California theme parks, regardless of season.

Things to Do in California for Families - Exploratorium

Exploratorium

The Exploratorium is an interactive, family-friendly—they mean it—science museum in San Francisco.

Strollers are welcome on-site, and all restrooms have diaper-changing tables or counters. You can also ask a staff member for access to the First Aid Room, which doubles as an area for breastfeeding should you need a private space.

Speaking of strollers, we're happy to recommend TernX's travel stroller, which is incredibly handy here since it can quickly transform into a pram. You get to pack light and keep your toddler comfy with a single super-efficient, multipurpose travel gear. Not bad, eh?

There are two dining areas in the museum—the Seismic Joint Café, which faces the outdoor plaza, and the Seaglass Restaurant in the Bay Observatory. Most importantly, there's something for everyone here, like toddlers can enjoy bubbles and colorful exhibits, while older kids can have various arts and innovative science displays.

Notably, children three and under gets free admission. Tickets are available online.

The Exploratorium is open on Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and on select Mondays during a seasonal schedule. For hotels, check out Hotel Griffon, Hyatt Regency San Francisco, and Hotel Vitale for a smooth stay.

Things to Do in California for Families - San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo is an essential stop if you are touring with kids. Not that adults wouldn't get their share of fun, but wildlife is always an appealing and meaningful attraction for the young ones.

Most zoos qualify for a one-day experience, but this 100-acre wildlife park might have you rethinking that. But if you want a more focused trip, then we recommend taking the kids to the Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, which has interactive exhibits specially designed for kids of all ages—you included.

Hours may vary depending on the season, but San Diego Zoo is open from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm in its regular slot. When it comes to accommodation, you'll have the luxury of The Sofia Hotel, Best Western Plus Bayside Inn, and Hilton San Diego Gaslamp Quarter nearby.

Things to Do in California for Families - Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

If the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk comes across familiar to you, that's because it's been a colorful backdrop to some of Hollywood's biggest hits including Bumblebee (2018), Dangerous Minds (1995), Harold and Maude (1971), and Us (2019).

If you're in Santa Cruz, check out the boardwalk for some classic carnival fun, kettle corn, and deep-fried Twinkies! You won't regret it—the Twinkies. The kiddie rides should keep the actual kids occupied, then, you can enjoy each of the family rides together.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is open from 11:00 am to 11:00 pm through summer, and up until 5:00 pm during the off-season. If you're staying in town, you can check out Dream Inn Santa Cruz, Beach Street Inn and Suites, and West Cliff Inn, A Four Sisters Inn for a solid stay.

Things to Do in California for Families - Columbia State Historic Park

Columbia State Historic Park

Tuolumne doesn't sound like the name of a place, but it is! And if you do wind up in Tuolumne’s gold country, then, you might want to check out Columbia State Historic Park, a perfectly preserved 1850s gold rush town.

There are active establishments here like a candy store, blacksmiths, and an old-fashioned bowling alley. Meanwhile, horse and carriage rides are also available on-site. The park is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Alternatively, another popular abandoned mining town is the Calico Ghost Town in San Bernardino County.

Things to Do in California for Families - Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is probably the city's most iconic family-friendly destination.

The Open Sea gallery, which is inspired by Pacific Ocean habitats, is known for its highly advanced facilities, where you can view some of the Pacific's most fascinating wildlife without ever getting wet! Regular admission hours for the Aquarium are from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

For nearby accommodations, you have InterContinental The Clement Monterey, Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, and Spindrift Inn. Beyond the Monterey Bay Aquarium, you might also enjoy Monterey's small-town charm, beautiful wharves, and vineyards.

Things to Do in California for Families - Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier

The majestic Santa Monica Pier is famed for its beachside carnival and golden shores. There's also a small aquarium for the family to explore and excellent dining options all around the beach.

The pier generally operates from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm. While there are notable hotels nearby like Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel and The Georgian Hotel, Airbnb is the most common stay-in option in Santa Monica Pier.

Things to Do in California for Families - LEGOLAND

LEGOLAND

LEGOLAND California is arguably the world's best LEGOLAND. So, it's hard to imagine a family with younger kids ever skipping it during a visit to the Golden State.

For our kids, the LEGOLAND driving school is a unanimous favorite during our week-long trip to California, where they got to drive around mini cars and earn their special LEGOLAND driving license.

LEGOLAND is open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm daily, with LEGOLAND Hotel, Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa, and West Inn & Suites nearby for accommodation.

Summary of Things to Do in California for Families

In addition to our list of top family-friendly attractions, other exciting stops for California with kids are Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County, where you can relax on the beach and explore nearby hiking trails; Yosemite National Park in Northern California; Joshua Tree National Park in the southeast; and Laguna Beach in Southern California.

When you are traveling with kids, TernX travel gears help you pack more efficiently, even on the go. The TernX carry on stroller is perfect for cross-country trips and flights, while the TernX travel diaper bag has been our most reliable companion for walking tours and urban exploration.

If you're looking for a family vacation that is easy and simple, consider going on a cruise. Read here for ideas on the best Norwegian cruise for families.

Read here for best carnival cruise for families.

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