Best California with Kids Destinations

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 eight best places to visit in California with kids.

Flamingos at the San Diego Zoo

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Table of Contents

1. San Diego

I lived in San Diego in Southern California for 15 years in the 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

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. When you tire of the theme park scene, check out these things to do in Los Angeles with kids.

Huntington Beach is the ultimate surfer town to visit in California

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

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

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

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 and sea creatures 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

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 snow boarders 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, paddle boarding, hiking, kayaking and beyond.

Legoland California in Carlsbad with kids

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 more about all there is to do in Carlsbad with kids.

Best California with Kids Destinations

Best California with Kids Destinations

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