California Vacation Ideas for the Family

Looking for some great California Vacation Ideas for an amazing family road trip? We have put together our top vacation ideas for families with children that will make for memories that last. The road trip seemed to us the best way to explore the state given how this is the mode of transport most revered  and suited to covering sometimes big distances and divers landscapes.  Weather you pack a tent, stay at cheap motels or luxury resorts the destinations will stay mostly the same - but camping is going to take a little more preparation and planning. 

Let's start by looking at some of the top California travel spots, and attractions that are going to interest families.

Half Dome Yosemite National ParkHalf Dome Yosemite National Park

A California road trip was at the top of our agenda when visiting the United States from our Australian home. Like most areas of the world, Australia is the subject to the whole idea of California dreaming, and the images put out by Hollywood and pop culture.  Personally I was not as much drawn to the pop culture as I was to the diversity of the landscape, and the opportunity to visit an amazing geographical region of the world. From the sparkling blue Pacific  of (which many Australians are quite familiar with from the other side), and across the Sierra Nevada Ranges and into dessert country the changes happen dynamically  and dramatically. Exactly what you want for a road trip to keep the kids entertained. Sure you may have to drive a little more slowly with younger kids as you hug the coastline near Big Sur or cross the range but the rewards are there.

Family Friendly California Destinations

California Road Trip for Families

Your family will plot it's own course through the Golden State, and we will prove resources below to help you make a plan comprising of your own interests. Our great California road trip takes families from San Diego Zoo past Lego-Land, Los Angeles  out to Palm Springs, does Disney, then through the amazing achievement that is Hearst Castle, travels through to San FranciscoBig Sur, Yosemite and ends near Napa.

Big Sur on Our California RoadtripBig Sur on Our California Roadtrip


The Muir Woods was one of the first places I wanted to include in our road trip plan. The great part is the woods are only about 40 minutes from the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco.


San Francisco PierSan Francisco Pier

In San Francisco Kids will love taking  the cable cars up and down the bay streets.  Jumpa a ferry or go whale watching from the harbour. The Golden Gate bridge also has paths for bicycles and pedestrian traffic. 

See more on San Francisco including things to do and accommodation on TripAdvisor - click here.

Top California Family Resorts

Looking for some great California Deals on accommodation for your family?

The TripAdvisor list of the best California vacation spots for families is also good place to start when looking for ideas for a California vacation. 

Our California RoadrtipOur California Roadrtip

Video Series of California Vacation Destinations

Overview of California for Families

Not only is California the natural wonder of National Parks like Yosemite and rugged coastlines like Big Sur, it is also a bigger economy than most countries in the world with glorious cities like like LA and San Francisco. From the wine valleys to Disneyland, there are more than enough attractions to keep busy. We take you through a journey of some of our favorites.

San Diego For Families

Home to the world famous San Diego Zoo which is a long established world leader in the open landscape it provides for it's animals. This is a non-brainer for families with children.  San Diego also has many great beaches which are supervised.  Learn More about San Diego Family Vacations and the best San Diego Beaches.  On your way north make sure you check out Lego-land on the way.

Hearst Castle 

California's most treasured family destinations is Hearst Castle located at San Simeon. A good ideas to include this in your road trip as you begin the trip up the Big Sur. Se more on Big Sur vacation ideas.

Big Sur Family Vacation Ideas

Big Sur is a haven to enjoy the coastline with your family through horseback riding, coast tours or hiking. Where the natural forests meet the shoreline the area has a laid back atmosphere and has long been the haunt of artists and poets attracted by the tranquility.

Whale spotting of the California CoastWhale spotting of the California Coast

From San Simeon to Carmel there and including Ventana Wilderness area and the Los Padres National Forest this is a quality option for families. Go to our Big Sur Family Vacation Ideas.

Family vacation to Big Sur during spring break

Lake Tahoe Family Vacation Ideas

Located on the Sierra Nevada at over 6000 feet, Lake Tahoe and its pristine waters that span out across the horizon offer a host of amazing winter and summer activities.

Lake Tahoe Family Vacation IdeasLake Tahoe Family Vacation Ideas

The video playlist below provides a few ideas to get you started looking for great Tahoe ideas for your family below. But why not check out the line up of activities for families by Lake Tahoe.

Scroll through video of the Tahoe vacation ideas - click playlist  above.

Yosemite Ideas for Families

One of the original vast wilderness areas of deep valley falls and meadows, Yosemite is etched into the psyche of the American people as a frontier wilderness utopia in the High Sierra .

Yosemite Ideas for FamiliesYosemite Ideas for Families

One of the top strategies required to navigate a family vacation to Yosemite vacation is a beat the summer traffic approach. We guide you through this as well as some of the better places to visit, when to go,  where to camp, and things to do as a family are are all listed on our Yosemite Family Vacation Ideas.

We also have a review of the best family camp sites in Yosemite.

This video below captures a little of the serenity the family can derive from a Yosemite vacation if you get it right.

Click playlist button above on the video to view more of the Yosemite Family vacation ideas videos above.

Highlights of Los Angelies

Los Angeles obviously has a lot of the family attractions you are going to want to check out. From the theme parks , Hollywood and the beaches. Check out the attractions with this video:

Palm Springs Family Vacation Ideas

Palm Springs also boasts a lot of family activities you may not expect to find in a desert. While we hold this as an optional part of  your California family road trip we do recommend you do at least consider the option.

For Amusement there is:

  • Knotts Soak City Water Park Palm Springs.
  • Boomers! Palm Springs has Miniature Golf, an Arcade, Rock Wall, Go Karts and Bumper Boats and more.
  • Oasis Water Resort has 13 water slides.

As far as Museums go check out:

  • Palm Springs Air Museum
  • Ruddy's General Store Museum which recreates a store out of the 20's and 30's.

    Palm Family Vacations Video Below

For heritage visit:

  • Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Take the Palm Canyon Drive

Also see;

  • San Jacinto Mountain
  • Hike the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons
    or catch The Fabulous Palm Spring Follies performances.

See Palm Springs Family Vacations and Accommodation

Napa Valley Family Vacation Ideas

You may have not considered taking the kids of a wine tour of the Napa Valley but that is not all there is to do there. A few things families may find of interest in the area are:

Castello di Amorosa - this is a 13th century Tuscan-style castle and apart from the wines there are horse-drawn vineyard tours.

Skyline Wilderness Park

Calistoga natural Springs and frontier country
Scientopia Discovery Center has exhibits, recycle arts and crafts
Scientopia at the Napa Science Fair Video

Napa Valley Family Vacation Packages and Accommodation

The California DesertThe California Desert

Family Vacation Deals

 We recommend always to check reviews on TripAdvisor (use this link) before booking any travel deals. 

 Discounts of up to 75% off family travel.

If we find a great family vacations deals banner for families to browse and save, we display it here:

Have A Great Vacation Idea or Experience to Share?

Do you have a great idea or activity that will help other families bond and thrive? Let us benefit from your wisdom! We appreciate it.

Images: Torrey Pines State Beach - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 

File:LaJolla childrenspool.JPG - Wikimedia Commons

Free Photo: Palm Springs, California, Mountains - Free Image on ... 

Palm Springs, California, Mountains, Palm Trees, Sunset.

Big Sur – Wikipedia 

Photographed by Doug Dolde along the Big Sur coastline in California. 2006.

Official Lake Tahoe Visitor Bureaus

Yosemite National Park Tunnel View Sunrise - Kodachrome | Flickr ... 6

Yosemite National Park Tunnel View Sunrise - Kodachrome

Hearst Castle By Jim G  from Silicon Valley, CA, USA [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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