Family holidays to California

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It’s the land of long coastal roads and iconic road trips, towering sierra and mighty forests, ancient history and absolute newness.

You may not fit it all into one holiday but you’ll find California is highly skilled at making sure you get the most out of every minute of your stay.

Why go on holiday in California

  • Direct flights

    Direct flights all year round from London to Los Angeles and San Diego.

  • National parks

    California is home to Yosemite, Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks.

  • Mojave National Reserve

    The Mojave National Reserve is in the south east of the state.

  • Major cities

    California’s major cities include San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

  • Location

    Southern California shares a border with Mexico.

  • Coastal area

    The state’s entire west coast is on the Pacific Ocean.

  • Popularity

    California is the most visited US state with an average of 223 million visitors each year.

Where to go

Los Angeles

The City of Angels is end to end legends and there’s nowhere quite like it, especially for older kids. Behaving like a tourist is inevitable, so just go with it and take guided tours wherever possible. Don’t miss Santa Monica Pier at night, a walk along Rodeo Drive, do at least one Hollywood experience, fit in a visit to the Fashion District for teens and spend more than a day on the city’s wonderful beaches.

  • Make it your mission to do a little of Museum Row, it’s home to the La Brea Tar Pits and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to name but a few.
  • LA has a bewildering number of restaurants, to find fun and kid-friendly places check out the reliable and unbiased Gayot Restaurant Guide online.
  • From Museum Row to Santa Monica Beach and Universal Studios, LA has most of its popular family hotels within easy reach of the city’s biggest sights.
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Yosemite National Park is just over three hours drive east of San Francisco. Not a day trip by any means but a fantastic family adventure you can have over a long weekend or even an entire week.

  • There’s a range of good value family accommodation in the park and it’s bookable in advance.
  • Kids are welcome guests and Yosemite has a wide range of well-organised and imaginative children’s activities and initiatives.
  • Trails and walks throughout the park are well-marked in order of difficulty so even younger kids have freedom to explore.
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San Diego

San Diego is sunny all year round, has acres of beaches and is California’s most family-friendly city. It may not have the same number of star attractions as LA or San Francisco but the historic quarters, brilliant theme parks and world famous zoo are more than enough to keep kids of all ages entertained.

  • Home to the New Children’s Museum and Legoland, San Diego also has a fascinating Little Italy and the charming Gaslamp Quarter for teen appeal.
  • Glamorous La Jolla is just a short distance from downtown San Diego – one of the loveliest stretches of southern California coast.
  • The city is less than an hour from the border of Mexico and infamous Tijuana.
  • San Diego’s huge, beachy waterfront is edged with large resort hotels. Historic districts are good for family-friendly character hotels. And La Jolla is where to look for the ultimate in luxury accommodation.
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San Francisco

San Francisco is another California city that’s marvellous to see with kids. Younger ones love the fun activities, cute parks and surprising thrills like the sea lions on Fishermen’s Wharf and Telegraph Hill’s flocks of colourful wild parrots. Teenagers are instantly seduced by quaint historic quarters, exceptional shopping and once-in-a-lifetime experiences like crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and sailing to Alcatraz. Walk around and take the trolley cars as much as you can in San Francisco, it’s the best way to see the city and soak up its unique atmosphere.

  • Over the past decade San Francisco has become one of the world’s most expensive cities. But it’s also the birthplace of Airbnb and hosts here are well versed in the art of sharing with families. You’ll find the system highly professional in San Francisco and it’s an affordable way to stay in some of the city’s more historic and interesting areas.
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What to do

  • San Diego Zoo
    With over 3000 animals and 650 species this award winning zoo is one of the best in the world.
  • Great America, San Francisco Bay Area
    Home of the mightiest and most terrifying rollercoasters this park is a California legend.
  • Disneyland, Anaheim
    The original, best and one every other theme park in the world wants to be.
  • Waterworld California, San Francisco Bay Area
    The biggest waterpark in a state packed with immense waterparks.
  • Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
    A seaside tradition since 1907 and still as lively, colourful and exciting as ever.
  • Alcatraz, San Francisco
    Cruise to explore one of the world’s most famous prisons, fascinating for older kids and great views of the city from the bay.
  • Los Angeles Conservancy Walking Tour
    Discover LA in depth on one of a range of city walking tours designed to dig deeper than the starry surface.
  • Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco
    Go to be amazed by the sea lion colony and stay for the incredible family entertainment.
  • Universal Studios, Los Angeles
    Behind the scenes and up close to the glitter, glamour and gritty working side of making a movie.
  • China Town, San Francisco
    The oldest and biggest Chinatown in the US and the largest Asian community outside Asia.

Educational value for kids

  • California is almost as famous for its rugged landscape as it for beaches and big highways, Yosemite National Park is a snapshot of this breathtaking state. Take the kids camping here, it’s an unforgettable experience.
  • A San Francisco walking tour from Russian Hill to the Ferry Building goes through the oldest areas of the city and lets kids see the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill.
  • San Francisco and LA are packed with astonishing museums and galleries. Many have all year round children’s event programmes.
  • Visit the Exploratorium on San Francisco Bay. It’s the size of three football pitches and ‘dedicated to awareness’, kids can happily spend an entire day engaged in the awe-inspiring activities here.
  • Explore Old Town San Diego Historic Park or take a free guided tour, it’s an involving and colourful experience that’s learning by default for kids.
  • From the Golden Gate Bridge to Lombard Street, City Lights to the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Observatory, visit as many California icons as you can manage.
  • Take a road trip on the Pacific Highway, it’s one of the most spectacular drives in the world and, apart from the beaches, there are dozens of reasons to stop along the way.

Getting around with kids in California

If you’re sticking to cities, don’t drive. Public transport is always excellent, clearly explained and extensive. On the coast and in the countryside, car hire is the best way to get around with children. There are good rail and coach services across the state but they inevitably involve long journeys and few stops.

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