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Updated October 2023

Looking to plan your next family getaway in California? From the stunning coastline to the vast desert, the Golden State is home to a variety of experiences that make family vacations in California unique and memorable.

Your Ultimate California Guide!

Unlock the best-kept secrets of Northern & Central California with my curated Google Map, showcasing 600+ accommodations, eateries, coffee shops, and unique experiences. Get the map here!

While places like wine country are typically reserved for adults, most places are super kid-friendly like this list of family-friendly wineries in Sonoma. So whether you choose to take a getaway in wine country or head out to one of California’s nine National Parks, you can travel at ease with your little one.

Living in Northern California ourselves with our toddler, we’ve taken advantage of several family getaways nearby. I think that what makes California so fun to travel in with kids is that most can be done over the course of a long weekend.

If you’re starting to plan out your summer and fall travels, use this list of California vacation ideas for inspiration. I’ve put together 16 ideas that are perfect for your next family getaway weekend in California!

Short on Time? Here Are My Top Picks for the best Family Weekend Getaways in California:

  1. San Diego (Staying at Fairmont Grand Del Mar), for the best Southern California getaway
  2. San Louis Obispo (Staying at Madonna Inn), for the best Central California getaway
  3. Lake Tahoe (Staying at The Coachmen Hotel), for the best Northern California getaway

Not sure what to pack? Check out my essential packing list for a road trip with a baby and my toddler travel essential gear list!

16 California Family Weekend Getaway Ideas


1. San Diego

16 California Family Getaway Weekend Ideas

San Diego is one of my favorite places to visit in Southern California and the perfect location for a family trip. From wine tasting in Little Italy to strolling along the historic harbor, there is so much to do in this coastal city.

There are also plenty of kid-friendly attractions and activities to choose from. Visit LEGOLAND in nearby Carlsbad or head to the legendary San Diego Zoo and Safari Park for a couple of days out with kids. There are also tons of great museums, many of which are child-friendly!

Family-Friendly San Diego Hotel Recommendations:

  1. Fairmont Grand Del Mar, for the best luxury hotel
  2. Hotel del Coronado, for the best Coronado hotel
  3. Park Hyatt Aviara Resort & Spa, for the best Carlsbad hotel

Helpful San Diego Guides To Plan Your Trip

2. Monterey

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is without a doubt the most popular attraction for families in Monterey. It truly is one of the best aquariums in the world, and it’s well worth planning a trip around.

The entire Monterey County Area has wonderful things to experience as well. Go spend a day walking along the beaches in Pacific Grove, or have a beach day at Carmel Beach or Carmel River State Beach. You can also enjoy some amazing seafood and take a scenic stroll down Old Fisherman’s Wharf.

Family-Friendly Monterey Hotel Recommendations:

  1. Monterey Tides, for the best oceanfront hotel
  2. Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel & Spa, for the best resort hotel

Helpful Monterey Guides To Plan Your Trip

3. Lake Tahoe

Day Trips From Sacramento

Lake Tahoe is one of the best year-round California destinations for families. Whether you visit in winter or summer, Lake Tahoe is beyond beautiful and offers an endless array of outdoor activities.

Spend your days by the lake or take a dip if the weather permits during the summer months. There are also tons of great hiking and camping options as well if you’re looking for adventure. And come winter, it’s a snow sports paradise!

Family-Friendly Lake Tahoe Hotel Recommendations:

  1. The Coachmen Hotel South Lake, for the best boutique hotel
  2. Marriott Grand Residence Club, Lake Tahoe, for the best resort hotel

Helpful Lake Tahoe Guides To Plan Your Trip

4. Catalina Island

16 California Family Getaway Weekend Ideas

Transport yourself to the Mediterranean without a long flight! Catalina Island is a true gem that makes for the ultimate California family vacation. You can hop on the ferry from Long Beach to make your way there, plus no car is needed on the island if you stay in the port as everything is within walking distance.

From renting golf carts to explore the island to snorkeling in the crystal clear waters, kids and adults of all ages will feel like they’re on a tropical escape.

Family-Friendly Catalina Island Hotel Recommendations:

  1. The Pavilion Hotel, Avalon, for the best beachside hotel
  2. Hotel Atwater, for the best design hotel

Helpful Catalina Island Guides To Plan Your Trip

5. Anaheim

16 California Family Getaway Weekend Ideas

What better place to take the family than Disneyland? Located in Anaheim, Disneyland Resort is the ultimate place for childhood magic, amazing food, and some of California’s most epic roller coasters.

Since there is so much to see and do, you can easily spend an entire weekend at the theme park (or even longer). Be sure to book your passes in advance and plan accordingly.

Family-Friendly Anaheim Hotel Recommendations:

  1. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, for the best upscale hotel
  2. Disneyland Hotel, for the best modern hotel

Helpful Anaheim Guides To Plan Your Trip

6. Yosemite National Park

Plan a California family vacation to Yosemite if you’re looking for an outdoorsy escape filled with epic hiking, breathtaking views, and iconic sites.

This national park is one of the most iconic ones in the country, let alone California. Though camping is really popular, there are also a couple of nice hotels that provide the best of both worlds. If you can go mid-week for a trip, you’ll have fewer crowds as well.

Family-Friendly Yosemite Hotel Recommendations:

  1. AutoCamp Yosemite National Park, for the best boutique hotel
  2. Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, for the best resort hotel

Helpful Yosemite Guides To Plan Your Trip

7. Palm Springs

16 California Family Getaway Weekend Ideas

Palm Springs is the ultimate destination for poolside lounging all year long. While a decent part of Palm Springs is more catered to adults, several hotels have family-friendly areas.

The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens is an awesome attraction, as is the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. I think this is one of the state’s best “undercover” family getaways since so many write it off for kids. You could even make a short road trip to Joshua Tree National Park as an excursion too!

Family-Friendly Palm Springs Hotel Recommendations:

  1. Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa, for the best Rancho Mirage hotel
  2. Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa, for the best Indian Wells hotel
  3. Marriott’s Desert Springs Villas II, for the best Desert Springs hotel

Helpful Palm Spings Guides To Plan Your Trip

8. San Francisco

16 California Family Getaway Weekend Ideas

When it comes to family vacation ideas in California, San Francisco never gets old. Explore Golden Gate Park, ride a cable car then grab some chocolate from the Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop, or visit the animals at the San Francisco Zoo.

No matter what age your kids are, San Francisco is home to great food, historic monuments and streets, and plenty of entertainment options. And if you love a good park with a view, make sure to stop by Tunnel Tops in the Presidio!

Travel Tip: If you’re planning on seeing multiple sights and ticketed experiences, consider booking a San Francisco CityPASS, which gives you admission to the California Academy of Sciences and Blue & Gold Fleet San Francisco Bay Cruise, plus admission to 2 more attractions of your choice: Aquarium of the Bay, Exploratorium, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art — SFMOMA, San Francisco Zoo & Gardens, or The Walt Disney Family Museum. Book the CityPASS here.

Family-Friendly San Francisco Hotel Recommendations:

  1. The 1 Hotel San Francisco, for the best new hotel
  2. Kimpton Alton Hotel – Fisherman’s Wharf, for the best Wharf hotel
  3. Palace Hotel, for the best Union Square hotel

Helpful San Francisco Guides To Plan Your Trip

9. Santa Barbara

Located on the central coast, Santa Barbara is an idyllic beach town that truly has something for everyone. The Santa Barbara Zoo is a small but amazing establishment that lets kids get up close and personal with a giraffe feeding.

Be sure to hit the beaches and get some candy on the historic Stearns Wharf. Older kids can enjoy water sports like surfing, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding. The Los Padres National Forest is also a great place to go horseback riding.

Family-Friendly Santa Barbara Hotel Recommendations:

  1. Hotel Californian, for the best overall hotel
  2. The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, for the best luxury hotel

Helpful Santa Barbara Guides To Plan Your Trip

10. Sacramento

Sacramento is the capital of California, making it a great family vacation spot for those looking to learn more about the state’s history. From the Sacramento Zoo to Funderland Amusement Park, parents will find plenty of activities to occupy younger kids. There are also several museums to explore including the California State Capital Museum.

Family-Friendly Sacramento Hotel Recommendations:

  1. Kimpton Sawyer, for the best new hotel
  2. Hyatt Regency Sacramento, for the best Capitol Park hotel

Helpful Sacramento Guides To Plan Your Trip

11. Big Bear

16 California Family Getaway Weekend Ideas

Looking for a woodsy escape just outside Los Angeles? Big Bear is a charming, lakeside town that offers a cozy, family-friendly vacation.

In addition to some cute hotels, there are also lots of amazing Airbnb’s to choose from. Whether you visit during the winter or summer, renting a cabin here is ideal for a remote escape that isn’t too far from the city.

Family-Friendly Big Bear Hotel Recommendations:

  1. Marina Riviera, for the best lakefront hotel
  2. Noon Lodge, for the best design for dollar hotel
  3. Holiday Inn Resort The Lodge At Big Bear Lake, for the best resort

Helpful Big Bear Guides To Plan Your Trip

12. Big Sur

Big Sur is home to one of the most breathtaking stretches of highway in the entire United States. Despite being best known for its natural beauty, Big Sur also has incredible dining and restaurants to experience.

From Pfeiffer Beach to the iconic McWay Falls, there are plenty of bucket list-worthy sites and scenes to see. It would be one of my favorite spots to bring our toddler for all of the outdoor space to roam.

Family-Friendly Big Sur Hotel Recommendations:

  1. Big Sur Lodge, for the best overall hotel
  2. Big Sur River Inn, for the best riverfront hotel

Helpful Big Sur Guides To Plan Your Trip

13. San Luis Obispo / Morro Bay

If you’re keen to spend any time on the central coast of California, start with San Luis Obispo as a home base. You can visit downtown with your kids, head out to Avila Beach, and enjoy several hiking areas.

Nearby, Morro Rock is an iconic site that makes for a perfect backdrop to a family photo. After strolling the sandy beach, check out some local seafood joints or enjoy clam chowder along the coast.

While visiting, consider staying at the Madonna Inn — a one-of-a-kind hotel that has themed rooms that kids will love. If you’re looking for a mellow California vacation spot, keep this area at the top of your list.

Family-Friendly San Louis Obispo Hotel Recommendations:

  1. Madonna Inn, for the most unique hotel
  2. San Luis Creek Lodge, for the best downtown hotel

Helpful San Louis Obispo Guides To Plan Your Trip

14. La Jolla

16 California Family Getaway Weekend Ideas

La Jolla is an elegant and upscale beach town just north of San Diego. It is definitely on the more expensive side, but it is also one of the best places for a family beach day.

Stroll along the scenic bluffs or post up in the sand for a picnic at sunset for a relaxing and picturesque California family vacation.

Family-Friendly La Jolla Hotel Recommendations:

  1. La Valencia Hotel, for the best beachside hotel
  2. Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa, for the best Torrey Pines hotel

15. Santa Cruz

16 California Family Getaway Weekend Ideas

The famous Santa Cruz Wharf and boardwalk is literally a kid’s dream. From the carnival rides to the games to the classic fair food, you can easily spend a whole weekend at the boardwalk and surrounding beach!

Other fun attractions include Lighthouse Field State Beach, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, and the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.

Family-Friendly Santa Cruz Hotel Recommendations:

  1. Torch Lite Inn Motel, for the best boardwalk hotel
  2. Dream Inn, for the best beachfront hotel
  3. Hotel Paradox, for the best modern hotel

16. Humboldt County Redwoods & Beyond

There is nothing quite as magical as seeing the towering redwoods up close and personal. In fact, it’s just as amazing for adults as it is for kids. Humboldt Redwoods State Park includes Rockefeller Forest, the world’s largest remaining old-growth forest of coastal redwoods.

Afterward, make your way further north to the beach town of Trinidad. One of the best local spots on the coast, there are several beaches to enjoy and laidback eateries.

Family-Friendly Hotel Recommendations:

  1. Humboldt Bay Social Club, for the best boutique hotel
  2. Scotia Lodge, for the best historic hotel
  3. The Lost Whale Inn (Trinidad), for the best oceanfront hotel

Helpful Guides To Plan Your Trip


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16 California Family Weekend Getaway Ideas

PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.

1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

2. Book Your Accommodations

Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Car

Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access

Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.

6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are:


Xx,
Jessica

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