15 fun places to visit in California with kids

by Jan

Planning the best places to visit in California is not an easy task, as there are so many fantastic attractions.  In fact, California is bursting with family-friendly places to visit and things to do.

With beautiful beaches, amazing animals and fun-packed amusement parks, you’ll find so much choice for families.  Plus, with vast regions of stunning natural beauty it is the perfect destination for outdoor adventures, that kids will just love.

Read on for 15 fun places to visit in California with kids.

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The Golden Gate Bridge

View of Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting California.  This famous landmark stretches for 1.7 miles, connecting San Francisco with its neighbours in the North.  The impressive suspension bridge is one of the most popular tourist spots in California.

To make your visit to the Golden Gate Bridge more fun for kids, hire a bike and cycle across the bridge.  It’s about 10 miles to Sausalito and back, but you could return by ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf.  This is a great route, and the kids will have a real sense of achievement when they’ve finished.

Afterwards head along to Pier 39 to see the sealions basking in the sun and fighting for the best spot on the jetty!

Read on for more details about cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios - Shrek encounter, Los Angeles, California

Universal Studios is a fun-packed day for kids and adults alike.  Not only is it a theme park with roller coasters and thrill rides, but a film studio too.

Of course, there are plenty of high-speed rides for the adrenalin junkies, but there’s also lots for visitors who prefer their feet on terra firma.

One of the best things to do at Universal Studios is take a studio tour to see behind the scenes.  You can visit the film sets of top Hollywood movies, such as Jaws and Fast and Furious.  You can also experience special effects from floods to earthquakes at close hand.

Harry Potter World, Universal, California, USA

One of the favourite attractions for kids at Universal Studios is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Here they can let their imagination run wild in a visit to Hogwarts.  You can fly with Harry Potter, try out some spells and sample the butter beer.  And of course, this fun is not exclusive to children!

Disneyland California

Now, we can’t talk about places visit in California with kids without a mention of Disneyland in Anaheim.  Let the kids meet their favourite characters, enjoy the shows, try out the legendary Disney rides or stay up late for fireworks.

If this isn’t enough, the sister attraction Disney California Adventure is directly opposite Disneyland.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium Sardine Shoal

The world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium is without doubt the best aquarium we’ve ever been to.  Spread over two floors, it is home to over 35, 000 marine creatures.

It is immense space which will take you exploring the world under the ocean.  As well as being a fun day out, Monterey Bay Aquarium is a hands-on interactive learning experience, which kids love.  The highlight for us was the adorable sea otters.  Check the schedule for the day, so that you can turn up in good time for the feeding sessions and trainer talks.

San Diego Zoo

Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo, California, USA

Another of the best attractions in California for animal-lovers is the San Diego Zoo.  The zoo is spread over 100 acres and is home to more than 3,500 animals, including pandas, polar bears, and orangutans.

Not only is it home to one of the largest collections of endangered animals in the world, but San Diego is also a world-leader in conservation work.

Kids can enjoy seeing a wide variety of animals, as well as the shows and hands-on animal encounters.

Alternatively, you could visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, a wildlife sanctuary near Escondido.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park, California

If you prefer to see wildlife in its natural habitat, head for Yosemite, one of California’s fantastic national parks.  There’s nothing kids enjoy more than adventures in the great outdoors and Yosemite has it all.

With natural wonders such as the world’s tallest trees, spectacular waterfalls, and amazing granite features, the scenery is simply breathtaking.

You can spend your time hiking, camping, climbing and nature-spotting.  Keep an eye out for the gigantic sequoia trees and bears!

Other amazing national parks in California are Sequoia National Park or Joshua Tree.

Alcatraz Island

Arriving by boat at Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, California

Alcatraz Prison was a notorious maximum-security prison in the 1930s.  Built on a rock off the shores of San Francisco, it was home to some of the world’s most infamous criminals, including Al Capone.

Nowadays you can visit Alcatraz Island to see how the prisoners lived.  I recommend using the audio guide, which will enhance your visit to the prison cells with stories of former inmates and their numerous escape attempts.

To get to Alcatraz Island, take a ferry from Pier 33.  You should buy your tickets in advance as it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in California.

Further reading on a visit to Alcatraz.

Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara

Stearns Wharf is the name of the pier in Santa Barbara.  It is California’s oldest working wharf and one of the most visited landmarks in Santa Barbara.

Head to the end of the pier for a great choice of ice cream or clam chowder.  Alternatively take a boat ride to Santa Barbara Harbour.

Stearns Wharf also hosts the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea, an interactive aquarium with local marine animals.  Get close with rays, sharks, and starfish.

However, if you prefer you prefer a pier with more amusements, head further south to Santa Monica Pier.  Here, you’ll find an arcade, amusement rides and a huge solar-powered Ferris wheel.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is a scenic, year-round destination for nature lovers and adventure-seekers.  This enormous sparkling lake is in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, straddling the borders between California and Nevada.

Lake Tahoe is so large it stretches for 22 miles from one side to the other.  The shores of Lake Tahoe offer a diverse landscape of pine forests, and mountains, providing the perfect natural playground.

In summer you can choose from a wide range of outdoor adventures such as water sports, hiking, and cycling.  If you return in winter, you can stay in a cosy cabin and try winter sports, such as skiing or sledding.

It is a fantastic place to visit with kids who love outdoor adventures.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes Hike - Estero Trail to Drakes Head

Another natural haven on the west coast of California is Point Reyes National Seashore.  This is a diverse, dramatic area on the outskirts of San Francisco and is ideal for family hiking.

Start your visit at the Bear Valley Visitor Centre, where you can try several short family trails.  The highlight for kids is the Earthquake Trail, which crosses the San Andreas Fault.

As well as hiking and nature trails, Point Reyes is home to Heart’s Desire, a small sandy beach with safe swimming areas.

Point Lobos National Park

Coastal View at Point Lobos, California

Just 7 miles south of Monterey, Point Lobos is an ideal Californian day trip for family-friendly hiking.  In fact, it is so beautiful that Point Lobos is known as the “Crown Jewel of California’s state parks”.

Point Lobos is the perfect choice if your family loves nature, as the reserve is home to over 20 species of animals, including seals, otters, and sea lions.  Point Lobos is also a haven for shorebirds, including the Great Blue Heron and Black Oystercatchers.

You’ll find plenty of self-guided trails at Point Lobos.  Alternatively, enrol the children in one of the Junior Ranger Programmes, giving them first-hand knowledge from local experts.

For further information on a visit to Point Lobos National Park.

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Chinese Theatre, Los Angeles, California

Whilst in Hollywood, head for Sunset Boulevard to see the Walk of Fame.  You can follow the famous stars in the sidewalk for 15 blocks to Hollywood Boulevard.

Children will love searching for the stars of celebrities they know.  Our top find was Harrison Ford.   But be warned, it’s a popular landmark and gets busy.  It’s not as glamorous as it looks on tv, but still a must-see visit in California.

Whilst you’re on Hollywood Boulevard, remember to look out for the famous movie palace, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

An alternative option for star-spotters is a tour round Beverley Hills to visit the luxury mansions of the Hollywood Stars.  At the top you can get out the car for a perfect view of the iconic landmark, the Hollywood sign.  You’ll also get sweeping views across Los Angeles.

Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, California

Another place for some of the best views of the Hollywood sign is from The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.  Its position on top of a hill will also give you panoramic views over Los Angeles.

Griffith Observatory is one of the best things do in California for kids who love space and star-gazing.  The observatory owns a state-of-the art planetarium, with shows running throughout the day.  It also has exhibits and telescopes for public use.

Admission to the Griffith Observatory is free.

California Beaches

sunset at Pismo Beach, California

Of course, one of the best free places for a fun family day out in California is the beach.

With 840 miles of coastline, California has numerous beaches to choose from.  And with such a diverse landscape, the beaches vary too.  Southern California has long sandy beaches, just like in the movies, whilst others in the north are rugged and rocky.

Some of our favourite beaches were the pretty sandy beach at Carmel-by-the-Sea and the long, wide Pismo beach.  Unsurprisingly, we had some awesome beach sunsets too.

A map of places to visit in California with kids

Below is a map of our places to visit in California with kids.

Save the map to use when you are there by clicking on the star to the right of the title.

You can later find the map by going to your Google Maps app and selecting the saved icon.

Where are your most fun places to visit in California with kids?   We’d love to hear your thoughts below:-

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