Plenty of vacationers across the globe have California on their bucket lists. But people from the opposite US coast find themselves drawn to California's many attractions, too.
Taking a road trip down the coast (there are tons of cozy motels along the Pacific Coast Highway) and enjoying the surf is one must-do item. But there's more to see in California than just Los Angeles and the beaches (like some lesser-known CA cities with tons of tourist appeal).
But what else should you do while crisscrossing throughout California, especially with kids in tow? We have some suggestions that will keep all ages entertained throughout your adventure.
12 Towering Redwoods In Redwood National And State Parks
Did you know that Redwood trees grow over 350 feet tall, and the tallest in the world (at 379 feet) resides in California? See them in person on your California travels. This lesser-visited Northern California State Park is a great place for families to explore. From multiple visitor centers (and separate forests) to viewing points from which you might catch a glimpse of migrating gray whales, there's a ton to experience at the Redwood National and State Parks.
11 Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk In Santa Cruz
Sure, the west coast is home to tons of expensive (and possibly overrated) Airbnbs, so you can expect tons of tourists. But you can't deny the fun of spending an entire day soaking up the sun and sand along the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz. From the rides (they have everything from kiddie-approved orca rides to big coasters) to the treats (balance out the Dippin' Dots, corn dogs, and cotton candy with some elotes and fresh fruit!), kids will love the Boardwalk. And, it's a great place to explore the beach and take a dip in the water, too (not all west coast beaches are swimmer safe!).
10 Monterey Bay Aquarium In Monterey
You can do the Monterey Bay Aquarium in one day, but you'll definitely want to linger. Kids of all ages will love the interactive exhibits, tons of enchanting animals, and the views of the bay from the viewing decks, windows, and even restaurants. There's also an entire kids' area where they can play with imitation tide pools, float tiny boats, and more. For older kids, the informational sessions (given by actual experts and scientists who work at the aquarium) are engaging, too. You'll definitely want to grab two-day tickets (typically available at most hotels in the area) and go back for more.
9 Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary In Pacific Grove
After you exhaust your offspring at the Aquarium, don't forget to stop in at the Monarch butterfly grove in Pacific Grove. You'll see butterflies on all the brochures and signs in the area, and for good reason. Butterflies overwinter in Pacific Grove, stopping in between October and February for the relatively warm weather in California. During this season, you can visit the Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove and hear from docents who share about the life cycle of butterflies and the monarchs' miraculous journey.
8 Literally Everything At Yosemite
Yosemite is a natural wonder, and any kid can appreciate the scenery. Of course, this destination might be better suited to kids who are a bit older and more outdoorsy, as there's tons of walking involved (unless you take the bus, but what's the fun in that?!).
Depending on the season, you can enjoy hiking and camping in Yosemite, but there's always wildlife to see and things to learn at the visitor center. Giant sequoia trees and the huge granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome are just a few perks.
7 The Santa Monica Pier In Santa Monica
Yes, another California beach makes it onto our list, and this one features a pier full of kid-friendly delights, too. The Santa Monica Pier has rides, snacks, and beachfront access, making it another perfect pit stop and an excellent item for your CA bucket list. From the historic carousel to the Ferris Wheel, arcade, and even trapeze school for the more adventurous, there's something for everyone. The street performers are always fun to watch, too.
6 Aquarium Of The Pacific In Long Beach
The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach has over 12,000 animals and a ton of exhibits, and many visitors compare it to Monterey Bay. One significant difference is that Monterey Bay Aquarium is a research facility, while the Aquarium of the Pacific focuses more on entertainment. Either way, it's sure to delight the kiddies, especially with the tunnels where you can watch wildlife (and scuba divers) swim past.
5 Disneyland, Of Course, In Anaheim
Disneyland is a must-visit for anyone who's passing through California. Kids will love meeting their favorite characters, riding all the rides, and tasting tons of yummy treats. Disney is all about the magic, and even moms and dads will get in on the fun.
You really can't go wrong with Disney, especially with toddlers and younger kids who are easy to impress with characters in costume and pretty ladies dressed up as their favorite princesses.
4 The La Brea Tar Pits In Los Angeles
Did you know that LA used to be home to beasts like giant ground sloths and mammoths? Yep, the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles shed light on what LA used to be, a super long time ago. From the historical exhibits to the hands-on fun you can find there, this is an excellent place for families to visit. Even tweens and teens will find the exhibits to be pretty mind-blowing, and the artifacts on display make it that much more real.
3 Universal Studios Hollywood
Two words: Harry Potter. If anyone in your family is a HP nerd, you've got to make a stop at Universal Studios Hollywood. It's not Disney, in fact, it's probably a great alternative if your family members aren't big fans of Mickey Mouse. Universal Studios is home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which makes it a fun stop for folks of any Hogwarts House, but it's got attractions for all ages, too.
2 Living Desert In Palm Desert
California has a lot of great zoos (San Francisco and Sacramento both come to mind), but there's nothing like visiting the Living Desert in Palm Desert, CA, near Palm Springs. Animals of all kinds, from leopards to cheetahs to giraffes camels, live here, and the free-range conservation environment is as eco-conscious as you can get. Parents will appreciate the gardens, too, while kids will just like having space to stretch their legs.
1 Legoland In Carlsbad
Let's face it: every kid is a huge fan of LEGO. So, you can't miss LegoLand in Carlsbad while traipsing through Southern California. From giant creations made of real LEGO to rides that will thrill everyone in the family, there's a lot to see and do here. Especially for families with a big age gap, you'll appreciate the duality of Legoland. They've got everything from Duplo Playtown for the tots to more intense coasters and hands-on builder's workshops.