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The Golden State's Best Fall Family Vacations
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The Golden State's Best Fall Family Vacations

In need of a family getaway? Here are the family-friendly destinations in California you should visit this fall.

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5 min read

October 09, 2021

Sandy beaches, majestic mountain ranges, lush botanical gardens, and incredible national parks—California is ample with fall family vacation destinations. With an abundance of fantastic spots to choose from, your options are endless. Whether it’s appreciating the Golden State’s fall foliage as you sip on your pumpkin spice latte or hiking to see SoCal’s scenic landscapes, California is the perfect place for a fall family getaway.

So, don your finest autumn outfit and take the family to unwind during an enviable mountain escape, spend a day at the best theme parks, or let the waves crash gently onto your feet at the beach. The Golden State’s best fall family vacation spots will allow you to make memories that you’ll cherish forever.

Fall family vacation ideas for adventurous souls

There's no better place to take in the colors of fall than the scenic Avenue of the Giants.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

California’s largest redwood state park is a popular fall family vacation destination. Humboldt Redwoods State Park is located along the spectacular Avenue of the Giants—a 31-mile portion of Highway 101.

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Spend the day hiking and fishing for salmon, steelhead, lamprey, and Sacramento pikeminnow. Explore the boating opportunities throughout the park and immerse yourself in the incredible views of redwoods and wildlife while kayaking. If you visit the park on a particularly warm day, go for a dip in the river or cool down in the swimming hole.

The most stunning riding trails of California are right here, too, so saddle up and soak up the wisdom of Humboldt County's towering redwoods. End your fall family getaway by spending the night in one of the park's campgrounds and indulging in bonfire s’mores. The beauty, scenery, and abundance of activities in Humboldt Redwoods State Park will make it the best fall family vacation you’ve ever had.

Solvang, a 45-minute drive from Santa Barbara, is a truly unique village with activities, seasonal festivals, and delectable Danish goods.

Solvang

Picture a village where fresh-cut flowers and straight-from-the-oven pastries fill the air—not bad for a fall family vacation, right? Well, how about adding gingerbread architecture, twirling windmills, and people so friendly you’d think they’re created by Disney Channel? With a place like Solvang, you’ll feel like you’ve hit the autumnal jackpot.

Filled with tasting rooms, hip boutiques, and farm-to-fork restaurants that’ll have the whole family grinning, this Santa Ynez Valley gem has enough to offer for a full day. Plan a lunch stop at Pea Soup Andersen’s, a local landmark since 1924, still oozing with old-timey Central Coast charm, and catch a performance at the 700-seat outdoor theater. Either way, the best fall family vacation is guaranteed!

Take a family road trip on the tree-lined Highway 395, which leads past stunning mountain means and ancient forests.

Highway 395 Road Trip

A family road trip on the scenic Highway 395 is by no means a brief fall family getaway, but it is well worth your while. Beginning in Southern California and stretching all the way up to the Canadian border, Highway 395 passes by some of California's most picturesque areas. Make a pit stop at Red Rock Canyon State Park, where dramatic rock formations capture your attention.

Drive a little north and you’ll come across Alabama Hills—famous for appearing in countless Western films. The tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S., Mount Whitney, also comes into view here. Standing tall at 14,505 feet, the mighty mountain is a breathtaking sight. As you’re cruising down the highway, you’ll also drive past the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest; this is where Methuselah, the oldest tree on Earth, exists—it’s even older than the pyramids. Embrace the fall foliage when you arrive in Mammoth Lakes, where the finest shades of autumn enrich your trip with their vibrant colors. 

San Francisco is a hub of culture, excitement, as well as the commercial and financial heart of Northern California.

San Francisco

Despite measuring 50 square miles and having a population that doesn’t even crack a million, San Francisco seems to always rank as one of the greatest cities in the world; all the more reason to visit with family. Famous for Victorian architecture, cable cars, and a dynamic waterfront, the City by the Bay is an unforgettable family vacation waiting to happen.

Try out trend-defining cuisine from Michelin-starred eateries, take in the arts (ballet, theater, opera, you name it), and bask in all of nature’s bounty—outdoor adventure is practically boundless here. Start your adventure with the obvious, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and make your way to the breathtaking Marin Headlands. Better yet, plan your activities on the other side and visit the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts, the Presidio, or Lands End, a whale watching hub that makes way for the ruins of the Sutro Baths.

Lake Tahoe is breathtaking any time of year, but when the leaves start changing colors, it becomes even more beautiful.

Lake Tahoe

Everyone knows that fall in Lake Tahoe is as good as it gets. The green landscapes turn golden during this season, enchanting all visitors. Head here to take the best family vacation in October and create unforgettable memories.

Teach your children to ride a bike as you indulge in the scenic views, learn horseback riding with your family as the fall foliage surrounds you, or try your hand at rock climbing and boost your adrenaline as you conquer the grand rock formations. South Lake Tahoe also has one of the most gorgeous views, exciting activities, and best hiking trails in all of California.

With a plethora of activities and remarkable sights, Lake Tahoe has something for everyone, making it a perfect fall family getaway. 

Julian is rich with entertainment, whether you want a sublime apple pie or get away for a romantic weekend in the great outdoors.

Julian

Squeezed between the desert and the coast, Julian is only an hour’s drive east of San Diego. This (surprisingly) mountainous town makes for a great day-vacation in the fall for the family. Set at a dizzying elevation of 1,228 meters in the Cuyamaca Mountains, Julian has an entire gold mining world you can explore through underground tunnels and panning expeditions. And if these quests make you work up an appetite then the town’s signature foodstuff—apple pie—is the best thing to opt for. 

Fun fact: Did you know that apples were planted in Julian for income after the gold ran out? When the surrounding orchards started thriving, the town soon turned into a hub for apple-pie fans.

With rugged rock formations and stark desert landscapes, Joshua Tree National Park makes for a memorable family getaway.

Joshua Tree National Park

Merging two desert ecosystems, Joshua Tree National Park is known for its distinct trees, surreal geological features, and rich natural history. Get the whole gang prepared for a memorable family getaway at the national park, where a new world awaits you.

With almost 800,000 acres of natural wonders, Joshua Tree is home to 57 mammals, 46 reptiles, and more than 250 bird species. Admire the plant diversity of the park—cacti, lichens, fan palm oases, and of course, the park’s namesake: Joshua trees—as you traverse some of the 300-plus miles of hiking trails.

Camp here overnight and toast marshmallows while experiencing the spectacular night sky with your family. Don’t forget to capture the memories of your best fall family vacation with the impressive scenery as your backdrop.

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