Must-See Stops On Your California Family Road Trips

Must-See Stops On Your California Family Road Trips

By Rachael Medina June 26, 2020

As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.

The Golden State is home to seemingly endless coastlines, a wide variety of terrains, and plenty of incredible routes that make family road trips feel even more spectacular. From the scenic, winding road of Highway 1, to the remote desert oasis of Route 66, to the historic mining pathway of Highway 49, the most difficult part of planning a California road trip with kids is figuring out where to go first. 

Between the Southern California beaches, national parks nestled by the Golden State’s mountain ranges, and forests tucked in the north, there’s no end to adventure here. And thanks to the plethora of family-friendly amusement parks, museums, parks, and attractions, there’s no need to leave the kids at home. 

Tips for Planning a Successful Road Trip with Kids


Traveling as a family can be stressful, but these family road trip ideas can ease the pressure by providing affordable and fun solutions. 

  • Pack your own healthy snacks before hitting the road. From protein bars and chips for the kids to supplements and kombucha for you, having all the necessities on hand will help you avoid unnecessary stops on the road.
  • Eat local and organic foods for an eco-friendly road trip that will make you feel good. Stop by the farmers markets along the way to feel more like a local, experience the local cuisines, and eat healthier without breaking the bank.
  • Bring multiple types of entertainment. From California-made movies and television shows to classic books and games, there are plenty of ways to stay entertained and off your phones as you explore the Golden State’s gems.
  • Take your time. There’s no need to rush through a road trip and drive for hours on end without stopping, so plan to spend several days on vacation. The best road trips with kids involve beaches, ice cream, and experiences you can’t get at home, so leave enough room in your schedule for some flexibility. 
  • Bring a camera. Along with all of California’s stunning sights, you won’t want to miss the opportunity for a good photo op, so do yourself a favor and pack a camera. 


Best Family Road Trip
Stops


Since there’s so much to see throughout the state, it’s easy to find the right road trip route for you and your family. So pack your
suitcases, decide on your road trip soundtrack, and get ready to make memories together on these unforgettable road trips. Whether you want to explore Northern California, the Central Coast, or SoCal, these are the can’t-miss places to visit when you’re passing through. 

Enjoy beautiful beach days, delicious food, and kid-friendly attractions with the family in sunny San Diego.

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San Diego

As one of California’s largest cities, San Diego is a destination your family will want to spend some time exploring. Wander around downtown and put your fear of heights to the test at the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge for an unusual experience in this temperate paradise. Then, drive over to Balboa Park to visit one of the Golden State’s best zoos, see the museums, and listen to the organ (if you’re around on Sunday at 2 p.m.). Next, try the local cuisine—including the famous California burritos, foodie flights, and vegan fare—that will satisfy even your pickiest eaters. 

Make your way to the beach, too, and if the kids are old enough, add a few San Diego surf spots to your to-do list. While you’re near the coastline, drive across the bridge to Coronado to view the pristine sands, peruse the quaint boutiques, and have wholesome family fun. Finally, you’ll want to take a trip up to Legoland, one of California’s best amusement parks, before you even think about leaving San Diego County.

Visit the Griffith Observatory, Hollywood Sign, Getty Center, and other iconic L.A. sites on a road trip with kids through the city.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is packed with things to do. From catching a concert in Hollywood, to visiting Griffith Observatory, to seeing L.A. County’s best museums, it’s hard to be bored here. Walk around downtown, munch on the best vegan pizza, snag your family brunch reservations, and catch a film at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery for a trip you’ll all remember for years to come.

Then, attend a live TV taping to enjoy cost-free entertainment, or take a two-hour road trip inland to Palm Springs or Joshua Tree before continuing north to Santa Monica, Venice, and Malibu. Spend time rock climbing for a challenging bit of exercise that’s as thrilling as it is fun, and try to work in visits to some of the area’s popular film locations before you leave.

Make sure to spend a day or two at the "Happiest Place on Earth" to create lifelong family memories in Anaheim.

Anaheim

When it comes to Southern California road trip ideas for kids, it’s nearly impossible to ignore the magic of Disneyland. Between the delicious food, out-of-this-world attractions, and character meet-and-greets, there’s simply no replacing this iconic theme park. (If you’re on a budget, make sure to check out our tips for cheap trips to Disneyland, too.)

Afterward, head to the Anaheim Packing District and baseball stadium to make the most of your trip to Orange County. If you’re planning a truly epic family road trip, add Knott’s Berry Farm to your itinerary, too—your kids will thank you.

Make a pit stop in Santa Cruz to ride some epic waves, lounge on soft sands, and experience theme-park thrills with the children.

Central Coast

The Golden State’s Central Coast is all about relaxation, so try to unwind and enjoy the time away from the big cities. While this family road trip is best saved for older kids and nature enthusiasts, it’s a great reset for those looking for a new beginning. Take advantage of the incredible panoramic views in Big Sur by spending a night camping and hiking in the wilderness, or check in to a luxurious hotel for an indulgent stay.

Continue north, stopping by Carmel-by-the-Sea on your way to Monterey. Once you’ve arrived, head to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the best aquariums in California, for an educational adventure your whole family can appreciate. Then drive north to explore Santa Cruz, making sure to walk along the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and enjoy the rides together. 

Cross the Golden Gate Bridge and explore the famous city of San Francisco for endless family fun on a northern california road trip.

San Francisco

There are endless opportunities for fun in San Francisco, so it’s easy to spend a week seeing all of the Bay Area’s most prominent sights. The Exploratorium is one of California’s can’t-miss attractions, so it’s a great place to start your S.F. excursions. Next, make your way to the Ferry Building and to Ghirardelli Square for culinary delights and unique experiences, or venture over to the Mission District to admire the vibrant murals and indulge in scrumptious dishes.

Then, head across the Golden Gate Bridge to go stand-up paddleboarding in Sausalito before savoring a bounty of fresh seafood from the local eateries, or drive east to hike Mount Diablo before continuing on. Then, visit Muir Woods National Monument, Point Reyes, and Bodega Bay as you cruise north along the coast.

To continue your journey, cruise inland to Sacramento, drive southeast to Yosemite National Park, keep heading north toward Eureka, or travel northeast to Lassen Volcanic National Park. With so many destinations in the Golden State, your adventures never have to end.

Where do you want to take your family on your next California road trip? Share your plans in the comments below.

WRITTEN BY
Rachael Medina

WRITTEN BY Rachael Medina

Rachael Medina is the staff writer and content manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests of Humboldt C…

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