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The 15 Best California Attractions for Families

The 15 Best California Attractions for Families

From must-see national parks and lakes to top museums and amusement parks, here are the best kid-friendly attractions in California.


7 min read

May 25, 2020

Cooking pancakes, laughing until your belly hurts, and spending quality time with your family are what weekends were made for. Whether you live in a quaint cabin in the woods or in an enviable beach house along the Pacific Coast Highway, there are likely plenty of California attractions to see within an hour’s drive—and many more faraway places to explore during summer vacation and winter break. With so much to see and do as a family before the kids grow up and fly the coop in search of college degrees, jobs, and adventure, it’s time to start planning weekend excursions. 

You and your family can gain a broader perspective by visiting cultural attractions, deepen your appreciation for nature through outdoor recreation, and create lifelong memories at thrilling amusement parks. The opportunities to learn and explore are endless in California, so whether you’re searching for a day trip or a weeklong getaway, you’re bound to discover educational entertainment around every turn. 

California National Parks

National parks are some of the best attractions in California for families. With activities ranging from camping and hiking to birdwatching and stargazing, there’s always something new to
check off your bucket list.

Take a road trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park and admire the natural wonders with the kids.

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1. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Pack your binoculars, hiking boots, and sense of adventure before making your way to Lassen Volcanic National Park. While not your typical California kids attraction—seeing how the park is filled with volcanic gas vents, mud pots, and seafoam-colored pools of boiling-hot water—this sprawling expanse is a spectacle that shouldn’t be missed. 

Hike the Bumpass Hell Trail with your older kids or take the whole family on a trek along Warner Valley to the Devils Kitchen loop, where you can admire bubbling pools, steam vents, and mudpots. Then, head out to Boiling Springs Lake to view a tumultuous, 125-degree lake and watch the humongous steam vent of Terminal Geyser burst from the center of a creek. 

While you explore Lassen Volcanic National Park, make sure to stay on the trails and boardwalks that wind through the natural attractions; thin slices of land keep acidic ponds of water out of sight, and hydrothermal cauldrons and vents are plentiful. 

2. Yosemite National Park

As one of California’s classic family-friendly attractions, Yosemite National Park offers plenty of activities and stunning views. The hundreds of miles of hiking trails swerve past ancient sequoias, meander along the edges of emerald waterfall pools, border rushing rivers, and traverse meadows of wildflowers. 

Stay in a cabin or in your own tent at one of the campsites scattered throughout the park, and spend the days exploring the various trails, gazing at the majestic beauty of the rock formations, and taking photos of the natural wonders. 

You and your kids will always remember hiking to the top of Half Dome, having a picnic along the riverbank, swimming near a flowing waterfall, making s’mores at dusk, and playing road trip games on the way there.

3. Joshua Tree National Park

The Mojave and Colorado Deserts collide at Joshua Tree National Park, providing scenery unlike any other park in the state. Complete with endless skies, hiking trails, and bouldering opportunities, Joshua Tree is the ideal destination for family fun in Southern California.

Stay at one of the intentionally designed homeshares in the surrounding area or at one of the park’s campsites where hiking and biking trails are readily accessible. Catch the sunrises and sunsets that make this region so stunning, take pictures of the famed Joshua trees—which are only found in a few places on the entire planet—and visit all of the sites that exemplify the different landscapes of the Golden State.

California Lakes

Many of California’s family-friendly vacations happen at “the lake.” From boating at Lake Shasta to paddleboarding on Lake Tahoe, the good times soak in with the sunshine, leaving memories that last forever.

Enjoy a family getaway in Lake Tahoe, where there are seemingly endless opportunities for outdoor adventure.

4. Lake Tahoe

No matter the time of year, Lake Tahoe is a must-see destination. From the snowy peaks meant for skiing, to the crystal-clear lake perfect for paddleboarding, to the mountainous terrain made for hiking, the Tahoe area is ideal for trying new things with your family. 

Get out on the water by going for a boat ride, a swim, or a kayaking excursion in the warmer months. Or enjoy sledding, snowboarding, and snowball fights during the winter. Regardless of when you visit, make sure to explore the quaint neighborhoods and dine at the incredible eateries that make Tahoe the ultimate vacation spot. 

5. Lake Shasta

Breathe in the fresh mountain air and prepare for lifelong memories at Lake Shasta. Surrounded by lush and vast wilderness, Lake Shasta is a great getaway for all kinds of water sports; from wakeboarding and waterskiing to swimming and fishing, there are innumerable opportunities for kids to improve their skills and have fun without technology. Extend your day trip by spending a week on a houseboat at this popular summertime destination. 

6. Echo Park Lake

Surrounded by the urban landscape of Los Angeles, Echo Park Lake is the perfect natural respite after exploring the crowded museums and attractions of the region. Pack a picnic for lunch, and jump on a pedal boat to ride around the lake for a day’s adventure you won’t soon forget. Unlike the other lakes we love in California, Echo Park is easily accessible for a single day trip—so hop in the car and head out into nature before making your evening reservations. 

California Amusement Parks

Amusement parks are a Southern California staple and a delightful way to keep the whole family entertained. Transport yourself and your kids to alternate worlds, become immersed in fairytales, and let your imagination run wild at
California’s best amusement parks.

Ride the attractions, eat delicious food, watch a show, and create lifelong memories with the family at Disneyland.

7. Disneyland Park

When it comes to kid-friendly amusement parks that adults can actually enjoy too, it doesn’t get any better than Disneyland. With amazing foods to try, holiday entertainment, and joy-inducing attractions, Disneyland is a treat for all the senses.

8. Legoland

Home to 10 lands and dozens more attractions, Legoland offers something for everyone. Check out the water park and let the family cool off, or take time to appreciate the feat of engineering involved with every Lego structure. However you choose to spend your days here, it’s hard not to have fun.

9. Universal Studios Hollywood

As a film studio and theme park, Universal Studios appeals to a wide range of interests. Watch the live-action show, ride the attractions, and go behind the scenes of your favorite movies and TV shows.

California Museums

Renowned California museums are wonderful places for a family field trip. Visit these top cultural attractions to admire world-class art, enjoy interactive exhibits, and learn about the natural world.

10. Exploratorium

The Exploratorium is one of our favorite kids attractions in San Francisco because it’s incredibly interactive, allowing kids to learn in a more physical way. With exhibits on everything from basic psychology to electricity, this museum is made for children to explore.

11. The Getty

If you live in the Los Angeles area, taking your kids to The Getty will offer them a valuable educational experience that can help shape their young minds. While looking at the awe-inducing creations, children learn about the world and about career paths they may not have otherwise considered; art galleries have long inspired new generations to follow their dreams, whether they aim to become a painter, sculptor, curator, or docent. 

12. La Brea Tar Pits and Museum

Like the top art institutions in L.A., the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum presents an incredible opportunity for learning. This natural history museum showcases the region’s past and exposes children to another view of the city that is often forgotten.

Iconic California Attractions

Cross off some items on your California bucket list by visiting these famous sites with your family.

Visit the Golden Gate Bridge and other famous sites of California for a trip the kids will never forget.

13. The Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf

Taking the kids on a summer bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge is a bucket-list California experience that is sure to provide an educational opportunity, too. Children can see San Francisco’s urban environment in a new light, admire the color of the bridge up-close, and learn a thing or two about the architectural elements that go into creating an expansive bridge—all while getting some exercise. After the ride, reward yourselves with a bowl of clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf and a game at the Musée Mécanique. 

14. San Diego Zoo

Located near downtown San Diego, inside the lush Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo is an amazing outing that children will enjoy time and time again. As one of the best kid attractions in San Diego, the zoo presents an opportunity to learn about the animals, sounds, and habitats of regions around the world. With entertaining shows and exhibits galore, the zoo doesn’t feel like an educational experience, but it does provide valuable information about the various ways to protect the environment and the species that occupy every corner of the globe. 

15. Monterey Bay Aquarium 

Much like the San Diego Zoo, the Monterey Bay Aquarium provides excellent insights into animal life and the preservation of ecosystems. Learn about the diverse aquatic creatures and see how our actions impact their well-being, all while appreciating the brilliant colors and habitats of the ocean’s inhabitants. 

There are plenty of California attractions to keep you and your family busy throughout the years—including the Griffith Observatory, the Winchester Mystery House, the Santa Monica Pier, the Venice Beach skating paths, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and The Last Bookstore—to name a few. No matter where the seasons take you in California, making memories together is always a wonderful way to spend time with your children. 

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