10 family friendly California road trips

Golden Gate California Tourism

From California Travel and Tourism Commission

While known for its pristine beaches, breathtaking national parks, desert oases, urban playgrounds, museums and theme parks, California visitors will find that the best way to see the Golden State is on a family road trip. From north to south or east to west, California offers families a number of fun ways to hit the road this summer.

High Rise Buildings in San Francisco to Soaring Trees in Mendocino

Travelers can walk to souvenir shops and the Aquarium of the Bay at PIER 39 or enjoy fresh crab and sourdough bread at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Stopping in Oakland, families can dive into Oakland Museum of California’s Under the Sea exhibit or experience where the wild things are at The Oakland Zoo. Kids will enjoy discovering gross-out jellybean flavors on a Jelly Belly factory tour and hiking in Fairfield before experiencing some of the world’s oldest, largest trees in Mendocino.

San Francisco to Shasta Lake Road Trip

Families can discover exotic insect species in the tropical rainforest dome within California Academy of Sciences at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. At nearby Stow Lake, kids can ride the gleaming 1914 carousel or rent pedal boats and race with the ducks. Families can picnic on the beach at Sandy Cove or visit the rustic redwood buildings in the authentic 19th century oceanfront outpost of Fort Ross. Families can kayak or canoe along the meandering Big River in Mendocino, or take a bluff-top stroll near town, before experiencing the glass-and-steel beauty of Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding. Parents and kids can wind down on a houseboat, relaxing on the sparkling waters of Shasta Lake.

California TourismBay Area to Central Coast Adventure

Visitors can get a new and dramatic perspective on the majestic redwoods from 100 feet up on a two-hour guided canopy tour complete with six zip lines and 400-foot-long glides above the trees in Mount Hermon. Families can see starfish, crabs, and anemones fill the tide pools at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, hike in Boulder Creek, ride horses in Woodside, or visit Mission Santa Clara de Asis in Santa Clara. Parents can have little ones climb aboard the Banana Split and Bulgy the Goldfish rides at Gilroy Gardens. Brave individuals can end their trip in Soledad by bat hunting on the 2.4-mile round-trip Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop or hiking through the rocky spires of Pinnacles National Park to Balconies Cave.

Explore the Central Coast

Outdoor enthusiasts can pitch a tent beneath the pines and oaks at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz or opt for an ocean front experience at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. At Moss Landing, visitors can search for sea otters and harbor seals at Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Reserve and learn about the rich wetland environment on a guided weekend walk. Visitors can stroll Cannery Row in Monterey before catching a glimpse of the undersea world at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. For those traveling with pet companions, Carmel-By-The-Sea offers a dog-friendly stretch with crashing waves and views from Point Lobos to Pebble Beach. Families can also saddle up and ride from the redwoods to the beach in Big Sur.

CTTC09061914033516Four Days of Play North of L.A.

Horseback rides along sage-scented trails in Hollywood will lead families and travelers to breathtaking views and an up-close look at the iconic Hollywood sign. A trip over to Santa Monica will be one that kids and kids at heart will enjoy-taking a spin on rides at Pacific Park on the pier, sipping old-fashioned malts, and watching local fisherman cast their lines. Kids and adults can blow off some steam in Ojai before experiencing wood-fired barbecue in the backcountry of California in Ventucopa. Families can learn the history of black gold in the Golden State at West Kern Oil Museum in Taft before winding through a rusty forest of antique derricks.

Santa Monica Shores to Pismo Beach Pier

After adventures on the pier, Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica offers a wide array of shops and restaurants where visitors can end their day over dinner with oceanfront views. Kids will love a visit to the restored habitats of Legacy Park in Malibu and the muscle car exhibits at The Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard. For a very different kind of beauty, Mission Santa Barbara provides a glimpse at California’s historical Spanish past. Adventurers in the family can climb the Santa Ynez Mountains at Lake Cachuma or explore the recreation area for kayaking and hiking. Families can try their luck at fishing for flounder along the 1,370-foot Pismo Beach Pier. No bites? Local cafes offer a sure thing for seafood lovers thanks to its nationally renowned clam chowder and tasty tuna tacos.

Magic of Disney Meets California Coastal Beauty and Alpine Lakes

Families can visit world-class theme parks like Disneyland in Anaheim and Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park, or learn how to surf in Dana Point and Seal Beach. Kids can jam like Jimi Hendrix at the Fender Factory in Corona, while parents will enjoy relaxation on a paddlewheel boat on the calm waters of Lake Arrowhead.

CTTC0906191403353Family Friendly Trip North of San Diego

Families can hang ten in La Jolla and take their surf inspiration into the beginner-friendly shore-break of La Jolla Shores. Parents can relax for a picnic at Powerhouse Park while kids play ponies in Del Mar. Encinitas offers the West Coast’s largest interactive children’s garden and a jungle canopy tree house, while Carlsbad is home to Legoland, and one of Southern California’s few remaining tidal wetlands for kids to explore. The whole family can team up for a game of high-tech laser tag at San Marcos before topping off their trip at San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido.

Summits to the City in San Diego County

Travelers can ride through vineyards in Temecula by Belgian-draft horse pulled carriages. Kids can pick treats at Old Town Root Beer Company while grownups can sample artisan foods at Temecula Olive Oil Company. Families can marvel at the world’s largest telescope or go fishing in Palomar. History buffs will enjoy the historic mining town of Julian and rides on vintage trolley cars and steam locomotives in Poway. Baseball fans can catch a summer game at Petco Park in East Village. Parents can toast to a successful trip in San Diego’s Old Town while kids can savor spoonfuls of gelato in Little Italy.

Coast and Desert Road Trip

Family thrill seekers can whip around the curbs on Manta, chill out at Wild Arctic, and come face to face with beluga whales at San Diego’s SeaWorld. Water sport enthusiasts can cruise on the calm waters of Mission Bay with a stand-up paddleboard from Mission Bay Aquatic Center. Travelers can salute San Diego’s naval tradition at The Embarcadero, exploring a historic aircraft carrier at the USS Midway Museum. From hiking the rugged badlands in Borrego Springs to watching world-class climbers ascend monzogranite boulders in Joshua Tree National Park, families can experience the sublime beauty of the Californian desert.

California Road Trips 2013 is designed to be used in tandem with smartphones. Users can navigate to a digital version of the guide, with links to all the locations in the itinerary as well as an interactive Google map. California Road Trips 2013 is available for free in digital format on visitcalifornia.com/RT. Visitors can also get a copy by calling 1-877-TOP-DRIVES.

Visit California (formerly known as the California Travel & Tourism Commission) is a non-profit organization with a mission to develop and maintain marketing programs – in partnership with the state’s travel industry – that keep California top-of-mind as a premier travel destination. According to Visit California, travel and tourism expenditures total $102.3 billion annually in California (20 percent of which is international), support jobs for 893,000 Californians and generate $6.3 billion in state and local tax revenues. For more information about Visit California and for a free California Official State Visitor’s Guide, go to www.VisitCalifornia.com/CVG.

  • MeanMeosh

    If you’re going to Joshua Tree, I’d recommend adding a couple of hours each way and going to the mud volcanoes in Calipatria. Fun for the kids, since they can get dirty, and for adults who like nature.

    Also surprised that Death Valley National Park doesn’t get a mention. I’d definitely add a day or two to go there if you plan to go to the desert or the central or southern Sierra. Just go in the late fall or early spring, when the weather is pleasant and you don’t have to deal with the winter crowds.

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