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State of Play

Discover why a trip to California makes the ultimate family vacation. Explore Northern, Central, and Southern California's places to play.

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Brandi's Guide To Northern California

The mama behind Mama Knows It All shares her favorite places to play with her family.

Brandi Riley

| Oakland, CA

Oakland, CA

Thanks to my father's military status, I was very fortunate to be able to travel the world when I was growing up. No place I've been, however, compares to Northern California. Friendly folks who feel like neighbors, the influence of many diverse cultures, and a chill vibe make it easy for anyone to feel comfortable here. Five years ago, when I first visited the region, I dreamed that I could one day call it home. Three years ago, that dream became a reality, and I'm so proud to raise my daughter here and call Oakland, California my forever home!

There's nothing to not love about where I live. From the awesome weather year round to the abundance of fun family activities, it's no wonder that my friends and family all start concocting plans to relocate after vacationing here. It doesn't hurt that I know all of the best places to take them to make them fall in love with our neck of the woods (or beach, or city...more on that later!). Northern California, the Bay Area in particular, is the ultimate family playground. Whether you have one child like I do, or a whole group of them, there's plenty to keep your entire family happy.

Because there's so much to do here, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the choices. Don't worry, Mama Knows It All has you covered! If you're visiting the area for the first time, or you live here but want to get out and explore more, here's a three-day itinerary that will help you cover the most ground...and have the most fun in Northern California!

My best piece of advice, for your entire trip, is to start early. There are so many hidden treasures in Northern California that it's likely you'll discover something that will get you off schedule, so our family has learned to stay flexible and get out as soon as we can after the sun rises. Trust me, you'll appreciate this tip when you find a cool park that you want to hang out in for an hour or so!

Day 1

Oakland and Berkeley

I know, I know, everyone loves San Francisco. I do, too! You don't have to rush into the city during your Northern California visit, though. In fact, it's a good idea to pace yourself, especially if you're traveling with children. Starting in San Francisco's neighboring cities, Oakland and Berkeley, is a great way to start your vacation, and set the tone for the trip. Besides, they're both extraordinarily family-friendly, with plenty to do and lots to keep the kiddos occupied and engaged.

Oakland at night. Silentfoto/Getty Images

Brandi's daughter poses at Children's Fairyland.

Courtesy of Brandi Riley

All aboard! Brandi and her daughter next to the steam train at Tilden Park.

Courtesy of Brandi Riley

Children's Fairyland

Our family first fell in love with Children's Fairyland on our first visit to Oakland. Super-duper kid-friendly, this fairytale-themed amusement park will be loved by children of all ages. Ride the Jolly Trolly train, sit in on a puppet show, or meet new animal friends in the menagerie. You can experience the entire park in just a couple of hours, which leaves plenty of time for you to keep exploring.

Jack London Square

After Children's Fairyland, take a short ride to Jack London Square for lunch, and you're sure to find something interesting going on, too. It might be the day of the Farmers Market, there could be a dance party happening, or maybe your favorite movie is playing on the big screen. We never know what to expect when we go to Jack London Square! The one thing we can be sure of, though, is a great assortment of delicious restaurants!

Tilden Park

Once you finish lunch, it's time to head over to Tilden Park in Berkeley. There's a farm with a petting zoo, a carousel, botanic garden, and a steam train! Make sure you bring a blanket, because the acres of lush grass are perfect for a quick nap to refuel after you experience all the park has to offer.

Shorebird Park Nature Center and Adventure Playground

When you get your second wind, take the family to Shorebird Park Nature Center and Adventure Playground for another interesting experience. A quintessentially Berkeley attraction, this park is unlike any playground you've ever been to. There's a zip line that kids and adults can ride on, and opportunities for children to build things with real hammers and nails, and to use paint to decorate their very own fort. The Shorebird Park Nature Center and Adventure Playground might be your kiddo's favorite part of the entire day!

Day 2

San Francisco

The starlet of Northern California is obviously San Francisco. It's one of the most famous cities in the world. If you're in the region, you absolutely cannot miss it. If you start in Oakland, you can take the ferry from Jack London Square over to Fisherman's Wharf for an exciting beginning to a day in the city. Even if you don't take the ferry, BART is a super affordable way to get into San Francisco, or you can leave the car at one of the many parking garages that are available.

Don't miss the chance to drive across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

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Life on the water in Sausalito.

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Fisherman's Wharf

No matter what your plans are, Fisherman's Wharf has to be on your agenda. There's so much to do there! You can see some ships, get a glimpse of Alcatraz, and watch the sea lions sunbathe or play. I have to warn you, though: It might be hard to drag the family to the next attraction after they see the sea lions! They're just so darn interesting to watch!


San Francisco's Chinatown neighborhood is one of my favorite places in the city. It's so full of color, and there are tons of little surprises in every single shop you go into. The best part of Chinatown is that you get to experience the slopes and hills that San Francisco is known for!

Golden Gate Bridge

Since it's one of the most iconic bridges in the country, you have to go over the Golden Gate Bridge if you're in Northern California. Every few weeks I try to sweet-talk my husband into driving me over the bridge because I absolutely love the views! Not only will your kids be impressed by the sheer size and beauty of the bridge, but it takes you to one of the most lovely little cities in our area.


After you drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, make your way to the Bay Area Discovery Museum. With its focus on imagination, creativity, and STEM activities, even the adults in the family will be engaged at the museum. There are often special events going on, so make sure you check the museum calendar before you go. After you leave, check out some of the shops in downtown Sausalito, and sit down for lunch at one of the many family-friendly restaurants in the area.

Treasure Island

To end your day, head over to Treasure Island, right off the end of the Bay Bridge, to watch the sunset. You won't find a better view of San Francisco anywhere else. It'll be the perfect close to a fun-filled day, and a memory that you'll never, ever forget!

Day 3

Northern California Wildcard

For your third day in our lovely region, I have several recommendations for day trips. Don't forget my earlier advice to stay flexible and be open to the adventure you might find.

Option #1: Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

If you are coming to Northern California and you only have a few days, you MUST go to Yosemite National Park. It's about a 2.5-hour drive from Oakland, so if you start early in the morning, you'll have plenty of time to explore. One of the greatest parks in our country, Yosemite is absolutely breathtaking. When you and your family experience the amazing valley and beautiful waterfalls, you'll be reminded of how beautiful our country truly is.

A sunset snap at Treasure Island.

Courtesy of Brandi Riley

Csondy/Getty Images

Option #2: Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

When I lived on the East Coast, one of my favorite things to do with my daughter was take a bus to the shore and hang out at the beach. Our version of that is the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with its classic amusements, rides, and attractions. There's a Ferris wheel, games, miniature golf, and great beach-themed foods. Your family will have the best time at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk!

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

If you want to experience the majesty of the beautiful redwood trees, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Felton is the place to be. Make sure to bring your camera to take tons of pictures of the family in this amazingly beautiful setting!

Natural Bridges State Beach

Before you leave the Santa Cruz area, make a stop at Natural Bridges State Beach to see the sun set. My husband and I had engagement photos taken here, and I can guarantee you one of the most gorgeous sunsets you'll ever see in your life.

Option #3: San Jose
San Jose

You may know San Jose as the tech center of Northern California, but there's plenty for families to do there, too! Just about an hour away from Oakland, San Jose makes a fun and easy day trip. Start your morning at Happy Hollow Park and Zoo for a close up look at some really sweet animals. After that, head over to the Children's Discovery Museum for lunch and to play. You and your kiddos will love the gardens, imaginative exhibits, and opportunities to engage with science.

Now do you see why it was so easy for me to fall in love with Northern California? It's the very best of everything our great country has to offer, and there's no place I'd rather live, love, and have fun!

Camp California

Northern California offers some of the most stunning and diverse campsites in the world. Explore these six options.

Whether you want to sleep at the feet of giants in Redwoods National Park or wake up at the water's edge in Lake Tahoe, adventure seekers will marvel at Northern California's options. From off-the-grid rustic sites to the ultimate glamping experience, here are six options for planning your next camping excursion.

Steep Ravine Environmental Campground
Mount Tamalpais State Park

Although it's a mere 45 minutes away from San Francisco, Steep Ravine feels incredibly remote. On a clear day, you can see the city's skyline in the distance, as well as the Farallon Islands 25 miles off the coast. Pitch a tent or stay in a rustic cabin—sites for both look out on expansive ocean views perfect for watching the sunset.

What to do: Hike or drive to nearby Stinson Beach, where lifeguards are on duty from May through mid-September. On weekends, head to the mountain's Gravity Car Barn to learn about the sloping, winding railroad that once carried passengers down by gravity alone.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

MacKerricher State Park Campground
Fort Bragg

Three miles up the coast from Fort Bragg, MacKerricher State Park showcases multiple habitats—forest, beach, dunes, bluffs, wetlands, and a collection of tide pools at the shore—around its 140-plus campsites. During whale migration season (winter and spring), MacKerricher boasts nine miles of uninterrupted coastline for spotting spouts.

What to do: Take a ride on the historic Skunk Train, a 131-year-old engine that has chugged along the coastal "Redwood Route" since 1885. Horse lovers can get saddle time in at Ten Mile Beach or in Jackson State Forest. If the kiddos need a break from "all that nature," take a swing at mini golf at the Emerald Dolphin Inn, and stop for a cone at Cowlick's Ice Cream Café on the way back to camp.

Brad Mitchell/Alamy

Beach Camp
D.L. Bliss State Park, Lake Tahoe

It's no wonder these lakeside campgrounds are so highly coveted given their proximity to the crystal-clear waters of Lake Tahoe. The water and all of its activities wait mere feet away from your tent. Pack warm clothes for the evenings, which tend to be chilly even during the summer months.

What to do: Waterbugs will enjoy swimming, diving, or paddleboarding on the lake's clear water. Or stay on land to lounge on the beach or explore miles of nearby trails—don't miss the opportunity to snap a picture at Balancing Rock in the northwest section of the park. At the end of the day, join fellow campers at the campfire center to swap adventure stories.

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Tomales Bay State Park
Point Reyes National Seashore

Up for an adventure? First, buy some fresh oysters at the Marshall Store, rent a kayak at Blue Waters Kayaking, and load up your gear for a one-hour paddle to the boat-in only Tomales Bay campsites. After you set up camp on the beach, hike the steep hill for a breathtaking view of Tomales Bay.

What to do: Check out Pierce Point Ranch, where you can catch a glimpse of the many tule elk in residence at the Tule Elk Reserve.

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Sequoia High Sierra Camp
Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

If the words "luxury" and "camping" ever belonged in the same sentence, it would be to describe this glamping experience. The camp outfits its 330-square-foot canvas tents with plush mattresses, down feather pillows and comforters, and luxe wool area rugs.

What to do: Bring a fly rod to cast out over nearby creeks and lakes (the camp has limited supplies available for borrowing). Book a horseback-riding excursion before you arrive. Make a checklist of local wildlife, including deer, chipmunks, hummingbirds, and marmots, and see who can spot the most!

Jerome Gorin/Getty Images

Big Basin Redwoods
State Park
North of Boulder Creek

Not only does Big Basin feature an incredible collection of gigantic redwoods, but the area is also home to 80 miles of trails sprinkled with gorgeous waterfalls (take the 10-mile Berry Creek Loop for a look at the cascading Berry Creek Falls). If your crew prefers a tent upgrade, you can rent a spacious "tent cabin" that sleeps four and comes with mattress pads and a wood stove.

What to do: Enjoy the park's 80 miles of trails, punctuated by the towering trees. For a high-flying adventure, head south to Mount Hermon Adventures Redwood Canopy Tours, where explorers ages 10+ can fly through the trees on a zip-line adventure. A lower course is available for kids as young as five.

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Check out eight more spots for adventurous kids here.

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Northern California Spots

Imagine a place where towering trees meet rugged coastline, and friendly locals greet visitors with open arms (holding cups of artisanal coffee and mason jars of craft beer). Northern California, with its massive scale and otherworldly beauty, gives off an almost mystical vibe—the yin to Southern California's yang. Here are four must-see spots for families looking to capture some of Northern California's charms.

The Anti
"Are We There Yet?"
Road Trip

The Avenue of the Giants, a 30-mile stretch of Highway 101, is arguably one of America's coolest drives.

For a slice of Americana, complete with trees you can drive right through, take the family on a road trip along Highway 101. The route, starting from Phillipsville (roughly 225 miles north of San Francisco on the 101) and going north to Stafford, cuts through California's Humboldt Redwoods State Park, home to the densest concentration of old-growth redwoods in the world. Here's a guide for where to roam along this iconic stretch of road. It's a drive so spectacular you may not hear an "Are we there yet?" the whole time.

8 Must-See Kid-Friendly Attractions

Some of the wider-known theme parks reside in the southern part of the state, but Northern California is home to wonder-filled theme parks, animal attractions, and summertime amusements. With so many exciting adventures to choose from, the only question is where to go first. So here, a few of the area's main enticements to get you started.

Pattie's Guide To Central California

The mama behind Living Mi Vida Loca shares her favorite Central California spots.

Pattie Cordova

| Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles, CA

We love visiting Central California because it gives us a beautiful mix of the ocean, the mountains, and farm life. It offers some of the best wineries on the West Coast, has little-known towns, and features fun little eateries sprinkled throughout the coast. Now that summer is coming up, we've started planning our next family road trip up to Central California, and it includes a handful of adventure-filled stops. The Central Valley and the Central Coast are where we'll be spending the majority of our time because they're both just a short drive away from Los Angeles. Want to plan your own Central California road trip and need ideas? Read on for our three-day family road trip itinerary!

Day 1

Santa Barbara

Closest to Los Angeles is the beautiful city of Santa Barbara. You'll find this historic spot about an hour and a half north of L.A. Santa Barbara is known for its shopping, dining, and gorgeous scenery. This city is a big hit for multi-generational groups because it offers a lot of activities, including the Old Mission Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Zoo, and museums with a heavy emphasis on nature and history. And of course, the beach is always a hit too.

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The Farmers Market in Downtown Santa Barbara on Tuesdays and Saturdays. There's plenty of locally grown produce, along with an array of restaurants offering everything from pizza to tacos, served alongside some of the best wine in the state of California.

Day 2


About an hour away from Santa Barbara is a quaint little town called Solvang. Driving into Solvang will make you feel as though you're stepping back in time. You will immediately get the small-town feel (it has a population of about 5,500) as you drive down its one major road and past its mom-and-pop shops and well-known bakeries. Founded by a group of Danes in 1911, the town gives you the feeling that it hasn't changed much since then.

Pattie and her crew strike a pose on a jetty.
Courtesy of Pattie Cordova

Experience a slice of history on the streets of Solvang.

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Solvang is still home to bakeries, restaurants, and merchants who have continued to offer a taste of Denmark through its food, landscape, and museums.

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The shoe store trying on a pair of clogs, the local bookstore peeking into the Hans Christian Andersen museum upstairs, and, of course, around Copenhagen replicas like the Little Mermaid statue and the Round Tower, taking family pictures. We'll also be stopping by Old Mission Santa Inés near the center of town. Just outside of Solvang, we'll stop by OstrichLand USA—a ranch where visitors can see ostriches, feed them, and even buy their eggs!

Day 3

Central Valley

Covering a large piece of California is the Central Valley. This area is known for producing an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, and greenery, coupled with its small-town feel and country atmosphere. Highway 99 will take you where you need to go, but your family will enjoy discovering off-the-beaten-path destinations the most.

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The produce stands, stocking up on in-season fruits. We'd like to visit UC Davis and rent bikes to discover the campus, and maybe take some time for some much-needed water play at The Delta. There, you can do everything from waterskiing to fishing to wildlife watching.

Explore the family-owned farms California's Central Valley is known for.

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Pattie's son learns to ride in the park.

Courtesy of Pattie Cordova

Central California is a wonderful region of the Golden State, with the ocean and mountains surrounding the family-owned farms and quaint towns that you'll run into simply by driving down the scenic highways. Families can always find something that they enjoy doing. Whether we choose a day at the beach, a tour of historic missions, or fruit picking at a farm, Central California will give us three days of fun, great meals, and bonding moments that will carry us into our future California travels.

8 Tips for the
Perfect Beach Day

Blogger Pattie Cordova, the mama behind Living Mi Vida Loca, is sharing her tips and tricks for a fun-filled day on the water. Pattie loves planning picture perfect days for her family to enjoy everything California has to offer.


California is crammed with both well-known and hidden gems where families can learn, explore, and have fun at the same time.

Get to Know Central California

As cars zip between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the I-5 and U.S. Highway 101, Central California is quietly living the good life.

While San Francisco is considered a technology hub and Los Angeles boasts a booming entertainment industry, there's a lot to be seen between the two major cities. Central California has charming towns dotting the coastline, and destinations like Yosemite National Park farther inland. The valley yields a quarter of all produce and 40% of nuts, fruits and other foods in the U.S., and from crops to coastline, Central California is a friendly and relaxed swath of the Golden State to explore.

On the Water

For an iconic road trip, cruise up the Central California coastline. Start in Santa Barbara, a friendly town full of family fun. Don't miss the zoo and botanic garden.

Hop back in the car and snake up the coast, passing historic and charming San Luis Obispo, stopping for a California history lesson at the Old Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Then veer onto The Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1, or PCH as locals call it). Designate a family member as a photographer to capture the views.

Take a stroll in historic Santa Barbara.


Pull over at a turnout to snap a picture of the iconic Bixby Bridge.

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Watch the Pacific Ocean waves roll in against a backdrop of cliffs at Montaña De Oro State Park.

Ron Thomas/Getty Images

Just before reaching Monterey Bay, stretch your legs in Carmel-by-the-Sea. This enchanting coastal town just south of Monterey is like a California-set fairytale. Stroll the quaint streets of downtown and wander into shops and restaurants, or head to the water for a day at the beach (Carmel Beach is dog-friendly, so furry friends can get in on the fun). Golfers should make a pilgrimage to The Golf Links at the Pebble Beach Resorts, rated the number one public course in the U.S., and kids will find ample amounts of fun, including horseback riding on the beach and story time and crafts at the local library.

One cannot cruise up the PCH without stopping in Santa Cruz. Kids will love a trip to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an amusement park (complete with the wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster, which first rolled out in 1924).

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Inland Exploring

Attractions east of the coastline are just as dazzling as their oceanfront counterparts. Some of the coolest adventures might be right under your nose, as in way underground. Start with a tour of the massive underground chamber at Moaning Caverns Adventure Park—the vertical chamber is large enough to fit the Statue of Liberty. Families can go on guided walking tours into the cave, or opt to rappel down 165 feet into the cavern (best for older adventurers). Back above ground, take flight on zip lines that run above the foothills.

Continue heading inland to awe-inspiring Yosemite National Park. Book a room at the historic Tenaya Lodge, nicely situated as a base for exploring, and then go hiking or to attend one of the many nature talks that take place in the Yosemite Valley. Kids can participate in ranger programs, learning about the geological history of the area, or partake in an art class (all ages welcome) focused on nature.

Yosemite National Park offers epic selfie opportunities.

Adam Hester/Getty Images

Yosemite has hiking trails for all skill levels.

Adam Hester/Getty Images

Forty miles east of Yosemite Valley sits Mono Lake ("Mono" rhymes with "yoyo," FYI), with its otherworldly landscape of strange rock forms. The visitor center, just off U.S. 395 north of Lee Vining and Tioga Pass, offers a wealth of information and scientific exploration.

Visit a different kind of beach, with cool rocks to boot, at Mono Lake.

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4 Outdoor Adventures
in Central California

The phrase "great outdoors" gets new meaning in California. These spots serve up some of the most breathtaking views, landscapes, and excursions in the country—and even the world. Here's a must-see list for a family of explorers.

Unwind after a day of exploring at one of these family-friendly wineries and craft breweries.

Family-Friendly Spots
in Central California

Central California is an agricultural powerhouse—
it's no wonder that it's packed with fun, fresh places to eat.

Pint-size picky eater in the back seat? Fret not. Families driving through the Central Valley can take full advantage of the region's fresh, local ingredients. As you make your way to Yosemite, the Sequoias, or the Monterey Peninsula, pull over to find hidden gems that will ensure no one in your crew goes hungry on vacation.

Farm Fresh Fruit

With a double-decker Venetian carousel and a train dubbed Casa de Choo Choo, Casa de Fruta in Hollister (roughly 50 miles inland from Santa Cruz) is a dream pit stop for kids. Visit the roadside stand for just-picked produce, and load up on fruits and vegetables before hopping back in the car—they'll be the perfect road-trip snack.

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A Don't-Leave-Without-One Burger

Harry Snyder couldn't possibly have known what he was creating when he opened California's first drive-thru burger stand in 1948. Fast-forward to 2015, and the 300th In-N-Out Burger restaurant—now operating in six states—opens, a testament to the cult-like following. Go for the classic burgers, and stay for the famous shakes (choose from classic chocolate, strawberry and vanilla flavors, or order one of each!). For an insider experience, ask about the not-so-secret secret menu.

Classic Mexican

Adventurers headed to the Sierra National Forest or the southern end of Yosemite National Park should make a pit stop in Fresno at Castillo's. The family-run restaurant has been serving up enchiladas, tamales, and tacos since 1955, and it's famous for warm service, and raved-about house made tortillas and salsa (aka, crowd pleasers).

Steve Giralt/Offset

American Classics

If you're driving along Highway 101 and notice a 40-foot-tall wooden cowboy, you've reached F. McLintock's Saloon and Dining House, a Pismo Beach (13 miles south of San Luis Obispo) restaurant that's been attracting tourists and locals alike for more than four decades. Inside, servers pour water from three feet above the glass, and kid-friendly fare includes skillet potatoes (drenched in cheese and bacon), nachos, and a variety of steaks and ribs.

Save Room for Dessert

No family vacation is complete without indulging in something sweet. After sights like Sequoia National Park, home to some of the largest trees in the world, make a pit stop in Hanford at Superior Dairy. Settle into the charming vinyl booths and enjoy freshly made, classic and seasonal scoops. Bon appetite!

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Justine's Guide to Southern California

The mama behind The Typical Mom shares 23 of her favorite places to play with the family.

Justine Howell

| Temecula, CA

Temecula, CA

I have lived in California almost my entire life, and I couldn't imagine raising my kids anywhere else! Southern California is unique because you can visit the beach, go to Disneyland, or play in the snow, usually within a two hour drive….you really can't find that anywhere else! If you haven't visited the Golden State yet, let us show you around. Here are 25 of our favorite spots with a lot of hidden gems in between!

Let's start with the fabulous amusement parks you will find here in Southern California. You can't pass these by:


Knott's Berry Farm

Knott's really has something for everyone, with lots of live entertainment too, which we love. There are smaller rides in Camp Snoopy, classics like the Log Ride, and roller coasters for the more daring. Throughout the year they have special events during Christmas, their Boysenberry Festival, and more, which keep it fresh.


Universal Studios Hollywood

A really fun place for rides and live entertainment featuring your favorite movie characters, and their studio tour is amazing. We love seeing where some of our favorite movies were filmed!

Camp Snoopy at Knott's Berry Farm.
Courtesy of Knott's Berry Farm

Homer and the gang outside the Kwik-E-Mart.

TM & ©2016 FOX

Characters at LEGOLAND pose outside the LEGOLAND Hotel.

Courtesy of LEGOLAND® California Resort



A fun place for younger kids, especially those who love building! There are not only fun rides at LEGOLAND but building stations, a great waterpark, and Sea Life Aquarium adjacent to the park as well. It's fascinating what they've made out of LEGO® bricks!

Let's move on to a few water locations we love in Southern California! Some of them you may have heard of, and others are hidden gems that are must-sees during your visit here.


SeaWorld San Diego

This park has changed a lot over the years and even has a few roller coasters too! Our favorite attractions are still the shows (with seasonal offerings as well), and the hands-on exhibits are always a hit.


The Queen Mary

This floating hotel in Long Beach offers tours. Even my kids thought it was fascinating to see the artifacts and the exhibits on the ship. In the winter months there's the Queen Mary CHILL with ice sculptures, tubing, skating, and more (this has become our annual tradition).


Aquarium of the Pacific

This is quite a large aquarium, located in Long Beach, with a lot of outside exhibits, such as a penguin habitat and shark-touch pools that we haven't seen anywhere else!


Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Located in La Jolla, this aquarium offers a lot of hands-on exhibits for kids, and half of the facility is outdoors, which we love! Featuring interactive exhibits and exciting science displays, it's great for little hands and in an absolutely gorgeous location overlooking the beach.


Tide Pools

We love visiting the many tide pools in Southern California! One of our favorite spots is in La Jolla, called Children's Pool. There's a beach where you can look for small sea creatures and get up close and personal with the harbor seals and sea lions, who love to sun themselves!

Getting up close and personal with fish at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Courtesy of Justine Howell

Harbor seals and sea lions catch rays in La Jolla.

Courtesy of Justine Howell


Ocean Institute

If you're coming to Southern California to visit the ocean and all it has to offer, this is a great place to visit in Dana Point! They offer hands-on exploration, and taking a whale-watching trip is a must, too…it's amazing!


Huntington Beach Adventure Playground

This is a hidden gem! If your childhood included playing in mud puddles, sliding down slippery slopes with your friends, and not caring about how dirty you got….your kids will get to experience that kind of down-home fun here too!



There are so many great waterparks in Southern California, and since it is warm basically year round here you can visit them often!


The beach

I'd be here all day if I listed all of the beaches we love, and since there are so many, we like visiting a new one each time we head out for some sun and sand. Two of our favorites are Carlsbad State Beach and San Clemente State Beach, because we lived there for many years. There is a playground, and lots of parking.

San Clemente pier.

Compassandcamera/Getty Images

If you're an animal lover and you're looking for fun places in Southern California to visit them, there are several locations, both big and small.


San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Probably one of our favorite places to go and see animals roaming the acres and acres of land. Their Africa Tram is like nothing you've ever been on, as it takes you on a half hour tour that allows you to see the animals up close.


Rancho Las Lomas

A true hidden gem! This is a great zoological garden with rescued animals that can no longer live in the wild for a variety of reasons. You can get up close with unique animals and take a tour of the facility, which is nestled in the small city of Silverado. It's pretty neat.


Bates Nut Farm

Our favorite hidden gem!! My kids love feeding animals, seasonal festivals, and large fields where we can have a picnic and run free. Bates offers all of these things! Each season offers something new with a small-town feel, and it's become our tradition each October to pick pumpkins right off the vine!

Now we're moving right along to several fun children's museums we have here in Southern California that we visit quite often and are a must-see!


Discovery Cube OC

One of our all-time favorite hands-on museums for children in Orange County is called Discovery Cube. Throughout the year they offer different exhibits and incredible events like Bubblefest. Children can pretend they're hockey players, shop at a grocery store meant just for them, learn all about hurricanes and much more. It's three stories full of fun, and you can easily spend the whole day there!


Pennypickle's Workshop

Another hidden gem! We love visiting small places like this one and sharing them with others. Although it's on a smaller scale, this children's museum is very interactive and is located in a quaint area of Old Town Temecula, which is fun to walk around after your visit there.


Orange Empire Railway Museum

If you're a train enthusiast, this is a great place to visit! There are different events year round, and they even have Thomas the Tank Engine visit each year!

Now let's get back outdoors, shall we! There are so many great places to camp and hike in Southern California and we have visited many of them, so let me share a few of our favorites.



We visit Idyllwild often because it isn't too far from our home in Temecula and it's such a gorgeous area to take a walk, have a picnic, and just unplug as a family. It reminds us of a smaller version of Yosemite, offering small campgrounds as well as a lake just outside of town, called Lake Hemet, where sometimes we just skip rocks and chat.


Santa Rosa Plateau

Our all-time favorite place to hike! Gorgeous isn't a big enough word to describe this area. There are many trails to choose from and it's fairly flat, so it's easy for children to join the fun! We pack a picnic and head out for an afternoon together often, and we always see something new.

Feeding the animals at Bates Nut Farm.

Courtesy of Justine Howell

A hiker pauses at Idyllwild.

Thomas Northcut/Getty Images

Follow the winding paths at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.

Jack Goldfarb/Getty Images



Another hidden gem! We love finding small quaint towns like this one and just making a day trip of it. It's a great little place to stay at a bed-and-breakfast, explore the beautiful woody area, visit their underground candy mine, and have a slice of their noteworthy apple pie!

To round out our list of 25 reasons to visit California, we want to share a few great places where you can pick your own veggies and fruit….so much fun with kids!


Tanaka Farms

Not only can you pick your own fruits and vegetables, but you can take a CookOut Tour, where they will help grill what you've picked right then and there! Very educational and fun for adults and kids!


Temecula Blueberry Company

This is a fantastic hidden gem! There are many strawberry fields here and there, but it's rare to find a blueberry field where you can gather your own fruit right off the bush and bring it home that day. Offering movie nights during the summer, story time, and a few farm animals, it's a fun experience for little hands and delicious for everyone!

From The Typical Mom family to yours, I hope you find several activities you love among our suggestions here and make memories with each other this year that will last a lifetime!

Thrills, Chills,
and Enchantments

Hooray for Hollywood, the Getty Museum, Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica, and Venice Beach! It's no secret that Southern California is fairly brimming with amazing amusements and attractions for the whole family. But it's also home to many of the most exciting theme parks in the world. Here, some of the best and brightest for thrill seekers of all ages.

Surf 'n Skate

Budding surfers and skaters will find a bounty of spots to hone their skills in Southern California.

Boards of all shapes and sizes dominate communities in Southern California—the region serving as the perfect backdrop to learn the quintessential Californian activities of surfing and skating. These camps are in locations that provide plenty for parents to do while the kids are away.

Peathegee Inc./Getty Images

In The Water

Best for:
Wave newbies

The small waves and lack of rocks at Bolsa Chica State Beach make the Huntington Beach Surf Camp a safe, kid-friendly option for learning how to catch a wave. With a four-to-one student-to-teacher ratio, your son or daughter will get personalized attention during a week of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. full-day sessions (half days also available). Head over to Main Street for the grilled fish taco from Wahoo's Fish Taco and wander through the surf shops and boutiques before picking your camper up at the end of the day.

Best for:
A fun, relaxed atmosphere

Choose your ideal vacation location when signing your kids up for the Perfect Day Surf Camp at Santa Monica, Manhattan, Redondo, or Torrance Beaches. The camps offer flexible times and keep things fun by integrating beach dodgeball, capture the flag, and sandcastle time for the little ones. Each camp is located near the coastal bike path for riding or walking to beachfront restaurants. Or you could take a stand-up paddleboarding or surfing class while the kids catch waves.

Best for:
The whole family

Menehune Surf in La Jolla or Del Mar serves up half- or full-day instruction. Youngsters (ages five to seven) start by playing in the shallow water and learning about the marine life, while the eight- to twelve-year-olds develop skills and learn about ocean ecosystems, and the teens focus on skills, etiquette, and learning about surf culture and how boards are designed. While the kids catch waves, parents can treat themselves to a sea stone massage or deep cleansing facial at L'Auberge in Del Mar.

Tetra Images/Offset

On Land

Best for:
Flexible instruction

Pick a Southern California destination from Irvine to Long Beach and it's likely that Skatedog has a camp location there. Summer camp sessions, run through the local Parks and Recreation Departments, teach kids ages six to 13 how to skate using ramps and rails from Skatedog's mobile skate park. Camp spots are located near attractions like the historic Queen Mary in Long Beach or the upscale, open-air Fashion Island in Newport Beach.

Best for:
Advanced tricksters

The legendary skate park at the Magdalena Ecke YMCA in Encinitas features a combination of street course, kidney-shaped bowl, and mix of ramp styles. It hosts three camps based on ability level: Technique for beginners, a tricks-focused intermediate/advanced camp, and a travel camp that takes skaters to other parks around San Diego. Parents can stay entertained in the quaint beachside town of Encinitas—simply relax on Moonlight Beach or grab a cup of house-roasted coffee at Lofty Coffee Co. and walk south down the 101 to browse gift shops and boutiques.

Best for:
Multimedia skaters

If you mastered tricks at skateboard camp but don't have it on video, did it really happen? For kids 10 and up, the Etnies Video Production Skate Camp in Lake Forest combines videography and photography with skateboarding during a weeklong camp. Etnies also offers a preschool skate camp for 4- and 5-year-olds. Lake Forest is just inland of Laguna Beach, where there are more than 100 galleries, sculpture gardens, and art studios within walking distance.

6 Kid-Friendly
Southern California Beaches

Just because Southern California is known for some of the best surfing in the country doesn't mean it's all about the big-wave beaches—there are plenty of family-friendly spots that you and your kids will love. After a day in the sun, settle in at one of these kid-friendly lodgings.

After a day of fun in the sun, rest up at one of these kid-friendly places to stay.

Bella Kenworthy Brings
Girl Power to the Skate Park

Between her pink helmet and her mad talent, 8-year-old Bella Kenworthy is hard to ignore when she hits the skate park. This skater, surfer, and second-grader has a big dream that girls will take over the skate park, and nothing can stand in her way.

Some photographs in this content are used for illustrative purposes only.