Kid-Friendly Guide to California Road Trips VC_Kidifornia_RoadTrips_Hero_Supplied_MC_Giants-Hug_1280x640_rev
Myles McGuinness

Kid-Friendly Guide to California Road Trips

Kid-Friendly Guide to California Road Trips
Tips and ideas for taking the family on a Golden State getaway

California’s natural beauty and diverse attractions make it the perfect place to plan a family road trip. With so many places to see in one very large state, there are multiple routes you can take to accommodate time limits and family interests. Guide your planning with these tips and then develop your itinerary with our California road trip ideas. Explore our list of fun learning vacations and download our free printable Kid's Guide to California from Little Passports for even more kid-approved destinations!

1. Check car safety laws. Before you embark, look at California’s car laws, which include the following: Children under two years old must sit in a rear-facing infant seat in the back seat; kids age 8 and under should be buckled in with a booster or car seat; and those 8 and older (or kids who are at least 4’9”) need to wear just a seat belt.

2. Plan around rush hour. In the metro areas, the “rush hours” can start before 8 a.m. and as early as 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., so map out your routes accordingly, or program your GPS to non-freeway routes, where you’ll see more neighborhoods and scenery anyway.

3. Need a pit stop? For nicer restrooms—and a higher likelihood of finding changing areas for babies—and wider lunch or snack selections, consider pulling over at a shopping mall right off the freeway instead of a gas station. It’s also a nice way to stretch the legs, pick up something you forgot to pack, or wait out traffic.

4. Stop by a California Welcome Center. Load up on materials for your next destination or activity, pick up a free California Visitor’s Guide, and give your kids brochures to peruse at one of the state’s California Welcome Centers

5. Budget at least two days in the major cities. San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are California’s three largest cities, and each warrants a vacation on its own. But during a road trip, you should plan to stop for more than a day at these gateway cities to see the major sights on your bucket list.

6. Save with CityPASS. If you’re targeting multiple theme parks and museums, consider a CityPASS ticket booklet to save money by bundling them together in Southern California and San Francisco.

7. Consider the best route. The trip down Highway 1 is the most famous in the state (and the country, for that matter), but if you have kids who get carsick easily, they might be sensitive to the twists and turns along the coast. The good news is that there are major highways that parallel Hwy 1 for the little ones who might need a straighter route.

8. Plot out break spots. Ahead of time, find museums, historic small towns, state parks, or beaches that are worth a break every couple hours. Pack a jump rope or beach ball to get kids moving during the long hauls, or consider finding an easy hiking trail along the way.

9. See locations from a unique perspective. Water adventures are a California coastal must-do: Learn to surf, go paddleboarding, kayak, or take a whale-watching tour. Consider seeing part of the state from two wheels: Rent bikes to ride up and down the coast, around town, or across the Golden Gate Bridge.

10. Snack locally. California is an agricultural hub, and you can often taste food right at the source. Farmers’ markets abound in every region of the state, and often offer live music and local crafts in addition to from-the-farmer produce. Skip the gas station and stock up on fresh snacks from a market instead.

11. Bring interactive car entertainment. Create your own California-themed puzzle for the drive at Discoveryschool.com. Depending on age, give your kids disposable cameras or let them use your digital one to document the California trip from their perspective—then create a scrapbook afterwards.

Kid-Friendly Guide to California Road Trips VC_TelevisionSpot_Kidifornia_MylesMcGuinness_BigSur9MQ_4361_1280x640_3
Welcome to Kidifornia
The “Welcome to Kidifornia” commercial offers a quick peek at some trip-of-a-lifetime family vacations in the Golden State—filled with beaches, national parks, theme parks, and more. 
Kid-Friendly Guide to California Road Trips Pillars_RoadTrips_OR_RD_11220565_1280x640

Time to hit the road and explore the Golden State

Road Trips

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Endless sunshine, amazing cities, best-in-class theme parks, incredible natural treasures—no matter what you want to do and see on your next vacation, California has it. But here's the best part: California has all the iconic destinations you've dreamed of visiting, plus a countless number of incredible off-the-beaten-track experiences. With our exclusive trip itineraries, you can visit bucket-list landmarks like Yosemite, then follow a wine road or visit a craft brewery. Top theme parks, secret beaches, city finds—they’re all here in easy-to-follow road trips that visit every corner of the state. So start dreaming about your next California vacation—and dream big.

San Luis Obispo to Ragged Point

San Luis Obispo to Ragged Point
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Stay at the Ragged Point Inn & Resort were you can see what’s blooming as you stroll through the gardens, or work your way down the short but steep 1.2-mile round-trip Ragged Point Cliffside Trail to reach a secluded black-sand beach.

10 Super-Scenic California Road Trips
Jeffrey Murray/Getty Images

10 Super-Scenic California Road Trips

Follow these classic routes for magical scenery and worthy stops

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Volcanoes to the Sea

Volcanoes to the Sea
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Golden Chain Highway

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This forest-wrapped hamlet of handsome Victorian-era homes and tree-lined streets 60 miles/98 kilometers northeast of Sacramento is one of the Gold Country’s prettiest towns. Originally settled in 1849 as a mining camp, Nevada City...

Sierra Adventure

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Blue as a topaz and circled by majestic peaks, this High Sierra gem straddling the California-Nevada border is a bucket-list staple, a place where the air is “very pure and fine...it is the same the angels breathe,” according to author Mark Twain. Lakefront towns dot the shoreline, each with...

San Francisco Bay Loop

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Highway One Classic

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San Diego is one of California’s sunniest destinations. This waterfront city is overflowing with exceptional dining and craft beer experiences, outdoor adventures, family fun, and great shopping. Explore diverse neighborhoods like Little Italy, the ...

California's Heartland

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The Tehama Trail is a surprisingly fertile area—a prime place for farms and ranches. Many invite visitors to stop in and buy fresh produce, artisanal olive oils, and other local food products.

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Bakersfield is full of surprises. Once known for oil and agriculture, this Central Valley town is morphing into an arts, culture, and sports hub, while still offering a glimpse of the past. Visit Colonel Allensworth State Historic...

Pacific Coast Highway South

Route 66

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This idyllic oceanfront city, bounded by a 3.5-mi/5.6-km-long beach, feels more like a weekend getaway spot than a city just a few minutes west of downtown Los Angeles. Hang out on the city’s broad beach or lively Pacific...

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Protecting an astounding 1.6 million acres/647,497 hectares of pristine desert wilderness, the Mojave National Preserve lets you hear singing sand dunes, explore weirdly contorted Joshua trees, and hike up volcanic cinder cones. Take time to explore, and let the desert’s magic unfold.

Don...