Our latest Kidifornia TV commercial shows that both kids and parents have a blast visiting the Golden State. All the activities shown in the commercial are perfect for a family adventure, from strolling around the giant sculptures in Borrego Springs to flyboarding in Catalina and exploring the latest attractions at Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood. Get inspired by watching the commercial, then read below for more info on how to take a family trip to the featured locations.
You’ll find more wild, untrammeled land on the Sonoma Coast than towns, shops, or services—and that’s why it’s so appealing. Unplugging is easy here—after a few minutes gazing at the Pacific’s endless rolling waves, your cell phone seems irrelevant. But the action is always “on” at 17-mile-long Sonoma Coast State Park, a protected string of isolated beaches separated by grassy headlands. Wind-whipped waves crash against offshore rocks. Murrelets, cormorants, pelicans, and gulls soar above the surf-splashed headlands. The shimmering Pacific extends as far as your gaze can follow.
On the park’s north side, the seafaring hamlet of Jenner clings to the cliffs above the Russian River. Here, the river ends its ocean-bound journey, forming a massive sand spit at its mouth, which serves as breeding grounds for hundreds of Pacific harbor seals from March to July. To see them, drive to Goat Rock, a bulky offshore outcrop accessed by a narrow, paved road. Then park your car and stroll the brayed tan sand, gaining views of neighboring Arch Rock’s perfect crescent of sandstone. From Goat Rock Beach, you can observe the seals’ antics—a mish-mash of barking, slumbering, basking, swimming, mating, and raising their young.
During the seal pupping season, volunteers set up spotting scopes and binoculars on the beach. You can walk within 50 yards of the seals, but if you want to see them even closer, paddle a kayak. On a guided tour with WaterTreks EcoTours, even beginners can get up close with the fascinating wildlife of the Jenner estuary.
After your paddle, you’ll need sustenance. Head to Café Aquatica for a Dungeness crab sandwich or a steaming latte. If the weather’s nice, sit outside and watch the kayakers float past. Wander into the next-door Jenner Visitor Center, set in a worn-shingled boathouse, where docents provide information on the area’s natural history. A few steps to the north, the River’s End restaurant serves up outstanding local cuisine and breathtaking Pacific sunsets. Book in advance to reserve a coveted window table.
Jenner’s overnight options include Wright’s Beach campground, which offers beachfront sites on a long stretch of sand ideal for kite-flying. Or reserve a cozy bed at the mid-century modern Timber Cove Resort, perched on an ocean bluff. For a memorable splurge, book a king room with a private hot tub at Fort Ross Lodge, then scan the sea for passing gray whales as you soak.
The idea of “Hollywood magic” takes many forms at Universal Studios Hollywood, but it seems especially apt in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. With rides, shops, and no shortage of Butterbeer, fans will find themselves transported into the world of the beloved boy wizard.
Even if you don’t know all of the nuances of the bespectacled kid with a lightning-bolt-shaped scar, there is an abundance of whimsy and fun in the six-acre attraction. The village-style setting has, as its focus, the iconic Hogwarts Castle, home to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Inside, underneath its soaring ceilings, you can wander the hallowed halls lined with portraits that—just like in the books and movies—talk. Peruse the office of headmaster Albus Dumbledore, look around the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and scope out the Gryffindor Common Room, where Harry and his fellow housemates have been known to dish about those sullen Slytherin kids.
Ride your own broomstick for thrills that combine robotics, elaborate action sequences, and immersive visceral effects.
The signature attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, lets you ride your own broomstick for a set of thrills that combines a robotics system, elaborate filmed action sequences, and immersive visceral effects. Outside the castle, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is also home to the first outdoor coaster at Universal Studios Hollywood, the family-friendly "Flight of the Hippogriff."
The rest of the attractions focus on the wizard town of Hogsmeade, made up of cobblestone streets, snowcapped roofs, and an assortment of locals, from the train conductor welcoming arrivals to merchants offering various wizard wares (including the wands at Ollivanders, the screaming yo-yos at Zonko’s, and the chocolate frogs at Honeydukes).
Don’t miss the Owl Post, where resident owls hoot as you pass by. Kids can learn about the old days, when people actually used to send snail-mail messages to one another (or, in Harry’s case, owl-mail messages). Mail a card from this location (written with actual pen, or quill, and paper) and it will get a Hogsmeade postmark.
The immersive wizard experience extends well into dining, too. The Three Broomsticks restaurant in Hogsmeade offers hearty Anglophile fare such as fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and bangers and mash, as well as classic accompaniments like sticky toffee pudding. You’ll be tempted to start your Wizarding World of Harry Potter day right here: Three Broomsticks does a legit full English breakfast, featuring eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, and even black pudding. (American staples are available too.)
And here’s good news for Muggles over the age of 21: The adjoining Hog’s Head pub has original draft beers and spirits created exclusively for the attraction, including Dragon Scale, Wizard’s Brew, and Firewhisky. At the pub, and all around Hogsmeade, you can also order an all-ages-friendly Butterbeer (think cream soda, with a twist), along with Pumpkin Juice, Pumpkin Fizz, and gently flavored Gilly Water. After all, fending off the Dark Arts works up quite a thirst.
HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR. (s17)
Just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, a steep hillside covered in chaparral and eucalyptus drops from Highway 101 to a flat, sunny shoreline, two miles long and a couple of blocks wide, that faces the Bay: This is the Sausalito that day-trippers from San Francisco know. Most of them walk or bike over the bridge or arrive by ferry, sit and have a coffee at a café on the charming main street Bridgeway, and look back across the Bay at the downtown skyline. Maybe they stay for dinner, sticking to Bridgeway (Barrel House Tavern is a good bet) or venturing a block off Bridgeway into the locals’ zone, aka Caledonia Street, to the top-rated Sushi Ran. A lovely day, to be sure, but it barely touches on what Sausalito has to offer.
Long before the current craze for all things artisanal, Sausalito was where art intersected with industry, a city where people made things with their hands, whether these things were the Liberty merchant ships that helped win World War II or the ceramic pottery and tiles that Edith Heath turned into a modern icon and that now can be found—at a rough guess—on the tables of two-thirds of the restaurants in the Bay Area.
First settled by the Coast Miwok peoples, this southernmost tip of the Marin Peninsula was difficult to reach except by boat and largely ignored by both the Spanish invaders (who called it Sauzelito, after a grove of willows) and the Gold Rush’s forty-niners. In time, though, railroads, ferries, and, eventually, the bridge linked Sausalito firmly to the “mainland.” War brought industry in the form of the Bechtel Company’s shipyards, and by the 1960s, its abandoned slips were colonized by hippies living in houseboats—Otis Redding was staying in one when he wrote “(Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay.”
“Sausalito was full of artists and writers back then,” says Sausalito native Michael Wiener, onetime head of the famed Spaulding wooden boat works, “because it was beautiful and it was cheap. Now, it’s just beautiful.” And the boats have themselves become a tourist attraction; every September, the Floating Homes Association runs a sell-out houseboat tour.
Other landmarks in the city’s northern industrial zone include Heath Ceramics’ low-slung factory (don’t miss the discounted “seconds” at the outlet store) and the redwood-clad building that housed the now-defunct Record Plant, where the likes of Prince, Metallica, and Fleetwood Mac once laid down tracks. Or, check out the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Bay Model, which is just what it sounds like: a working hydraulic model of the entire San Francisco Bay that covers 1.5 acres and is very popular with kids. So is the sustainable-seafood restaurant Fish, located in the Clipper Yacht Harbor marina, where you can sit in the sun and watch the boats go by.
The Palace of Fine Arts is an extravagant neoclassical icon—a faux palace surrounded by an idyllic pond, its reflective surface graced by snow-white swans. It’s one of San Francisco’s most popular spots for wedding photos and has appeared in countless fashion layouts and Instagram shots.
The Romanesque structure was designed by architect Bernard R. Maybeck for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a world’s fair that celebrated the Panama Canal’s opening—and gave San Francisco a chance to shine after its devastating 1906 earthquake. The Palace’s domed rotunda, filled with more than 12,000 works of art, was one of dozens of monuments, temples, and pavilions constructed for the nine-month-long expo.
When the grand affair ended, all structures except the Palace were destroyed. San Franciscans couldn’t bear to tear down their glorious tribute to the arts, but since it was built to be temporary—made from plaster, wood, and burlap—the structure slowly crumbled. In the early 1960s, a wealthy philanthropist donated money to save the decaying ruins by recasting them in more enduring concrete. Today’s Palace duplicates the original, with a soaring colonnade and bas-relief urns, domed ceiling with allegorical paintings, and Corinthian columns topped with female figures draped in togas, their weeping faces turned away to symbolize “the melancholy of life without art.” The Palace’s 1,000-seat theater, added in 1970, hosts cultural events, live performances, film festivals, and theater productions year-round.
Marvel at this Beaux-Arts wonder, then head over to the woodsy parklands at the next-door Presidio, which served as an Army post until 1994 and is now a National Park. Ride the free shuttle bus or just use your feet—24 miles of trails lead to scenic overlooks, many showcasing the glorious Golden Gate Bridge.
In a city full of must-see architecture, the Presidio Officer’s Club is a gem. With adobe walls dating back to 1776, it’s San Francisco’s second-oldest building and houses a history museum and Arguello Restaurant, a bistro run by award-winning chef Traci Des Jardins. Nearby, visit the Walt Disney Family Museum or let the kids burn off energy at House of Air, a trampoline park in an aircraft hangar. View the public art at Tides Converge, a nonprofit workspace with two community galleries. Down the hall, Café RX serves authentic Latin American pupusas and tamales, or if it’s not yet noon, Sessions at the Presidio nails the perfect outdoor-patio brunch with its cardamom beignets, avocado toast, and Belgian pancakes.
Go three miles south of Pismo Beach to find Oceano Dunes Preserve, one of the most expansive coastal dunes left in California. The Preserve offers rare opportunities for on-the-sand activities—you can camp on the beach and in the open dune area, go horseback riding, and drive right on the beach. In fact, it’s the only California State Park that allows vehicles to do so (four- or all-wheel drive recommended).
Thrill-seekers: Don’t miss the opportunity to fly up and down the massive mounds of sand in your own ATV or SunBuggy. There are several businesses that rent such vehicles, including BJ’s ATV Rentals, Steve’s ATV Rentals, and SunBuggy Fun Rentals. Just be sure to pay attention to your surroundings as you fly up and down the maze-like array of dunes—it’s easy to lose your orientation.
If you’d rather experience that thrill while letting someone else worry about driving, Pacific Adventure Tours or Xtreme Hummer Adventures will take you on a heart-pumping Hummer ride that promises to have you racing over the tops of dunes, climbing sideways, and even flying backwards in a real USMC Humvee.
Sand is a signature element of the Pismo Beach area, but there are plenty of water activities too. For an adrenaline rush, try kiteboarding or surfing; for a more mellow activity, go on Central Coast Kayak’s three-hour Cave Excursion to explore the protected coves, caves, and rock gardens of the area that are only accessible from the water, or rent a kayak to sightsee at your own pace.
Lake Tahoe has a split personality: half California, half Nevada. The two meet along the lake’s southern shore, where high-casino hotels (in Nevada) bump up against the base village for Heavenly (in California). Millions of dollars have been spent on upping the experience along this part of the lake. Relax at fire pits year-round at The Shops at Heavenly Village, with boutiques, eateries, and a multi-screen movie theater in a handsome stone and timber complex. Craft beer enthusiasts can sample local brews at Stateline Brewery & Restaurant. Outdoor concerts draw serious big names—think Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars—during summer. After all that party atmosphere, consider retreating to the zen-like calm of local day spas, such as Serenity Spa in the Heavenly Village.
In the adjacent South Lake Tahoe community, daytime diversions are easy to find as well. During the warmer months, Ski Run and Tahoe Keys Marinas offer watercraft rentals, as well as standup paddleboards for rent—with instruction or on your own—at expansive Lakeview Commons at El Dorado Beach. Afterward, dine with locals at favorites like The Naked Fish (excellent sushi), Himmel Haus, an expansive temple to all things delicious and German (plus some choice Belgian brews), and Base Camp Pizza Co. You don’t have to look far on this side of the lake to find some nighttime fun either—Whiskey Dick’s Saloon is a classic hipster dive bar with live music, Rojo’s Tavern offers a lively dance scene with DJs, and South Lake Brewing Company and Tahoe AleWorx, where you can draw your own pints, are two great spots to sample some of the area’s tastiest craft brews.
Located along Long Beach’s Rainbow Harbor, the Aquarium of the Pacific is Southern California’s largest aquarium and a must-do Long Beach activity for all ages. Home to more than 11,000 animal exhibits, the aquarium explores three distinct waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Start in the Southern California/Baja Gallery where you’ll find the 142,000-gallon, three-story high Honda Blue Cavern that features ocean inhabitants found off the coast of Catalina Island. You’ll also want to visit the Seal and Sea Lion Habitat and the Ray Touch Pool. Highlighting habitats in and around the Bering Strait, the Northern Pacific gallery features a collection of graceful jellies, four playful otters in the Sea Otter Exhibit, and the largest species of octopus in the world, the giant Pacific octopus, which can grow more than 20 feet long!
Then head to the warmer waters of the Tropical Pacific Gallery and the largest exhibit in the aquarium—the 350,000 gallon Tropical Reef Habitat, which can be viewed from three locations and holds thousands of colorful fish, coral, sea turtles, and two kinds of sharks. Don’t forget to stop by the seahorse and sea dragon exhibit to see if you can find these camouflaged creatures hidden among the seaweed.
In addition to the three main galleries, the aquarium also features outdoor exhibits, including an interactive Shark Lagoon, the Lorikeet Forest aviary, penguin habitat, and a horseshoe crab touch lab.
If you’re looking to dive in further, the aquarium offers many educational, exclusive, and behind-the-scenes experiences. You can get up close and personal with animals such as stingrays, sea lions, and penguins, or dive right into an exhibit (certification required). If your kids have dreamed of staying overnight next to a gigantic fish tank, you can do that too.
Opening in spring 2019 is Pacific Visions, a brand-new wing that will help aquarium visitors better understand the challenges the ocean faces and the opportunities it holds. The expansion will include a state-of-the-art interactive theater, a larger exhibit gallery with live animals, and an art gallery.
Insider tip: Check out the Aquarium of the Pacific website for information on discounted tickets.
Now you no longer just visit fantasyland, you live in it. LEGOLAND California has two hotels right outside the Carlsbad theme park entrance—each with their own colorful themes, restaurants, pools, and playful features—from a disco elevator to a slide right in the lobby.
Both properties are designed with traveling families in mind. The hotels’ junior-suite-style rooms—emblazoned with colorful walls and LEGO models as art—have separate sleeping areas for grown-ups and kids. The kids’ quarters have bunk beds, their own TV, and a LEGO brick box for impromptu building. Both lobbies feature giant mosh pits full of plastic bricks, so kids can build away while grown-ups check in. Plus, all hotel guests enjoy both complimentary breakfast buffets and early entry into the park (up to an hour, depending on the season).
Choose your hotel based on the theme: the original, 250-room LEGOLAND Hotel offers four room themes—pirates, adventurers, LEGO friends, and Ninjago warriors—and larger-than-life LEGO sculptures, made with more than 3 million bricks, all over the hotel. Head into the Bricks Family Restaurant and neighboring Skyline Café, and check out the mini cityscape that has Spider-Man scaling a building and a wizard reading a book by a rooftop pool. Industrial-strength glue holds the sculptures together, so go ahead and touch. Outside, there’s a real pool, too, with soft LEGO bricks that can be used to build in the water. Meanwhile, don’t miss the hotel’s disco-themed elevator, which is nearly a ride in itself.
The LEGOLAND Castle Hotel, meanwhile, opened in 2018 with 250 rooms in three kingdom-oriented themes: wizards, knights, and princesses, with LEGO art ranging from owls to cats and fire-breathing dragons, and tiny star lights embedded in the ceiling over the kids’ bunk beds. The Castle’s lobby offers its own diversions, from the slide that runs parallel to a flight of stairs, a Knock Knock Door that tells jokes, and a small “dungeon” ready for photo ops. Its courtyard area has its own pool, a LEGO-stocked playground, and a big screen TV set on a small lawn, playing LEGO movies daily. The hotel’s Dragon’s Den restaurant has live entertainment (jesters who take requests when you spin the wheel on the wall), and a parent-friendly bar.
With either hotel, remind your kids to pack their LEGO Mini Figures, which they can trade with staffers at the hotels or in the park.
Film buffs know the Hotel Del Coronado as a backdrop in the Marilyn Monroe movie Some Like It Hot, but this luxury resort has been a star among Southern California resorts since it first opened in 1888.
For more than a century, this designated National Historic Landmark with its Queen Anne–style red turrets has attracted U.S. presidents, dignitaries, and, indeed, plenty of movie stars to Coronado Island, a 15-minute drive from downtown San Diego. Today, the 757-room resort, known to locals just as “the Del,” sits on 28 acres of private, pristine beachfront property, blending old-school luxury with high-end accommodations and modern amenities.
Stay in either the main Victorian building, loaded with historic charm, or the more contemporary Ocean Towers. If you plan to plant yourself poolside, get a room in one of the California Cabana buildings. For larger groups or families, the spacious Beach Village suites feel like a home away from home—if your everyday home is a luxury beach house that’s just steps from the sand.
At Del Beach, you can take a surf lesson, play volleyball, or just lounge the day away on a plush daybed while enjoying beverage service. A nighttime bonfire in the sand is a popular resort tradition—and now you can order up artisanal pizzas, s’mores, and more to nosh around the fire pit. During the day you can also take a tour of the hotel grounds (complete with stories of resident ghosts) or even join a seaside painting class. Don’t leave without visiting Spa at the Del for themed body treatments, like the Mindful Waves Massage or the Some Like It Hot Stone Massage.
Kids ages 4–12 will love the resort’s DelVentures activity center, where they can participate in programs like Mermaids & Pirates camp. For a fun activity for the whole family, rent bikes (or a surrey) at PeDels and explore the island, which has more than 15 miles of dedicated bike paths. Follow the Silver Strand to Imperial Beach and back for an 8-mile coastal cruise.
Or you can just soak up the scenery from one of the seven dining options, all with ocean views. Hotel del Coronado’s signature restaurant, 1500 OCEAN, showcases fresh seafood like Pacific Opah Crudo and oysters, while the Sunday brunch in the Crown Room is nothing short of legendary, with multiple carving stations, a huge seafood spread, and a Bloody Mary bar.