When most people think of a California trip with kids, the first thing that comes to mind is Disneyland. While Disneyland is an absolute must-do on your California vacation with kids, there are so many more great things to do in California with kids!
If you’re planning a trip to California with the kids and need some inspiration for things to do and places to visit, then this is the perfect guide for you. In this visit California with kids guide, we cover not just some of the best places to visit in the USA, but some of the very best places to visit in California with kids.
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Before you go to the USA – Getting your ESTA
Before your USA vacation with kids, if you’re not from the USA, make sure you arrange a USA ESTA Visa for every member of your family a few weeks before your trip. Basically, an ESTA is a mandatory travel authorisation to travel to the USA without a visa. There is no exception, everyone in your family will need a valid ESTA visa to enter the country, or you will be refused entry.
The ESTA application is completed online and only takes a few minutes to complete. The cost of the ESTA is minimal and basically consists of consular fees and application costs and can be made online via credit card or PayPal.
Once your application has been granted, you’ll be notified via email, and then you’re good to go! There is no document required; it is just an electronic travel authorisation for the USA. The good news is if you are planning multiple trips to the USA, an ESTA is valid for two years.
Ok so now the boring paperwork is taken care of, let’s get back to planning what to do in California with kids!
21 Things to do in California with Kids
While there are many wonderful cities to visit in California, the three most popular places to go with kids in California are San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Within these three cities, you will find a zillion fun things to do with the kids and tick off a few things from your USA bucket list. So in this guide, I’m going to be focusing on these cities. For tips on where to go on the California North Coast click here.
Things to do in San Francisco with Kids
As you cruise down the Pacific Coast Road, one of the first major cities you’ll hit is San Francisco. Here are our top tips on things to do in San Fran!
1. Golden Gate Bridge
Did you even go to San Francisco if you didn’t see the Golden Gate Bridge? The Golden Gate Bridge is the most iconic landmark in San Francisco and a must-see place while touring California with kids. Either drive over it, walk over it, ride a bike over it, take a cruise under it or for the perfect photo of it head to Hyde Street Pier, Pier 39, Coit Tower, Marin Headlands or either side of the bridge.
2. Visit the World’s Crookedest Street
Another one of the best places to take kids in California is Lombard Street. This street is famous for being the world’s most crooked street. It is a super steep street with eight hairpin turns and is also a very pretty little street making for a great backdrop for some fun family pics. Don’t miss it on your California road trip.
Definitely add Lombard Street to your San Francisco itinerary. Perfect if you’re after some of the free things to do in San Francisco!
3. Alcatraz Island
One of my personal favourite things to do in San Francisco is to take a trip to Alcatraz Island. Take the kids across to this fascinating island, where you will experience the gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay as well as learn about the history of the ever so interesting Alcatraz Island.
There are various options for visiting Alcatraz, from a simple cruise around the island to taking a tour through the prison for a behind the scene look into what life in Alcatraz was like. My tip is to definitely do a tour through the prison!
4. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
Not to be confused with the Six Flags in Los Angeles, the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is in San Francisco and is one of the most fun places for kids in California. This animal theme park is spread out over 135 acres and features a range of animal attractions, thrill rides and other fun rides for kids of all ages.
For discounted tickets grab them online via Klook. Tickets at the gate are $72.99 USD per adult or $52.99 USD per child or only $64 USD per adult and $52.00 USD per child from Klook. Click here to get your discounted tickets now.
If you’re after some fun things to do with kids in California, definitely factor in a visit to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in San Francisco.
5. San Francisco Zoo
Another one of the best places for kids in California is the San Francisco Zoo. This zoo is home to over 2000 exotic animals from all over the world. The kids will enjoy exploring exhibits such as the African Savanna or the Australian Walkabout. Animals on display include Red Pandas, Grizzly Bears, Penguins, Chimpanzees, Sea Lions, Big Cats and more!
There are daily animal talks and animal feeding demonstrations as well as a few rides at the zoo for the kids too such as the miniature steam train and the carousel. There is also a playground for the little ones too.
For discounted tickets grab them online via Klook. Tickets at the gate are $23 USD per adult or $17 USD per child or only $21.85 USD per adult and $16.15 USD per child from Klook. Click here to get your discounted tickets now.
When it comes to some super fun kids’ activities in California – Exploratorium is the place to be! Said to be one of the world’s most interactive museums, Exploratorium allows kids to explore the world through science, art and human perception. On display are over 600 exhibits both indoors and outdoors which children are encouraged to touch and play with.
Kids will love creating giant bubbles, experimenting with light and sound while learning about the scientific process of light and sound waves and stacks more. Exploratorium without a doubt offers some great fun for kids in California.
For discounted tickets grab them online via Klook. Tickets at the gate are $29.95 USD per adult or $19.95 USD per child or only $28.45 USD per adult and $19 USD per child from Klook. Click here to get your discounted tickets now.
7. California’s Great America Theme Park
Another one of the fun places to go with kids in California while in San Francisco is California’s Great America theme park. Spread out over 100 acres, this is an amusement and water park where you can spend the day riding roller coasters, seeing live shows and cooling off on super fun waterslides.
Older children will love rides such as the Gold Striker, Flight Deck and the Demon, while younger ones will enjoy the tiny tot rides such as Planet Snoopy and the Columbia Carousel. During the warmer months, the whole family will enjoy spending time at Boomerang Bay where you will find a swimming lagoon, wave pool, and various waterslides.
For discounted tickets grab them online via Klook. Tickets at the gate are $59.99 USD per adult or $44.99 USD per child or only $45 USD per adult and $42 USD per child from Klook. Click here to get your discounted tickets now.
8. Monterey Bay Aquarium
During your California travel with kids, if you’re doing a drive from San Francisco to LA, do yourself a favour and stop in at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Located just 2 hours south of San Francisco, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is considered one of the most famous Aquariums in the world and is home to over 35,000 sea creatures from over 550 marine species.
Some of the highlights at the aquarium include the three-story living Kelp Forest, million-gallon Open Sea exhibit, and the two-story sea otters home.
Also did you know that the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the inspiration for the setting of the film “Finding Dory”? The kids will want to go there for this reason alone!
Tickets are $50 USD per adult and $30 USD per child. You can purchase tickets in advance online from Klook.
9. Yosemite National Park
If you’re up for a big full day trip from San Francisco, then definitely include a trip to the Yosemite National Park. There are so many great things to do in Yosemite with kids. During your day trip be sure to check out the Yosemite Valley’s giant sequoias, Half Dome, El Capitan and waterfalls like Bridalveil Falls and Yosemite Falls – North America’s tallest waterfall. It’s also the perfect place to see California’s Giant Redwood trees.
Either take a hire car out and go exploring on your own or join one of the many day tours that operate from San Francisco – this way you all get to have a nap on the long journey home. If you decide to your own thing, consider this 10 day itinerary which includes Yosemite National Park.
Things to do in Los Angeles with Kids
10. Universal Studios
One of the fun places to take kids in California is Universal Studios. Universal Studios is a working movie studio where you will have the opportunity to see some behind the scenes sets from some of the biggest Hollywood movies as well as go on some of the best movie inspired rides.
There are many movie rides here to give you an adrenaline rush, from Revenge of the Mummy, to Jurassic Park and Transformers to name but a few. From cartoon characters to studio tours there are plenty of other things to see and do if the fast-paced thrill-seeking rides don’t appeal to you. However without a doubt, the most popular attraction at Universal right now is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a magical display where you can sample butterbeer and shop at Hogsmeade.
Klook quite often sell discounted tickets to Universal Studios, so be sure to check here before purchasing your ticket elsewhere.
Ok probably one of the top 10 things to do in California with kids is a day trip to the world-famous Disneyland! Disneyland is about experiencing the fairy-tale and watching all your favourite cartoon characters of Walt Disney come to life. The child in you will enjoy this place as much as your children.
Spend your day at Disneyland going on all the movie inspired rides and explore Cinderella’s Castle. There are various shows to watch as well as autographs to collect from your favourite Disney characters. And be sure to hang around until the end of the day for the fantastic nightly fireworks display. Don’t forget to research the various Disneyland hacks to make the most of your day.
Klook quite often sell discounted tickets to Disneyland, so be sure to check there before purchasing your ticket elsewhere. You can purchase either one day tickets, or multi day tickets and have the option to choose a combined ticket to both Disneyland and California Adventure Park.
12. Disney California Adventure Park
Right next to Disneyland is Disney California Adventure Park, a completely separate park to Disneyland, which has a focus on the famous Pixar movies. Here you will find seven themed areas including Cars Land, Paradise Pier, a Bug’s Land and Hollywood Land.
Some of the popular rides at California Adventure Park include Jessie’s Critter Carousel (Toy Story), Emotional Whirlwind (Inside Out), Radiator Spring Racers (Cars) and the Incredicoaster (The Incredibles) just to name a few.
Kids will also love meeting their favourite charters such as Elsa and Ana, Spiderman and a range of other Pixar characters. California Adventure Park along with Disneyland, are certainly some of the best places to go with kids in California.
Klook quite often sell discounted tickets to California Adventure Park, so be sure to check there before purchasing your ticket elsewhere. You can purchase either one day tickets, or multi day tickets and have the option to choose a combined ticket to both Disneyland and California Adventure Park.
13. Knotts Berry Farm
Want to know where to take go in California with kids that is not Disneyland? Well another much-loved California theme park is Knotts Berry Farm. This theme park is spread out over 160 acres with rides, shows and attractions across four themed areas including Ghost Town. Fiesta Village, The Boardwalk and Camp Snoopy.
For the older kids they will love thrill rides such as Ghostride, Supreme Scream and Hangtime, while the little ones will appreciate Camp Snoopy which has a range of gentle rides.
14. Six Flags Magic Mountain
Yes, yet another California theme park, this time it’s Six Flags Magic Mountain. This is a huge theme park spread out over 262 acres and said to have some the craziest rides in all of Los Angeles! But don’t worry if you have little ones too, as there is plenty here for them also.
For the older kids they will love the crazy rides such as Goliath, Twisted Colossus, Viper, Sling Shot and Apocalypse, while the little kids will like Bugs Bunny World where they can enjoy various pint-sized rides. There is also a range of daily shows and the opportunity to get autographs from your favourite Looney Tunes characters.
For discounted tickets grab them online via Klook. Tickets at the gate are $92.99 USD per adult or $59.99 USD per child or only $65 USD per adult and $62 USD per child from Klook – which is a huge saving! Click here to get your discounted tickets now.
15. Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is the largest natural and historical museum in the western United States, home to over 35 million specimens that go back billions of years. In the Dinosaur exhibit, the kids will love seeing fascinating pre-historic creatures and checking out the T. Rex Growth Series inside the Dino lab where they can see palaeontologist work behind the scenes.
For discounted tickets grab them online via Klook. Tickets at the gate are $15 USD per adult or $7 USD per child or only $14.29 USD per adult and $7 USD per child from Klook. Click here to get your discounted tickets now.
16. La Brea Tar Pits
So if you’re wondering where to take kids in California – which is not a theme park but still super cool – consider going to the La Brea Tar Pits. During the ice age, animals fell into the La Brea Tar Pits and were preserved well enough for modern discovery. Today, you can see the remains of a sabre-toothed cat, dire wolves, bison, ground sloths, turtles, and an American lion. The location is still an active dig site and the kids will love watching the scientists at work.
Other things to do at the La Brea Tar Pits include learning about the ice age at the 3D theatre, checking out fossils from over 650 different species, see tar bubbling and seeping through the ground and watch palaeontologists at work in the Fossil Lab.
General admission is $14 per person, but some exhibits cost extra. You can buy tickets online.
Legoland must be one of the fun places to visit with kids in California. Everyone loves Lego, so a day at Legoland is a must for families. With over 60 rides and attractions, at Legoland there is so much to do. The kids will love playing with Lego, riding Lego inspired rides, visiting the water park and walking through miniature worlds such as Washington DC, New York and San Francisco where everything is created from Lego. There are even Star Wars scenes reconstructed entirely out of Lego!
Like most parks, Legoland has themed areas including Ninjago, Star Wars, Miniland, Fun Town, Castle Hill and more. Some of the popular things to do at Legoland include getting your Legoland drivers’ licence and taking to the racetrack, watching live shows and meeting some of your favourite Lego people.
For discounted tickets grab them online via Klook. Tickets at the gate are $108.99 USD per adult or $94.99 USD per child or only $78 USD per person from Klook – which is a huge saving! Click here to get your discounted tickets now.
18. Santa Monica Pier
One of the best family things to do in LA would have to be a visit to Santa Monica Pier. This landmark is very popular with locals and tourists alike and home to Pacific Park amusement park. This iconic amusement park is not a big, extravagant theme park like LA’s more renowned attractions; but it has a carousel, ferris wheel, and a roller coaster, along with some tamer rides for the little ones.
Things to do in San Diego with Kids
19. San Diego Zoo
Said to be the best zoo in the US and one of the largest zoos in the entire world, a visit to the San Diego Zoo is a must for families looking for things to do in Southern California with kids. It also makes for a great weekend getaway from Los Angeles.
At San Diego Zoo there is more than 3700 animals from over 650 species to see. Some of the crowd favourites are koalas, cheetahs, polar bears and pandas. There is also a range of daily educational shows as well as animal feeding demonstrations. And don’t forget to take the Skyfari aerial tram for a ride over the treetops.
For discounted tickets grab them online via Klook. Tickets at the gate are $56 USD per adult or $46 USD per child or only $51.80 USD per adult and $42.50 USD per child from Klook. Click here to get your discounted tickets now.
20. Sea World
If one animal park isn’t enough on your Southern California vacation with kids, take the kids to Sea World. Spread across 190 acres, Sea World San Diego is the biggest Sea World in the entire world. Here you will find hundreds of marine animals on display, as well as rides and live performances.
Animals on display here include killer whales, sea lions, polar bears, penguins, bottlenose dolphins and even beluga whales. There are also daily educational talks too.
The older kids will love rides such as Electric Eel, Manta and Tidal Twister and the little ones will enjoy the pint-sized rides in Ocean Explorer land.
For discounted tickets grab them online via Klook. Tickets at the gate are $91.99 USD per person or only $67.50 USD per person from Klook. Click here to get your discounted tickets now.
21. USS Midway Museum
Another one of the super interesting places to take kids in southern California is to the USS Midway Museum. The USS Midway Museum was once a working aircraft carrier that served in the US Navy from 1945 to 1992. Today it’s a museum where you can take an audio tour and learn about its maritime history.
Parents and kids alike will enjoy exploring this floating city which includes over 600 different exhibits, including various planes on display. Also don’t miss the fabulous views of Coronodo Island, Downtown San Diego and the Harbor from the top of the ship.
For discounted tickets grab them online via Klook. Tickets at the gate are $23 USD per adult and $10 USD per child or only $22 USD per adult and $9 USD per child from Klook. Click here to get your discounted tickets now.
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