California is one of the most popular states for travel in the United States, and for good reason. It has more than 800 miles of coastline, with some of the most beautiful (and popular) beaches in the country. Its temperature and weather are consistently warm and pleasant. And the state itself is so big, it features a diverse mix of different cities, different natural environments, and of course, interesting attractions to visit.
However, if you’re planning a vacation to California with little ones in tow, everything gets a little more challenging. How can you get the most out of the state while still keeping everything both family friendly and as stress free as possible?
Make Time for Kid-Friendly Adventures
No matter where you go or stay in California, you’ll find interesting venues, activities, and opportunities for your kids to be kids. For example, there are dozens of things to do in Los Angeles with kids that can help them have fun while simultaneously piquing your own interest. You could take the classic route to the “Happiest Place on Earth,” Disneyland, if you don’t mind dealing with some of the crowds, or head somewhere more peaceful, like Griffith Park. You can also scope out Santa Monica Pier, which functions as a kind of mini amusement park, or head to one of L.A.’s many museums, including the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Look for Kid-Friendly Discounts
If you know to look, you can find tons of discounts on common California activities for the kids. Children and teenagers may get into certain museums for free, or at greatly reduced cost. Additionally, you could take advantage of the “Kids Free October” program offered by San Diego, which includes a number of kid-friendly attractions like SeaWorld and LEGOLAND. If you don’t see a discount advertised for children, make sure you ask.
Pack Many Layers
Too many parents make the mistake of assuming California’s warm weather is both guaranteed and constant. While the days are often in the 70s, especially by the warm coastline, the nights can get much, much cooler—and if you’re venturing deeper into the interior of California, it could get even colder. Make sure you bring appropriate dress for bright, sunny days, but also bring along a few extra layers if things get colder than you expect.
Reduce Your Beach Luggage
It’s tempting to pack anything and everything you’ll need for the beach, but if you’re traveling with kids, you’ll want to take efforts to reduce how much you’re packing and carrying. One of the easiest ways to make cuts is to remove bulky beach items, like extra towels, inflatables, and boogie boards. You can find most beach essentials at your hotel or at a local drugstore, and for minimal costs.
One extra tip if you’re planning on extended beach time: bring lots of sunscreen and apply it regularly. You’ll thank yourself later.
Be Patient and Flexible With Road Trips
California has some of the most scenic roadways in the world, and enough destinations to keep your interest along the way. Accordingly, it’s been a major destination for road trip enthusiasts. However, planning and managing a road trip with an entire family along for the ride can be difficult. Children often get impatient when riding in the backseat, and you’ll have the wants and needs of multiple people to contend with. If you plan a road trip, make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to get from point A to point B—you don’t want to rush or force yourself to change plans because you didn’t allow enough time. Additionally, count on taking several breaks along the way. It can make the trip much more enjoyable for everyone.
Be Proactive If Camping
Outside the major cities, California offers many exciting opportunities for camping, including areas like Yosemite National Park. However, if you plan on camping, try to be as proactive with your planning as possible. Most state and national parks around California only allow camping during certain times of the year, and reservations fill up fast; it’s important to reserve a spot for yourself as early as possible, sometimes six months in advance or faster. It’s also a good idea to read up on the rules, regulations, and restrictions for different campgrounds; you may find certain items or practices onsite are forbidden, which could require you to adjust your plans.
Make Time for Adult Activities, Too
Finally, consider making time for adult activities as well. Not all, but some wineries and craft breweries are okay with kids—giving parents a chance to relax with their beverages of choice while the kids head to a play area. You can also take your kids to a nice dinner; some of California’s best white-cloth restaurants still offer a kids’ menu.
In some ways, it may seem like planning a California vacation with kids is more challenging, but it also opens more opportunities. Think ahead and make some contingency plans, and you can make the most of the trip.