Enchanting beaches, impressive national parks, friendly people and sunshine – that’s how California can be pretty much summed up.
It’s a great destination for families with kids although you do need to take into account that the state is big so it’s well worth planning ahead.
California is relatively easy to travel across, offers adventure, pleasure and relaxation for all age groups as well as exciting cities, but also spectacular experiences if you’re nature-lover.
If you’re thinking of undertaking a road-trip with a child in California, here’s a suggested route you could take.
Starting in Los Angeles
Los Angeles is probably a good place to start your trip because it sits right in the middle between two other major locations: San Diego and San Francisco.
After a long flight and especially with kids, it’s a good idea to simply spend your first 2-3 days in or around the city somewhere.
For example, if you prefer to relax near the beach, you should head towards Santa Monica (which is outside of Los Angeles). If you want to taste the Hollywood air, the north is the best place to go.
In Los Angeles itself and despite its glamourous name, there’s actually not too much to see in the city centre itself.
And one other thing to take into account: unfortunately, the traffic in and around Los Angeles is pretty intense so avoid the rush hour as much as possible because otherwise you’re in for quite a shock!
So it’s really important to plan ahead and in the case of Los Angeles, you have two main spots that I would recommend.
The first one is either the Universal Studio or Warner Brother tour which is easily a full day out.
The second is probably Disneyland although you could actually leave this before you come back to the UK because otherwise, as parents you might start to get a little overwhelmed with “kids-stuff” !
Otherwise, it’s definitely worth a stroll along the famous Hollywood Hall of Fame: after all, you’ve come all this way and you simply can’t miss seeing anything so famous as Hollywood!
About 125 miles south of Los Angeles and not far from the Mexican border, is San Diego, which you should absolutely visit when travelling to California with children.
You will find beautiful green spaces and a wide choice of major museums such as the Natural History Museum, the San Diego Air & Space Museum and the San Diego Model Railroad Museum – with many interactive activities for kids.
If you want to explore the city in a relaxed way with the family, guided tours are of course available. For example, Flagship Cruises are highly-regarded: they depart from the San Diego port and it’s well worth seeing San Diego from the Pacific. And the trolleybus tours of the old city will take you to the most beautiful corners of the city – and children will certainly enjoy the bright orange trolleybus ride.
Sequoia National Park
After San Diego, you’ll need a good day to get to our next destination which is Sequoia National Park which is about 340 miles from San Diego. As you can probably tell, the idea is to head for San Francisco but that’s way too much of journey to really do in one day.
It can be done but it’s probably a stretch too far with kids in tow!
So if you leave fairly early in the morning, you should get there by early evening (allowing for a stop to eat along the way).
Sequoia National Park is home to the largest tree on earth. This gigantic specimen is called the General Sherman Tree and is located northwest of the park.
It’s best to try and spend the night in Visalia or Three Rivers and then go to the national park the next morning.
As you travel through the park, you can expect beautiful views, dense forests and of course many famous giant redwoods.
Our next stop is the delightful city of San Francisco.
Unlike Los Angeles, San Francisco is relatively easy to explore on foot. But the distances are still quite long and as many tourist sites can only be reached by bus, it’s definitely better to put the stroller in the car and drive at least to sites whenever you can.
The only downside is that parking costs are unfortunately rather high but overall, it’s simply more comfortable and saves time. Of course, an alternative is to arrange all the transport from your chosen accommodation.
The key spots to see are: Fisherman’s Wharf, then a boat trip Alcatraz island (location of the famous prison) and finally, the Golden Gate Park.
But do take time to get on one of San Francisco’s famous trams and wonder around the various neighbourhoods like Chinatown.
Of course, there’s a lot more to see so it really comes down to how much time you have but I would say that a good 4-5 days in and around the city will give a really good feel of what the city is like.
Monterey & Carmel-by-the-Sea
Once San Francisco has been ticked-off your list and as you head back to Los Angeles, it’s worth stopping by the coastal cities of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea.
From San Francisco, it will probably take you around 2½ – 3 hours by car so it’s not too much of a stretch.
In the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, the kids will love seeing sights from the fascinating underwater world – from colourful fish species and marine mammals.
A Quick Word on Insurance and Visas
It goes without saying that probably the most important thing you need is travel and medical insurance. In fact, it’s a must.
Medical expenses in the United States are amongst the most expensive in the world and the last thing you need are any problems.
It’s also a good idea to take any medication which either you or the kids ‘might’ need as well. If you do need any medical attention, make sure you get all the paperwork to make sure you can reclaim any expenses against your insurance.
When it comes to visas, as a UK citizen (or even if you’re a European Union passport holder), you must get an ESTA visa exemption before you leave and for all the family. This ESTA guide will tell you everything you need to know especially if your kids are named on your passport.