Hop in the car and visit the cities that make the Golden State shine.
If your family is the slightest bit outdoorsy, they'll love Lake Tahoe, which sits on the California/Nevada border. The breathtaking scenery lives up to its reputation, and the sun shines virtually every day. It's never humid — and not terribly hot, either. And while there's plenty to do (you could entertain the kids for a week here, easily), there's not much rushing around, so you'll leave feeling refreshed and relaxed.
When adults think of Sonoma they think of wide open vistas and wine country charm, but for kids there are many more fun reasons to spend a day — or a weekend — in this historic but happening country hamlet. And as any California school-age kids knows, the historic missions that were the state's first settlements can be fascinating places to visit; Sonoma's is one of the best.
When people mention Berkeley, thoughts of hippies and peace marches may more often come to mind than what is truly there today, which is, a fantastically family-friendly, funky town just minutes from San Francisco. With a prestigious university at its center, you'll find the diverse mix of cultures, cafes, and cool activities hard to resist.
Older kids will appreciate the city's historical and cultural significance and can easily handle the rolling topography that San Francisco is famous for. Although younger kids will tire quickly on the hills, they'll get a kick out of the city's oddities (street performers at Fisherman's Wharf, bison in Golden Gate Park) and a ferry ride in the Bay.
Say the name Santa Cruz to kids and they're going to shout with glee. This seaside town, 75 miles south of San Francisco, is so closely associated with old-fashioned summer fun. After all, Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk is one of the country's oldest and most venerable amusement parks. And kids will also know it as the setting for the still-popular 1980s teen vampire thriller, The Lost Boys.
Monterey is not a big city, yet thanks to spectacular topography and fascinating history, the area features as many attractions as any of America's top tourist destinations. Monterey was both the capital of "Alta California" under Spain and the state's original capitol when California joined the union in 1849. The colorful history of Cannery Row was made famous by John Steinbeck in his book by that name, and many of Steinbeck's other books were set in Monterey, Salinas, and the surrounding area.
When you get away to San Luis Obispo, you really get away — this quiet central California town didn't get the nickname SLO for nothing. San Luis Obispo is the perfect place to take a deep breath, turn back the clock, and celebrate the value of unstructured family time. A day out here can be many things: it can be a day of walking the quiet downtown, visiting museums, restaurants and the mission, or it can be an outdoor adventure involving bikes or nearby beaches.
The Central Coast, while less well known, is a satisfying hybrid of two worlds, with an extra dose of family-friendliness thrown in. Originally settled by the Spanish and a long-time a center of pioneer-style ranching, the Central Coast is rugged, laid back, and sparsely settled. Big Sur is all rugged cliffs and pounding surf, Cambria and San Simeon are quaintly commercial, and the beach towns, like Santa Barbara, are throwbacks to an era when a summer's day meant eating salt water taffy on the pier.
If there was ever the opportunity for a well-rounded family vacation, it's a trip to L.A. There are plenty of cultural and educational attractions developed with kids in mind and an amazing landscape for the nature lovers in the family. Of course, Los Angeles is the capital of pop culture, too. Kids love to see the stars on Hollywood Boulevard and teens especially delight in getting a first-hand look at Venice and Beverly Hills.
Long the playground for Hollywood celebrities, the Palm Springs area holds infinite possibilities for family fun. The perennially sunny skies and clean air lure active families outdoors for golfing on one of the area's 118 courses, biking through stunning canyons, horseback riding, rock climbing in Joshua Tree and more. Families seeking a more relaxed retreat bask at one of the area's full-service resorts, pristine swimming pools, gourmet restaurants and soaking healing mineral waters.
Even big kids can't help being awed by Walt's original playground. Rocket ships, pirates, princess castles, and Main Street U.S.A. make it all feel a little like walking through a life-sized fairy tale. Fantasy aside, there are plenty of thrills, too, whether your pleasure is careening around Disneyland® Park's mountains (Matterhorn Bobsleds, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad) or gliding over the Golden State on Disney California Adventure's Soarin' Over California.
San Diego has everything a family could want in a vacation: beautiful beaches, tons of attractions (including the world-famous San Diego Zoo and LegoLand), luxurious resorts, quaint neighborhoods, miles of museums, great food, friendly folks, and, perhaps most importantly, beautiful weather all year long. Everyone smiles at your kids in San Diego. Go there, and you'll be smiling, too.