Plan a family vacation to California. Visit historic sites, national parks, and fun destinations.
The rolling vineyards and relaxed pace of California's wine country can be a great vacation for parents trying to get away, or for the family that wants to take a relaxed vacation in a mild climate. The counties of Napa and Sonoma offer no shortage of quaint bed and breakfasts, guided tours, and wonderful dining spots - not to mention wine tastings.
The hilly terrain of San Francisco makes it one of the most unique cities to visit. Take a drive or a stroll along Lombard Street, famed for its steepness and sharp curves. The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous and beautiful suspension bridges in the world. And a short ferry ride will take visitors to Alcatraz, the toughest prison ever built. "The Rock" may be closed for business, but today it's one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco, where visitors can spend a minute in cells just like the ones that used to house notorious criminals such as Al Capone and George "Machine Gun" Kelly.
Los Angeles has oodles of attractions for the movie lover. The most famous movie theater in Hollywood, and possibly the world, Mann's Chinese Theater is a must-see attraction for any visitor to the Los Angeles area, featuring the immortalized handprints and footprints of some of Hollywood's biggest stars through the years. The famed Hollywood sign at Griffith Park makes for a great view, as does the park's observatory. The Los Angeles area is also home to some wonderful theme parks, including Universal Studios, Knott's Berry Farm, and, to the south, Disneyland.
The crown jewel of America's zoos, the San Diego Zoo is one of the best in the world. The zoo is also renowned for its successful on-site breeding of giant pandas, something no visitor should miss. San Diego has several other world-class museums, including the stunning Museum of Man, which displays relics from the pre-Columbian period of the Americas. Kids will also love nearby Legoland, a theme park that appears to have been constructed entirely from Legos.
Joshua Tree National Park
Located in the Mojave Desert, this park gets its name from the unique Joshua Tree, a tall and spindly plant with jagged bunches of leaves at the end of its branches. The park offers serene camping trails for most visitors, plus terrific rock climbing for thrill seekers.
Redwood National Park
The majestic redwood trees of northern California must be seen to be believed. Standing almost 380 feet tall, and 26 feet in diameter, the trees are as much as 2,000 years old. Located about midway between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, the often-foggy Redwood National Park is an otherworldly getaway.
The western reaches of the Sierra Nevada range are home to Yosemite, one of the earliest designated natural areas in the country. Yosemite offers a vast array of geological features, including waterfalls, cliffs, and dramatic views, many of which were immortalized by the great photographer Ansel Adams.
Photo source: Carol M. Highsmith
The name's no joke: Death Valley can be a dangerous place, particularly during the summertime when the average high temperature can be over 115 degrees Fahrenheit. But the valley is also a strange and beautiful place, featuring sand dunes, salt pans, and the mysterious Badwater area, an ephemeral lake bed.
The luxurious Lake Tahoe offers year-round fun. During the summer, visitors can enjoy water sports in the largest alpine lake in North America, or explore miles of walking and biking trails. In the winter, Tahoe is home to some of the country's best skiing at famous resorts like Heavenly, Squaw Valley, and Northstar, all of which feature some of the most impressive views you'll find on the slopes.