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Families Love California

Parents Love It
Visit California - Parents Love It
Parents love visiting California - maybe a little too much. A great cast of kids lets their peers know just what to expect when you bring your parents to “Kidifornia” for family vacation.

Our latest Kidifornia TV commercial shows that both kids and parents have a blast visiting the Golden State. All the activities shown in the commercial are perfect for a family adventure, from strolling around the giant sculptures in Borrego Springs to flyboarding in Catalina and exploring the latest attractions at Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood. Get inspired by watching the commercial, then read below for more info on how to take a family trip to the featured locations.

Parents Love It
Visit California - Parents Love It
Parents love visiting California - maybe a little too much. A great cast of kids lets their peers know just what to expect when you bring your parents to “Kidifornia” for family vacation.
Goat Rock Beach, Jenner, California

Jenner

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Jenner
Explore this cliff-hanging hamlet and wildlife-rich coast in Sonoma County

You’ll find more wild, untrammelled land on the Sonoma Coast than towns, shops or services—and that’s why it’s so appealing. Unplugging is easy here—after a few minutes gazing at the Pacific’s endless rolling waves, your mobile seems irrelevant. But the action is always 'on' at 17-mile-long Sonoma Coast State Park, a protected string of isolated beaches separated by grassy headlands. Wind-whipped waves crash against offshore rocks. Murrelets, cormorants, pelicans and gulls soar above the surf-splashed headlands. The shimmering Pacific extends as far as you can see.

On the park’s north side, the seafaring hamlet of Jenner clings to the cliffs above the Russian River. Here, the river ends its ocean-bound journey, forming a massive sand spit at its mouth, which serves as the breeding ground for hundreds of Pacific harbour seals from March to July. To see them, drive to Goat Rock, a bulky offshore outcrop accessed by a narrow, paved road. Then park your car and stroll along the powdery tan sand, gaining views of neighbouring Arch Rock’s perfect crescent of sandstone. From Goat Rock Beach, you can observe the seals’ antics—a mish-mash of barking, slumbering, basking, swimming, mating and raising their young.

During the seal pupping season, volunteers set up spotting scopes and binoculars on the beach. You can walk within 50 metres of the seals, but if you want to see them even closer, paddle a kayak. On a guided tour with WaterTreks EcoTours, even beginners can get up close to the fascinating wildlife of the Jenner estuary.

After your paddle, you’ll need sustenance. Head to Café Aquatica for a Dungeness crab sandwich or a steaming latte. If the weather’s nice, sit outside and watch the kayakers float past. Wander into the Jenner Visitor Center next door, set in a worn-shingled boathouse, where guides provide information on the area’s natural history. A few steps to the north, the River’s End restaurant serves up outstanding local cuisine and breathtaking Pacific sunsets. Book in advance to reserve a coveted window table.

Jenner’s accommodation options include Wright’s Beach campsite, which offers beachfront sites on a long stretch of sand ideal for kite-flying. Or reserve a cosy bed at the mid-century modern Timber Cove Resort, perched on a cliff. For a memorable splurge, book a king room with a private hot tub at Fort Ross Lodge, then scan the sea for passing grey whales as you soak.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Whether you root for Gryffindor or Slytherin, this attraction-and-ride zone offers a fully immersive Hogwarts experience

The idea of 'Hollywood magic' takes many forms at Universal Studios Hollywood, but it seems especially apt in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. With rides, shops and no shortage of Butterbeer, fans will find themselves transported into the world of the beloved boy wizard.

Even if you don’t know all of the nuances of the bespectacled kid with a lightning-bolt-shaped scar, there is an abundance of whimsy and fun in the six-acre attraction. The village-style setting has, as its focus, the iconic Hogwarts Castle, home to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Inside, underneath its soaring ceilings, you can wander the hallowed halls lined with portraits that—just like in the books and film—talk. Peruse the office of headmaster Albus Dumbledore, look around the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom and visit the Gryffindor Common Room, where Harry and his fellow housemates have been known to complain about those sullen Slytherin students.

Ride your own broomstick for thrills that combine robotics, elaborate action sequences and immersive visceral effects.

The signature attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, lets you ride your own broomstick for a set of thrills that combines a robotics system, elaborate filmed action sequences and immersive visceral effects. Outside the castle, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is also home to the first outdoor rollercoaster at Universal Studios Hollywood, the family-friendly 'Flight of the Hippogriff'.

The rest of the attractions focus on the wizarding village of Hogsmeade, with its cobblestone streets, snowcapped roofs and electic locals, from the train conductor welcoming arrivals to the merchants offering various wizarding wares (including wands at Ollivanders, screaming yo-yos at Zonko’s and chocolate frogs at Honeydukes). 

Don’t miss the Owl Post, where resident owls hoot as you pass by. Children can learn about the old days, when people actually used to send snail-mail messages to one another (or, in Harry’s case, owl-mail messages). Send a postcard from this location (written with actual pen, or quill, and paper) and it will get a Hogsmeade postmark.

The immersive wizard experience extends well into dining, too. The Three Broomsticks restaurant in Hogsmeade offers hearty English fare such as fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and bangers and mash, as well as classic desserts like sticky toffee pudding. You’ll be tempted to start your Wizarding World of Harry Potter day right here: the Three Broomsticks does a proper full English breakfast, featuring eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans and even black pudding. (American staples are available too.)

And here’s good news for Muggles over the age of 21: the adjoining Hog’s Head pub has original draught beers and spirits created exclusively for the attraction, including Dragon Scale, Wizard’s Brew and Firewhisky. At the pub, and all around Hogsmeade, you can also order an all-ages-friendly Butterbeer (think cream soda, with a twist), along with Pumpkin Juice, Pumpkin Fizz and gently flavoured Gilly Water. After all, fending off the Dark Arts works up quite a thirst. 

HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR. (s17)

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Sausalito

Sausalito
Explore this quaint town that’s just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco

Just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, a steep hillside covered in chaparral and eucalyptus drops from Highway 101 to a flat, sunny shoreline, two miles long and a couple of blocks wide, that faces the Bay: This is the Sausalito that day-trippers from San Francisco know. Most of them walk or cycle over the bridge or arrive by ferry, sit and have a coffee at a café on the charming main street of Bridgeway, and look back across the Bay at the city centre skyline. They might stay for dinner, sticking to Bridgeway (Barrel House Tavern is a good bet) or venturing a block off Bridgeway into the locals’ zone, aka Caledonia Street, to the top-rated Sushi Ran. It makes for a lovely day, to be sure, but it barely touches on what Sausalito has to offer.

Long before the current craze for all things artisanal, Sausalito was where art intersected with industry, a city where people made things with their hands, whether these things were the Liberty merchant ships that helped win the Second World War or the ceramic pottery and tiles that Edith Heath turned into a modern icon and that now can be found—at a rough guess—on the tables of two-thirds of the restaurants in the Bay Area.

First settled by the Coast Miwok peoples, this southernmost tip of the Marin Peninsula was difficult to reach except by boat and largely ignored by both the Spanish invaders (who called it Sauzelito, after a grove of willows) and the Gold Rush’s forty-niners. In time, though, railways, ferries and, eventually, the bridge linked Sausalito firmly to the 'mainland'. War brought industry in the form of the Bechtel Company’s shipyards, and by the 1960s, its abandoned slips had been colonised by hippies living in houseboats—Otis Redding was staying in one when he wrote '(Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay'.

'Sausalito was full of artists and writers back then,' says Sausalito native Michael Wiener, once head of the famed Spaulding wooden boat works, 'because it was beautiful and it was cheap. Now, it’s just beautiful'. And the boats have themselves become a tourist attraction; every September, the Floating Homes Association runs a sell-out houseboat tour.

Other landmarks in the city’s northern industrial zone include Heath Ceramics’ low-slung factory (don’t miss the discounted 'seconds' at the outlet store) and the redwood-clad building that housed the now-defunct Record Plant, where the likes of Prince, Metallica and Fleetwood Mac once laid down tracks. Or, check out the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Bay Model, which is just what it sounds like: a working hydraulic model of the entire San Francisco Bay that covers 1.5 acres and is very popular with kids. So is the sustainable-seafood restaurant Fish, located in the Clipper Yacht Harbor marina, where you can sit in the sun and watch the boats go by.  

San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts grounds

San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts

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San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts
See the Marina District’s over-the-top palace, surrounded by walking trails, museums, art galleries and restaurants

The Palace of Fine Arts is an extravagant neoclassical icon—a faux palace surrounded by an idyllic pond, its reflective surface graced by snow-white swans. It’s one of San Francisco’s most popular spots for wedding photos and has appeared in countless fashion shoots and Instagram shots.

The Romanesque structure was designed by architect Bernard R. Maybeck for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a world fair that celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal—and gave San Francisco a chance to shine after its devastating 1906 earthquake. The Palace’s domed rotunda, filled with more than 12,000 works of art, was one of dozens of monuments, temples and pavilions constructed for the nine-month-long expo.

When the grand affair ended, all structures except the Palace were destroyed. San Franciscans couldn’t bear to tear down their glorious tribute to the arts, but since it was built to be temporary—made from plaster, wood and burlap—the structure slowly crumbled. In the early 1960s, a wealthy philanthropist donated money to save the decaying ruins by recasting them in more enduring concrete. Today’s Palace duplicates the original, with a soaring colonnade and bas-relief urns, a domed ceiling with allegorical paintings, and Corinthian columns topped with female figures draped in togas, their weeping faces turned away to symbolise 'the melancholy of life without art'. The Palace’s 1,000-seat theatre, added in 1970, hosts cultural events, live performances, film festivals and theatre productions year-round.

Marvel at this Beaux-Arts wonder, then head over to the woodland-dotted parklands at the neighbouring Presidio, which served as an Army post until 1994 and is now a National Park. Take the free shuttle bus or just use your feet—24 miles of trails lead to scenic viewing points, many showcasing the glorious Golden Gate Bridge.

In a city full of must-see architecture, the Presidio Officer’s Club is a gem. With adobe walls dating back to 1776, it’s San Francisco’s second-oldest building and houses a history museum and the Arguello Restaurant, a bistro run by award-winning chef Traci Des Jardins. Nearby, visit the Walt Disney Family Museum or let the children burn off energy at House of Air, a trampoline park in an aircraft hangar. View the public art at Tides Converge, a non-profit workspace with two community galleries. Further along the corridor, Café RX serves authentic Latin American pupusas and tamales, or, if it’s not yet noon, Sessions at the Presidio nails the perfect outdoor-patio brunch with its cardamom beignets, avocado toast and Belgian crêpes.

Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve
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Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve

Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve
Experience unique sand activities near Pismo Beach

Three miles south of Pismo Beach you'll find Oceano Dunes Preserve, one of the most expansive coastal dunes left in California. The Preserve offers rare opportunities for on-the-sand activities—you can camp on the beach and in the open dune area, go horseback riding and drive right onto the beach. In fact, it’s the only California State Park that allows vehicles to do so (four- or all-wheel drive recommended).

Thrill-seekers: Don’t miss the opportunity to fly up and down the massive mounds of sand in your own ATV or SunBuggy. There are several businesses that rent such vehicles, including BJ’s ATV Rentals, Steve’s ATV Rentals and SunBuggy Fun Rentals. Just make sure you pay attention to your surroundings as you fly up and down the maze-like array of dunes—it’s easy to lose your bearings.

If you’d rather experience that thrill while letting someone else worry about driving, Pacific Adventure Tours or Xtreme Hummer Adventures will take you on a heart-pumping Hummer ride that promises to have you racing over the tops of dunes, climbing sideways and even flying backwards in a real USMC Humvee.

Sand is a signature element of the Pismo Beach area, but there are plenty of water activities too. For an adrenaline rush, try kiteboarding or surfing; for a mellower experience, go on Central Coast Kayak’s three-hour Cave Excursion to explore the protected coves, caves and rock gardens of the area that are only accessible from the water, or hire a kayak to sightsee at your own pace.

 

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Spotlight: Santa Barbara

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Mediterranean style magic and a perfect ocean breeze

Bougainvillea twining across red-tiled rooftops, birdsong mingling with the ocean breeze, islands and whale spouts on the horizon—...

Skiers at South Lake Tahoe
Corey Rich

South Lake Tahoe & Stateline

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South Lake Tahoe & Stateline
Nightlife and entertainment keep it lively on the south shore

Lake Tahoe has a split personality: half California, half Nevada. The two meet along the lake’s southern shore, where high-casino hotels (in Nevada) bump up against the base village for Heavenly (in California). Millions of dollars have been spent on upping the experience along this part of the lake. Relax at fire pits year-round at The Shops at Heavenly Village, with boutiques, restaurants and a multi-screen cinema in a handsome stone and timber complex. Craft beer enthusiasts can sample local brews at Stateline Brewery & Restaurant. Outdoor concerts draw serious big names—think Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars—during summer. After all that party atmosphere, consider retreating to the zen-like calm of local day spas, such as Serenity Spa in the Heavenly Village.

In the adjacent South Lake Tahoe community, daytime diversions are easy to find as well. During the warmer months, Ski Run and Tahoe Keys Marinas offer watercraft rentals, as well as stand-up paddleboards for rent—with instruction or on your own—at expansive Lakeview Commons at El Dorado Beach. Afterwards, dine with locals at favourites like The Naked Fish (excellent sushi), Himmel Haus, an expansive temple to all things delicious and German (plus some choice Belgian brews) and Base Camp Pizza Co.  You don’t have to look far on this side of the lake to find some night-time fun either—Whiskey Dick’s Saloon is a classic hipster bar with live music, Rojo’s Tavern offers a lively dance scene with DJs, and South Lake Brewing Company and Tahoe AleWorx, where you can pull your own pints, are two great spots to sample some of the area’s tastiest craft brews.

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Aquarium of the Pacific

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Aquarium of the Pacific
Head to Long Beach to visit Southern California’s largest aquarium

Located along Long Beach’s Rainbow Harbor, the Aquarium of the Pacific is Southern California’s largest aquarium and a must-do Long Beach activity for all ages. Home to more than 11,000 animal exhibits, the aquarium explores three distinct waters of the Pacific Ocean. 

Start in the Southern California/Baja Gallery where you’ll find the 536,000-litre, three-storey-high Honda Blue Cavern that features ocean inhabitants found off the coast of Catalina Island. You’ll also want to visit the Seal and Sea Lion Habitat and the Ray Touch Pool. Highlighting habitats in and around the Bering Strait, the Northern Pacific gallery features a collection of graceful jellies, four playful otters in the Sea Otter exhibit, and the largest species of octopus in the world, the giant Pacific octopus, which can grow to more than 6 metres long! 

Then head to the warmer waters of the Tropical Pacific Gallery and the largest exhibit in the aquarium—the 1.3-million-litre Tropical Reef Habitat, which can be viewed from three locations and holds thousands of colourful fish, coral and sea turtles, and two kinds of sharks. Don’t forget to stop by the seahorse and sea dragon exhibit to see if you can find these camouflaged creatures hiding among the seaweed.

In addition to the three main galleries, the aquarium also features outdoor exhibits, including an interactive Shark Lagoon, the Lorikeet Forest aviary, the penguin habitat, and a horseshoe crab touch lab.

If you’re looking to dive in further, the aquarium offers many educational, exclusive and behind-the-scenes experiences. You can get up close and personal with animals such as stingrays, sea lions and penguins, or dive right into an exhibit (certification required). If your children have dreamed of staying overnight next to a gigantic fish tank, you can do that too.

Opening in spring 2019 is Pacific Visions, a brand-new wing that will help aquarium visitors better understand the challenges the ocean faces and the opportunities it holds. The expansion will include a state-of-the-art interactive theatre, a larger exhibit gallery with live animals and an art gallery.

Insider tip: check out the Aquarium of the Pacific website for information on discounted tickets.

Statue of Walt Disney at Disneyland Resort
Courtesy of Disneyland Resort

Spotlight: Disneyland Resort

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Just saying the name sets a child’s face glowing

The undisputed granddaddy of theme parks has been leading the way since 1955, inviting visitors to spend the day in the ultimate land of make-...

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Hotels at Legoland

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Hotels at Legoland
Rooms fit for kings, pirates, wizards and adventurers

Now you no longer just visit fantasy land, you live in it. LEGOLAND California has two hotels right outside the Carlsbad theme park entrance—each with their own colourful themes, restaurants, pools and playful features—from a disco lift to a slide in the lobby.

Both properties are designed with travelling families in mind. The hotels’ junior-suite-style rooms—emblazoned with colourful walls and LEGO models as art—have separate sleeping areas for grown-ups and children. The children’s quarters have bunk beds, their own TV and a LEGO brick box for impromptu building. Both foyers feature giant mosh pits full of plastic bricks, so kids can build away while grown-ups check in. Plus, all hotel guests enjoy both complimentary breakfast buffets and early entry into the park (up to an hour, depending on the season).

Choose your hotel based on the theme: the original, 250-room LEGOLAND Hotel offers four room themes—pirates, adventurers, LEGO friends and Ninjago warriors—and larger-than-life LEGO sculptures, made with more than 3 million bricks, all over the hotel. Head into the Bricks Family Restaurant and neighbouring Skyline Café, and check out the mini cityscape that has Spider-Man scaling a building and a wizard reading a book by a rooftop pool. Industrial-strength glue holds the sculptures together, so go ahead and touch. Outside, there’s a real pool, too, with soft LEGO bricks that can be used to build in the water. Meanwhile, don’t miss the hotel’s disco-themed lift, which is nearly a ride in itself.

The LEGOLAND Castle Hotel, meanwhile, opened in 2018 with 250 rooms based on three kingdom-oriented themes: wizards, knights and princesses, with LEGO art ranging from owls to cats and fire-breathing dragons, and tiny star lights embedded in the ceiling over the children's bunk beds. The Castle’s lobby offers its own diversions, from the slide that runs parallel to a flight of stairs, a Knock Knock Door that tells jokes and a small 'dungeon' ready for photo ops. Its courtyard area has its own pool, a LEGO-stocked playground and a big screen TV set on a small lawn, playing LEGO films daily. The hotel’s Dragon’s Den restaurant has live entertainment (jesters who take requests when you spin the wheel on the wall), and a parent-friendly bar.

With either hotel, remind your children to pack their LEGO Mini Figures, which they can trade with staff at the hotels or in the park.

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Courtesy of Hotel Del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado

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Hotel del Coronado
An illustrious past meets modern luxury at this iconic oceanfront resort

Film buffs know the Hotel Del Coronado as a backdrop in the Marilyn Monroe film Some Like It Hot, but this luxury resort has been a star among Southern California resorts since it first opened in 1888.

For more than a century, this designated National Historic Landmark with its Queen Anne–style red turrets has attracted US presidents, dignitaries and, indeed, plenty of film stars to Coronado Island, a 15-minute drive from central San Diego. Today, the 757-room resort, known to locals just as 'the Del', sits on 28 acres of private, pristine seafront property, blending old-school luxury with high-end accommodations and modern amenities.

Stay in either the main Victorian building, loaded with historic charm, or the more contemporary Ocean Towers. If you plan to plant yourself poolside, get a room in one of the California Cabana buildings. For larger groups or families, the spacious Beach Village suites feel like a home away from home—if your everyday home is a luxury beach house that’s just steps from the sand.

At Del Beach, you can have a surfing lesson, play volleyball or just lounge the day away on a plush lounger while enjoying drinks service. A night-time bonfire on the sand is a popular resort tradition—and now you can order up artisanal pizzas, s’mores (toasted marshmallows squashed between biscuits) and more to nosh around the fire pit. During the day you can also take a tour of the hotel grounds (complete with stories of resident ghosts) or even join a seaside painting class. Don’t leave without visiting Spa at the Del for themed body treatments, like the Mindful Waves Massage or the Some Like It Hot Stone Massage.

Children aged 4–12 will love the resort’s DelVentures activity centre, where they can participate in programmes like the Mermaids & Pirates camp. For a fun activity for the whole family, rent bikes (or a pedal car) at PeDels and explore the island, which has more than 15 miles of dedicated cycle paths. Follow the Silver Strand to Imperial Beach and back for an 8-mile coastal cruise.

Or you can just soak up the scenery from one of the seven dining options, all with ocean views. Hotel del Coronado’s signature restaurant, 1500 OCEAN, showcases fresh seafood like Pacific Opah Crudo and oysters, while the Sunday brunch in the Crown Room is nothing short of legendary, with multiple carving stations, a huge seafood spread and a Bloody Mary bar.

Hotel Del Coronado: California Luxury Minute Resorts
See why celebs like Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant and Brad Pitt have stayed at the Hotel Coronado in San Diego County. The Luxury Minute video series showcases California’s most opulent resorts and hotels in 60 seconds.