Let’s be honest: any hotel with a pool can make a kid happy. But add the family-friendly bells and whistles that these premier lodgings do—like special kids’ programs, in-room treats, and rooms that feel like private playgrounds—and your little ones will think you’re the coolest parents on the planet. But these options are far from being completely kid-focused, and there are plenty of amenities and perks that grownups can enjoy too. And of course—there are plenty of awesome pools too.
Now you no longer just visit fantasyland, you live in it. LEGOLAND California has two hotels right outside the Carlsbad theme park entrance—each with their own colorful themes, restaurants, pools, and playful features—from a disco elevator to a slide right in the lobby.
Both properties are designed with traveling families in mind. The hotels’ junior-suite-style rooms—emblazoned with colorful walls and LEGO models as art—have separate sleeping areas for grown-ups and kids. The kids’ quarters have bunk beds, their own TV, and a LEGO brick box for impromptu building. Both lobbies 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 neighboring 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 elevator, which is nearly a ride in itself.
The LEGOLAND Castle Hotel, meanwhile, opened in 2018 with 250 rooms in 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 kids’ 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 movies 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 kids to pack their LEGO Mini Figures, which they can trade with staffers at the hotels or in the park.
Surrounded by family-friendly Northstar California alpine resort, this luxury lodging already has a leg up on being a great destination for the kids. Add Ritz Kids, with specific summer and winter activities that combine outdoor adventure, art and crafts, and hands-on food crafts, and you’ve got the ingredients for a perfect splurge getaway. Another fun touch for kids: Indoor Campout packages, which include a pint-size dome tent sleeping nook set up for your child right in your room.
Fire pits out front are perfect for making s’mores—kits are available, and you can get tips from the resident “marshmologist.” In winter, there’s an on-site ski school for beginners. Kids also get a kick out of riding a chairlift down to the Village at Northstar; wintertime activities include a popular skating rink and local bands. In summer, the Ritz-Carlton lets kids bounce on a trampoline, test their skills on the bocce ball court, or play giant Jenga surrounded by mountain peaks.
At first glance, a completely indoor water-park hotel might seem unnecessary in sunny Orange County. Fans of the Great Wolf Lodge brand, however, will attest that this 603-room hotel in Garden Grove, just outside Anaheim, is still irresistible for families looking for a crowd-pleasing stay.
Great Wolf Lodge’s indoor water park has more than a dozen slides, a lazy river and—as a nod to the real beaches 15 or so miles away—a surf simulator.
“Southern California is already a family mecca,” says Phil Cunningham, general manager of California’s first Great Wolf Lodge, the brand that debuted in 1997 in frigid-wintered Wisconsin. “So this is a great area for Great Wolf Lodge to be.”
Plus, parents get a break from slathering sunscreen on the kids. Either way, there’s enough to keep any brood of varying ages busy for at least a weekend: The 105,000-square-foot indoor water park (kept at a balmy 84°F) features more than a dozen slides, a wave pool, a lazy river and—as a nod to the real beaches 15 or so miles away—a surf simulator.
And it’s safety first: Lifeguards abound, and all of the water park features are color-coded for height requirements, so only kids with the coordinating color of wristband can access them. Since the water park is for hotel guests only, even on a really busy day you’ll likely have no more than a 20-minute wait for the most popular slides (like the impressively scream-inducing Howlin’ Tornado).
Outside the water park, but still inside the resort, the hotel offers a vaguely Vegas-for-kids atmosphere that includes a huge arcade, a mini bowling alley, glow-in-the-dark mini golf, two interactive games (such as MagiQuest, which equips them with light-up wands), and even an ice-cream-themed kids’ spa. Rooms range in size from one-queen-bed standards to two-bedroom suites, but kids will likely get most fired up about the KidCabin and Wolf Den suites, where the presiding adults get a queen bed and the kids get a cabin- or cave-style alcove, which features character wallpaper, bunk beds, and its own flat-screen TV.
As for the food, it aims to be both kid and grown-up friendly. Parents will appreciate the well-thought-out approach, from the buffet at Loose Moose Family Kitchen, off the lobby, to the snack bar next to the wave pool. “If you want to eat chicken fingers and fries on vacation, that’s OK—we just want you to eat the best chicken fingers and fries,” says Great Wolf Lodge executive chef Chris Hammond, who has created menus that use sustainable, locally sourced, or organic ingredients whenever possible. The kitchens also cater to the growing number of families managing allergy issues, and Hammond says roughly half the dishes are now gluten-free.
The resort makes two big nods to its new Southern California home. First, to help with conservation efforts, it recirculates filtered pool water. Second, it runs a free, three-mile shuttle to Disneyland Resort.
The famously themed rooms at this historic 110-room hotel include plenty of kid-pleasers. Pint-size princesses will no doubt spin and twirl in the fairytale-like Old Mill Room, while horse-lovers can climb aboard the pint-size carousel steed in the Pony Room. If your little girls can’t get enough pink, consider the Mini Maxi or Floral Fantasy rooms. Other fun themes and features include waterfalls and rock walls in the Caveman Room and a bed supported by wagon wheels in the cowboys-and-cattle-drives-themed Yahoo Room.
Outdoors, play at a hilltop pool with a 45-foot waterfall that plunges into a lagoon. The kids can splash while you sit back and take in sweeping views of San Luis Obispo and the surrounding coastal hills. On site stables offer guided trail rides. All this, and your kids under 18 stay free.
Stretch the fantasies even longer by staying at one of the resort’s onsite hotels. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa aims to replicate the soaring wood-and-stone styling of The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley. The central great room, with cushy oversize Craftsman-style chairs, a soaring stone fireplace, and live piano music, is a fantastic place to relax after a long day in the park. (Non-guests are welcome to dine and enjoy the lounges, too.) The guests-only pool feels like an exclusive party, with poolside drinks and plenty of lounge chairs and fluffy towels, and enough room for kids and grownups to enjoy themselves. By appointment, the full-service spa is open to all (appointments required).
For a sleek, retro-modern getaway, book a stay at the nearby Disneyland Hotel, which also offers whimsically themed accommodations, like the Mickey Mouse Penthouse or the sumptuous Fairy Tale Suites. The Monorail Pool, with two towering watersides, is wildly popular; for a quieter retreat, relax in a plush chaise at the adjacent E-Ticket or D-Ticket pools.
Paradise Pier Hotel captures the spirit of an old-fashioned beach boardwalk, with rooms tricked up to look like you’re vacationing on the shore. Most popular spot? Check out the complex of rooftop pools and waterslides and we’ll let you guess.
The giant pool with three water slides might be enough to keep plenty of families busy, but this resort has the irresistible plus of being right on the edge of Huntington Beach, nicknamed “Surf City, USA.” The whole family can take surfing lessons with local pros, rent bikes and pedal the ocean-hugging boardwalk, then end the day gathered around the hotel’s fire pits for cocoa and s’mores.
The resort also features Camp Hyatt, where kids ages 11 and under play games, do crafts, and hit the beach, with a specific theme for each days’ activities. The camp is available for half- or full days, plus evenings on the weekends—great for planning spa time or a grownup night out.
It’s called Splashtopia, a 2-acre water park sparkling in the center of this classic Palm Springs resort. Slather on the sunscreen before you head here—the kids will want to stay for hours. From a relaxing lazy river and sandy beach to 100-foot-/30-meter-long water slides and jets for water fights, this is an epic, watery playground. Also take advantage of poolside grills and plenty of lounge chairs for parents to kick back and watch the kids go wild. (If grownups want more peace and quiet, there’s the nearby adults-only Azure Pool.)
If your kids ever do agree to get out of the water, they can check out kid-friendly crafts, games, a junior tennis clinic, “dive-in movies” outside at Splashtopia, and a video-game arcade. Parents, meanwhile, should be availing themselves of classic Palm Springs bucket list activities, like golf and luxurious spa treatments.
With cheery and colorful rooms with whimsical touches for kids, this hotel makes a great home base for families visiting the City by the Bay. Little ones get goodie-filled knapsacks upon check-in, a fun way to perk up tired little travelers. Family rooms have separate bedrooms for the kids, baby-proofed rooms are available, and suites with kitchenettes for making quick meals and snacks. Bath time gets a boost with in-room tub toys. Snuggle up for quiet time with a special library of books and DVDs.
Start the day with Continental breakfast, included for all in your room; milk and cookies are served every afternoon. The hotel is situated in San Francisco’s bayfront Marina District, within walking distance of Crissy Field, Fort Mason, and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Perched along the southwestern shores of turquoise-blue Lake Tahoe, this historic compound, dating from the 1920s, has been one of those places where generations of families have piled up the memories. In addition to traditional rooms in Camp Richardson’s historic, two-story South Lake Tahoe Hotel, the 7-bedroom Richardson House, and smaller Beachside Inn, families can book traditional cabins with pinewood accents (21 are available in the summer only, 17 are open year-round). These individual cabins with kitchens are great for families. Or book a site at a pair of large campgrounds near the lake and sheltered by tall pines, or one of the 100 spots at the RV Village. Wherever you stay, the camp’s lakeside restaurant, The Beacon Bar & Grill, is a great place to kick back for a meal and some drinks, and possibly some live music. During your stay, everything you need to take advantage of the mountains and trails, from skis to tandem bikes, is available for rent at the Mountain Sports Center.
In summer, kids beeline for the broad, sandy beach (with a stop at the Camp Richardson Ice Cream Parlor or the Coffee & Confectionary Shop for a sweet treat); there are standup paddleboards, kayaks, powerboats, and personal watercraft available for rent too. Trails head into the surrounding alpine wilderness, and a paved path that winds along the lakeshore is great for a family bike ride. Come winter, groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing lace the surrounding woods. Adjacent Highway 89 is plowed through winter, so there’s easy access to Heavenly Resort for downhill skiing and snowboarding.
Perched on a tiny peninsula extending into San Diego Bay, the Loews Coronado is a bustling resort perfect for an active family. Its pool configuration is set up for good times all around: wading pool, designated family pool and hot tub, and ping pong tables. Tempted to take a dip in the peaceful adult-only pool and hot tub? No worries—just sign the kids up for the resort’s half- or full-day kids’ club, with activities like sandcastle building, scavenger hunts, and magic tricks.
Better yet, get everyone outside enjoying San Diego Bay with a kayak, standup paddleboard, sailboat, or personal watercraft available for rent. Beautiful Silver Strand Beach is within walking distance.
Sleep in a shiny silver bullet at the Airstream and luxury-tent hotel AutoCamp. Several of the sleek trailers are fully outfitted for you and your family or friends, with a little deck and Adirondack chairs outside, a gadget-filled kitchen, cozy quilts for snuggling, and even shmancy toiletries that will make Mom smile. Each trailer also includes two cruiser bikes—perfect for special time with one of your kids to go explore such attractions in Santa Barbara as Stearns Wharf, the beach, and the bustling Santa Barbara Public Market, where you can pick up designer cupcakes, crusty artisanal bread, and other treats for supper back in your super-cool Airstream.
Santa Barbara is the original, but not the only, AutoCamp in California. You get a similar ambience at the Russian River location in Sonoma County, but the lodging options are expanded, with 10 luxury safari tents in addition to 20 Airstreams. The activities are a little different too: Walk down to the Russian River to swim or canoe, play lawn games, or lounge by a fire pit inside or outside the mid-century-modern-style clubhouse. The 3,000-square-foot building also offers a store to stock up on snacks and local beer and wine.
Opened in 2019, AutoCamp Yosemite is the largest and most remote site, near the historic mountain town of Mariposa. Guests can enjoy many of the same amenities, plus a heated pool, mid-century modern clubhouse, and a pond with a paddleboat and canoe. Yosemite National Park is about 40 miles away and accessible via a daily shuttle.
If you’ve got one of those kids who can’t get enough of trains (and maybe you secretly like them too), let him—or her—have a dream getaway at this unusual lodging. The resort, surrounded by lush and rugged forestlands in Dunsmuir, about 211 miles/340 kilometers north of Sacramento, features 12 cupola-topped cabooses big enough for families (there are separate cabooses and converted box cars for adults only). Each caboose sleeps up to five, and includes a private bathroom, and includes a mini-fridge and microwave.
A swimming pool and hot soaking pool add to the outdoor fun. The jagged formations of Castle Crags State Park make a dramatic backdrop for some of the railcars. There’s also a creek for splashing in summer. The resort’s Dinner House restaurant and lounge (open for dinner, Friday through Sunday) is—naturally—housed in antique dining cars.