Let’s be honest: any hotel with a pool can make a child happy. But add the family friendly additions that these premier accommodations have, such as special children’s programmes, in room treats, and rooms that feel like private playgrounds, and your children will think you are the coolest parents on the planet. But these options are far from being completely child focused, and there are plenty of amenities and perks that grown-ups can enjoy too. And of course, there are plenty of fabulous pools too.
Hotels at Legoland
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 foyer.
Both properties are designed with travelling families in mind. The hotels’ junior-suite-style rooms are emblazoned with colourful walls and LEGO models as art and 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 the children can build away while the 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. 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-orientated 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 foyer offers its own diversions, from the slide that runs parallel to a flight of stairs, to 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.
The Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe
Surrounded by family friendly Northstar California alpine resort, this luxury accommodation already has an advantage on being a great destination for the children. Add Ritz Kids, with specific summer and winter activities that combine outdoor adventure, art and crafts, and hands on food crafts, and you have the ingredients for a perfect splurge getaway. Another fun touch for children: 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 expert 'marshmologist'. In winter, there is an on site ski school for beginners. Children 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 children bounce on a trampoline, test their skills on the bocce ball court, or play giant Jenga surrounded by mountain peaks.
The Madonna Inn
The famously themed rooms at this historic 110 room hotel include plenty of rooms children will love. Pint size princesses will no doubt spin and twirl in the fairy story 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 children 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.
Insider’s tip: Children up to age 18 can stay in the same room with parents for no extra charge.
Lodging at Disneyland Resort
Stretch the fantasies even further by staying at one of the resort’s on-site hotels. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa aims to replicate the soaring wood-and-stone styling of The Majestic Yosemite Hotel in Yosemite Valley. The central great room, with cushy, oversized Arts-and-Crafts-style chairs, a soaring stone fireplace and live piano music, is a fantastic place to relax after a long day in the park. (Non-residents 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 children and grown-ups to enjoy themselves. 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, such as 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 lounger at the adjacent E-Ticket or D-Ticket pools.
Paradise Pier Hotel captures the spirit of an old-fashioned beach boardwalk, with rooms done up to look like you’re holidaying on the coast. Most popular spot? Check out the complex of rooftop pools and waterslides and we’ll let you guess.
Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa
The giant pool with three water slides might be enough to keep plenty of families busy, but this resort has the irresistible bonus 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 children ages 12 and under play games, do crafts, and play at the beach, with a specific theme for each days’ activities. The camp is available for half or full days, plus evenings on the weekends, leaving you time for planning spa time or a grown-up night out.
Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa
It’s called Splashtopia, a 2 acre water park sparkling in the centre of this classic Palm Springs resort. Slather on the sunscreen before you head here, the children will want to stay for hours. From a relaxing lazy river and sandy beach to 100 foot 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 children go wild. If grown-ups want more peace and quiet, there‘s the nearby adults only Azure Pool.
If your children ever do agree to get out of the water, they can check out children's crafts and 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 activities, like golf and luxurious spa treatments.
Hotel Del Sol
With cheery and colourful rooms with whimsical touches for children, this hotel makes a great home base for families visiting the City by the Bay. Young children get goodie filled rucksacks upon check in, a fun way to perk up tired little visitors. Family rooms have separate bedrooms for the children, 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 biscuits are served every afternoon. The hotel is situated in San Francisco’s bay front Marina District, within walking distance of Crissy Field, Fort Mason, and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Perched along the south-western shores of turquoise blue Lake Tahoe, this historic compound, dating from the 1920s, has been one of those places where generations of families have created memories. In addition to traditional rooms in Camp Richardson’s historic, two-storey South Lake Tahoe Hotel, the 7-bedroom Richardson House and the smaller Beachside Inn, families can book traditional cabins with pinewood decor (21 are available in the summer only, 17 are open year-round). These individual cabins with kitchens are great for families. Or book a pitch at one of a pair of large campsites near the lake, sheltered by tall pines, or one of the 100 pitches at the RV Village. Wherever you stay, the camp’s lakeside restaurant, The Beacon Bar & Grill, is a great place to relax over 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, children make a 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 stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, speed boats and personal watercraft available to hire too. Trails head into the surrounding alpine wilderness, and the paved path that winds along the lake shore is great for a family bike ride. Come winter, groomed trails for cross country skiing and snow-shoeing lace the surrounding woods. The adjacent Highway 89 is cleared throughout winter, so there’s easy access to Heavenly Resort for downhill skiing and snowboarding too.
Loews Coronado Bay Resort
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 table tennis tables. Tempted to take a dip in the peaceful adult only pool and hot tub? Don't worry, just sign the children up for the resort’s half or full day children’s club, with activities like sandcastle building, scavenger hunts, and magic tricks.
Older children can hit the teen lounge to watch films or enjoy Play Station games. Better yet, get everyone outside enjoying San Diego’s fabulous weather with a spin in the resort’s rental kayaks, stand up paddle-boards, sailing boats, or personal water craft. Beautiful Silver Strand State 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, cosy quilts for snuggling under, and even fancy toiletries that will make Mum smile. Each trailer also includes two bikes perfect for a special time with one of your children, exploring attractions in Santa Barbara such as Stearns Wharf, the beach or 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 there are more accommodation options, 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 280-square-metre building also offers a shop where you can stock up on snacks and local beer and wine.
Opening in February 2019, AutoCamp Yosemite will be the largest and most remote site, near the historic mountain town of Mariposa. You’ll be able to enjoy many of the same amenities, plus a heated pool, a mid-century-modern clubhouse, and a lake with a rowing boat and canoe. Yosemite National Park is about 40 miles away and accessible via a daily shuttle.
Railroad Park Resort
If you have one of those children 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 resort. The resort, surrounded by lush and rugged forestlands in Dunsmuir, about 211 miles north of Sacramento, features 12 cupola topped cabooses big enough for families (there are separate cabooses and converted box carriages for adults only). Each caboose sleeps up to five, and includes a private bathroom, 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 to Sunday) is housed in antique dining carriages.