Why going back to California with kids is top of my bucket list

Golden Gate Bridge California

My last trip to the USA was way back in the past, before I had children. I spent a glorious fortnight in and around San Francisco. I had the best time there as a footloose adult, hanging out in bars, drinking delicious Californian wine and eating gourmet sushi accompanied by saki served in a bamboo box. But I’d love to go back to California with kids in tow. It would be a very different experience to the one I had in my twenties. But there are so many attractions in California for kids, and places in California that appeal to the whole family, that I know we’d all have a great time.

Here are my top things to do in California, for when we travel there as a family.

Go wild in Yosemite

waterfall in Yosemite California

Yosemite National Park is full of natural beauty that the whole family can enjoy.

Yosemite’s one of those legendary places, where the largest known trees on earth grow, and where bears, bobcats and coyote roam. Its 1,200 square miles is mind-boggling to those of us who live in a small country like the UK. I’ve wanted to take my kids to Yosemite for the longest time, and that’s not just to see the gargantuan giant sequoia trees. I’d also love for us to camp, swim, and hike near Yosemite’s lakes, rivers and waterfalls. The National Park Service has up to date information about what’s new in Yosemite, and I like the look of some of the National Parks holiday packages from TravelPlanners.

Visit some Gold Rush towns

The California Gold Rush of the mid-nineteenth Century transformed the county and contributed to its official nickname, the Golden State. Gold was first found in Sutter’s Mill, Coloma, which is inside the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. After Coloma, a drive down Route 49 would take us to Sutter Creek and other preserved Gold Rush towns. The streets, with their wooden covered sidewalks and nineteenth Century buildings, would give the whole family a real taste of the old Wild West.

Cross the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge California

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge has to be one of the most iconic sights in the State.

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is something that symbolises California to a lot of people – and it was one of the first things I saw on my own visit to the State. I’d love to walk or cycle with my children across the burnt orange suspension bridge, and find out what they think of it. It’s likely they wouldn’t be phased by what was the longest and the tallest suspension bridge in the world. They’ve already seen a lot of surprising and unusual things. But images of the Golden State’s iconic bridge pop up all over the place, so I’d love for them to be able to say they’ve seen it for real.

Ride a cablecar in San Francisco

As well as Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf, where the colony of lolling sea lions would be a big source of entertainment, our family would enjoy a journey or two on San Francisco’s cablecars. They’re now mainly used by tourists, but a ride on the rickety, elegant-looking 19th Century cablecars would help transport us into San Francisco’s past. And it would also prevent any complaints from tired children. Those San Francisco hills are steep!

San Francisco cablecar

San Francisco’s cablecars are a great way to travel round if you want to connect with the city’s past.

Tick Legoland California off our Legoland hit-list

We’ve already been to Legoland Windsor, and Legoland Billund, in Denmark. We loved both of them, and it was also fun comparing the different Legolands. Windsor was more scenic, but the queues were longer. Billund had more to offer slightly older kids, but not as much to satisfy fans of Lego Friends.

How would Legoland California compare? Based in Carlsbad, San Diego, Legoland California was the first of the franchise to open outside Europe. It sounds as though it has many of the same features as the two Legolands we’ve already visited – thilling rides, a SeaLife Aquarium and a Miniland, with miniature houses and buildings made from more than 20 million Lego bricks. But the Legoland California Water Park looks a cut above anything we’ve expeienced. And I’ve heard a rumour that there’s a figure in California’s Miniland that’s mooning the presidential cavalcade. I want to go, to see if that’s true.

Immerse ourselves in Universal Studios Hollywood

My two Pigeons are huge Harry Potter fans at the moment, so I know they’d be beside themselves with excitement if we went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood. After they’d explored Hogwarts School and ridden the Flight of the Hippograff rollercoaster, we’d go on the Studios tour, to find out how films are made.

Play at Disneyland Park

Disneyland Park

Disneyland is on lots of children’s California bucket lists. It’s top of the list for our two!

Before the kids grow too old, I want to take them to Disneyland. Its rides, party atmosphere and larger-than-life cartoon characters would mount up to an unforgettable experience. And after a day of family entertainment in Mickey’s Toontown, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Critter country, and Adventureland, D and I would try and get a babysitter so we could follow up Disneyland’s nightly fireworks show with a trip out to Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar, one of the top five tiki bars in Los Angeles, according to LA Weekly.

And the fun wouldn’t stop there. Next door to Disneyland Park is Disneyland California Adventue, a separate theme park with tons more restaurants, themed areas and fairground rides. It’s particularly well suited for Pixar fans, with a boardwalk featuring characters from Toy Story, the Incredibles, Cars and more.

What’s on your California bucket list?

If you’d like to read about another item on our USA travel bucket list, here’s a post on planning the ultimate family road trip: Route 66.

This is a collaborative post. All views are my own. All images are from Pixabay.

Pin for later:

Things to do in California with kids


  • Plutonium Sox
    March 12, 2019 at 10:33 am

    Ahh I’d like to do California with the children too. I have only been to LA pre-children and I’d like to explore San Fransisco and Yosemite, plus lots of other places. The Harry Potter thing at Universal sounds incredible, my two would love that as well!

    • Nell
      March 13, 2019 at 11:50 am

      Yes, that would be a real draw in our household…..

  • susanna
    March 12, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    You should also consider some of the lesser known National Parks – like Lassen, Trinity or even Sequoia. Yosemite gets so busy in the summer. My tips for Yosemite is to go at Easter/Springtime. Have a look on – I’ve written loads!

    • Monika Van den Brink
      March 12, 2019 at 6:08 pm

      Sequoia is wonderful!

    • Nell
      March 13, 2019 at 12:00 pm

      Thanks, Susanna! I’ll come over and have a look – we’ll get there soon, I’m sure, and I need to borrow your wisdom!

  • Annabel
    March 12, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    There’s just so much to see in California isn’t there? I’d love to see Yosemite as that’s the main place I missed when I visited (also in my care-free 20s!). Let’s hope the mooning Lego figure has to be updated to a happy cheering figure after the next election!

    • Nell
      March 13, 2019 at 11:59 am

      Yes, fingers crossed! 🙂

  • Claire at Tin Box Traveller
    March 12, 2019 at 4:50 pm

    I’d love to go to Universal studios and see Yosemite National Park. To be honest, there’s so much I’d like to see in the US that I’m not sure where to start!!

    • Nell
      March 13, 2019 at 11:58 am

      It’s so hard to pick, isn’t it?? Such a vast, interesting country.

  • Monika Van den Brink
    March 12, 2019 at 6:09 pm

    We travelled to South California last year and it’s wonderful with kids. Though we did miss San Francisco so wet could spend more time on nature.

    • Nell
      March 13, 2019 at 11:02 am

      San Francisco’s definitely worth a return trip, I’d say!

  • Jenny
    March 13, 2019 at 10:42 am

    I’ve only ever visited San Fran, and this was with work, pre-kid, and would you believe I didn’t take a single photo of that trip! I’ve heard such wonderful things about Cali for travels with kids. My boys would love those trams!

    • Nell
      March 13, 2019 at 11:01 am

      I have pre-blog trips like that, too! I wish I’d captured more of the places I went to in my younger years.

  • Ting at MTM
    March 14, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    This is my dream trip!! Shall be keeping this for inspiration!

  • Sam | North East Family Fun Travel Blog
    March 14, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    We’re hoping to visit California October next year or the following year. I cannot wait! The kids have seen the Golden Gate bridge in so many films and really want to see it in real life.

  • Sarah Christie
    March 15, 2019 at 8:42 pm

    This is at the tops of our travel wish list too, we keep saying we are going to do a road trip it something the boys would love to, there is so much we all want to see x

    • Nell
      April 4, 2019 at 10:52 am

      A road trip sounds amazing!

  • Karen Beddow
    March 19, 2019 at 9:54 pm

    It’s absolutely one of my most favourite places in the world, I love it.

    • Nell
      April 4, 2019 at 10:53 am

      There’s really no place like it, is there?

  • Lisa
    April 8, 2019 at 9:00 am

    We did the same thing as you, more-or-less! We lived in California, near San Francisco, before we had kids and spent our time eating and drinking, and catching all the fabulous sites like you did, plus hiking in every park we could find. We really wanted to take the kids back there, so we did when they were 4 and 6 years old. It was a very different experience, but just as magical! We also took them to Ano Nuevo State Park on Highway 1, where you can see a colony of elephant seals. It’s one of the few places in the world that they come on shore in an easy to reach place. Of course, State Highway 1 is a spectacular drive too! Oh, and a stop at Duarte’s restaurant in Pescadero is a must for some of the best fruit pies I have ever eaten! (sorry this is long. I could rave about California for a long time 😀 )


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.