Family Vacations in California


The Monterey Bay Aquarium is an up-close look at Pacific marine life. See more California vacation pictures.

A California vacation can take you from Disneyland to Alcatraz to a redwood forest. A big state, California's vacation opportunities are as varied as its terrain assuring that families on a jaunt, or couples planning a romantic weekend can find a getaway that's just right.

Continue reading to discover some of the best family vacation spots in California. Use our profiles to select the sights and attractions that you won't want to miss, mapping out your vacation to this kid-friendly state. Here's some information about California's best family vacation highlights:

Disneyland

Walt Disney's dream of a park where kids and adults alike could enjoy the wonders of childhood is still a favorite today, more than 50 years after its creation. This must-see family vacation spot features parades, life-size characters strolling through the grounds, amusement park rides, and fun exhibits where you might even learn a thing or two.

Santa Catalina Island

Get away from the rat race and enjoy the natural beauty of Santa Catalina Island. Twenty-two miles from Los Angeles, this island is the perfect spot for outdoor family activities such as boating, hiking, and snorkeling.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

See the breathtaking wonder of the giant sequoias at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. These parks are home to the 2,500-year-old General Sherman, an enormous sequoia that's the largest living organism in the world at 36 feet in diameter. The parks' diverse landscape is great for hiking among majestic trees and waterfalls.

Yosemite National Park

Ansel Adams was inspired by the unique landscape at Yosemite National Park, taking many of his most famous photographs there. You, too, can observe natural formations such as Half Dome and El Capitan -- or, if you'd rather, you can hike or bike among these stunning rocks.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, children can dive right in to the hands-on exhibits, including touch pools and steerable underwater cameras. Penguins and sharks are favorites at the aquarium, but you won't want to miss the ever-popular Splash Zone.

SeaWorld

When you visit SeaWorld in San Diego, Shamu's show is a must-see highlight -- but watch out for the Soak Zone! SeaWorld remains a family vacation favorite because of its amazing marine life and its gut-wrenching rides, such as the Wild Arctic simulated helicopter ride.

San Diego Zoo

Your first stop at the San Diego Zoo should be the Giant Panda Research Station, where you can see the black-and-white charmers and their antics. The zoo is home to nearly 4,000 animals from all across the globe. Don't miss the Children's Zoo, where visitors can interact with owls, spider monkeys, and wombats.

Tournament of Roses Parade

Ring in the New Year with Pasadena's Tournament of Roses Parade, a California tradition since 1890. Every January 1, the streets are filled with lavish and elaborate floats that celebrate that most beloved of flowers.

California State Railroad Museum

Kids and trains go together like peanut butter and jelly. At the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, the whole family can learn about the history of the railroad and how it shaped California and the West. Hands-on exhibits include Thomas the Tank Engine trains to delight even the youngest visitors.

Alcatraz Island

Just a mile off shore from San Francisco, Alcatraz Island is home to one of the country's most infamous prisons. After a boat trip from Pier 39, stroll about the grounds of this imposing fortress and learn the history of some of its hardened inhabitants, including Al Capone. Be sure to get the audio tour.

Exploratorium

San Francisco's Exploratorium is a kid's dream come true -- this museum's more than 650 exhibits are all hands-on. Favorite exhibits include Shadow Box, the Tactile Dome, and the Wave Organ, a musical instrument powered by the tides.

Hearst Castle

Experience what it's like to live in the lap of luxury at this lavish castle in San Simeon. William Randolph Hearst's former home -- and its treasures -- are on display for the public's viewing pleasure. Tours of the home feature the enormous main entry hall, the indoor Roman Pool, and a private theater.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is graced with a temperate climate year-round, making this Spanish-style beach town a lovely place to get away from it all. Enjoy the town's zoo and botanical gardens, or take advantage of the weather and visit Santa Barbara's many parks and playgrounds.

Legoland

Every kid loves those interlocking blocks -- now they can see the grand structures and fanciful rides at Legoland in Carlsbad. Many of the park's exhibits are aimed at toddlers and preschoolers, but older kids will enjoy the roller coasters and the Knights' Tournament ride.

Big Sur Coastline

Where the water meets the land, the Big Sur coastline features stunning cliffs and breathtaking beaches. Enjoy the natural beauty of this stretch of coastline by taking advantage of its hiking trails -- if you're lucky, you might spot sea otters and even migrating grey whales.

The Getty Center

A trip to the Getty Center starts with a train ride to a scenic hilltop with stunning views of Los Angeles. Once you're there, the whole family can enjoy spacious galleries filled with priceless European paintings and sculpture. The outdoor gardens and patios are a perfect place to roam on a sunny day.

La Brea Tar Pits

Los Angeles' murky underworld is exposed in this fossil-rich patch of land. More than 1,000 fossil samples are found here each year. Visitors can see and experience prehistoric L.A., and see the creatures that lived here in the pre-Hollywood days.

Napa Valley Vineyards

About 50 miles north of San Francisco, Napa Valley Vineyards is home to about 100,000 people, five incorporated cities, and at least 300 wineries. Visitors come for the fresh air, the good food, and, of course, the great wine.

Golden Gate Bridge

Chinatown and the Chinese New Year

San Francisco's Chinatown is the largest Chinatown on the continent, and it pulls out all the stops for the annual festivities. The Chinese New Year Parade (a San Francisco tradition since just after the 1849 Gold Rush) is now the biggest illuminated nighttime parade in North America. In fact, it's the largest event of its kind on any continent except Asia.

Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House, home of the late Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Rifle Company, has 160 rooms designed to ward off the evil spirits that she believed plagued her every move. Several tours of the mansion are available.

Hollywood

Hollywood Hills, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the famous Hollywood Sign, and the most popular cinema in the world are just a few attractions families can enjoy in the place where dreams come true.

Venice Beach

Venice Beach features unusual artists and street performers, funky shops, cool eateries, and of course, swimming, sunbathing and surfing. No trip to Southern California is complete without a visit to Venice Beach.

You can't take the kids to California without a visit to Disneyland, a quintessential family vacation highlight. Keep reading to learn all about visiting the home of Mickey Mouse and Tomorrowland.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • San Francisco City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit San Francisco.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Disneyland

©2007 Courtesy of Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau After more than 50 years, Disneyland still delights families.

Walt Disney envisioned a place where parents could recapture childhood memories and enjoy a magical world of fantasy with their children. Disneyland in Anaheim brought this vision to life. Many of its early rides and attractions are still in place and are as popular as ever, attesting to the power and longevity of Disney's imagination. The Mad Tea Party and Jungle Cruise rides continue to thrill young visitors, and Mickey and Minnie, in updated attire, still wander the park greeting their young fans.

But that's not to say that Disneyland hasn't kept up with the times. New shows, rides, and themed areas have been added to the park over the years. Visitors enjoy a selection that now includes Main Street USA, Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Critter Country, Mickey's Toontown, and New Orleans Square. An adjacent park, Disney's California Adventure, features rides and attractions inspired by the Golden State, including the California Screamin' roller coaster and Soarin' Over California, which takes you on a virtual hang-gliding ride over the state, enhanced by the aromas of orange groves and saltwater. Downtown Disney, located in the middle of the resort complex, is a shopping and dining hub of activity that will keep all ages entertained.

Disneyland Information

Address: 1313 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim, CA

Telephone: 714/781-4565

Hours of Operation: Hours vary by park

Admission: Varies by package

Only 22 miles from Los Angeles, you'll find a perfect spot for outdoor activities. Keep reading to learn about Santa Catalina Island.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives:For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Santa Catalina Island

Get away from the big-city hustle and bustle on Santa Catalina Island.

Only 22 miles from Los Angeles, quiet Santa Catalina Island seems a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the big city across the water. It's a laid-back, traffic-free, clean-air vacation spot with plenty of elbow room for any active family that likes to hike, snorkel, kayak, and explore.

Visitors take ferries from San Pedro, Long Beach, or Dana Point to get to one of Catalina's two principal towns: Avalon, with its famous old casino, or the more isolated Two Harbors. Both towns have picturesque harbors where boats of all sizes and shapes are anchored. Kids can explore the harbors in easy-to-use ocean kayaks and pedal boats that are rented on the island.

Most of the island's beaches are somewhat rocky, but there's plenty to do besides lounge in the sand. Lover's Cove, a protected marine preserve, is a short walk from Avalon and is an excellent spot for snorkeling. The fish are plentiful and used to people, thanks to frequent feedings from passengers on the glass-bottom boats that tour the area. Much of the interior of the island is protected by the Catalina Island Conservancy. It oversees the diverse island habitat that is home to plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. The organization also sponsors a nature center at Avalon Canyon and conducts nature walks every evening. Kids will enjoy the center's hands-on exhibits that feature information about the island's native wildlife and hiking its many nature trails.

Santa Catalina Island Information

Address: Crescent St and Summer Ave, Santa Catalina Island, CA

Telephone: 310/510-1520

The largest living organism in the world resides at our next attraction. Go to the next page to learn about Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

The drive-through in Sequoia National Park is open 24 hours! Before this sequoia fell in 1937, it stood 275 feet high. Rather than attempt its removal, the park service carved a tunnel through it that measures 17 feet wide and 8 feet high.

General Sherman is the leader among trees. This huge sequoia tops off at 275 feet -- as tall as a 26-story building. It is Sequoia's most famous resident and the largest living organism in the world. A gargantuan 36 feet in diameter, at approximately 2,500 years old, it's the oldest of its species. Thousands of General Sherman's relatives fill the pristine forests of these two spectacular national parks.

The best place to see these breathtaking giants is suitably named the Giant Forest, home to four of the five tallest trees in the park. Visitors also enjoy the park's diverse landscape, which includes deep canyons, granite cliffs, wildflower-filled meadows, and a wild river. An easy 1.7-mile hike starts near the Giant Forest and leads to a 1,200-foot waterfall that is especially dramatic in early summer when run-off from the melting snowpack is at its peak.

For stunning vistas that captured the imagination of Ansel Adams and many others, you'll want to pay a visit to Yosemite National Park. Keep reading to learn about the natural beauty to be found in this national park.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Yosemite National Park

Half Dome, located at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley, is a breathtaking sight. The granite formation is an estimated 87 million years old.

The awesome sights of Yosemite's towering granite peaks, cascading waterfalls, glacial lakes, and giant trees attract families year after year. At the park's center is half-mile-deep Yosemite Valley, carved by glaciers during the last ice age. Sights like the soaring El Capitan, the majestic Half Dome, and the thundering waterfall of Bridal Veil are not to be missed.

It's no wonder American nature photographer Ansel Adams found much of his inspiration here, popularizing many of Yosemite Valley's granite landmarks in his black-and-white photographs.

The Ahwahnee Hotel, a grand hotel in a grand setting, is a popular stop for weary travelers. The hotel houses a collection of priceless Native American baskets as well as a display of unique Persian rugs.

A number of bike trails criss-cross Yosemite Valley, and the park also uses a fleet of shuttle buses to help control the flow of traffic during peak vacation months. To get a real sense of the park's majesty and the diversity of its terrain, explore the less visited parts of the valley by heading into its higher reaches, such as idyllic Tuolumne Meadows. This picturesque sierra meadow features clear mountain streams and stark granite outcroppings surrounded by snowcapped peaks. It serves as a trailhead for some of the park's most spectacular hikes.

On the next page, learn about the Monterey Bay Aquarium's hands-on, kid-friendly exhibits.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Monterey Bay Aquarium

The exhibits in the Monterey Bay Aquarium showcase the marine life of the Pacific Ocean.

Just off the coast of Monterey, in the deepwater canyons of the Pacific, among gigantic kelp forests, lies a world of mysterious marine life. Monterey Bay Aquarium brings this world into view for its visitors with extraordinary exhibits that are sure to captivate your family.

Hands-on experiences are its hallmark, from touch pools to steerable underwater cameras. Divers communicate with visitors from huge tanks where fish reside among three-story stalks of kelp, and staff members who feed the mischievous sea otters tell tales about their adorable charges. A special petting pool lets children touch rubbery bat rays and nubby sea stars.

The aquarium's Splash Zone is a special exhibit and play area where children can crawl through, climb on, and pop up in displays as they visit nearly 60 different sea creatures in their coral reef and rocky shore homes. Just about everyone's favorite are the comical black-footed penguins. Their antics are great fun to watch, especially at mealtime.

Other not-to-miss aquarium exhibits include Sharks: Myth and Mystery, featuring nearly two dozen species of beautiful sharks and rays from around the world, and Outer Bay, full of yellowfin tuna, green sea turtles, barracuda, and other creatures that inhabit the open ocean.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Information

Address: 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA

Telephone: 831/648-4888

Hours of Operation: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., daily

Admission: $24.95 adults; $15.95 kids

No trip to Southern California is complete without a visit with Shamu. On the next page, learn all about visiting SeaWorld.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: SeaWorld

Let’s see -- if it’s black and white, swims, and eats fish, it must be Shamu? Not so, according to the penguins that also inhabit SeaWorld. They make up a waddling welcome crew that is quite an entertaining sight.

Beware the Soak Zone, or at least wear quick-drying clothing when you visit SeaWorld in San Diego. When everyone's favorite killer whale sends up its signature greeting, those closest to the tank will be deluged by a wall of water as Shamu leaps out of the air and belly smacks back into the pool. The acrobatic mammal is a SeaWorld favorite -- indeed, its main attraction. But Shamu gets some serious competition in the cuteness department from some of SeaWorld's other creatures, especially the gentle, sweet-faced manatees and the waddling penguins. A number of shows besides Shamu's feature animal acts.

The park has a collection of rides that include water coasters, raft rides, and the Wild Arctic experience, where guests find themselves on a stomach-twirling simulated helicopter ride to a remote Arctic research station. If you care to take a stroll through shark-infested waters, check out the 280,000-gallon shark exhibit that features a 57-foot-long acrylic tunnel that allows you to walk right through a school of pointy-toothed predators.

SeaWorld Information

Address: 500 SeaWorld Drive, San Diego, CA 92109

Telephone: 800/257-4268

Hours of Operation: Mar. - Dec., Hours vary

Admission: $48.99 adults; $38 kids

If you want to visit animals from all over the world, head to one of the best zoos in North America -- on the next page, learn about visiting the San Diego Zoo.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: San Diego Zoo

Since the giant pandas arrived at the San Diego Zoo in 1987, the photogenic residents have been delighting children with their antics. You can see them at the Giant Panda Research Station.

From the tiny shrew to the mighty elephant, the San Diego Zoo offers visitors some of the world's most exceptional animals. Located in Balboa Park and one of the finest zoos on the continent, it is home to more than 3,800 creatures representing 800 species.

The Monkey Trails and Forest Tales exhibit spans three acres and features more than 30 species of African and Asian forest creatures. Visitors can observe animals from a walkway at treetop level or along paths on the ground. You'll encounter a rare pygmy hippopotamus, mandrills, and clouded leopards. You'll even travel through a bog garden and see carnivorous plants along its pathways. In Tiger River, a simulated Asian rainforest, mist-shrouded trails wind down a canyon into Tiger River Pass, where tigers, tapirs, and other creatures wander among exotic trees and plants. At the base of the river is a four-acre African rainforest where hippos swim and monkeys play.

Many of the animals at the Children's Zoo, such as wombats, spider monkeys, and owls, are trained as animal ambassadors and accept being observed and touched by children. And what mouse wouldn't feel at home at the San Diego Zoo? The Mouse House is made from a large loaf of bread, which is replaced each week as its residents gnaw and nibble their way through the walls. Children love visiting the nurseries to see the baby animals as they are fed and cuddled by their keepers. Don't be disappointed if the nurseries are empty; it simply means that the zoo's animal mothers are doing their jobs and caring for their babies.

San Diego Zoo Information

Address: 2920 Zoo Dr., San Diego, CA

Telephone: 619/234-3153

Hours of Operation:

  • Sept. - Jun. 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
  • Jun. - Sept. 9 a.m. - 8 p.m.

Admission: $22 adults; $15.50 kids

On the next page, learn about the majestic Tournament of Roses Parade, which has been carried out for more than 100 years.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Tournament of Roses Parade

This man surprised the crowd at the Tournament of Roses parade by flying through the air with a jet pack.

The residents of Pasadena celebrated the first Tournament of Roses Parade on January 1, 1890. Horse-drawn carriages adorned with flowers paraded through the city streets. This event began the annual New Year's tradition that draws about one million people to Pasadena to watch the parade. Millions more watch the televised event from their homes.

The lavishly decorated floats are a labor of love, and some builders spend all year on their elaborate creations. The parade, consisting of floats, a Rose Queen, spirited marching bands, equestrian units, and celebrity Grand Marshals, travels a 5.5-mile route through town.

Before the parade, families can watch float makers decorate their projects with thousands of blossoms, see award-winning marching bands, get up close to the horses that will prance in the parade, and sample barbeque delights. After the parade, the floats are on display for several days.

Tournament of Roses Parade Information

Address: Ellis St. and Orange Grove, Pasadena, CA

Telephone: 626/449-4100, 877-793-9911

Hours of Operation: New Years Day, 8 a.m.

Admission: Free

Learn about the history of the railroad at the California State Railroad Museum, detailed on the next page.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: California State Railroad Museum

©2007 Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau Learn how the railroad helped shape California history at the California State Railroad Museum.

The impact of the railroad and how it shaped the history, culture, and economy of California and the West is told through the various exhibits in this vast Sacramento museum. You'll find 20 meticulously restored railroad cars and locomotives on display here. On the main floor, check out the Governor Stanford steam locomotive, the first engine used by the Central Pacific, and then get a close-up view of a huge diesel engine.

Several displays invite visitors to climb aboard for a closer look. Children can sit in the engineer's cab of a Santa Fe steam locomotive and experience the sounds and the rocking motion of a sleeping car on a pretend rail trip. Little ones can play with Thomas the Tank Engine trains and wooden Brio trains and tracks. A display entitled Small Wonders: The Magic of Toy Trains features some 1,000 vintage toy trains and an elaborate toy train layout. Between April and September, steam train excursions take visitors for a six-mile round-trip ride along the banks of the Sacramento River.

California State Railroad Museum Information

Address: Second St. and "I" St., Sacramento, CA

Telephone: 916/445-6645

Hours of Operation: Daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Admission: $8 adults; $3 kids

In the San Francisco Bay, you can visit the former home of some of the country's most famous prisoners -- and some of the most famous prison escapes. Keep reading to learn about Alcatraz Island.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Alcatraz Island

Isolation and solitude come to mind when you first see Alcatraz Island. This prison was designated for criminals who were the worst of the worst.

Atop Alcatraz Island sits the infamous prison that Al Capone once called home. Kids will love their visit to the country's most noted lockup. Audio tours discuss some of the various escape attempts that have become a part of the island's history. Even though Alcatraz is only about one mile off San Francisco's shore, most would-be escapees were swept out to sea by the treacherous currents of the San Francisco Bay or died of exposure in the icy Pacific Ocean.

The boat trip to Alcatraz Island is just part of the entertainment. You'll find tour boats docked between Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39. This area offers a hodgepodge of tourist delights, and your kids will love browsing the souvenir shops and watching the street performers as you wait to board your boat. As you travel across the bay you'll be treated to breathtaking views of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Alcatraz Island Information

Address: In Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Alcatraz, CA

Telephone: 415/561-4900

Our next museum is a hands-on experience like no other. On the next page, read about San Francisco's Exploratorium.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Exploratorium

©2007 Exploratorium: Lily Rodriguez Music at high tide? The Wave Organ, an environmental sculpture located near the Exploratorium, is activated by the waves of the Pacific Ocean.

You'll never hear the words "hands off" or "don't touch" at this San Francisco family favorite. On the contrary, this wonderful museum teaches children about the world and the way it works through the hands-on, touch-and-tinker experiences of more than 650 permanent exhibits.

One crowd pleaser is Shadow Box, a darkened room with phosphorescent vinyl wallpaper that freezes your shadow on the wall when a strobe light flashes. In another favorite exhibit, a ten-foot-tall tornado alters its shape when you place your hands in it. Make reservations to experience the Tactile Dome, an interactive excursion through total darkness where your sense of touch becomes your only guide.

Don't miss the museum's wave-activated acoustic sculpture titled The Wave Organ. It's located a short walk from the Exploratorium on a jetty in San Francisco Bay. The intensity and complexity of the music made by the waves is directly related to the tides and weather.

Exploratorium Information

Address: 3601 Lyon St., San Francisco, CA

Telephone: 415/EXP-LORE

Hours of Operation: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Tues. - Sun.

Admission: $13 adults; $8 kids

Get a taste of the lush Hollywood life at William Randolph Hearst's preserved former home. Learn all about Hearst Castle on the next page.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • San Francisco City Guide: Explore San Francisco -- the city is brimming with restaurants, shops, and attractions.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Hearst Castle

William Randolph Hearst’s hilltop castle will amaze kids with its grandeur.

Hollywood celebrities, business tycoons, and political heavyweights of the 1920s and 1930s were all entertained by William Randolph Hearst at Hearst Castle, an opulent 165-room hilltop hideaway above the California coastline in San Simeon. Hearst was not one to live the simple life, and his home overflows with unbelievable treasures and priceless art from all over the world. He spent millions building his estate and, in its heyday, he entertained lavishly.

Hearst's heirs presented this grandiose Shangri-la and its treasures to the state in 1958 for public exhibition. Some of the home's many rooms can be viewed in the five different tours offered to visitors. First-timers should opt for Tour One through the gardens and into the cavernous main entry hall. Other parts of the mansion, including the billiard room, the dining hall with its king-size trestle table and bannerlike flags, the private theater, and the indoor Roman Pool lined with actual gold-leaf glass mosaic tiles, are a part of this tour. Nighttime tours include a living-history program, when the castle comes alive with docents dressed in elegant 1930s clothing playing poker in the sitting rooms or lounging about in the ornate library.

Hearst Castle Information

Address: 750 Hear St. Castle Rd., San Simeon, CA

Telephone: 805/927-2020, 800/444-4445

Hours of Operation: 8:20 a.m. - 3:20 p.m., daily

Admission: $24 adults; $12 kids

Get away from the hustle and bustle with a visit to a Spanish-style beach town. On the next page, learn about visiting Santa Barbara.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Santa Barbara

The pier in Santa Barbara has weathered fires and earthquakes during its 130-year history. Once a hub of activity for cargo and passenger ships, the pier now serves as a docking area for pleasure boats and whale-watching tours.

Blessed with a mild Mediterranean climate, this Spanish-style beach town is beautiful year-round. You can spend lazy days at the beach or visit the town's many parks and playgrounds. Other Santa Barbara favorites include a zoo and a stunning botanical garden. Rent bikes or skates or hire a surrey and cruise the three-mile paved beachfront path, kayak along the shore, or meander along the mile-long boardwalk, one of the state's oldest working piers.

Santa Barbara Information

Address: Downtown Santa Barbara at State St. and Carrillo St., Santa Barbara, CA

Telephone: 805/965-3023

What child hasn't enjoyed building fanciful structures with Legos? See those structures come to life at our next attraction -- keep reading to learn about Legoland.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Legoland

©2007 LEGOLAND California Kids love the 120 acres of fun rides, entertaining shows, and imaginative buildings that make up Legoland. The Coast Cruise is one of the park’s 50 rides.

The popular building blocks that have amused so many young builders are the inspiration behind this Carlsbad amusement park. It's one of four Legoland parks around the world, and the only one located in North America.

Many of the rides in the park use a supersize version of the signature design and colors of the bricks, while other attractions are actually made out of Lego pieces. Don't miss the amazing Miniland, USA, which displays seven regions of the United States, all animated and constructed completely out of 20 million Lego bricks. You'll see Cape Canaveral, window washers scaling a New York City skyscraper, and a busy San Francisco pier, complete with little Lego sea lions basking in the sun. Other marvels in the park include a fiery red, 9-foot-tall, 34-foot-long Lego dinosaur and a carefully constructed scene of a woman on a balcony watering her petunias.

Many displays are geared to toddlers and preschoolers. A favorite is the Fairy Tale Brook, where guests can take a boat ride through enchantingly constructed versions of their favorite fairy tales. At the Musical Fountain they can step on colored circles surrounding a huge fountain to make instruments play a lively tune.

Older kids will enjoy the roller coasters and the funny Royal Joust, where they ride galloping Lego hobbyhorses. They'll also enjoy driving cars on a grid of streets complete with traffic lights and stop signs -- after they learn the rules of the road, of course. An unusual Knights' Tournament ride turns and twists in the air and lets guests choose the ride's thrill factor and intensity level.

It just wouldn't be a full day without some hands-on Lego activity. A trip to the Imagination Zone will let the kids try their hands at construction, with an endless supply of Legos and Duplos. At the model shop, kids can see master builders create new and exciting Lego models for the park right before their eyes.

Legoland Information

Address: One Legoland Dr., Carisbad, CA

Telephone: 760/918-5346

Hours of Operation: Hours vary

Admission: $57 adults; $44 kids

Some of the most beautiful beaches in the country can be found at our next attraction. Keep reading to learn about visiting the Big Sur coastline.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Big Sur Coastline

You’ll find rustic campsites as well as luxury hotels as you drive along Big Sur coastline. The scenery is fantastic -- its dramatic, rocky beaches are quite a departure from those found in southern California.

The scenic stretch of Big Sur coastline has a breathtaking beauty that invites many stops for family pictures. One minute you're standing atop a high cliff looking down at a crashing sapphire sea, and the next you're hiking through a misty redwood forest. The Big Sur coastline begins just south of Monterey, where Point Lobos Reserve encompasses a group of headlands, coves, and rolling meadows. Hiking trails follow the shoreline, where you'll probably catch a glimpse of sea otters floating on their backs and snacking on abalone. Between the months of December and May, migrating gray whales are a common sight.

On your drive you'll come to Garrapata State Park, which features two miles of beaches, dense redwood groves, and a fun hike up to a beautiful view of the Pacific. Another must-see is Jade Cove, accessible by a rugged, rocky pathway to the beach. Here pieces of jade litter the pebbly shoreline, and visitors are allowed to take home what they can carry. Be sure to stop in at Nepenthe, a legendary restaurant perched on high cliffs whose outdoor seating area looks out across the vast Pacific and down the Big Sur coastline.

Big Sur Coastline Information

Address: Big Sur Coastline at Route 1, Big Sur, CA

Telephone: 831/667-2100

How many museum trips begin with a train ride and include priceless European art? Learn about visiting the Getty Center on the next page.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: The Getty Center

After you take in the exhibits at the Getty Center, enjoy the view that overlooks the Los Angeles area.

Collections of world-class European paintings and sculpture may not sound appealing to many children at first, but the Getty Center's spacious layout invites exploring. Kids love roaming the center's gardens and patios and snacking at its outdoor cafe.

The museum is located atop a hill. Kids enjoy the tram ride to the top, where they'll find a stunning view of Los Angeles and a courtyard with fountains, benches, and snack bars.

On your way into the galleries, pick up a copy of the Art Detective Cards or the brochure titled "Family Fun at the Getty" to help guide your visit. Each exhibit features descriptions to engage children. The collections are housed in separate buildings.

When your kids have finished viewing the treasures in one building, you'll head outside to get to the next gallery -- a perfect way to explore the Getty's gardens, plazas, and pools.

The Getty Center Information

Address: 1200 Getty Center Dr., Los Angeles, CA

Telephone: 310/440-7300

Hours of Operation:

  • 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Tues. - Thurs. and Sun.
  • 10 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. - Sat.

Admission: Free

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Explore the City of Angels -- Los Angeles is brimming with restaurants, shops, attractions, and the occasional celebrity hotspot.
  • California State Guide: From north to south, California encompasses mountains, deserts, beaches, and vineyards. Learn about it all in our guide to California.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Sutherland is a widely acknowledged authority on family travel and has published several books on the topic, including Best Family Ski Vacations In North America and Tropical Family Vacations.

Family Vacations in California: La Brea Tar Pits

An anomaly in downtown Los Angeles, the                                  La Brea Tar Pits remain an archaeological                                                  treasure trove of fossils from thousands of                                                  years ago
An anomaly in downtown Los Angeles, the La Brea Tar Pits remain an archaeological treasure trove of fossils from thousands of years ago

Rancho La Brea is in the heart of urban Los Angeles, thick with traffic and skyscrapers. It's hard to imagine that millions of years ago it was submerged in the ocean, teeming with sea life. When the Pacific Ocean receded about 100,000 years ago, sediments sheathed the area and fossil fuels formed below the surface. About 40,000 years ago, oil began to seep through the labyrinth of fissures and permeable rock, creating what are now known as the La Brea Tar Pits. Back then, dire wolves, sabertooth tigers, mastodons, mammoths, and giant sloths (all of which are now extinct) roamed across what became Los Angeles.The tar pits were an especially dangerous place for these animals. Called "asphalt seeps" by geologists, the oily pits captured and trapped many animals one by one. Today, these animals' unfortunate fate translates into an exceptional fossil record preserved in the pits. Archaeologists have unearthed an entire prehistoric ecosystem here, from plants to insects to camels and bison. Today, the La Brea Tar Pits remain an active archaeological site and research facility. Pit 91, the most active area, is excavated during a few months each year in the summer. More than 1,000 fossil samples are discovered here each year.

La Brea Tar Pits Information

Address: 5801 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA

Telephone: 323/934-PAGE

Hours of Operation: 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m., Mon. - Fri. and 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sat. and Sun.

Admission: $7 adults; $4.50 kids

Continue to the next page for details on Napa Valley Vineyards -- home to 300 wineries.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit Los Angeles.
  • California State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in California, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Napa Valley Vineyards

In Napa, it's all about quality, not quantity. The verdant 30-mile-long valley contributes only a fraction of California's total wine production.

Napa Valley is only five miles across at its widest point and 30 miles long, but its reputation stretches around the world. About 50 miles north of San Francisco, the valley is home to about 100,000 people, five incorporated cities, and at least 300 wineries. In the late 1800s, there were more than 600 wineries in the valley. The longstanding success of the local wine industry is a result of the climate and soil, which are ideal for growing grapes. The soil is especially diverse: Fully half of the varieties of soil on the planet are found within the confines of Napa Valley.

Stringent county policies limit development outside the cities in Napa Valley, leaving the agricultural land wide open and pastoral. Napa Valley was carved by the Napa River, which flows directly into the San Francisco Bay and attracts anglers and paddlers. But most visitors come for the fresh air, the good food, and, of course, the great wine. The "crush" that accompanies the fall harvest is one of the valley's busiest times.

Napa Valley Vineyards Information

Address: Napa Valley Visitors Bureau at 1310 Napa Town Center, Napa, CA

Telephone: 707/226-7459

Continue to the next page for details on family vacations in San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • San Francisco City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit San Francisco.
  • California State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in California, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate's vibrant color and 4,200-foot span make it one of the most distinctive bridges on the planet.
The Golden Gate's vibrant color and 4,200-foot span make it one of the most distinctive bridges on the planet.

The Golden Gate Bridge does for the West Coast what the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline do for the East: It welcomes newcomers while proclaiming the golden, youthful promise of the New World. The Golden Gate Bridge also introduces visitors to the sumptuous San Francisco Bay Area. According to former Mayor Gavin Newsom, "San Franciscans know we live in the most beautiful city in the world, a jewel on the edge of the Golden Gate."

The bridge opened in 1937 with a celebration in which 200,000 jubilant pedestrians crossed it. During the 50th-anniversary celebration, 300,000 pedestrians walked across, which is one terrific way to visit the bridge if you're in shape. The Golden Gate Bridge, which is painted orange vermilion (more commonly called "international orange"), is golden in every other respect. The bridge was named not for its color but because it spans the Golden Gate Strait, named by explorer John C. Fremont.

The Golden Gate Bridge saved San Francisco from its isolation on a peninsula. The bridge --which, at 4,200 feet from tower to tower, reigned as the world's longest suspension bridge for 27 years -- heralded an era in which suspension bridges defined modernism. So striking and beautiful is its sculptural design, the bridge forged the way to a generation of graceful, buoyant Art Deco architecture in the midst of the Great Depression. The beautiful bridge is also the centerpiece of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (though the bridge and recreation area are managed by different agencies).

In 1919, architect Irving Morrow wrote, the strait "is loveliest at the cool end of the day when, for a few breathless moments, faint afterglows transfigure the gray line of hills." Years later, Morrow was responsible for the bridge's stylized Art Deco embellishments as well as its famous color. Some opponents argued that only steel gray or carbon black paint could protect the bridge; the U.S. Navy wanted it painted yellow with black stripes. Morrow insisted paint could be invented to protect and burnish the bridge's graceful, sinewy architecture and increase its visibility in fog while blending with its natural surroundings. He was right: The bridge didn't require an overall repainting for 27 years.

Golden Gate is the most popular destination in the national parks system, with more than 14 million visitors each year. The 74,000-acre expanse includes favorite destinations such as China Beach, Muir Beach, Fort Mason, and Alcatraz Island. It also includes the Presidio of San Francisco, which was established by the Spanish in 1776 and has become the oldest continuously operating U.S. military base.

The park provides panoramas of the Golden Gate Bridge that have been made famous over the years, mainly by Hollywood. The memorable scene in Hitchcock's Vertigo, which emphasized the bridge's overwhelming scale and sweep, was filmed under it, on the San Francisco side near Fort Point. It's definitely a view to see firsthand. From across the bay, check out the bridge's magnificence from Fort Baker, located in Marin County. You can find another picture-perfect vantage point across the bridge on its northern side at Marin Headlands, best reached by bus or car. The views from high on the San Francisco side are breathtaking as well, and don't forget the bracing scene from Alcatraz Island!

Golden Gate Bridge Information

Address: Near US Rt. 101 and Doyle Dr., San Francisco, CA

Telephone: 415/921-5858 877/229-8655

Continue on to the next page for details on festive Chinatown and the Chinese New Year.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • San Francisco City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit San Francisco.
  • California State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in California, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Chinatown and the Chinese New Year

San Francisco's vibrant Chinatown is the most populous neighborhood of its kind in North America and a must-see stop on any visit to the City by the Bay.

For 15 days during the Chinese New Year, San Francisco's Chinatown neighborhood bustles with sound and color -- even more than it usually does. This is the largest Chinatown on the continent, and it pulls out all the stops for the annual festivities. The Chinese New Year begins on the first day of the first moon of the lunar calendar, which usually falls between late January and mid February.

 

 

The Chinese New Year Parade (a San Francisco tradition since just after the 1849 Gold Rush) is now the biggest illuminated nighttime parade in North America. In fact, it's the largest event of its kind on any continent except Asia. Participants take the year's theme and run with it, crafting gorgeous floats that range from purely aesthetic to political. Dancers and stilt-walkers entertain the crowds, and others light firecrackers, pass out "funny money," and do their best to bring good luck to the New Year.

The parade culminates with Gum Lung, the Golden Dragon -- an ornate, human-powered 200-foot silk, gauze, and velvet beast with a bamboo skeleton. Year-round, Chinatown is one of the Bay Area's most visited tourist hotspots, with plenty of eateries, bars, and shops. But it also serves as an authentic neighborhood where people live, work, and play.

Chinatown and the Chinese New Year Information

Address: Chinatown Entrance at Grant Ave. and Bush St., San Francisco, CA

Telephone: 415/391-2000

Continue to the next page for details on family vacations in San Jose and peculiar Winchester Mystery House.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • San Francisco City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit San Francisco.
  • California State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in California, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Winchester Mystery House

In 1884, Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Rifle Company, visited a soothsayer after the death of her husband and baby daughter. The medium told her that her fate was tied to her house: Continuous building would appease the evil spirits and help her attain eternal life. Winchester took the premonition very seriously. She continued building her San Jose mansion for the ensuing 38 years, spending the bulk of her multimillion-dollar inheritance in the process.

When the hammering finally stopped after Winchester's passing in 1922, there were 160 rooms. But there's more than just sheer size at work here: Winchester chose designs to ward off the evil spirits that she believed plagued her every move. Some stairways and doors lead nowhere, and the stained glass seems to be inspired by a disturbing spider web. A plethora of features are tied to a certain number. The number of palms lining the driveway? The number of hooks in the séance room? The number of lights in the chandeliers? The answer to all three questions is 13, a further sign of Sarah Winchester's superstitions.

Winchester Mystery House Information

Address: 525 S. Winchester Blvd., San Jose, CA

Telephone: 408/247-2101

Hours of Operation:

  • Mid Oct. - Late Apr., 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., daily
  • Late Apr. - Mid Oct., 9 a.m. 7 p.m., daily

Admission: Cost varies by tour.

Continue to the next page for details on family vacations in Hollywood -- the city of dreams.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • San Francisco City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit San Francisco.
  • California State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in California, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Hollywood

Nine 50-foot letters comprise one of the most recognizable signs in the world.

Hollywood is not just a place. In certain contexts, Hollywood is shorthand for America's film industry. In others, it's the destination for every aspiring actor, director, or screenwriter. It's also the setting for so many legends and rumors it's hard to keep them straight. Regardless, Hollywood is amazing. The rolling Hollywood Hills, clad in a lush layer of greenery, cradle neighborhoods of all kinds and feature the one-of-a-kind American icon, the Hollywood sign. At first, the sign was a real-estate promotion that read "Hollywoodland." But by 1973, it was in tatters -- one O had toppled, and a vandal had set an L on fire. This led to its $250,000 reconstruction in 1978.

Down below, on Hollywood Boulevard, the sidewalk sports 2,000 terrazzo-and-brass stars that immortalize giants of the entertainment industry. The street is a colorful spot for people-watching and is the address of Mann's Chinese Theatre, perhaps the most famous cinema in the world. The unmistakable theater has two enormous red columns out front, a bronze roof, and authentic furnishings imported from China. Cast in the cement of the forecourt are the footprints, handprints, and hoofprints of past and present movie stars.

Hollywood Information

Address: Hollywood Visitor Information Center at 6801 Hollywood Blvd.

Hollywood, CA

Telephone: 323/467-6412

Continue to the next page for details on family vacations in lively Venice Beach.

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit Los Angeles.
  • California State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in California, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

Family Vacations in California: Venice Beach

The epicenter of California cool, Venice Beach waves attract surfers and sunworshipers.

The Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice and its fabulous beach were once home to Ocean Park, a Coney Island-like amusement pier that attracted throngs of fun-seekers. While the park went out of business in the 1960s, Venice Beach has remained a magnet for people from all walks of life.

Venice was founded in the 20th century and was named and modeled after Italy's Venice. Its three-mile beach is in many ways an afterthought. A few people come for the sand and surf, but many more come to shop, talk, or just wander and people-watch. The beach's boardwalk is the heart and soul of California cool, with merchants hocking an array of eclectic art, cheap sunglasses, souvenir T-shirts, and much, much more.

Venice Beach has been called the "Roller Skating Capital of the World"; it's fronted by a skating and bicycling path that runs along California's coastline, uninterrupted for 22 miles. There's also Gold's Gym, the famous outdoor weightlifting hotspot commonly called "Muscle Beach." Perhaps Mike Bonin, a staff member for the Los Angeles City Council, put it best: "There's lots special about Venice. It is internationally recognized as a place of free expression, diversity, tolerance, and incredible artistic talent. Not to mention funky weirdness."

Venice Beach Information

Address: 1800 Ocean Front Walk, Venice, CA

Telephone: 310/399-2775

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Los Angeles City Guide: Find out where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when you visit Los Angeles.
  • California State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in California, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.