If you’re looking to take a family vacation to Southern California, you’ll need to consider cities, attractions, and areas that are conducive to kids and families. Fortunately, there are tons of travel options—and many ways to plan a vacation—that can keep your kids happy while still providing a relaxing vacation for you.
What Makes a City Kid-Friendly?
First, let’s explain the criteria we’re using. What exactly makes a city kid-friendly?
- Kid-centric attractions. First, it’s always helpful to have attractions that are focused on kids. Things like amusement parks, museums, and anything interactive can keep kids’ attentions for hours.
- Open spaces. Kids usually need some space to release their energy and not worry about their surroundings. Parks and playgrounds are ideal for this.
- Multiple options. What are you going to do if your ideal destination is closed, or if you have to make a sudden change of plans?
- When you’re traveling with kids, everything you do becomes instantly more expensive, so we’ll also consider affordability in our selections.
The Top Kid-Friendly Cities in Southern California
So what are the top kid-friendly cities in Southern California?
1. Los Angeles. Los Angeles may not be the first kid-friendly city you think of, due to its reputation for entertainment. However, there are tons of things to do in Los Angeles with kids. For example, you could visit Griffith Park, which allows you to get a taste of wilderness without really leaving the city, or take the kids to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County—which is perfect if they like dinosaurs, or animals in general. The Los Angeles Zoo is also a common destination for families visiting Los Angeles, though if you want to see animals, there may be a slightly better destination.
2. San Diego. Known for being a beach town, San Diego is one of the most populous cities in Southern California. Notably, it’s home to the San Diego Zoo, commonly cited as one of the best zoos in the world, if not the absolute best. If you have kids, this is reason enough to visit. There are hundreds of exhibits to see, as well as separate attractions and paths to explore. When you’re done with that, you can take the kids to Sea World, or get a view of the ocean at Blacks Beach or La Jolla Cove.
3. Pasadena. One of the best family-friendly features of Pasadena is the Kidspace Children’s Museum—a museum dedicated to providing children with an immersive learning experience. It features more than 40 exhibits that allow your kids to engage directly with materials and with each other, and they’ll walk away with a better understanding of how the world works. When you’re finished there, you can hit up the Huntington Children’s Garden, or visit the Neon Retro Arcade for some fun for them and nostalgia for you.
4. Santa Monica. The Santa Monica Pier is the most famous landmark and attraction in Santa Monica, but there are lots of other things to do with kids as well. At the Pier, you and your children can visit the aquarium to see aquatic animals up close, the arcade for some classic games, or the amusement park to enjoy the thrill rides—and a great view of the ocean. Additionally, you could visit the Santa Monica Museum of Flying, or take a trip to Tongva Park, which sports plenty of open space—and some amazing sculptures the entire family can enjoy.
5. Anaheim gets a free mention, since it’s home to Disneyland, which itself is home to separate parks and hundreds of different attractions. For example, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park are two separate parks you can visit. However you choose to structure your visit to Disneyland, you’ll enjoy countless rides, access to shops and restaurants, and populated outdoor areas where you can enjoy the beautiful weather. And if your kids are interested in sports, you can catch a baseball game at Angel Stadium, or visit the Honda Center to see the Anaheim Ducks hockey team play.
Planning a Vacation With Kids
These Southern California cities each have unique offers that any kid (and parent) can enjoy, but it’s still up to you to make sure everyone has fun on this trip. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get from place to place, and bring plenty of sources of entertainment for the kids—in case they get bored during travel, or if one of your entertainment choices doesn’t pan out. And of course, remember to be patient—family vacations usually don’t go exactly the way you’ve planned, even in amazing cities like these. Be prepared to roll with the punches and improvise if and when necessary.