The Golden State of California has a reputation for being a glamorous and pricey place to visit. However, in reality, the state is so vast and varied that it offers a wide variety of destinations which are family-friendly, fun and can suit even the tightest of budgets. You’ll discover everything from bright sunshine, incredible surf, majestic mountains, ski resorts, thrilling theme parks, and beautiful national parks for camping and adventure. If you’re considering a vacation to California this year but after somewhere which will please all the family, take a look at this list of 10 of the very best.
- Joshua Tree
The famous Joshua Tree National Park is the ideal place to spend an adventurous day (or more) taking in the stunning scenery, hiking, and climbing through the incredible trees. It costs just $25 per car to enter the park, and you can camp for around $15-$20 per night. Other highlights of the area include the Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture, Smith’s Drive-In and The Outdoor Desert by Noah Purifoy.
If you’re looking for a weekend getaway, the city of Cupertino is a great choice. It is more expensive to find accommodation during the week as it’s the home of the tech giant Apple and attracts a lot of tech professionals but weekends are considerably cheaper. Take the kids to the Apple company store, have a shopping spree in Main Street, try some fishing and hiking at the Stevens Creek County Park and meet animals and birds at the18-acre McClellan Ranch.
- Big Bear Lake
Big Bear is a popular and expensive skiing destination during the winter, but visiting in summer is a lot cheaper and can be just as enjoyable. The lake is 1.5 hours away from LA and offers mountain biking, zip lining, fishing, swimming, mini-golf and more.
If your kids are LEGO fans, you can’t miss in Carlsbad. Not only is it home to LEGOLAND California, but it’s also much more affordable than Disneyland in Anaheim and provides access to the beach and other great attractions such as the Flower Fields and Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park. You can easily find places to stay in Carlsbad today.
- Dana Point
Dana Point is a beautiful marina town between LA and San Diego, making it the ideal place for a beach vacation. In particular, Baby Beach is a great choice for families with young children because of its smooth waters. Pine Park is another great choice as it has climbing frames and incredible views of the ocean so you can sit back and relax while the kids play.
- Big Sur
Big Sur is one of the most visually stunning places in California with a wooded coastline which is bordered by both the ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountains. In the area, you’ll also find the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park with Pfeiffer Beach’s sand dunes and arched rock formations, the famous Bixby Bridge and McWay Falls, an 80-foot high waterfall over a beach. While accommodation can be pricey it’s a great destination for campers and if you book in advance you can get great deals on cabins. If you explore a little further afield the Central Coast of California is lush and green which makes simply driving along the coast an activity in itself. The main towns in the area are Carmel-by-the-Sea, San Simeon and Monterey.
- Death Valley National Park
The ghost towns of the Death Valley National Park are a fascinating sight for both adults and children alike. It’s also a beautiful place with sand dunes, salt flats and once-in-a-lifetime sunsets to be enjoyed. Camping is best in cooler weather but there are several cheaper hotels too. The landscape is made up of incredibly fine sand and hills which are covered in stunning crystal formations. The area has been featured in several movies with the most famous being the original Star Wars by George Lucas.
Oxnard is a beach town on the same Pacific coastline as Malibu. Mandalay Beach, in particular, is perfect for sunbathing, swimming and jogging or cycling down the 7 miles of beach which is lined with palm trees. The whole area offers the same stunning beaches as the more well-known Malibu but at much lower prices. In addition, the Channel Islands are only a boat ride away. Known as America’s Galapagos, these five islands are perfect for exploration. If you visit between January and April, you can also take a whale watching tour.
Ventura is a great place to take the children; it’s a relaxed town with beaches and plenty of stunning scenery but also boasts the Ventura Pier and Promenade which has a fantastic playground. The Ventura Botanical Gardens are ripe for exploration and discovery while more active families can take the 30-mile bike ride from Ventura to Ojai.
- Palm Springs
You may have presumed that Palm Springs would be a costly place to visit, but actually prices fall quite considerably in summer as temperatures can exceed 100 degrees. There aren’t any beaches nearby but you won’t be short of things to do with the Wet ‘n’ Wild water park, Palm Desert Aquatic Center, The Living Desert (a non-profit zoo), Indian Canyons, the Discovery Children’s Museum of the Desert and the incredible views you’ll enjoy from Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
A Note About Camping in Florida
California offers plenty of opportunities for camping as there is a lot of land in which you camp for free in either an RV or a tent. It’s called dispersed camping and is essentially finding a bit of wild land, camping and moving on without leaving any evidence that you’ve been there. You can usually do this on land which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management or in the national forests. There obviously won’t be any facilities to use but you don’t need to book or pay any fees so it’s a great way to take a family vacation on a budget. You’ll need to research free campsites with the Bureau of Land Management.