Kid Friendly California Bucket List - Palm trees against a sunset

California Bucket List: 35 Epic Places To Explore With Kids

Whether you’re a first time visitor, or a long-time resident,  California has many amazing things to do and explore. From epic surf, and beaches to incredible national parks, arid deserts and kid friendly activities to discover. Here are our top 35 things to do to add to your California Bucket List. 

Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links. If you click one of the links and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thank you! See full disclosure and disclaimer policy here.

35 Epic Things to Do in California

California Bucket list destination, Pacific coast highway, rolling hills and ocean coastline.
Pacific Coast Highway, California
photo: “ademyan / depositphotos.com”

1. Road Trip down the Pacific Coast Highway

Oh, the feel of wind in your hair, and sun on your face as you drive down the best of California’s scenic coastlines. Traveling the Pacific Coast Highway  you’ll pass through rugged hills, quaint beach towns, and many gorgeous view points. There are so many fun places to stop along the way… San Francisco, Big Sur,  Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, San Diego among others. 

Let this highway be the starting point for your California Bucket List journey.

2. Glamp in Big Sur

Spend a few days meandering, visiting sea lions, hiking and admiring the beautiful stretch of coastline of Big Sur, south of Monterey Bay. Big Sur is a bucket list destination all on it’s own.

If you are heading out without the kids Alila Ventana Big Sur is the place glamp in style, with their gorgeous safari style experiences. 

With kids, it’s a bit harder to find a glamping tent that fits everyone…. Big Sur Lodge is a more rustic experience with all the amenities of a lodge and family friendly.

3. Visit the lowest point in North America – Death Valley

Not only does Death Valley, CA have rock formations and sweeping landscapes for hiking and picnicking, and a gold rush ghost town, but it is also 282 feet (86 m) below sea level.

Ballarat was established in the late 1800’s, as a mining town, and by 1907, only a handful of residents were left, as precious metals dwindled. Now you can wander the sprawling ruins, looking for treasure and secrets.

Visit the Badwater Basin salt flats ….just not in the dead of summer, as some of the world’s hottest temps are recorded then. Don’t forget to take a family photo at the “Lowest Point” sign. 

Hike the quarter-mile to Zabriskie Point’s summit to watch the most spectacular sunrises or sunsets over the sweeping badlands below. Or take a walk (suitable for even toddlers) along the rippling, waving Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Sandboarding and star gazing are other popular activities in the area.

For science loving families, a once in a life time event is seeing the super bloom in Death Valley. Once every decade or so when the conditions are just right, the valley and surrounding mountains explode with yellow, pink, and purple wildflowers.

Stay at the Ranch at Death Valley.

Woman in tank top standing behind the Badwater Basin wooden sign, with the badlands behind and mountains in the distance.
Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park
photo: “oscity / depositphotos.com”

4. Visit the historic Pirate’s Tower of Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is the place to explore sea caves, natural tide pools, ocean side bluffs, and it’s many sandy beaches.

While there explore the swashbuckling history of Pirate’s Tower, Victoria Beach. Pirate’s Tower sits in an enchanting cove, amongst jagged cliffs and white sand beach. Be sure to pack all the essentials for a family beach vacation.

 Main Beach and Treasure Island Beach are two of the most popular places to get up close to tidepools. They both have people available to answer any questions you may have.

Stay at the Surf & Sand Resort  or Montage Laguna Beach.

5. Look for Beach Glass in Northern California

Myth has it that every time a sailor is lost at sea, mermaids cry tears that wash ashore as colorful sea glass.

Beach comb for this rainbow-colored glass at the Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. Piled high, it can be found in the southern coves in and around MacKerricher State Park. Just be sure to leave the glass in place before you leave.

6. Kid Friendly California Bucket List – Hike in Yosemite 

Visit California’s oldest National Park for nature, wildlife, and mountains. Hike the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail for an easy family friendly walk, and view of the iconic falls. Then visit nearby Mariposa Grove, to hug a giant sequoia tree.

Yosemite can be done as a day trip from San Fransisco, but it is better spend at least a couple of days, to make the most of the trails, hikes, falls and viewpoints.

Stay at the Yosemite Valley View for amazing views El Capitan and Half Dome right from the deck.

Check out our recommendations for 1-2 day Yosemite itineraries and the top kid-friendly things to do.

7. Whale Watching in Monterey Bay

Watch the magic unfold in front of you as Humpback whales surface and splash.

Keep an eye out for these majestic creaures as they migrate through the waters of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, as well as sea lions, birds, dolphins and other species of whales.

Book a whale watching tour the whole family will enjoy.

California Bucket List with Kids. Palm trees against a sunset, and a ferris wheel at Santa Monic Pier by the ocean

8. Hike to the Hollywood Sign in LA

When in LA, this fairly short and easy hike is a must. Grab an iconic photo beside the famous Hollywood sign. Your teens will love this most instagrammed spot.

Add in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and Universal Studios to complete your Hollywood Bucket List. Save money by grabbing a Go City Pass if you are planning on hitting up multiple tourist attractions in the city.

Stay at the Hilton Los Angeles and be within walking distance of Universal Studios.

Hollywood Sign on hillside.
The famous Hollywood Sign, California

9. Food Truck Tour in LA

While you are at it, take your senses on a culinary walk, in what may arguably be fusion food capital of the world. Due to the diverse population and easy access to fresh produce, food is where it is at. From Asian fusion to classic pub grub you’ll find something to satiate even the hangriest of travel mates.

For the foodies in your family, take your own food truck tour of the best in LA.

10. Visit the Happiest Place on Earth

Disneyland……Need I say more?

Every young child’s dream. Enjoy a trip down memory lane and share the magic of Disney with your kids. Visit between Halloween and New Year for an even more magical experience and holiday festivities.

11. Surf’s Up in Surf City

Surf City, aka Huntington Beach is the quintessential California beach town. So why not sign up for some surf lessons, and ride the waves.

If you go in July, thats’s usually when you can watch the pros compete for the US Surf Open.

After a long day in the water, curl up in a cozy blanket and roast some s’mores on a beach fire, in one of their metal fire pits.

Don’t forget to stock up on beach vacation essentials before you go.

12. See the tallest trees in the world

Driving along the spectacular Avenue of Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, will be sure to inspire even the most sceptical of outdoor enthusiasts.

These huge redwoods reach hundreds of feet in the air and are part of the largest remaining old-growth redwood forest in the world. On a hot summer day take a dip in one of the natural swimming holes in the area along the crystal clear Eel River.

No California Bucket List is complete without visiting these gentle giants.

Save time and money with our top Summer Travel Tips to stay on budget and maximize fun. Use them all year round.

13. Santa Monica Pier

Get your tourist thing on! Join the fun and crowds on roller coasters & ferris wheels that overlook the Pacific Ocean. Pacific Park is every kids favorite attraction.

Come for the hot dogs and funnel cakes, and enjoy a bit of history, as the concrete pier was the first of its kind on the West Coast.

Or do what the locals do, and try a bit of fishing off the end of the Santa Monica Pier.

Stay at the Shore Hotel, a family-friendly hotel very close to Santa Monica State Beach (and the Pier), or this comfortable, quiet home, only 5 minutes from the beach (and more budget friendly).

Pacific Park Ferris Wheel overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Pacific Park at Santa Monica Beach, Los Angeles, California, USA
Photo: “simon dannhauer / depositphotos.com”

14. See Seals at La Jolla

Visiting the Children’s Pool Beach, also known as Casa Beach is one of the top things to do in La Jolla. For good reason. The main draw are watching the seals from the seawall, as they flop around the sand, swim, and bark at each other. There is something mesmerizing about hearing the ocean birds, as you watch the seals bask in the sun.

The seals are almost always there, especially during calving season.

15. Take a safari at the San Diego Zoo & Safari Park

If you can’t travel all the way to  Africa, then visiting the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park is the next best thing….

Spend the day and see zebras, rhinos, elephants and more. More than 4,000 animals representing 800 species live here, so no matter if you have a reptile, cheetah or penguin lover, there is something for everyone.

Purchase tickets to the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park here.

16. Pismo Beach Sand Dunes

Pismo Beach Sand Dunes also known as Oceano Sand Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, in the Central Coast of California is a unique park experience like no other. It’s well known for being the last park in California to allow vehicles to drive on the beach and sand.

Take a dune buggy tour to explore the vehicular side of the park.

Due to the fragile ecosystem, the California Coastal Commission voted to phase out Off Highway Vehicle use of the dunes. Most car and off roading access to the beach and the dunes will be phased out by 2024.

Off roading is the main attraction here, but wandering by foot through the ever changing dunes is fun for kids and adults. Bring a saucer sled for some fun sand sliding adventures in the non-vehicular part of the park.

Pismo Beach is close by, and offers many types of accommodations. Stay at the Pismo Lighthouse Suites (also pet friendly) or the more upscale Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa.

17. Mammoth Lakes & Mountain

Mammoth Lakes is an adventure wonderland for kids and adults year round.

In winter, take a run or 5 down California’s premier resort Mammoth Mountain, or snowshoe the gentle beginner friendly slope to the Minaret Vista for iconic skyline views of…the Minarets.

In summer explore the many lakes in this Eastern Sierra area by bike, foot, kayak or horseback. Or looking to climb to new heights? Spend a half day with a climbing guide.

If you are camping, make sure to pack kid friendly camping gear & activities for less whining and more fun.

Mammoth Lakes, California
Photos: “YaYimages / depositphotos.com”

18. Monterey Bay Aquarium

35,000 sea creatures can’t be wrong. Enjoy the intriguing undersea world of Monterey Bay, one of the richest marine environments in the world. From glowing deep sea creatures, to spiny tentacles and splashing penguins and playful otters, your kids will love spending hours here.

Located at the end of Cannery Row, immortalized by John Steinbeck.

You’ll need to buy tickets in advance for the forseeable future.

19. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a desert oasis, just waiting to ignite your imagination and be explored. Hiking, rock climbing, sunsets against spiny twisted Joshua trees and boulders, plus wide skies perfect for star gazing at night.

Scampering over rocks will be a kid favourite along the easy Hidden Valley Trail.

Iconic accommodations range from old airstreams to off the grid cabins and luxurious cottages. Stay at the Little Tish – Star Gazers getaway or the Joshua Tree Forest Bungalow in Yucca Valley.

Family walking in the Cholla Cactus Garden pathway. California Bucket List, Joshua Tree National Park.
Joshua Tree National Park: Walking the Cholla Cactus Garden
Photo: ” PBT / depositphotos.com”

20. Explore a Train Lovers Museum

The California State Railroad Museum in Old Town Sacramento is one of the best, even for the not-so-die hard train lovers. Kids will learn about how railroads shaped the US while exploring 21 restored locomotives.

Their steam-powered beauty can be seen in every unique train car, and don’t miss the opportunity to take the excursion train on a relaxing 45-minute, 6-mile roundtrip ride along the levees of the Sacramento River.

Here are 15 more amazing California Bucket List adventures:

  • Explore the Sierra Nevadas in Sequoia National Park
  • Swim in the gentle ocean waters in Santa Cruz
  • Hike to Burney Falls in Northern California 
  • Wander the Jurassic forest in Fern Canyon in Northern California (where Jurassic Park, The Lost World was filmed)
  • Boat to Channel Island, one of the leasted visited National Parks in the US. Hiking, kayaking and wildlife viewing.
  • Walk the Cypress Tree Tunnel in Point Reyes, perfect place for a gorgeous family photo.
  • Summer time visit with Elephant Seals in Ano Nuevo State Park
  • Snowshoe in Lake Tahoe on the family friendly Fallen Leaf Lake Trail
  • Grab a donut at the iconic Randy’s Donuts in LA. Seen in many a movie, including Ironman 2
  • Tour A Jelly Bean Factory in Fairfield, CA (and of course do a little taste testing).
  • Experience the Ghost Town of Bodie, one of California’s most well preserved ghost towns
  • Be intrigued by the mystery and gravitational anomaly at the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz
  • Go in a statue hunt for dragons, scorpions, the Galleta Meadows Sculptures in Anza Borrego State Park
  • Be enchanted by Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

I am going to be adding to this list, and flushing out these deas, so be sure to check back.

35 Best Things to Do in California: The Ultimate California Bucket List

From hiking in iconic, world famous National Parks to visiting the tallest trees, beaches, and theme parks, California is an adventure waiting to happen for you and your family.

These are my picks for the top 35 kid friendly things to do to add to your ultimate California Bucket List

Related family friendly destinations and resources:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Sharing is Caring

Help spread the word. You're awesome for doing it!

Scroll to Top