The best California family tour

Ah, California… Do its iconic cities, white sand beaches and famous national parks make you dream of travelling? Then why not take off with the kids to explore the California coast?

This 11-day itinerary covers all the highlights for the best California family tour. It's time for an unforgettable road trip to the American West!
 

Map of 11-day California family tour

map california family tour
California family road trip


Road trip summary

Days 1-2 : Los Angeles

View of the Santa Monica Pier from Venice Beach
Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier

Day 1

Welcome to Los Angeles!

Your California family road trip starts with this sprawling city on the West Coast.

A piece of advice: don't try to do everything on foot. The distances are immense, and you risk tiring yourself out. The best way to explore Los Angeles is by rental car, grouping activities by area.

For your first day, soak up the atmosphere of Los Angeles by starting in Hollywood. Head to the Walk of Fame for some family fun finding the stars of your favorite celebrities.

To see the Hollywood sign and take the ultimate vacation photo, I recommend going to the Hollywood & Highland Mall, Griffith Park Observatory or Canyon Lake Drive.

Stay in the area and continue with the must-see visit to Universal Studios. Kids and adults alike will love getting a behind-the-scenes look at movie sets and special effects with the World Famous Studio Tour.

Hold on to your hats as the Universal Studios theme park takes you on an epic adventure. Dive into the worlds of Harry Potter, Jurassic World, Kung Fu Panda, Fast & Furious and many others. Thrills guaranteed!

Movie buffs can also visit Warner Bros Studios. Three tours are offered to learn everything about the different stages of movie production. It's a great tour to take with kids and teenagers.

Afterwards, go and have a bite to eat at the Grand Central Market. This beautiful market has been serving up culinary delights that reflect L.A.'s diverse cultures since 1917. Tacos, fried chicken, ramen, burgers, pizzas and much more... You won't go away hungry.

After all the excitement of your first day, a good night's sleep awaits before tomorrow's adventures.

 

Day 2

For your second day in Los Angeles, head to Santa Monica. The Santa Monica Pier is not only the end point of the mythical Route 66, it's also a great place to have fun by the sea. Its amusement park with its old-fashioned charm promises good times for the whole family. After a few rides, walk to the end of the pier. The view of the city and the coast is breathtaking.

Take the time to wander along Santa Monica Muscle Beach. Athletes and acrobats of all kinds love to perform there under the bemused eyes of tourists. The City of Angels fully embraces its eccentricities... and that's one of the things we love about it!

While you're in Venice Beach, have a picnic with your feet in the sand before exploring the neighbourhood and its canals.

If you feel like it and the weather is good, don't hesitate to take a surfing lesson. There's no better cure for jetlag!

If you're looking for other family activities to do in Los Angeles, you can also take a tour of celebrity homes in Beverly Hills or visit Madame Tussauds.

 

 

Days 3-4 : Sequoia National Park (282 km/2h47)

Hiking in Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park

Day 3

Today, leave the hustle and bustle of L.A. for the natural grandeur of Sequoia National Park. Explore the trails of this giant sequoia forest with your family in the heart of the Sierra Nevada.

Pick up a map at the Lodgepole Visitor Center, fill your water bottles, and set out on an adventure.

To begin, head south and park in the General Sherman Tree parking lot. Take the short 0.8 km round-trip trail to this monumental tree, which is more than 2,200 years old. At 84 meters tall and 31 meters in circumference, the General Sherman Tree is truly impressive.

I suggest you continue with the Congress Trail. This very pleasant walk, easy to do with children, starts at the General Sherman Tree.


:footprints: emoji Congress Trail

Distance (loop): 3.2 km
Time (loop): 1 hour
Level: Easy

Along the way, you'll discover beautiful giant sequoias like the McKinley Tree (89 m tall), the Lincoln Tree (79 m tall) and the President Tree (76 m tall).

Continue your exploration of the park with the Giant Forest Museum. This small museum is full of information about the sequoias and the park and provides access to the Big Trees Trail loop.


:footprints: emoji Big Trees Trail

Distance (loop): 2.4 km
Time (loop): 1 hour
Level: Easy

From the museum, head straight for the Big Trees Trail. The interpretive signs scattered along the loop are very informative and interesting to read.

To end the day on a more athletic note, head to Moro Rock.

Moro Rock hike, Sequoia National Park
Moro Rock and its 400 steps


:footprints: emoji Moro Rock

Distance (to the top) : 0.9 km/400 stairs to climb
Time (to the top): 30 minutes
Level: Intermediate

With its 400 steps carved into the granite surface, climbing Moro Rock is quite strenuous, but a lovely reward awaits at the top: a spectacular 360° panoramic view of Sequoia Park and the Sierra Nevada.

 

Day 4

For your second day in Sequoia National Park, head to Crescent Meadow. You'll drive through the fascinating Tunnel Log, a giant sequoia that has fallen onto the road and through which a tunnel has been cut to allow cars to pass.

At the end of Crescent Meadow Road, set out on foot along the Crescent Meadow Trail. This very pleasant walk is a great way to slow the pace, perfect when travelling with children.

View of Crescent Meadow in Sequoia National Park
Crescent Meadow is the perfect spot for a family walk


:footprints: emoji Crescent Meadow Trail

Distance (loop): 3.2 km
Time (loop): 1 hour
Level: Easy

The trail loops around a beautiful alpine meadow surrounded by sequoias. Along the way, you'll come across Tharp's Log, the trunk of a fallen sequoia that was once hollowed out to serve as a cabin for pioneers. The kids will love it!

You'll also enjoy taking photos of the Chimney Tree, a tree that you can actually sit down in.

For an incredible family experience, don't leave Sequoia National Park without visiting Crystal Cave. This majestic marble cave is accessible, even for young children. The 45-minute ranger-led tour is really great. Don't forget to bundle up, as the temperature never goes above 10°C inside the cave.

If you have any energy left and your kids like to walk, try the Tokopah Falls Trail, one of the most popular trails in the park.


:footprints: emoji Tokopah Falls Trail

Distance (round-trip): 6.7 km
Time (round-trip): 2.5 hrs
Level: Intermediate

The trail starts near the Lodgepole Visitor Center and heads east. You'll see some beautiful scenery along the way to the Tokopah Falls at the end of the trail. These are the highest waterfalls in the park.

On the way back, stop at Tunnel Rock for one last impressive view. This granite boulder created a tunnel over the Generals Highway until the road was rerouted.


Days 5-6 : Yosemite National Park (230 km/2h41)

View of the granite cliffs of Yosemite National Park
The famous Valley View in Yosemite National Park

Day 5

After dreaming about it for so long, you're finally there! The next destination on your California family tour is Yosemite National Park.

This park in the heart of the Sierra Nevada is immense and is one of the most beautiful of the American national parks. Yosemite is divided into three main sectors:

  • Yosemite Valley in the centre with its waterfalls and granite cliffs
  • Mariposa Grove to the south with its giant sequoias
  • Tioga Road which crosses the park from east to west through majestic landscapes

From May 20 to September 30, keep in mind that you will need to make a reservation (recreation.gov) to enter the park by car between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Stop at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center to pick up a map of the park and find out if all the roads are open. Some sections may be closed to traffic at certain times of the year due to snow accumulation.

As you have already seen plenty of sequoias in Sequoia National Park, we suggest you skip Mariposa Grove and spend the day exploring the Yosemite Valley area.

Start by heading to Valley View. Here you can see Bridalveil Fall and El Capitan. Also stop at Tunnel View for an iconic view.

Although you'll see it often while Yosemite, be sure to make your way to the base of Bridalveil Fall via a short 20-minute trail. To do this, park in the small lot at the intersection of Wawona Road and Southside Drive.

Then head to Yosemite Falls, one of the world's tallest waterfalls. An easy 30-minute round-trip trail leads to the base of Lower Fall. It is possible to take the Yosemite Falls Trail to reach the Upper Fall. However, this part is quite long and difficult, so I don't recommend doing it with children.

Don't hesitate to go back up towards Mirror Lake for a quiet and relaxing walk.


:footprints: emoji Mirror Lake

Distance (round-trip): 3 km
Time (round-trip): 1 hr
Level: Easy

Perfect for an end of day hike, this gentle trail follows the Tenaya Creek and Mirror Lake.

If you were planning to come and see the sunset at Glacier Point, you should know that in 2022 it will not be possible to reach the viewpoint by road (even by shuttle) because of road works. Glacier Point remains accessible by hiking trails, but these are too difficult for children. The road should reopen in 2023.

 

Day 6

View of the Tioga Road which traverses Yosemite from east to west
Magnificent Tioga Road through Yosemite Park

If you would like to explore another area of the park, don't hesitate to drive the Tioga Road. Note that this spectacular road is closed from November until late May/early June each year.

This scenic route takes you through some spectacular vistas. The 45 km from Crane Flat to Tuolumne Meadows is simply breathtaking.

Be sure to stop at Olmsted Point on Tioga Road for a panoramic view of Tenaya Canyon with Half Dome in the background.

Tuolumne Meadows is a large, open subalpine meadow that offers opportunities for an easy walk. Don't hesitate to ask the rangers at the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center for advice. The Tuolumne River winding through majestic peaks and wildflowers makes for a picture-perfect setting.


:footprints: emoji Soda Springs and Parsons Memorial Lodge

Distance (round-trip): 2.4 km
Time (round-trip): 1 hr
Level: Easy

From the Visitor Center or the Lembert Dome parking, an easy trail leads to a set of mineral springs as well as one of the park's historic cabins.

View of Lembert Dome reflected in the water
Lembert Dome


:footprints: emoji Lembert Dome

Distance (round-trip): 4.5 km
Time (round-trip): 2 hr
Level: Easy

This lovely walk starts from the Dog Lake parking lot. The path climbs through the forest to the bare rock of the dome. The beautiful view that awaits you at the top will not disappoint.

 

Days 7-8 : San Francisco (315 km/3h34)

Day 7

It takes several hours to drive from Yosemite Park to San Francisco. The kids can rest during the trip to be in shape to explore this iconic city. Bring comfortable shoes: the city's hills are no urban legend!

Of all the must-see attractions, the Golden Gate Bridge is at the top of the list. If you don't have time to walk across it, you can go to Viewpoint Golden Gate Bridge or Marshall’s Beach to photograph the famous red bridge.

Continue your walk east to Fisherman’s Wharf and the sea lions on Pier 39. Right next to it is the Coit Tower. Don't hesitate to climb it to admire the 360° view of San Francisco.

If you're hungry, you can follow the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building farmers market. You're bound to find something good to eat at this temple of fresh farm-grown produce.

Continue on to the famous Lombard Street and its hairpin turns. The view from the bottom of the street is impressive.

In the afternoon, take a cruise on the bay for a different perspective of the city. You'll even pass under the Golden Gate Bridge! It's a great way to rest your legs.

End the day by stopping to admire the Painted Ladies from Alamo Square Park. You've probably seen these pastel-colored Victorian homes in a movie! Sit on the grass while enjoying an ice cream from Salt & Straw, the ice cream shop located 200 meters from the park.

 

Day 8

Ride the iconic San Francisco cable car early in the morning to avoid the crowds. This famous tramway is one of the symbols of the city.

If you want to visit the extremely popular Alcatraz Prison, be sure to purchase your tickets in advance. The tour is suitable for children, and you'll learn all kinds of fascinating things about the island and the penitentiary. It's also one of San Francisco's must-see photo spots.

At the Walt Disney Family Museum, there's something for everyone. Older kids will love learning about the life of Walt Disney, while the little ones can listen to stories and take part in lots of fun activities.

The kids are sure to enjoy a trip to the Exploratorium. This science museum invites visitors to do fun experiments. Dancing with their shadow, touching a tornado, stopping time... your kids won't want to leave!

End your visit to San Francisco on a high note with a stroll through Chinatown. Pass under the colorful big gate and immerse yourself in the atmosphere of this lively neighbourhood. Don't forget to check your future with a fortune cookie!

 

Day 9 : Monterey (190 km/1h59)

View of Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, California
Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey

It's going to be a beautiful day! Your family road trip to California continues in Monterey. This typical California Coast town will please both parents and children alike.

You can't to go to Monterey without visiting Fisherman’s Wharf. This historic wharf is a great place for a stroll and now features an array of candy stores, souvenir shops and restaurants.

Continue your day with a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the world's most beautiful aquariums.

For a family activity you'll remember for years to come, go kayaking with the seals in Monterey Bay. Keep your eyes peeled and you'll probably see plenty of marine mammals on the water.

To end the day, take a drive along the scenic 17-Mile Drive. This private, paid-access road is open from sunrise to sunset. Drive to Carmel, enjoying spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and cypress forest around every bend.

Be sure to take photo breaks at Cypress Point and Lone Cypress for exceptional views. Seal Rock is the best spot in the area for seal watching.

 

Day 10 : California Coast (201 km/2h04)

View of the Bixby Bridge and the California Coast
Beautiful view of the Bixby Creek Bridge between Carmel and Big Sur

With sunglasses on your nose and the Beach Boys in your ears, it's time to start the day! No time to waste, more stunning California vistas await. Continue south on the legendary Highway 1. From Carmel to San Simeon via Big Sur, the whole family will be dazzled by the beauty of the coast.

Point Lobos State Reserve is perfect for viewing seals, sea lions, sea otters and marine birds in their natural habitat.

Consider stopping at Elephant Seal Vista Point north of San Simeon to see the elephant seals. These large mammals are fun to watch, and their characteristic sound is sure to make the kids laugh!

Above all, take your time and don't hesitate to make frequent photo stops to immortalize the rugged landscapes of the California Coast. In any case, this winding road does not lend itself to speeding.

Once you reach Pismo Beach, pay a visit to Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve for some fun in the sand dunes. It's an excellent way to stretch your legs after a day on the road.

 

Day 11 : Los Angeles (324 km/3h24)

The palm trees of Venice Beach

Your California family vacation has come to an end, and it's time to head back to Los Angeles for your return flight.

After soaking up the California sun, sea air, national parks and eccentricity, you'll return home with a lifetime of precious memories!

After this exceptional family road trip in the Land of Uncle Sam, you're sure to want to come back to the US. Next time, why not explore Florida by RV ?

 

 

We've come to the end of the best California family tour. Did this itinerary make you want to explore the American West? Leave us a comment below, and be sure to share your questions and suggestions!

Karolane Lessard

An enthusiast of both our vibrant cities & great oudoors, my life revolves around travel & adventure. It's a no brainer that I have to share the wonders & secrets of my neck of the woods with other travelling souls. Enjoy the journey!

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