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Best family attractions in California

Whether you are a family living in California or are heading in from out of town, the sunny coastal state has plenty of fun family-friendly attractions for the oldest and youngest members of your brood. From amusement parks to piers to safari fun, discover the fun California has to offer for your entire family.

California Street Sign

Northern California

1. Pixieland Amusement Park, Concord

Just a short ride from both San Francisco and Oakland, Pixieland Amusement Park features rides and a Kids Café geared towards children ages 1 to 10 years old. Visitors can ride a mini train, take a spin on the carousel, or find excitement on the Frog Hopper and the Dragon Roller coaster, and more. Littlest visitors can find fun on a handful of coin-operated rides, but all other rides require a ticket. In the Kids Café, the menu features food and treats that make the favorites list of kids, including chicken nuggets, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit snacks, and snow cones.


2740 E. Olivera Rd., Concord, CA 94519. Hours: Vary by month, check website for hours; Admission: Free; $1.75 per ticket for rides.


2. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is more than an amusement park; it is a collection of roller coasters, amusement rides, animal exhibits and shows. The animal park, thrill-ride park, and marine park combo offers visitors fun separated into three themes: land, sea, and sky. Numerous major roller coasters like Medusa and Voodoo offer thrill-seekers plenty of adrenaline-pumping action, while Thomas Town gives Thomas the Tank Engine-loving little ones a park area of their own. And, in addition to the usual amusement park fun, animal attractions that include tigers, orcas, dolphins, penguins, and more make Six Flags Discovery Kingdom an all-in-one experience.


1001 Fairgrounds Dr., Vallejo, CA 94589. Hours: Closed most of January and all of February; check website for daily operating hours; Admission: Adults: $44.99; Child Under 48″: $29.99; Children 2 & Under: Free.


3. California’s Great America, Santa Clara

California’s Great America amusement park offers rides and shows for the entire family. You can take in a 3-D animation show at the Paramount Action FX Theatre, take a spin on the world’s tallest double-decker carousel, or head over to Boomerang Bay Beach Club to cool off during the summer season. For families wishing to dine on their own food, a picnic area right outside the park’s main entrance is available. The Lost Parents center offers bottle warming, formula, baby food, and other special services with the park’s youngest visitors in mind. And, stroller rental and diaper changing stations throughout the park make it easy to take the entire family for a day of fun.


4701 Great America Pkwy., Santa Clara, CA 95054. Hours: Sunday through Thursday 10am-8pm; Saturday 10am-9pm; closed weekdays during winter season, so check website for dates; Admission: Ages 3-61 and 48″ or taller: $54.99; Ages 3-61 and under 48″ and ages 62+: $24.99.


4. Pier 39, San Francisco

Pier 39 in San Francisco offers something for everyone in your family. Free events take place throughout the year, but year round, more than 100 specialty shops share the pier, offering souvenirs, accessories, and services. The numerous attractions, such as the Aquarium of the Bay and the TurboRide 4D experience, will keep you entertained all day long. And, the Pier offers plenty of restaurants and eateries for even the pickiest of eaters, too, including the Crêpe Cafe where you can watch crêpes being made in the window of the eatery. Or, head on over to witness the sea lion population that inhabits Pier 39’s West Marina every year. Regardless of your idea of fun, you are sure to have a good time at Pier 39.


Beach Street & The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94133. Hours: shops & attractions opened 10am–8pm Sunday through Thursday during most months; 10am–9pm Friday and Saturday; restaurant times vary; Admission: Free.


5. Gilroy Gardens (Bonfante Gardens), Gilroy

In the city known for its garlic festival, the Gilroy Gardens (Bonfante Gardens) in Gilroy offers both botanical sights as well as amusement park fun. Gilroy Gardens features more than 40 attractions, including six gardens, educational exhibits and rides geared toward kids ages 8 and younger. Attractions such as a train, carousel, rock maze, butterfly house, coaster, Quicksilver Mine Coaster, carnival games and more offer a full day of fun. Remember to pack a bathing suit and a towel for water play areas during the warmer months. Overall, the rides and attractions, uniquely-shaped and twisted trees, hundreds of acres of gardens, and tropical plants make this unique theme park an experience to remember.


3050 Hecker Pass Highway, Gilroy, California 95020. Hours: March through November, Saturday & Sunday: 10am–6pm; select Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in April: 11am–5pm; mid-June through August Monday through Friday: 11am–5pm; Admission: Adults $44.99; Children 3-10 and Seniors: $34.99; Online special: $29.99.


Southern California

1. Disneyland, Anaheim

This hardly needs any explanation! Kids and adults of all ages will enjoy the magic of Disney at the Happiest Place on Earth. Plan for a long day (or more than one day), wear your most comfortable shoes and prepare your imagination for the endless possibilities of the Magic Kingdom. You’ll enjoy rides, attractions, entertainment and food, all featuring your favorite Disney characters and themes. Don’t forget the parade- Celebrate! A Street Party – and the fireworks show. Check the park schedule for times when you arrive. Look for the characters around the Park throughout the day and meet Mickey any time at his house in Toon Town.


1515 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim, CA 92802. Hours: vary by day and season – see website; Admission: Adults and children 10 and over: $72; children 3 – 9: $62; children 2 and under: free.


2. Sea World, San Diego

Sea World San Diego is neither too big nor too small and will be enjoyed by parents and children alike. You’ll like the wide range of marine life, mammals, shows and rides. Don’t miss the dolphin, sea lion and Shamu shows Make sure to arrive a little early for the shows so that you can secure a great seat, especially during peak season. Younger children will also take delight in Pet’s Rule, where dogs, cats and birds put on a humorous show that will make you laugh along with your kids. If you have younger children who need to burn off some energy, visit the Sesame Street Bay of Play, a two acre area with rides and activities.


500 Sea World Dr., San Diego, CA 92109. Hours: varies by day and season – see website; Admission: Adults and children 10 and over: $69; children 3 – 10: $59; children 2 and under: free


3. Legoland, Carlsbad

Created specifically for children ages two through 12, the 128 acre park boasts over 50 family rides, shows and “hands-on” attractions. Any child who likes Legos should have a blast at this theme park, and families looking for a slower-paced day than they might have at a bigger park such as Disneyland will enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere. While kids older than 12 might not find the excitement they are looking for, the 12 and under crowd should have lots of fun. They can stretch their legs in the Land of Adventure and they can stretch their minds in the Imagination Zone, where attractions such as the Build and Test allow “young engineers” to build and race cars. Legoland also features a water park and an Aquarium, both of which require additional admission fees. Be sure to check the website for hours as well as combined ticket discounts.


One Legoland Dr., Carlsbad, CA 92008. Hours: vary by day and season – see website. Often closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, expect during peak seasons; Admission: Children 13 and older and adults up to age 59: $67; Children 3 – 13 and seniors 60 and over: $57; children 2 and under: free; check website for specials and for combined tickets for Sea Life Aquarium and Water Park.


4. Knotts Berry Farm, Buena Park

Considered America’s first theme park, this 160 acre former-farm is now a great place to spend a day riding roller coasters and exploring the six themed sections of the park: Camp Snoopy, The Boardwalk, Ghost Town, Fiesta Village, Indian Trails and Wild Water Wilderness. Although there are many roller coasters and rids for “taller” guests, Knotts is similar to Disneyland in that there is something for everyone. For families with small children, Camp Snoopy has a lot to offer, including 13 rides and two shows. The website offers suggestions for both families with school-aged children and families with younger ones. Be sure to spend a little time orienting yourself before you visit so you can make the most of your time.


8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, CA 90620. Hours: vary – see website; Admission: Adults and children 12 – 61: $44.99; children 3 – 11 and seniors 62 and older: $23.99; children 2 and under: free; check website for specials.


5. Descanso Gardens, La Canada Flintridge

These beautiful, sprawling gardens will allow you and your family to enjoy the outdoors in a serene, colorful setting. The gardens are paved with winding walkways that make it easy to push a stroller and feature lakes, waterfalls, and a bird sanctuary. There is no shortage of gardens, ranging from the beautiful eight acre California garden, which showcases Southern California landscape, to the tranquil Japanese Garden, which features a koi stream and a tea house. If your kids love trains, you’ll want to visit on the weekends, when the Enchanted Railroad runs. If you are interested in exploring the gardens on a tram, check the website for hours of operation. Additionally, there are educational programs throughout the year, so refer to the website before your visit.


1418 Descanso Dr., La Canada Flintridge, CA 91011. Hours: Daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; closed Christmas; Admission: Adults: $8; children 5 – 12: $3; students and seniors: $6; children under 5: free.

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