Like the holiday season, the summer months give families time to bond. While social media posts relay the joy and excitement of seasonal family adventures, finding the perfect location for your getaway can be challenging—even stressful—when individual interests and travel time come into play. If the members of your clan can’t agree on where they want to go or what they want to do on your next trip, but warm weather is a must, then Southern California is your next, best vacation destination. Read on to find where to go, what to do—and why some folks are calling the golden state by a new name: Kidifornia.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Why California?

With weather that is warm and sunny year-round and activities that range from luxurious to kid-tastic to rugged and perfect for the outdoor enthusiast, California is ideal for any family. There are numerous theme parks to explore, stunning beach fronts to relax and play on, plenty of museums for the history buffs in your family, and a variety of activities to satisfy the outdoor adventurer. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, airfare is reasonable and the flights are short, which is perfect if your vacation time is limited. If you have a bit of extra time on your hands, this vacation makes an ideal road trip, with plenty to see and experience along the way!

Catalina

What to do
If you live in the PNW and only have a weekend to escape the daily grind, Catalina is your dream destination. With an airport located in Long Beach, the flight from major airports like Seattle’s Sea-Tac International Airport and Portland’s Portland International Airport is just a couple-hour trek, giving you extra time to relax once you reach your final destination.

From Long Beach, you can either catch the Catalina Express and enjoy an hour-long, 22-mile scenic cruise off of the coast of Southern California to your final destination in Avalon. Tickets start at $36 per person, per round trip. Or, you can get there by helicopter with IEX Helicopters, which takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes and gives passengers a bird’s-eye view of the ocean and Catalina Island. Rides start at $135 per person and provide an unforgettable experience. If you need more time in the sky, you can plan a helicopter tour of the island! Chances are, you’ll see plenty of local wildlife including buffalo, dolphins and more.

photo: courtesy of IEX Helicopters

At first glance, Catalina will make you wonder if you’ve landed in a completely different country where island escape dreams come true. This stunning location has white-sand beaches for kids to play on while their parental units unwind. Vehicles are limited on the island, so road noise isn’t a thing, nor is the fear of eager youngsters running out into the streets should you take your eyes off of them for a moment.

Both locals and visitors primarily get around by bike or golf cart, and both options are fun for everyone in the family. Rent your family bikes from Brown’s Bikes where you’ll find a multitude of options to fit every need and interest. Go tandem or try an electric bike. They even have bikes for kids and prices start around $50 per day per bike when you order online. If touring the island by golf cart sounds exciting, head to Catalina Island Golf Cart Rentals where you can pick up your rig with prices starting at $90 per two hours.

Activities on the island abound. The adrenaline junkies in your family will thrill at the chance to go on the Catalina Island Zip Line Eco Tour. 88 percent of the island is protected by the Catalina Island Conservancy, which keeps it from being developed. The eco-tour let’s you soar above the island’s natural beauty through the Descanso Canyon on five separate zip lines. Smaller children can go tandem with mom or dad (note: there are size and weight restrictions), and the knowledgeable staff not only keep you safe and having fun, they educate you on the island’s history and the local wildlife. Your journey lasts approximately two hours and prices start at $129 per person depending on the time of year.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

For those who prefer to remain at sea level—or below— the Catalina Undersea Expedition is the perfect activity. Your ride inside this semi-submersible vessel puts you five feet under the water where you are surrounded by windows that get you up close and personal with the local sea life. Expect to see vivid orange garibaldi, spotted calico bass, urchins, rockfish, bat rays and more on this 45-minute ride. Tickets start at $31 a person and are well worth the price!

If you prefer a more personal sea life encounter, sign up for a snorkeling excursion with Catalina Divers Supply. Their professionals will suit you up, get you out in the water and help you find plenty of beautiful creatures in person for just $55 per person. For a more educational experience, stop by the Catalina Island Museum for a tour or to check out the exhibits on your own. Recently relocated to a new building, this museum has 18,000 square feet of space for exhibits and a wide range of modern amenities. From a theater area to an outdoor amphitheater, there’s plenty to see and do here. Visitors get the opportunity to learn about the history of Catalina or “ooh,” and “aaah,” over exhibits like Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle and JAWS: The Art of Fear in Filmmaking.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Where to Stay and Eat
You will feel right at home at the Old Turner Inn where the rooms combine local elegance with the comfort of home. Their king and queen suites both have beautiful wrought-iron beds with luxurious linens, wood-burning fireplaces, and french doors that lead into a separate room with a daybed. These lovely suits give parents a little extra privacy and kids a sweet place to crash after their long day filled with adventure.

When you stay at the Old Turner, your breakfast is covered. Enjoy a home-cooked meal every morning. Also included every evening, are light appetizers with sips for adults and kids. When you do head out to eat, hit the Descanso Beach Club for an oceanfront meal and drinks. From street tacos to burgers there’s an array of menu items to tame the hungriest of tummies, and mom and dad can enjoy sipping one of their signature cocktails while the kids play nearby in the sand. We suggest the Cabana Colada and the Blood Orange Margarita.

If you want to let the kids live out their own beach dreams, get dinner at the Three Palms Avalon Restaurant & Arcade. There’s nothing quite like playing old-school and new-school arcade games on the beach! Let the kids run wild while you nibbling on pizza or a salad. When everyone has filled their tummies, enjoy island-style bowling to end your day!

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Carlsbad

What to do
When it comes to summer fun, it’s likely that the kids and adults in your family have strikingly different ideas about what they want to do. Young adventurers dream of them parks with rides that spin them around and give them an excuse to scream and shout. Mom and dad, on the other hand, likely envision scenic strolls, relaxing on the beach with a tasty beverage, and perhaps even a romantic meal.

Carlsbad has a little something for everyone.

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LEGOLAND is a Carlsbad highlight that will make your youngsters squeal with joy. With prices starting at $89 per child and a variety of package options, this theme park is filled with rides and activities that are designed to delight the younger set—especially little ones who like to fill their time playing with their favorite tiny bricks. This theme park has a water park and the Sea Life Aquarium all in one location, so it lends itself to kids with an array of interests. Get up early to beat the crowds and hit the Coastersaurus, Knights Tournament, and the Dragon—and satiate the adrenaline junkie’s need for speed early on.

If you have little ones who are timid when it comes to rides, not to worry, there are plenty of gentle but fun experiences like the Sky Patrol for them to enjoy. LEGOLAND is perfect for kids of all ages, but especially those zero to 10. Height requirements and ride intensity are designed to leave no child behind wishing,“If only I were big enough,” and minimizing the tears that are shed during your visit.

When the temperatures soar, suit up and hit the waterpark to cool off with splashy rides and slippery slides. Then head to the Sea Life Aquarium where your young discoverers have the opportunity to see glowing jellyfish and walk beneath sharks and rays as they swoosh through the water. There’s even a hands-on experience that allows small fingers to touch and feel sea life.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Once you have theme park fun out of your kiddos’ system, take time to explore Carlsbad. Up the fun with electric bike rentals or a tour at Pedego Electric Bikes. Prices start at $16 per hour with a two-hour minimum rental. The tours give families the opportunity to experience the coastline in a unique and exhilarating way while learning fun facts about the area from an expert.

The Carlsbad Flower Fields bloom in early spring, making for a spectacular early morning or late afternoon stroll. You’ll need to put this activity on your itinerary for 2019 as the flowers are no longer currently in bloom.

Don’t forget to get beach time in at one of the Carlsbad beaches. With five unique stretches of shoreline to explore, including the North Carlsbad Beaches, Tamarack-State Beach and more, you can enjoy a variety of oceanfront experiences.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Where to Stay and Eat
LEGOLAND Resort and Hotel and LEGOLAND CASTLE Hotel are both perfect for families looking for a playful adventure and a whole lot of comfort. The rooms are themed according to a variety of adventures and the adult sleeping area is separated from the children’s bunk area, giving a bit of much-appreciated space after a long day full of adventures.

Both hotels have direct entrance to the theme park and they are situated close to Carlsbad making for an easy commute to the beach. There are multiple restaurants on site where kids can be kids and parents don’t have to stress. Rooms start around $499 per night.

For a higher dining experience, take the family to Vigilucci’s Cucina Italiana—or sneak in a romantic date night out. Located in the heart of Carlsbad’s beautiful downtown area, this authentic Italian restaurant offers an elegant atmosphere, handmade pasta dishes and the option to dine in or enjoy eating outside in their patio dining area. It’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of theme park fun, or take in the magic of a day on the beach.

You can’t go wrong ordering anything on the menu, but we suggest the Brodetto di Cozze e Vongole for an excellent seafood experience, any of the handmade pasta dishes, and kids will delight at the scrumptious meatballs.

Park 101 offers families another wonderful dining option and is located in the center of the Village. Its multi-level dining plaza gives hungry customers the opportunity to lounge, play, or dine and drink. This location is both kid-friendly and dog-friendly and features a market-style eatery with fresh menu items that include salads, soups, sandwiches, and an array of savory plates. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to devour their mac and cheese! It is delicious. And your kids will love the cotton candy machine and it’s sugary treat. You can enjoy your meal on the deck where you will find fantastic views of Carlsbad and a lounge with fire pits or down in the lawn area where there’s plenty of room for the kiddos to play.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Oceanside

What to do
Fun fact: the site of the iconic Top Gun House is located right off the Oceanside beach front, taking parents back to “the good ol’ days.”

This area provides families with plenty to do. From biking along the beach to whale watching to sand play, it’s easy to fill a day. Kids will love the long stretch of beachfront dotted with play areas that offer the opportunity to swing, slide, and climb to the sound of waves crashing. Rent bikes from Wheel Fun Rentals and bike the famous Strand. When little legs get tired, take a leisurely stroll down the pier.

While it’s easy to stay on the beach and play all day, Oceanside has a multitude of additional adventures you’ll want to fit into your trip itinerary. Experience sea life in its natural habitat with Oceanside Adventures luxury whale and dolphin tours. These cruises can be found on the Oceanside Harbor and they thrill family members young and old with a spectacular adventure through the Pacific waters. The captain knows exactly where to go, and along with the whales and dolphins you encounter sea lions and a variety of seabirds. Best of all, you are likely to meet new people and your kids may even make a new friend or two while squealing with joy at sightings of exciting marine life.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Additional adventures to consider while in this charming beach town include taking a hike at Buena Vista Lagoon: the only freshwater lagoon in California. Your young (and old) surf fanatics will enjoy visiting the California Surf Museum  where they can learn all about the history of the sport and its culture. After your tour through the exhibits is done, head back to the beach for a little surf fun.

Where to Stay and Eat
For a spectacular view of the beach and a front seat to the Top Gun House, reserve a room at the SpringHill Suites Marriott Oceanside. The rooms are beautiful, spacious and have a double queen with sofa bed option for larger families. The complimentary breakfast is a highlight at this location. With offerings that include eggs, sausage, and make-your-own waffles, every appetite is sure to be satisfied. Make sure to take advantage of the rooftop pool. This amenity will please both parents and children with its incredible view, hot tub, and a pool that little ones can splash and play in.

Hello Betty is attached to the SpringHill Suites and you will find fresh-off-the-boat fish at this location. Their Baja inspired menu ties in beautifully with the beach experience this location offers visitors. They have an upstairs patio with games like giant Jenga that kids and parents can play while waiting for their meals. Or kick back and enjoy live music while sipping on tasty cocktails. The menu is full of great options. We suggest the ceviche and smoked tacos. Younger pallets are sure to love their cheeseburger too.

Lighthouse Oyster Bar & Grill is located on the Oceanside Harbor, diners climb the stairs to the restaurant and enjoy being served on a deck overlooking the harbor. This restaurant is the perfect place to refuel after your whale-watching adventure. With dreamy views and a menu filled with savory seafood delights, you can count on top-notch service and excellence in every prepared dish. Fresh fish is their specialty, we recommend their Mahi Mahi and Lobster Tacos. The younger set will delight at their grilled sirloin cheeseburger, mac and cheese, and pasta bowl. For dessert consider splurging on their chocolate lava cake or keep it simple and delightful with berries and cream.

Do you have a favorite Southern California vacation location? Share it with us in the comments below!

—Annette Benedetti

This trip was paid for by Visit California, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.