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California Offers Luxury Travel for Families Too


“Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” If you’re talking about a new level of style and sophistication in family travel throughout California, then yes, we sure are.

Theme parks have long been a staple of family travel, and with resorts like Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa and the new LEGOLAND Castel Hotel in Carlsbad, the fun can begin long before you enter the park gates. From character-themed rooms and elaborate welcome gifts to VIP tours and priority access to rides and attractions, you can add a whole new dimension to these classic family destinations. And with the Grand Californian’s award-winning Napa Rose restaurant and Bali-inspired Mandara Spa, the adults in tow can definitely get in on the Disney magic.

For kids wild about animals, there are numerous ways to interact with and observe critters up close. In Northern California Wine Country, wildlife preserve Safari West offers an upscale glamping experience with expansive, tricked-out tents that offer panoramic views of the “Sonoma Serengeti,” where African wildlife roams freely in huge enclosures.

There’s comfy overnight camping at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and Oakland Zoo, too, while budding zoologists and marine biologists can also get behind-the-scenes VIP tours and animal interactions at the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Fresno Chaffee Zoo.

Families looking for outdoor adventure by no means have to rough it. With some of planet Earth’s most stunning sights as a backdrop, the Golden State offers a slew of luxurious accommodations that provide all the amenities necessary for a memorable getaway. Top of the list should be Yosemite National Park, where the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly the Ahwahnee Hotel) has been hosting guests right in the heart of the park since 1927. Outside of the park is the elegant, Euro-style Chateau du Sureau and its justly famous restaurant, Erna’s Elderberry House. It’s the perfect launching pad to enjoy all that Yosemite has to offer: hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, river rafting, and more. Chateau du Sureau can also arrange a backpacking trip led by a personal guide/chef.

Another Yosemite option is the Rush Creek Lodge. Opened in 2015, it’s the first new resort in the park area in more than 25 years. Highlights include guided tours, a saltwater pool, gold-panning stream, game room, and zip lines.

Stunning Lake Tahoe offers year-round activities, including some of California’s best snow play (from tubing to boarding) and mountain biking. Squaw Valley, which played host to the 1960 Winter Olympics, is the setting for the Resort at Squaw Creek, which features ski in-ski out privileges and just about every creature comfort. A gasp-inducing gondola ride that gains some 2,000 feet in elevation up to Squaw Valley’s High Camp (where a pool and hot tub await) is a must-do. The list can also include dog sledding, snowmobiling, and private snowboarding or skiing lessons for the family or just the kids.

For a unique take on a family vacation staple, check out AutoCamp with its designer campgrounds stocked with custom-made, style-forward Airstream trailers and safari tents. There are two locations: among the towering redwoods of Sonoma County along the Russian River and in Santa Barbara, within walking distance of downtown restaurants and attractions. The Santa Barbara site has actually been a campground for motorists since 1922.

If the wish list includes a beach vacation with all the bells and whistles included — and none of the hassle — the Golden State can’t be beat. The Surf & Sand Resort in picturesque Laguna Beach is set right on 500 feet of pristine oceanfront; there are nightly s’mores for the kids (OK, and the adults, too), private surf camps, and standup paddleboard lessons. In Huntington Beach, aka Surf City and home to the world-famous US Open of Surfing, Paséa Hotel & Spa is just steps from the beach and pier. Loews Santa Monica Beach hotel is a family-friendly destination that puts guests right in the heart of happening Santa Monica; its beachfront location is close to the Pacific Park amusement park on the pier and the city’s eclectic dining and shopping (such as boutique children’s clothing store Pink Chicken).

Other luxe seaside digs the whole clan will love include:

  • Cavallo Point Lodge — Set on the Sausalito side of San Francisco Bay, the comfy, stylish property provides amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and is adjacent to the Bay Area Discovery Museum, which offers programming for kids age 10 and under.
  • Embassy Suites by Hilton Mandalay Beach Resort — Located between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, this all-suite property has direct access to the beach; it’s a great spot from which to launch a trip to the Channel Islands.
  • L’Auberge Del Mar — Nestled between the beach and the quaintly chic town of Del Mar, there’s plenty to keep parents and kids happy, including surf lessons and all the beach toys and accessories you could want.
  • Hotel Del Coronado — This National Historic Landmark has been hosting families since 1888. A Victorian beauty, it also features swanky, contemporary cottages and villas right on the beach.

A little more than 20 miles off the Southern California coast is Santa Catalina Island. Resembling a Mediterranean island paradise, Catalina can be accessed by families in style aboard a private charter yacht. The small port of Avalon is a great base for swimming and snorkeling in the pristine water, or hiking and fishing.

California’s deserts also give visitors unforgettable experiences in a truly fantastic setting. Hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, guided desert tours, ballooning, the breathtaking Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and Old West movie sets are highlights. And for families staying at the oasis-like JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, an additional set of diversions like waterways plied by gondolas, pools, miniature golf, and volleyball and basketball courts awaits.

All these unique ways to stay and play make California an unforgettable family-friendly paradise.