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- Best Overall: Disney’s Grand Californian Resort and Spa – See Rates at TripAdvisor "Nobody does child-friendly like the Mouse House."
- Best Waterpark: Great Wolf Lodge – See Rates at TripAdvisor "There are waterparks, and then there’s Garden Grove’s Great Wolf Lodge."
- Best View: Terranea – See Rates at TripAdvisor "The resort offers a lengthy list of programming and activities."
- Best Kids' Club: The Resort at Pelican Hill – See Rates at TripAdvisor "Outdoors, kids will find their own pool, including a bubble jet fountain and sandy play space."
- Best Outdoorsy: Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort – See Rates at TripAdvisor "The four-star resort has a bevy of amenities for parents and children alike."
- Best for Skiing: Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe – See Rates at TripAdvisor "Multiple ski and snowboard schools are also located nearby to teach guests as young as three."
- Best for Parents: Monarch Beach – See Rates at TripAdvisor "From the moment you check into the 400-room resort, children are spoiled with welcome amenities."
- Best for Luxury: Fairmont Grand Del Mar – See Rates at TripAdvisor "The entire family can take advantage of the 37 miles of canyon hiking trails."
- Best Pool: Omni Rancho Las Palmas – See Rates at TripAdvisor "Golf carts are available to shuttle lazy littles around the vast grounds."
Best Overall: Disney’s Grand Californian Resort and Spa
It shouldn’t be a surprise that a Disney hotel tops the list — nobody does child-friendly like the Mouse House. Located on the grounds of Anaheim’s Disney California Adventure Park, with a back entrance from the hotel directly into the park, the resort oozes childlike wonder. Of course, there are Disney-exclusive experiences, such as a character breakfast at Storytellers Café with Mickey, Minnie, and friends, as well as subtle Disney touches and decorations in the comfortable, spacious rooms. Kids’ sleeper beds even display headboards with woodland creatures from Bambi.
For those who don’t want to spend all their time at adjacent theme parks, there’s a variety of on-property programming, including outdoor movie nights, arts and crafts, and scavenger hunts. Families can also relax and play at the various pools, including the Redwood Pool complete with a 90-foot-long waterslide, tranquil Fountain Pool, and Mariposa Pool with hot tub and six private cabanas (available for a fee). For adults seeking a bit of kid-free time, meanwhile, the hotel also has a wonderful spa, Mandara, and a fine-dining restaurant, Napa Rose. The resort’s Anaheim location means other family-friendly theme parks, including Knott’s Berry Farm and Great Wolf Waterpark, are just ten minutes by car.
Best Waterpark: Great Wolf Lodge
There are waterparks, and then there’s Garden Grove’s Great Wolf Lodge. A 105,000-square-foot indoor mega-park, Great Wolf is located just three miles from Disneyland, near Anaheim (meaning you could potentially pack two vacations into one). The resort offers 603 family-friendly rooms, including bunk beds and special sleeping areas for kids, all done in Great Wolf-themed style. The resort allows families to enjoy its activities year round, thanks to water kept at a balmy 84 degrees. The park features four pools, a wave pool, lazy river, fourteen slides, a free fall, tube rides, body surfing, and a water tree house. For those who’d rather not get wet, there’s also music, dancing, and crafts through Cub Club, as well as mini golf, bowling, laser tag, an XD theater, a kids’ spa, a live-action game called MagiQuest, and nightly Story Time by the fire.
Though menus at most of the onsite restaurants are specifically designed to please kiddos (think: build your own pizza and a literal bucket of soft serve ice cream with brownies, cookies, candy, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream) — there are also surprisingly adult-friendly options, like a báhn mi sandwich at poolside Grizzly Jack’s, filet mignon or New York Strip at Lodge Wood Fired Grill (helmed by Executive Chef Hany Ali formerly of the Four Seasons Newport Beach), or an in-room sweet and savory food and wine pairing menu.
Best View: Terranea
It’s easy to forget you’re in greater-LA when staying at the 582-room and suite Terranea Resort. That's because the property sprawls out across 102 acres on the Palos Verdes peninsula, with an enviable perch right over the Pacific Ocean. Much of the resort is thoughtfully designed to take advantage of its view; that's particularly the case with its 50 three-bedroom ocean-view casitas. Each of its rooms offers elegant coastal-casual décor, while 32 villas boast kitchens and fireplaces — not that you’ll be spending much time in the room. The resort offers a lengthy list of programming and activities ranging from falconry to horseback riding. Other highlights include a 50,000-square-foot spa, four heated swimming pools, two pools just for adults, a kids splash area, and a 140-foot long waterslide.
Dining options include everything from high-end gourmet restaurant mar’sel — with a killer ocean view — to casual cliffside burger and taco joint Nelson’s to new wellness spot Solviva. The last sources nutritious, local ingredients from the resort’s own chicken-coop and herb garden. The resort also harvests its own honey, sea salt, and olive oil on-premise; you can arrange a tour if your littles are interested.
Check out our list of the best beachfront hotels in California.
Best Kids' Club: The Resort at Pelican Hill
Most resorts fit into one of two categories: luxurious or family-friendly. The Resort at Pelican Hill is the rare breed that manages both, particularly thanks to its wonderful kids' program, Camp Pelican. Designed for kids aged four to 12, Camp Pelican has something to offer every child, ranging from extensive programming to outdoor areas to a stocked clubhouse with video games, computers, books, two big-screen HDTVs, arts and crafts, and plenty of games. Outdoors, kids will find their own pool, including a bubble jet fountain and sandy play space. The club also boasts activities like movie nights and talent shows, ensuring both introverts and extroverts will find their calling.
Spread over 504-acres, the property offers 204 bungalows and 128 villas, all with a luxurious Tuscan feel. Rooms and suites feature marble soaking tubs, private terraces, 500-thread-count sheets, Italian limestone fireplaces, and wood-beam ceilings.
Best Outdoorsy: Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort
A working 10,000-acre cattle ranch just outside Solvang in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, Alisal has been delighting outdoorsy families since 1946. Close to wine country — some of Santa Barbara’s best vineyards are only minutes away — the four-star resort has a bevy of amenities for parents and children alike. Rooms are clean and charming, with a rustic Western feel and activities including horseback riding, tennis, cycling, golf, swimming, ziplining, tightropes, an obstacle course, and fishing are on offer.
Budding junior equestrians will adore Alisal, thanks to a barnyard where kids can learn to tack up and help care for the ponies and horses, in addition to riding them. Sheep abound, and there’s also an arts and crafts room, a petting zoo, and programming for kids from three to 17, lending to the summer camp vibe. Despite the relaxed feel, there’s a dinnertime dress code, with jackets required for men older than 16 years. The rate includes both a breakfast buffet and dinner, and both Wi-Fi and parking are available.
Best for Skiing: Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe
Located in Lake Tahoe’s uber-family friendly Northstar resort, the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe is an ideal spot for parents looking to ski with the littles. A ski-in/ski-out property, there are beginner runs right outside the hotel, and ski valet service provides maximum ease for overburdened parents. Multiple ski and snowboard schools are also located nearby to teach guests as young as three. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, activities include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating, tubing, and dog sledding. The resort’s Ritz Kids club, designed for kids ages five to 12, offers lunch, arts and crafts, games, and scavenger hunts, and there’s also a family arcade and the option of outfitting your room with an indoor tent, complete with s’mores, teddy bears, flashlights, and Ritz-Carlton linens.
Each of the 170 rooms, suites, and residential suites — as well as Club Level rooms — feature Nespresso machines, comfortable beds, tubs, walk-in showers; many also offer terraces. Six dining options — including innovative Manzanita, The Living Room lobby bar, Backyard Bar and BBQ for burgers, pizzas, beers, and colas, and counter service Café Blue — mean nobody will ever go hungry. For much-needed couple or me-time, there’s also a 17,000-square-foot slope-side spa, featuring locally-inspired treatments, a heated lap pool, and 17 treatment rooms.
Best for Parents: Monarch Beach
Down in Orange County’s sunny Dana Point, Monarch Beach Resort hits every mark with a seemingly endless array of family-friendly amenities. From the moment you check into the 400-room resort, children are spoiled with welcome amenities, including kiddie robes and slippers which wait in-room. Highlights include three swimming pools, plus a kids’ splash pad, as well as a kids’ club and program designed for littles five to 12. While mom and dad play the 18-hole championship golf course or a competitive game of tennis, kiddos can spend the whole day enjoying games like foosball, cornhole, ping pong, or Giant Jenga, not to mention treasure hunts, magic shows, karaoke, and more. There's also the opportunity to interact with tidepool animals and make ocean-inspired art with the Ocean Institute Program. For those younger than five, the resort also offers babysitting services. Room service is thoughtfully designed for families, with offerings like a pancake tower. Even the beach experience is tailored, though; the resort offers a Surf Host to help wrangle lounge chairs, umbrellas, and towels, so you don't have to fight for space with impatient toddlers in tow.
It's not all designed with just children in mind, however — adults will be well-taken care of, too. The resort's Miraval Life in Balance Spa offers a long list of spa treatments, as well as offerings including aerial yoga, pilates, and high-intensity interval training, plus a Drybar and Deborah Lippman Nail Salon. There are also several restaurant options, including Bourbon Steak from celebrity chef Michael Mina, the Monarch Bay Club located on the beach, and Mediterranean-inspired AVEO Table + Bar. While valet parking fees are hefty, cars receive unlimited in/out privileges, and Wi-Fi is free.
Best for Luxury: Fairmont Grand Del Mar
Just 20 minutes north of San Diego, the Fairmont Grand Del Mar is an elegant 400-acre resort. Despite its refined pedigree — culled thanks to a Tom Fazio-designed golf course, a destination spa, tennis courts, and a Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five Diamond restaurant, named Addison — the resort is surprisingly child-friendly. Special kids menus are on offer at Amaya, the resort pool, the Clubhouse Grill and through room service, and the resort offers an Explorer-in-Training dining program where kids five years and younger can eat free off Amaya’s children’s menu or at the buffet. (Children six to 12 also eat for 50% off.)
There are four pools (each with underwater music), a children’s wading pool and sand area, as well as the Explorer’s Club — a group for kids ages five to 12, with programming and amenities such as arts and crafts, movies, board games, air hockey, ping pong, and video games — and an equestrian center provides lessons and trail rides. The entire family can take advantage of the 37 miles of canyon hiking trails, as well as the hotel's close proximity to both the beach and Legoland. Wi-Fi is free, parking is available for a fee, and Fido is more than welcome as the resort is dog-friendly.
Best Pool: Omni Rancho Las Palmas
About 20 minutes from downtown Palm Springs in Rancho Mirage, the four-star, Omni Rancho Las Palmas is a kiddie paradise thanks to Splashtopia — its two-acre water park. Featuring two 100-foot water slides, a 450-foot lazy river, a cliff-side Jacuzzi, and a sandy beach — as well as an adult-only pool — it’s everything a vacationing family could want. The massive 84,000-square-foot, 444-room property also includes a range of other family-friendly activities and amenities, including arcade, pool table, table tennis, video games, pinball machines, and 25 tennis courts. Golf carts are available to shuttle lazy littles around the vast grounds, and when mom and dad are looking for some alone time, there’s a 27-hole Ted Robinson-designed golf course and a 20,000-square-foot destination spa with 26 treatment rooms.
Guestrooms are clean and comfortable, although some guests complain about thin walls and tired decor. (A room refresh is currently in the works.) A range of dining options — everything from poolside Splash Grill for burgers, nachos, grilled cheese, and smoothies, to classic California New American cuisine at bluEmber to a special kids’ buffet at breakfast — means families are spoiled for choice. Both Wi-Fi and parking are complimentary and the resort is pet-friendly.