Spring break in the Golden State can be any kind of trip that you want. Whether you want to go skiing in the mountains, lounge out at the beach, or anything in between, it's all possible during the springtime in California. Temperatures across the state are relatively comfortable in March and April, although the warmest weather can be found in Southern California.
The dates of spring break vary between school districts in California, which helps to spread out the crowds across March and April since you don't have the entire state of nearly 40 million people off at once. Nevertheless, hotels and attractions book up fast, so be sure to finalize your plans early and make any necessary reservations as soon as you can.
El Capitan Canyon, Santa Barbara
Camping near the beach is one of the best things California has to offer, but camping in March can still be pretty cold. Thankfully, for families who like camping but don't quite want to rough it, the "glamping" options at El Capitan Canyon near Santa Barbara offer the best of both worlds. Listen to the sounds of nature before bed, sit by a warm campfire in the evenings, and then retreat to your cabin or yurt with a comfy bed and hot water.
El Capitan State Beach is just minutes away from the campgrounds by foot, so you and the family can easily spend the day hanging out by the water (beach weather is highly possible, even in March and April). If you want to eat in a restaurant or enjoy a night out, Santa Barbara is just 20 minutes south.
For more authentic camping options, you can also camp at El Capitan State Campgrounds or other nearby campsites. Just make sure you get your reservation early since campgrounds book up quickly in California.
Disneyland may be the most popular park in Southern California, but Legoland in the city of Carlsbad is a dream vacation for any kids who are fans of these building blocks. The park stretches on for 128 acres and much of what's inside is actually made of Lego toys. The park is ideal for families with younger children since most attractions are designed for kids aged 2–12, but there are some roller coasters and other thrill rides to keep antsy kids entertained.
The on-premise Legoland Hotel is a four-star property that has easy connections to the park, and the kid-forward amenities have helped it earn a reputation as one of the most family-friendly accommodations.
Since you'll already be in the area, a springtime visit to Legoland should be coupled with a stop at the Carlsbad Flower Fields. A vast field of giant ranunculus bulbs starts to bloom in the spring and makes for the most dazzling display of colors. It's perfect just to walk through or to snap that perfect family photo.
If you've never taken the family to San Francisco, the city is filled with all kinds of kid-friendly activities whether they're toddlers or high schoolers. Spring is actually a great time to visit the city since the weather is warming up and the summer fog has yet to arrive.
Most of the cities most iconic attractions are perfect for family outings, such as riding the cable car, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, exploring the shops of Chinatown, or riding the ferry to visit the abandoned prison on Alcatraz.
Golden Gate Park, which is even bigger than Central Park in New York, offers all kinds of attractions, but the best one for kids, teens, and even adults is the California Academy of Science. This interactive museum features an aquarium, planetarium, and indoor rainforest, and it's easy to spend an entire day inside without anyone getting bored.
Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay
A stay at the Ritz-Carlton may sound like a luxurious vacation away from the kids, but when parents want to pamper themselves and also bring the kids along, this iconic hotel chain is a treat for the whole family. The Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay is only 40 minutes away from San Francisco and the bustle of Silicon Valley, but you'll feel like you're a world away. The scenic coastline with cliffs dramatically dropping into the Pacific Ocean is worth staying there alone.
While the indulgence that the hotel is known for keeps parents happy, the Ritz Kids Program does the same for younger guests. Guided activities include exploring the tide pools, playing tennis, making s'mores, and building sandcastles, among others. On Friday and Saturday nights, the kids can even enjoy their own supervised "night out" with friends, allowing parents at least one intimate dinner together.
California is not lacking in charming seaside beach towns, but Monterey may be in the running for one of the most spectacular, or at least one of the most family-friendly. That's largely thanks to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which often makes it on the lists of best aquariums in the world. The interactive exhibits strongly focus on conservation and protecting wildlife, and the whole family will walk away with a new wonder for the ocean.
If the aquarium leaves you wanting for more, just walk outside to the beach where you can often find sea lions, harbor seals, and sea otters playing about in their natural habitat. You can even rent a kayak to get up closer. Spring break typically coincides perfectly with the tail end of grey whale season, so set aside some time to sit out on the beach and keep an eye out for some passing whales.
Speaking of charming seaside beach towns, drive south from Monterey along scenic Highway 1 and you'll get to sunny San Luis Obispo, lovingly referred to as "SLO" by the locals. This college town has all kinds of unique restaurants and places to go out, plus low-cost family-friendly attractions such as the San Luis Obispo Children's Museum and the Morro Bay Natural History Museum. Although the best low-cost activities in the area tend to be nature-related, such as hiking in Montaña del Oro or playing at Pismo Beach.
If your trip coincides with a Thursday, you'll be able to attend the weekly farmer's market which features locally grown produce, delicious barbeque, and live music entertainment. The opulent Hearst Castle is a short drive away and makes for a worthwhile side trip.
One of the most unique hotels in the area—if not the state—is the Madonna Inn. Each room is elaborately decorated with an individual theme, ranging from a cave to a rainforest. The garishly hot pink restaurant makes for an unforgettable meal, and even women sneak into the men's bathroom to get a peek at the famous waterfall urinal.
The best part of visiting Yosemite National Park in the spring is that as the winter snow starts melting, the waterfalls start flowing. That and the relatively minimal crowds. As one of the most popular national parks in the U.S., Yosemite can feel overrun in the summer months with tourists and hikers. But springtime is the perfect moment of the year to experience warming weather without long lines in the park.
Looking for wildlife, hiking to waterfalls, and enjoying the wildflowers in bloom is plenty for most travelers, but if your family is looking for a bit more adventure, try your hand at whitewater rafting in the Merced River. Guided tours make sure it's safe for everyone, and at the very least it's sure to be a bonding experience.
Camping is the best way to stay in the park, but remember that Yosemite is still pretty cold in the spring, especially at night. If sleeping outside isn't your family's style, there are hotels in the area for a more comfortable experience.
Mammoth Mountain is, well, mammoth: Over 11,000 feet high at the summit. With an average of 300 days of sunshine a year and a season that can last all the way to June, it's one of the premier destinations for spring skiing and snowboarding in the country. Located in the Eastern Sierras, it's about five hours away from Los Angeles via a scenic road trip along the picturesque Highway 395.
With over 150 trails on the mountain ranging from bunny hills to extreme, you won't have any problems finding a place to ski or snowboard regardless of your skill level. There are also snow parks and half-pipes for those who want to take their snowboarding to the next level.
At Mammoth, kids aged 4 and under ski for free, so it's a great place to introduce the youngest members of your family to the slopes. And just 20 miles away is June Mountain, which isn't nearly as big as Mammoth Ski Resort but allows kids up to age 12 to ski for free, a big relief on a family vacation budget.
For kids who are fans of action movies and big-budget films, Universal Studios Hollywood is the place to be. The Hollywood version isn't quite as big as its Orlando counterpart, but you can still find most of the same exciting attractions as there are in Florida: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Revenge of the Mummy, Jurassic Park The Ride, and more.
To get a behind-the-scenes look at how your favorite movies are made, join the Universal Studio Tour to get a peek at sets and costumes from classic movies such as "Jaws," "War of the Worlds," and many others. While the tour in the park is a scripted look at past movies, you can also see a live studio at work right up the street at the Warner Brother's Studio.
Huntington Beach is the name of the stretch of Orange County beach as well as the city that surrounds it. Here you can find all of the best parts of Southern California beaches like dreamy views, a pier that juts into the ocean, and beach volleyball, but Huntington is most known as a destination for surfers. Nicknamed "Surf City USA," the city is home to the Surfer’s Hall of Fame, the International Surfing Museum, and also hosts the annual U.S. Open of Surfing.
It's also easily accessible to the countless attractions throughout Orange County—many of which are geared toward families. Theme parks like Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm are just a few miles away, and the Science Discovery Center in Santa Ana is great for an afternoon of interactive fun and learning.
Southern California temperatures are lovely during spring break, and San Diego offers many highlights for families. You could easily spend an entire day each at the San Diego Zoo and nearby Safari Park, which together feature over 300 species of animals, many of them in free-range exhibits that resemble their natural habitats.
The Zoo is located right in the city center in the massive Balboa Park, which also houses various museums, botanical gardens, and plenty of open space to enjoy the springtime weather in San Diego. As with other coastal California cities in the spring, San Diego offers some prime viewing locations for spotting gray whales off the coast.
Aside from actually going to Mexico (which isn't hard to do from San Diego), there aren't many places where you can find Mexican food as authentic—and delicious—as San Diego. The city has a delectable food scene, so be sure to dedicate a part of your family vacation to just eating.