3 Last-Minute Summer Vacation Family Road Trips in California
It's mid-July, and summer vacation will be over before we know it. If you feel like you and your family haven't had the chance to get away this summer, now's the time. With that in mind, we put together 3 fun California family road trip ideas, so pack up the kids and head out for some summer vacation adventures.
Experience California History in Sacramento and the Mother Lode
Families, especially those with fourth graders, can have a great time exploring our state's history in Sacramento and the Gold Country.
- Head up I-80 to Sacramento to visit Old Sacramento and the California State Railroad Museum. Take an excursion train ride along the Sacramento River!
- Visit Sutter's Fort to learn about life in California in the 1840s. You can even see Patty Reed's doll from the Donner Party!
- Our favorite place to dine in Sacramento is the Old Spaghetti Factory on J Street in Midtown.
- After Sacramento, head east on Highway 50 to Placerville and explore the Gold Rush's famous "Hangtown".
- Head south on historic Highway 49 and check out the Gold Country towns and sights along the way like Angel's Camp, home to Mark Twain's Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.
- Get daring on the ziplines at Moaning Cavern near Murphys and explore geological wonders at nearby Mercer Caverns.
- End your trip at Columbia State Historic Park, where you can get hands-on with Gold Rush history in an authentic 1850s mining town. Try your hand at gold panning and ride in a stagecoach!
- If you didn't get enough trains in Sacramento, make sure you stop by Railtown 1897 in nearby Jamestown for a ride on the Sierra No. 3 steam locomotive.
- Head back to the Bay Area via Highway 120. Stop in the little town of Knights Ferry to walk across the 1857 covered bridge and get ice cream at Knights Ferry Creamery.
Have a Whale of a Time in Santa Cruz and the Monterey Bay Area
Monterey Bay is only about three hours away from the San Francisco Bay Area, and there's so much for families to do there. It's one of our favorite getaway destinations.
- Head south on I-280 and take Highway 17 over the Santa Cruz Mountains. Stop at the famous Mystery Spot to experience the unexplained in the redwoods.
- Ride the rails at Roaring Camp Railroads. You can even take a train down to the beach! Thomas the Tank Engine Fans will love Day Out with Thomas taking place in July and August.
- Hit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for classic beachside amusement park fun. Ride the classic 1911 Looff Carousel and grab the brass ring!
- Head down Highway 1 to the Monterey Peninsula. A visit to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-do when you're there.
- Explore early California on the Monterey Walking Path of History and learn about the state's Spanish and Mexican eras.
- Take the kiddos an eco-adventure: go kayaking or whale watching on Monterey Bay.
- We love the neighboring town of Pacific Grove, famous for its beaches, butterflies, and old-fashioned atmosphere. The Feast of Lanterns takes place every July.
- Asilomar State Beach is one of our favorite places to relax and play and the adjacent Asilomar Conference Grounds is a fantastic place for families to stay.
- Visit Carmel-by-the-Sea for shops, galleries, restaurants, and the beautiful Carmel Beach.
- Make sure you check out the 18th-century Carmel Mission for even more California history. You can stop at Mission San Juan Bautista on the way back to the Bay Area, too — it's a short drive off 101.
Hooray for Hollywood!
Southern California and Los Angeles are closer than you think thanks to I-5. Explore the world of moviemaking and Hollywood on a fun family trip to the Southland.
- We like to stay in Burbank, which is less busy than other areas around LA and offers convenient access to Hollywood, Universal Studios, and other attractions.
- Take the Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood for a fascinating behind-the-scenes movie experience (for kids 8 and older). Try on the Sorting Hat at the Harry Potter exhibit!
- Have breakfast or lunch at the original Bob's Big Boy in Burbank. If you're lucky you can sit in the Beatles Booth where the Fab Four dined in 1965.
- Watch a movie at the fabulous El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. This restored 1926 movie palace is run by Disney and features their latest cinematic hits in unforgettable surroundings.
- Grab dinner before or after the movie at Miceli's Italian restaurant around the corner. A favorite of stars and celebrities since 1946, its waiters and waitresses sing show tunes and arias while you dine.
- While you're down there, a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood is mandatory. Enjoy Hollywood fun at the theme park and don't forget to take the famous tram tour of the historic Universal back lot.
- End your movie-themed visit with … a trip to Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth! It's always crowded, so don't worry about going during the summer — just enjoy it.
- Disneyland pro tip: get there early so you're in line when it opens at 8 am and you'll have the run of the park for an hour or two.
- For accommodations near Disneyland that won't break the bank, we love the Candy Cane Inn, which has a free shuttle and great breakfast around their lovely pool.
- If you still have time, take a trip to LA's Miracle Mile and visit the La Brea Tarpits for a fascinating prehistoric adventure.
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