Home to sunny, sandy beaches; snowy ski mountains; and world-class amusement parks, California is one of the country’s best destinations for a family getaway. Oyster visited hundreds upon hundreds of hotels — from Anaheim to Yosemite — to find the ones that cater to families especially well. Check out our list of top kid-friendly beach retreats, ski resorts (of the s’more-supplying, ice-skating-rink-equipped variety), and theme-park standbys. We even threw an Old West working farm and an old-fashioned Beverly Hills pink palace into the mix, for good measure!
Luxe rooms, a huge spa, and fine dining may entice this full-service ski resort's older guests, but kids will love the arcade, year-round outdoor pools and Jacuzzis (including one specifically for children), and s'mores and hot chocolate fireside at outdoor fire pits. The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe's ski-in/ski-out access to the slopes and many other recreational activities appeal to guests of all ages.
Kids, like their parents, are spoiled at this historic hotel. With a beautiful pool and lush grounds, an old-fashioned soda fountain (where tots under 12 can get free soda), and large rooms, this is a top luxury pick for families. Kids receive milk and cookies upon arrival, and all on-site restaurants offer children's menus. Babysitting services can be arranged through the concierge.
One of just a few true mega-resorts in Southern California, the 100-acre, 582-room Terranea in Rancho Palos Verdes offers a range of features that's unrivaled among local properties, including nine holes of golf, six restaurants, three pools (including one with a waterslide and a fountain), large rooms, and gorgeous grounds. The only L.A. area hotel with a full-fledged resort-style kids' club (plus activities like boccie ball, croquet, daily guided nature walks, and s'mores), Terranea caters extensively to guests of all ages.
The Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa is a huge, 466-room palm-tree lined property with a 27-hole golf course. There is a two-acre Splashtopia water park with two 100-foot water slides, cliff-side Jacuzzi, and manmade sandy beach. All of this is surrounded by a 450-foot lazy river and is served by the Splash Grill. Other family-friendly amenities include an arcade with a pool table, table tennis, air hockey, old-fashion video games, and pinball machines, as well as 25 tennis courts, including eight lit for night play.
A plethora of activities, including 2 golf courses, 2 pools, and a top-notch kids' club, keep Pelican Hill guests more than entertained. The ultra-luxe resort's 332 bungalows and villas feature massive rooms -- many boasting ocean views -- with marble bathrooms, fireplaces, and terraces. One downside to the size of the property is that guests have to take the resort's shuttle to get around, but it's hard to find many other faults with this luxury hotel.
The Resort at Squaw Creek is one of the biggest resorts in Squaw Valley, with more than 400 rooms and a list of services that is easily among the most comprehensive in all of Tahoe. Its beautiful location means fine views of the mountains and valley, whether guests are swimming, dog-sledding, ice skating, eating at one of the five restaurants, or simply gazing from the spacious rooms. A ski lift transports guests to Squaw Valley for hitting the slopes, and the extensive amenities (including an excellent year-round kids' club) and dining options on-site means guests won't have to venture far from the resort -- in fact, they're like to return year after year just to experience all the property has to offer.
The four-pearl Tahoe Mountain Resorts Lodging offers direct access to Northstar-at-Tahoe ski resort, with plenty of nearby upscale shopping and dining found via cobblestone streets. Housed in separate lodges in the quaint Village at Northstar, the spacious, luxe rooms include kitchens, surround-sound TV systems, and fireplaces. A heated saline pool, a skating rink (for ice-skating in the winter; roller-skating in the summer), fire pits, the world's only in-lobby gondola, an adventure park, and the beautiful mountain setting are added bonuses.
Upscale and spacious, with a family-friendly relaxed vibe and Spanish Mediterranean architecture, the 250-suite Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Hotel & Resort is a beachfront resort located on almost nine acres. The beautiful, wide, white sand beach is this hotel's hottest selling point. The property is kid-friendly, with children's menus, a family game room, and two bathrooms per suite. Guests are treated to free breakfast, cooked to order in the Coastal Grill. There is a pool, tennis court, and fitness center on site.
This 400-acre, 611-room mega-resort near Legoland is packed with family features, including large rooms, six pools with waterslides, and an impressive kids club. La Costa provides an activities-packed resort experience that's somewhat rare in Southern California, with fitness classes, tennis and golf clinics, yoga, a game room, a reptile show, a surf camp, croquet, water aerobics...the list goes on.
Near Sea World, Paradise Point sits on a private, 44-acre island surrounded by a mile-long beach and lush grounds with colorful plants and flowers, tiki torches, bonfire pits (popular for marshmallow roasting), and lagoons (where kids can feed the ducks). The 462-room upscale property offers activities galore (tennis, a putting green, water sports, basketball), five pools, a kids' club, private marina, and varied dining options, like a casual bar and grill, poolside Mexican food, and pizza. An obligatory resort fee, plus fees for many activities and steep parking rates, make some guests feel nickel and dimed.
Located in charming Coronado Village, a short drive away from San Diego’s main attractions, this iconic, family-friendly resort is one of the largest and best-known resorts in Southern California. Although its massive, red-roofed building -- a National Historic Landmark -- was built in 1888, the 679 rooms are modern (though some are small for the price), with Nintendo Game Cube video-game systems, 42-inch TVs with 26 channels, and free Wi-Fi. All rooms are right on the beach. Two pools and a kids' club (offering activities like crafts and sports for kids 4 to 17) keep youngsters entertained.
Set on a 10,000-acre working cattle ranch, the Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort has been a family-friendly getaway in California's Santa Ynez Valley since 1946. Guests can expect charming, western-style rooms, and a range of outdoor activities, including fishing, tennis, swimming at the pool or lake, and (of course) horseback riding. There's also a barnyard where kids can help care for ponies, miniature horses, and sheep, an arts and crafts room, and a variety of summer youth programs for children ages three to 17. The buffet-style breakfast and dinners are included in the rate, and there are also breakfast horseback rides where guests can head to a remote hillside location for flapjacks and a cowboy poetry recital. It's a step back in time to the Old West, but with amenities.
Converted from an 1908 fruit canning factory and reopened in 2003 with 252 nautical-themed rooms and suites, the Argonaut is one of Fisherman's Wharf's coolest options. Spacious rooms, which were renovated in 2012, have more character than the nearby chain hotels, though the Sheraton is often cheaper. The location makes some of San Francisco's most popular attractions easily accessible.
Within walking distance to beaches and SeaWorld, this resort sits on 10 acres of semi-tropical land with a private marina (where paddle boats, kayaks, and sailboats docked are for rental). Some rooms in the older building could use updating, with amenities varying widely, but they're functional and clean, and many offer views of the bay. Far from the center of the city, this is a quiet resort-style hotel suited to families who don't need to be close to San Diego's nightlife or shopping.
With its own mini water park, large game room, and convenient location a short walk away from Disneyland, the Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel and Water Playground is a great pick for families. The hotel is modern and rooms are immaculately clean with soundproofed walls that keep freeway noise. Though a little pricier than other nearby hotels, the water park, peaceful garden pool with lots of shade, and free parking are nice perks. All in all, this is one of Anaheim’s top options for families with young children.
The contemporary Desert Palms Hotel & Suites is popular with families and business travelers alike. Featuring 196 rooms, including 42 suites with separate rooms for children, this property is located a short walk from Disneyland, the Disney Adventure Park, and the Anaheim Convention Center. Along with scavenger hunts and other family-focused activities, there's a heated outdoor saltwater pool, a whirlpool, and fitness center, plus free Wi-Fi, parking, and breakfast.
Evergreen Lodge is a 22-acre cabin resort surrounded by Stanislaus National Forest, about one mile from Yosemite National Park’s western border. The 90 cabins come in different sizes -- some are perfect for large families -- and are rustic, cozy, and comfortable with large private decks. Techies beware: There are no phones or TVs in the cabins, and the Wi-Fi service in the recreation halls is less than reliable. It's a great spot for nature lovers who want to be disconnected from the world, but guests looking for something active to do will find it -- mountain bikes and snowshoes can be rented, plus there's fly fishing, bocce ball, rafting, horseback riding, an outdoor pool, and two recreational halls filled with games, books, and arts & crafts materials.