Plan the ultimate affordable family getaway by taking advantage of AAA Member discounts at attractions throughout California.
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Photo Credit: iStock
Before there were iPads loaded with movies, there were games of license plate bingo. Back when air travel was glamorous and luxurious, families squeezed into the station wagon and hit the open road. Getting to the destination, whether it was an amusement park or grandma’s house, was part of the adventure, with stops at giant balls of twine and old-fashioned hamburger stands.
Providing countless hours of together time, these road trips are still a great way for families to connect and make lasting memories. This summer, rather than plugging the kids into technology and driving directly to your destination, consider taking your time and making stops along the way on your California road trip.
San Francisco Bay Area
In the City by the Bay, the hills are steep, the crab fresh and the Victorian homes colorful. No California road trip is complete without a day spent at Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can learn about the city’s rollicking Gold Rush past at the San Francisco Dungeon, take a selfie in front of the Seven Sisters—the iconic row houses featured on Full House—or hop onto a Blue & Gold Fleet sightseeing cruise that sails under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz.
If your kids are crazy about roller coasters, visit a nearby amusement park. The rides at California’s Great America in Santa Clara, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk promise heart-pounding thrills and butterflies in your stomach.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium
This seaside town on California’s scenic Highway 1 offers a tempting menu of family activities including whale watching, sea kayaking with seals, and John Steinbeck walking tours along Cannery Row, where a fish-canning industry once boomed. The star attraction at this stop on your California road trip is the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. The aquarium offers an up-close look at the creatures—from giant squids to leopard sharks—inhabiting Monterey Bay’s undersea canyon that’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Get there early to make the most of your visit.
South of the city on Highway 1, you can stroll the beach in Carmel, hike through redwood forests, take in jaw-dropping coastal views in Big Sur and tour Hearst Castle, California’s most opulent architectural wonder, in San Simeon.
Knott’s Berry Farm
Photo Credit: Knott’s Berry Farm
Los Angeles and Environs
Tinsel Town is a city of celebrities and movie premieres. It’s also a place filled with amusements. Don’t miss the roller coasters at Knott’s Berry Farm or the live shows at Universal Studios HollywoodSM.
Break up your drive to L.A. by stopping in picturesque Santa Barbara where Spanish architecture, palm trees and a temperate climate give this town a decidedly Mediterranean flavor. Kids will enjoy East Beach and a stroll down State Street.
Less than an hour south of L.A., in Long Beach, catch a ferry to Catalina Island, with a busy harbor, beaches and endless hiking trails meandering through its interior. Book early, as ferries do sell out.
Point Loma coastline, San Diego
Photo Credit: iStock
An exceptional amount of sunshine makes this beach town a great place for flip-flops, fish tacos and lazy days on the sand. It’s also home to some of California’s favorite family attractions, including Old Town, which you can explore by historic trolley.
On your drive to San Diego, stop at LEGOLAND® California Resort in Carlsbad where your kids can use their imaginations as they get elbow deep in plastic bricks. The park also entertains families with roller coasters, comedy shows and a fantastic aquarium.
Want even more adventure? Take road trips internationally. Here’s how you can spend a vacation driving Ireland.