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Our Favorite Places to Visit in California // Pick My Brain

Best stops for kids on a road trip down the California coast

Welcome to the new Pick My Brain series! I truly love being a resource for people, and feel grateful for the opportunity to share the things that I’ve learned and that I love. I wish I could sit down for a cup of tea with every person that asks to pick my brain, but there just aren’t enough hours in the week! So every so often, I’ll ask for your “pick my brain” questions over on Instagram and answer them here. It’s a great way for me to serve you as a resource, and hopefully help more people at the same time! Here’s one of our recent questions: Where are your favorite places to visit in California?

It is no secret that I love my home state. California is hands-down my favorite state in the U.S. (and I’ve visited all but 5!). I think I love it because it has everything — mountains, deserts, snow, beaches, cities, farmland, and so much more. The people have a vibe and a speed that I love. Life just feels good here.

We spend a ton of time roadtripping all throughout this golden state of ours, so when someone on Instagram asked to pick my brain about our favorite places to visit in California, I was so excited! Read on for some of our favorite spots. And just a heads-up, they’re all places that we have taken (or would take) our kids along with us. Have fun exploring! xoxo

The Best Places to Visit in Northern California

Tahoe. Tahoe is a perfect spot if you want a bit of beach but with a woodsy vibe. The beaches are lovely, and because Lake Tahoe is so big, there are tons of water activites that you can do. But you feel like you’re in a forest setting, which is cozy and lovely. Awesome snow in the winter, too, if you’re a skier (or a snowman maker, like me). Here’s our trip to Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe travel with kids

Mendocino. I always feel like Mendocino is an overlooked coastal town in California because it’s a bit far north, but it’s an absolute treasure. Gorgeous coastlines, amazing food, super dog-friendly. There are tons of really great hiking trails over the rocky beaches, too.

Napa. I mean, if you like wine, this is your heaven. The Napa and Sonoma areas are known worldwide for their wine production. You’ll also find incredible restaurants and a vibe that’s pretty upscale. There are some spectacular views as you drive through the vineyards. This is the one place that would probably be way more fun without kiddos, FYI.

Sacramento. I adore Sacramento! It’s a big city but it’s so easy to navigate, and it feels less intimidating than San Francisco or LA. There are some amazing local maker boutiques and shops, great restaurants, a vibrant theatre scene, and there’s always something fun going on at the Golden 1 Arena. (We saw P!nk there last year, and sometimes go to Warriors games too.) Here’s our trip to Sacramento.

San Francisco. While it’s not my favorite city in California, it’s certainly a major gem. Being a world-famous city, I’m sure you know the major points of interest — Alcatraz, Coit Tower, Lombard Street, the usuals. But if you dig into the city a little more and find the local spots it gets even better. Our favorite places to hang out are in Hayes Valley, Embarcadero, and Union Square if we’re just there for the day. Here’s a very old trip to San Francisco, when I was pregnant with Henry!

San Francisco Travel

Yosemite. If you’re visiting California, I would probably put Yosemite on your must-do list. It’s a truly stunning state park that you have to see to believe. If you’re planning on camping, make sure you do your research about where you’re staying during the time of year you’ll be there (you don’t want to get caught without the right supplies).

Pinecrest. Pinecrest is one of my favorite spots in California. There’s a bit of nostalgia for me because I grew up going there, but it truly is magical. There’s something special about the little lake and the surrounding forest (and the ice cream cones in the snack bar). They have cabins or a campground where you can camp, or you can rent a hotel in nearby Jamestown, Columbia, or Sonora. Be sure to explore those little gold rush towns while you’re there, too.

Monterey/Carmel. Two magical little upscale beach towns that are nestled on the central coast. My favorite things to do here are bike the trails, go tide pooling, and drive 17 Mile Drive and hop out to admire every viewpoint. These little towns are slow and cozy, but kind of expensive too. Here’s one of our trips to Monterey.

Monterey Bay

The Best Places to Visit in Southern California

Solvang. If you like kooky, this place is for you! Solvang is kind of a well-kept secret in California, but basically it’s a fun little wine destination near the coast. It was originally a Danish settlement, and remains to this day the “Danish Captial of the USA.” Wander around downtown and admire the cool architecture and windmills. Try the Danish food and go wine tasting!

Santa Barbara. Ahhhh, Santa Barbara is one of the best places in California. The beaches are lovely, the food is amazing and plentiful, the vibe is laid-back but elevated. I love it here. Don’t miss the mission, and be sure to take your bikes or skateboards and go along the beach trails. They also have a bunch of amazing playgrounds for the kiddos. And any time you’re looking for information on snow, land, and water sports, check out Globo Surf. It’s a super handy website if you like to be active while you’re traveling. Here’s a trip to Santa Barbara.

Best stops for kids on a road trip down the California coast

Ojai. I. Love. Ojai. It’s a funky, hippie desert town not too far from Ventura. But it has a vibe all its own. It’s like a hippie commune grew up and got modern. Think shops with kombucha on tap, amazing home and garden stores, horse and hiking trails, and beautiful bakeries. If you can swing it, stay at the Ojai Valley Inn. My favorite hotel in the U.S. (for reals, no hyperbole). Another solid choice is the Ojai Rancho Inn. Here’s our trip to Ojai.

Things to Do in Ojai, California

Los Angeles. I adore LA, and not just because we lived there. I think sometimes it gets a bad rap because of the whole Hollywood thing (i.e. fake people and lots of crime, etc.), but there is so much more to LA than that. It’s huge. Our favorite areas to hang are Studio City, West Hollywood, Beverly Grove, Venice, and Larchmont. Here are a bunch of Los Angeles ideas.

Family trip to LA

Anaheim/Disneyland. It’s no secret that the only reason to go to Anaheim is Disneyland. But that’s more than enough reason, am I right?! I think we all know how much I love Disney (so much I used to work there as a dancer). But I truly can’t say enough how iconic and incredible this place is. As far as theme parks go — yes, it is expensive, but yes, it is also the most quality theme park experience you’ll get. Here are some Disneyland posts to help you plan your trip.

Best Secret Disneyland Tips and Hacks

Palm Springs. We love the desert! Palm Springs is like stepping into another world — a midcentury, chic, design-loving world. We’ve done a few posts on how to do Palm Springs with kids, and I love taking our family there. But it would be equally fun (dare I say even better?) to go for a girls’ trip or something similar, where you can just lay by the pool and order drinks. Here are some Palm Springs ideas.

Palm Springs house with pink door and bike

San Diego. Can’t leave out San Diego! What a gorgeous, gorgeous city. Don’t miss Balboa park, and be sure to take the Ferry across to Coronado to see that sweet little island.

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3 thoughts on “Our Favorite Places to Visit in California // Pick My Brain

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