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for kids

California is one giant playground for kids. Helen Hayes shares her family’s 13 favourite must-dos.

C alifornia. The Land of Milk and Honey. A land overflowing with riches of the natural and monetary kind, which is in sync with its gold rush past.

There is so much to see and do in the sunshine state: surf at its golden beaches, ski on its snowy peaks, be thrilled at its world-famous theme parks, be wowed by the entertainment on offer and be amazed at its stunning national parks. Here are 13 places to get you started in the land of plenty.

1. A Mammoth summer
Mammoth Lakes is holiday heaven in summer, with the village tucked at the base of soaring mountains that are just unlike anywhere else.

Visit Rainbow Falls and Devils Postpile or take a day trip to Yosemite or Bodie State Park, an eerie ghost town. Hire bikes and tackle some of the bike trail or take on the number one mountain bike park in the USA.

Go fishing, kayaking, horseriding and golfing, or sit in a hot spring on the valley floor. The Adventure Centre has ziplining and rock climbing, and don’t miss heading up the gondola for breathtaking views.


Mammoth summer hiking

2. Bodie Ghost Town
Watch the kids’ eyes light up when you tell them that Bodie is a real ghost town! It had 10,000 residents in the 1800s but now there are only tourists, the two rangers who protect it and the odd ghost. There is a museum and you can also join a tour around the site – if you dare.

3. Visit Yosemite
With towering Sequoia trees, picturesque lakes, rivers, waterfalls and an abundance of trails for biking, hiking and horseback riding, Yosemite National Park is hard to beat.

There are so many outdoor activities for kids including guided family treasure hunts, rafting trips on the river, storytelling by the fire, panning for gold, night prowling tours and junior ranger programmes. There’s plenty of accommodation too, from camping to the beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel.

4. Splash into SeaWorld San Diego
SeaWorld is packed with attractions that showcase the marine environment and has plenty of rides to turn you and the kids inside out and upside down.

Touch a dolphin at Dolphin Point, meet a Beluga whale, feed a ray at Manta or let cleaner fish have a nibble on your hands at Explorer’s Reef. The aquariums contain nearly 13,000 fish and invertebrates, plus you can see otters, penguins, polar bears, sea lions, turtles and more. You can also learn about their incredible rescue work, too.




Hot tip
For views of San Francisco Bay, ride a cable car on the Powell/Hyde line which runs from Union Square to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.

5. Zoo x two
San Diego really is spoiled for choice with two amazing animal experiences - the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park. The Zoo turns 100 in 2016 and offers plenty of excellent encounters, such as spending time with pandas before the zoo opens, feeding the giraffes and going behind the scenes on an Inside Look tour. At the Safari Park, watch a cheetah sprint, do a zipline flight over the zoo, take part in a safari tour, or explore new heights on a balloon ride.

6. Escape to Alcatraz
Alcatraz is a fascinating place to visit. A federal jail from 1934 to 1963, it housed such famous prisoners as Al Capone and George 'Machine Gun' Kelly. Do the audio tour around the cells, hear about the escapes, military history, American Indian occupation and the island's natural history.

The ferry ride over with Alcatraz Cruises is very scenic, and you can explore Fisherman�s Wharf afterwards. Of course, no trip to San Francisco is complete without a tram ride or two, so save some time for that.

7. Do Disneyland
Kids of all ages love Disneyland, so allow multiple days to explore the Disneyland Park and the Disney California Adventure Park. Even better, stay at one of the Disneyland hotels so no time is wasted getting to and from the parks.

Highlights include World or Color, Radiator Springs Racing, the reimagined Hyperspace Mountain and touches of the new Star Wars Season of the Force throughout Tomorrowland. With Diamond Anniversary celebrations lighting up the park until 5 September 2016, it is even more magical than usual, if that's possible!




8. Shoot the pier at Huntington Beach
If your kids are into surfing, drop in to Huntington Beach, known as Surf City USA. Budding surfers can take a lesson or hire a board and join the throng in the water.

Play a game of volleyball, throw a Frisbee or ride along the cycle paths that stretch for miles. Don’t forget the pier itself – walk to the end and watch the surfers below, then have a meal at Ruby’s Surf City Diner and watch the sunset.

9. Visit Buena Park
Close to Disneyland and Huntington Beach, Buena Park is another hotspot. The city’s main attraction is Knott’s Berry Farm, considered one of the best amusement parks in the world.

It has a huge range of entertainment and rides, including GhostRider, one of the world’s longest and tallest wooden roller coasters that will be restored in 2016. Another must-do is the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, complete with jousting and sword fighting.

10. Hike to the Hollywood sign
There are several trails you can take, all moseying through the Santa Monica Mountains. The easiest is the Charlie Turner Trailhead off the Mount Hollywood Trail which is suitable for children.

The Canyon Boulevard Trail is moderate but has the added pulling power of the Bronson Cave – better known as the Bat Cave – where Batman (AKA Adam West) used to keep his Batmobile. The Cahuenga Peak Hike is the most difficult, but once at the top you can go behind the iconic Hollywood sign.

harry potter

Universal Studios

11. Cast a spell at Universal Studios Hollywood
It’s more exciting than stumbling upon an Invisibility Cloak or scoring the winning goal at the Quidditch World Cup. Muggles rejoice as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens its gates on 7 April 2016!

Catch the Hogwarts Express then fly around the castle on the gobsmackingly good Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, which will no doubt be even better than its predecessors in Orlando and Tokyo because it is a 3D experience. Shop for a wand at Ollivanders in Hogsmeade and indulge in a butterbeer to fuel the afternoon spent ticking off all the other amazing things to do elsewhere at Universal.

12. Hang out at Catalina Island
The island of Santa Catalina, or Catalina for short, is an hour’s ride on the Catalina Express ferry from Long Beach. There are a limited number of cars on the island – you get around it in a golf cart, on foot or on a bike. Sign up for a glass-bottomed boat tour or go diving, snorkelling, kayaking or sailing.

On dry land, try your hand at ziplining, play a round of golf, rent a Segway or do a tour of the island in a Hummer or an open-air Unimog. There are even bison roaming loose here, thought to have been first imported in 1924 for the making of a film, ‘The Vanishing American’.

13. See the underwater world at Monterey Bay
Located along the famous Cannery Row, of John Steinbeck fame, the Monterey Bay Aquarium sits on Monterey Bay and is home to 35,000 animals and plants representing over 550 species. Marvel at the cheeky sea otters, seahorses, sharks, penguins and thousands of other marine animals and experience the touch pools, kelp forest and Splash Zone family galleries.

California Report Card


Getting there
Qantas flies to San Francisco while American Airlines now flies from Sydney to Los Angeles.

Getting around
The train journey between Los Angeles and San Francisco with Amtrak’s Coast Starlight is an awesome trip with beautiful scenery.

The Anabella Hotel in Anaheim is an oasis of calm located across from the Disney California Adventure Park. With lush, landscaped grounds, two pools, excellent dining options and a family-friendly ethos, kids and adults alike will be happy here.

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