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San Francisco 

The ‘City by the Bay’ is brimming with sights to rival many of America’s biggest cities. Expect photogenic landmarks, fantastic food, gorgeous parks and speciality museums in abundance. During your California family holiday, you’ll be swept off your feet by this magical, fog-feathered destination and its eccentric, forward-thinking culture.

Straddling the vast strait of its namesake, a visit here would be incomplete without crossing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge at least once. Cycle over the bridge during a half-day bike tour of the city’s eclectic neighbourhoods, ending in Sausalito. Here you can recoup calories at the local delis, catch some live music courtesy of Jazz and Blues by the Bay, then hop on the ferry back from Fisherman’s Wharf. For something less labour intensive, book one of the city’s famous vintage cable cars. You’ll have this transport all to yourself for an extraordinary sightseeing experience with the family. You can even cruise under the bridge on the deck of San Francisco’s only America’s Cup racing yacht, or appreciate its majesty from up high during a seaplane tour.

One of the best times to visit San Francisco is September. At this time of year, the veils of fog draped over the city have largely lifted, the crowds have thinned out and the climate has turned positively Mediterranean. 

We recommend a stay at The Zetta hotel in San Francisco’s SoMa – a district synonymous with tech-savvy entrepreneurship. In keeping with its neighbourhood, the stylish property boasts some neat hi-tech features, including wireless sound systems and smart device connectivity. But, most importantly, it’s a comfy place to bed down.

West Hollywood & Beverly Hills

This region of Los Angeles County wears its showbiz status on its sleeve, from affluent Beverly Hills to West Hollywood’s lively Sunset Strip. Neighbouring Hollywood abounds with famous film landmarks, and Universal Studios Hollywood is just a short drive away. During your family holiday in California, surround yourself with movie magic.

Stretching 15 blocks along Hollywood Boulevard, the Walk of Fame is a must-see when here. Spot the names of the American film industry’s greats memorialised with brass stars, then head to the gorgeously restored El Capitan Theatre to see more stars in action – this is where Disney films regularly receive their premieres. An even better way to immerse yourself in America’s film and television industry is to visit a set. With A&K, you and your family can rub shoulders with LA’s finest, and see how things work behind-the-scenes.

The Academy Awards ceremony is held between the end of February and the start of March, amidst mild, comfortable temperatures. Whilst the ceremony itself is an exclusive affair, there are always exciting fringe events open to the public – everything from open-air screenings and themed tours to famous aftershow parties.

For somewhere to stay, look no further than The London West Hollywood at Beverly Hills. Only one mile from Rodeo Drive, the iconic Hollywood glamour mixes with modern sophistication and intuitive service. When you’re not out exploring Beverly Hills, enjoy the rooftop pool with panoramic views.


If you’re heading to Southern California, then treat the kids (and yourself) to a day (or two) at the ‘happiest place on Earth’ – Disneyland. Built in Anaheim under Walt Disney’s guiding hand, the amusement park and resort is full of themed rides and dazzling spectacles. Favourite Disney and Pixar characters make cameos here, everyone from Mickey Mouse and Goofy to Mulan and Woody. 

Disneyland incorporates two theme parks: the original Disneyland Park and the more modern Disney California Adventure Park. The former features eight themed lands to explore, with a Star Wars Land due to open in 2019. The latter includes Hollywood Land and Pixar Pier, along with a Marvel-themed land due to open in 2020. 

You can squeeze a day visit into your Southern California itinerary. Or stay overnight at one of the three on-site hotels: the original Disneyland Hotel, Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa or Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel. The attraction is relatively quiet from mid-January to mid-March, as well as October – especially during weekdays. That means shorter queues for the best rides.

Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay stretches around 70 kilometres from its eponymous city to Santa Cruz. It overlooks the gorgeously blue Pacific the whole way. It’s a mecca for marine life, including whale, dolphin, otter and shark. Weather permitting, head out on an eco-raft safari to see these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat during your family holiday in California

Aside from its historic waterfront, Monterey Bay’s famous aquarium is a major draw. It offers more opportunities to discover the beauty of the underwater world. For a magical VIP experience, enjoy a sleep-over with the family, surrounded by oceanic life. Unlike the busy daylight hours, you’ll have the place all to yourself.

When you’re not preoccupied with marine critters, take a tour along 17-Mile Drive. This scenic coastal route, which passes through pretty suburbs and beach-side golf courses, offers spectacular views over the Pacific throughout. For more views over the Bay, don your walking boots and traverse one of the pine-fringed trails at Jacks Peak County Park.

Stay in neighbouring Carmel-by-the-sea, at the Carmel Valley Ranch. Situated in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains, this suite-only hotel includes comprehensive children’s activities for kids between two and 12 years of age.

Greater Palm Springs

A popular haunt for Hollywood’s late greats, Greater Palm Springs is an oasis in the midst of Coachella Valley. This desert city puts you within easy reach of the breath-taking San Andreas Fault, which cracks its way up California’s landscape, as well as the spectacular Joshua Tree National Park. Promising 360 days of sunshine, excellent golf courses and exquisite spa treatments, it’s the perfect place to unwind on your California family holiday.

Though famously a year-round destination, visiting Greater Palm Springs in April gives you the chance to join the cheering crowds at the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals. Both are held at the 133-hectare Empire Polo Club in the Coachella Valley, around 37 kilometres from Greater Palm Springs. The Coachella festival may be more appreciated by (and appropriate for) older children and adults. Stagecoach is a more family-friendly affair, with a focus firmly on country music. Bring plenty of sun cream, as the Coachella Valley in April averages 30 degrees Celsius and can climb in excess of a scorching 40.

Amidst five hectares of lush landscaped gardens, The Parker exemplifies Greater Palm Springs’ cool and quirky nature. Swap serves on the clay tennis courts, plunge in the outdoor pool, shake off stress at the spa or take a swing at the nearby PGA-accredited golf courses. 

For holiday inspiration, see our main California destination page.

Click here to return to The Ultimate Guide to California start page.