2 Day LA Itinerary for Families

Take in the view, where to go in LA with kids.
Take in a the views along with the sun in LA on your next getaway with the kids.

Tell the kids you’re stargazing for your next family getaway, then hand them sunglasses and a bathing suit. Los Angeles offers families epic beaches, a unique cultural experience along with top museums wrapped in a SoCal vibe that tweens and teens crave. That’s why I’ve added LA to my kids bucket list. Need some help planning a trip, I’ve pulled together a two-day itinerary with where to go in LA with kids.

Day One The Shuttle and the Surf

It’s a vacay so eat like the calories don’t count.

Grand Central Market

317 S. Broadway
8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

How to get there: From your centrally located hotel, head to S. Broadway in Downtown LA.

As a downtown landmark since 1917, Grand Central Market provides a hum of early morning activity and some solid breakfast options, like Eggslut as well as coffee counters and bakeries.

After breakfast, time to explore like an astronaut.

California Space Science Center, where to go in LA with Kids.
Kids love space so explore the California Space Science Center. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

California Science Center

700 Exposition Park Dr.
Free, except for special exhibits and $2 tickets to see the Space Shuttle

How to get there: From Grand Central Market, take E. 3rd St. to I-110 South and continue for 3 miles. Take the W. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. exit (20A exit) and park in the paid parking lot.

As one of the locations to see retired Space Shuttle, this is a must for the adventurers in your car. With half of the facility dedicated to space exploration, the California Science Center is a must for families.

The Space Shuttle Endeavor requires an additional ticket but don’t miss it. And don’t forget the external tank outside the building.

The Ecosystems exhibits walks kids through 11 different ecosystems. So don’t miss the kelp forest with touch tanks mimicking tidal pools. The desert display features a mock flash flood that kids love too.

Know before you go: Since this is a free museum, it’s a favorite with school groups. Buy tickets for special exhibits and the Space Shuttle at Will Call or the Ticket Window.

After exploring the earth and stars, head out for some art.

Tour the Getty Center. where to go in LA with kids.
The Getty Center offers a lush garden along with an extensive art collection. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Getty Center 

1200 Sepulveda Blvd.
Free  

How to get there: From the California Science Center take W. Exposition Blvd. to Normandie Ave. and head north to I-10 West. Head west on I-10 for about 3 miles to the I-405 North. Continue for about 10 miles on I-405 North then take exit 57B for Moraga Dr. Then take a left on N. Sepulveda Blvd. and then another left on Getty Center Dr. Park in the paid parking lot and take a tram to the museum (free).

Savor the beauty of LA in a beautiful place to see beautiful art overlooking a beautiful view. The Getty Museum is more than an art museum, it’s a work of art itself.

Designed by Richard Meier, The Getty Center is a top architectural delight as well as the gardens and courtyards. As a favorite among locals, sit in the grass and enjoy a sunny afternoon.

With an extensive art collection including Van Gogh’s Irises, you could spend all day so keep it limited to your interests or stroll the gardens instead.

Time for lunch.

Stop for Kye's on Montana, where to go in LA with kids.
Try a uniquely SoCal treat, a Kyerito, a combo lettuce wrap and sushi roll. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Kye’s on Montana

1518 Montana Ave.
Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

How to get there: From The Getty Center to Kye’s it’s a 5-mile drive. Start out by taking a right on N. Sepulveda Blvd. then take a right on N. Church Lane. Next take a right on Sunset Blvd. and then take a left on S. Westgate Blvd. Finally take a right on Montana Ave. Park at metered parking where available.

Grab a Kyerito, a hand-held wrap with a host of yummy fillings, including gluten-free, wheat-free, diary-free and soy-free options. Due to the special wrapping technique, your Kyerito wrapper, romaine lettuce, nori or collard greens, remains crispy for the trek to the beach.

Head to the Santa Monica Beach for the afternoon.

the beach is where to go in LA with kids
A Southern California sunset tops my list for must dos in Los Angeles. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Santa Monica Pier and Beach

Ocean Ave. at Colorado Ave.

A trip to the beach is a must for LA. And a SoCal sunset is legendary, it will totally make up for any hiccups in parking.

How to get there: From Kye’s head south on Montana Ave. towards the Pacific Ocean. Take a left on Ocean Ave. Continue for about a mile to the pier, parking is available on the pier or use metered street parking.

Take a surf lesson, where to go in LA with kids.
The teens want to learn how to surf on vacation so sign them up for a lesson. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Surf lessons

If surfing is on the kids list then arrange for a surfing lesson from one of several surf shops that offer lessons. Don’t worry about special gear, the shop arranges all that for you, like spring or wet suits and surf boards.

I have three kids, 10, 13 and 15, and all benefitted from surf lessons. Though like any new sport, practice is the key and kids must be proficient swimmers.

Walk along Santa Monica Pier, where to go in LA with kids.
An evening walk along the Santa Monica Pier tops my list for family fun in Los Angeles. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Santa Monica Beach and Pier

After surf lessons, explore the Santa Monica beach and pier for the rest of the afternoon.

I recommend renting bikes and taking a guided tour of Santa Monica. Great way to explore and the dedicated bike lanes make it safe for families. Several rental shops next to the pier.

After a bike tour, rent a couple of chairs and watch the sunset. Let the kids play in the sand or chase waves.

After the sun sets, head to the Santa Monica Pier for dinner and family fun. It boasts carnival rides and food in abundance. I’m partial to the carousel though I found a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster.

Grab the sunglasses and a bathing suit and hop a plane bound for Hollywood with the kids for your next getaway. Got all the family fun with 2 day itinerary in LA with kids.

Day Two Hello Hollywood

Start your second day in Los Angeles with the stars. While the crowds are still sleeping hop in your car and head for breakfast off Sunset Blvd.

The Griddle Café

7916 Sunset Blvd.
Opens at 7 a.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. weekends

How to get there: From your centrally located hotel, head north on U.S. 101 and exit Sunset Blvd.

A drive down Sunset Blvd. is a must for its icon LA vibe. As a bonus, it’s early so the driving should be easy going.

Since it’s a favorite, arrive early to satisfy your breakfast dreams. The Griddle Café offers a huge menu with pancakes in every flavor along with French toast and egg dishes.

Head around the corner to see a bit of Old Hollywood history, built in the 1920s. The Château Marmot, 8221 W. Sunset Blvd. is iconic LA hotel. As the backdrop to numerous movies and a celebrity hangout, it’s a must.

Time head to the theater, so drive north and turn right on Hollywood Blvd. As home to several famous theaters, it’s a bucket list destination for movie goers.

Start with TCL Chinese Theatre’s (formerly Grauman’s) stars’ footprints, at 6925 Hollywood Blvd. Then walk to the home of the Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater, 6801 Hollywood Blvd.

Hollywood Walk of Fame, where to go in LA with kids.
Find your favorite star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Hollywood Blvd. between La Brea Blvd. and Vine St.
Free 

After walking by the famous theaters, find the brightest stars in California. With three-and-a-half miles of brass and granite stars, spend a few minutes finding your favorites for a star selfie.

Drive by Capital Records Building, 1750 Vine St. to see the record label’s headquarters. Built in 1956, the round building looks like a stack of 45s before changing gears and heading south.

After stargazing, take a walk through LA’s infamous tar. A must-do for generations, La Brea Tar Pits topped my list since I was 10.

La Brea Tar Pits is where to go in LA with kids.
A must for the Dino-loving kids, visit the Le Brea Tar Pits. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

La Brea Tar Pits

5801 Wilshire Blvd.
Admission

How to get there: From Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, drive west on Hollywood Blvd. to N. Highland Ave. and head south to Wiltshire Blvd. Head west on Wiltshire Blvd and park in the shared La Brea Tar Pit/LACMA parking lot.

A must for families, see the strange bubbling tar churn and spew into puddles and pools at the La Brea Tar Pits. Start with a walk around the property to see the tar pits in different sizes. Though be prepared to cover your nose, the tar reeks.

After walking around the tar pits, head into the museum to look at prehistoric animal bones found on the property. And the discovery isn’t over, La Brea Tar Pits remains an active discovery zone.

Since the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) shares a parking lot with La Brea Tar Pits. Walk through the museum next.

Tour the LACMA, where to go in LA with Kids.
See a Warhol after checking out the La Brea Tar Pits. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

5905 Wiltshire Blvd.
Adult admission, kids under 17 free

How to get there: Located in the same complex as the La Brea Tar Pits so walk to the entrance.

Don’t let the name confuse you, the LACMA (as the locals call it) is the largest art museum in the western U.S. With separate buildings dedicated to different eras and styles visitors could spend all day. I recommend hitting the highlights and check in with a docent upon arrival to tailor your visit to your interests.

After a morning with the stars, some tar followed by the arts, it’s time for lunch. For the kids, I recommend Pink’s hotdog stand, a LA icon. Hop back in the car for a 10-minute drive.

Drive by the Petersen Automotive Museum (6060 Wilshire Blvd.) before heading to lunch. The building opened in 2015 and resembles a red car racing around a corner, can’t miss it.

Eat at Pink's, where to go in LA with Kids
Grab a dog with the kids at Pink’s for messy cheap eats. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Pink’s Hot Dogs

709 N. La Brea Ave.

How to get there: From La Brea Tar Pits, take Wilshire Blvd. at S. La Brea Ave. take a left. Street parking in front and parking around the back, though watch that meter!

I will admit, I’m not a hotdog enthusiast though I enjoyed Pink’s.

First, pick a celebrity named dogs, like the Martha Stewart Dog. Then give your order to the ladies working the counter, many who have worked the stand for years.

Grab a table out back under an umbrella. And bite into an experience. Are the hotdogs messy? Yep but the kids will love it.

Griffith Park

4730 Crystal Springs Dr.
Free, attractions extra

How to get there: From Pink’s, head north on La Brea Blvd. then take right on Santa Monica Blvd. Continue east on Santa Monica Blvd. until N. Western Ave. and take a left. Continue to Fern Dell Dr. into Griffith Park. Located west of Interstate 5 and south of SR 134 (Ventura Freeway) Use the DASH Observatory Shuttle ($.50) to get around the park since parking can be hard to find, especially at the Griffith Observatory.

As one of the largest municipal parks with an urban wilderness in the U.S. Griffith Park offers days of exploring.  Depending on your family, I would choose one attraction in Griffith Park–the Los Angeles Zoo or the Griffith Observatory.

Los Angeles Zoo

5333 Zoo Dr.
Admission

Since 1966, families explore the zoo with over 250 animal species across 133 acres. Take a spin the vintage carousel with the kids too (additional ticket).

Griffith Observatory

2800 E. Observatory Rd.
Free

With amazing views of Downtown LA and the Hollywood Sign, a visit to the 1935 Griffith Observatory tops many must do lists for LA. Free to visit, the building is an Art Deco jewel and includes science exhibits including telescopes.

For the train lovers in the family, visit either the Griffith Park and Southern Railroad (4400 Crystal Springs Dr.) for a ride on a miniature train.

Another must do for train lovers, Travel Town (5200 Zoo Dr.) offers an outdoor facility with several full-size train cars to explore.

After exploring Griffith Park for a few hours, head back and stop for dinner at The Original Farmer’s Market.

The Original Farmer’s Market

6333 W. 3rd St.
Free

How to get there: From Griffith Park, head south out of the park on Fern Dell Dr. and onto N Western Ave. Continue until Beverly Blvd and turn right, headed west. At Fairfax Ave. make a left.

More than a fresh produce market, The Original Farmer’s Market is a foodie destination. Stocked with unique and familiar purveyors, find everything from fresh seafood to cold brew coffee.

Since so many quick service eateries are in one location, this is the ideal place to feed a family. For the teens in the family, The Grove, is next door. Offering the possibility of seeing a starlet or two (189 The Grove Dr.).

Since it’s a vacation, reserve tickets to your favorite pastime.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

111 S. Grand Ave
Admission

The only way into the concert hall is to attend an event. So if the LA Philharmonic is in season reserve tickets to the architectural marvel, sheathed in stainless steel. Designed by Frank Gehry in the Deconstructivism style, it’s an architectural icon.

While at Walt Disney Concert Hall, drive by the newer The Broad, located across the street at 221 S. Grand Ave. As a contemporary art museum, the building looks like a honeycomb.

Watch a Dodgers Game, where to go in LA with kids.
Take in a baseball game if the LA Dodgers are playing. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Dodger Stadium

1000 Vin Scully Ave.
Admission

If a concert sounds boring, get tickets to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a home baseball game. Another place to enjoy a perfect SoCal evening.

 

75 Must Have Road Trip Snacks

best road trip snacks for kids
Hitting the road on the Great American Road Trip then you need some snacks. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Great American Road Trip, it’s part of our culture. We yearn to discover our country much like the first explorers.

We pack up the SUV and hit the road nearly every school break. So what’s the best road trip snack for kids?

Road trip snacks are just as important as the map. My kids, 10, 13 and 15, have road trip snack opinions so I take them shopping. That’s when it gets fun. I say yes to most things. Since it’s just for our road trip.

best road trip snacks for kids
Pack the SUV and don’t forget to pack the snack bag. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Best Road Trip Snacks for Kids

I could tell you I pack the most nutrient-rich, organic items that I can find. But Mom needs a break. I want to be the Fun Mom for our road trip. So I’m packing all the fun snacks, just for vacation. We’ll go back on the nutritious wagon when we get home. Promise.

The Classic Road Trip Snacks

  • Beef Jerky
  • Pringles
  • Cheez-Its
  • Moon pie
  • Twizzlers
  • Cracker Jack
  • Corn nuts
  • Slurpees

Road Tripping Protein 

Sometimes I’m in the middle of a desert and there’s not a place to stop for a meal.

  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Yogurt. Don’t forget the spoons or get the tubes.
  • Breakfast in a Pouch, a combination of nuts and fruit in a single-serve pouch
  • Flavored almonds, sweet or salty
  • Hummus
  • Nut butter, peanut, almond or cashew
  • Pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

Best Bars for Road Trips

Bars are a must for any car. Stash a few in console compartment, just in case.

  • Protein bars
  • Granola bars
  • Cereal bars
  • Fig Newtons
  • Date Bars

Fruit Snacks for Road Trips 

My kids love their fruit but most fresh fruit doesn’t travel well. It really needs a cooler or to be eaten on the first day.

  • A banana or two. Not too many because they bruise.
  • Mandarin oranges or Cuties
  • Apples
  • Fresh Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Fruit leather
  • Freeze-dried fruit– Apples and pears seem to be the winners here.
  • Applesauce pouches
  • Yogurt-covered raisins
  • Dried cherries or apricots
  • Bagged fruit snacks

Got the Ultimate List of Road Trips Snacks. Got something for everyone, including the road tripping purists.

Cheese

A good source of protein and travels well if individually wrapped. Put it in a cooler during the summer.

  • String cheese
  • Babybel
  • Laughing Cow
  • Individually packaged pieces of cheddar or Colby.

Salty Snacks

I stay away from any snacks that will cover my SUV in cheesy fingerprints.

  • Cracker sandwiches. I get the variety pack to keep everyone happy.
  • Gold Fish. My kids still love these.
  • Pretzels
  • Popped popcorn
  • Chex Mix
  • Bagel chips
  • Potato chips
  • Pita chips

Just for Fun Sweet Treats

  • Cookies, a couple of varieties. I even buy the kind I usually say No to, except chocolate-coated for melty mess reasons.
  • Rice Crispy Treats
  • Graham crackers
  • Gummy anything
  • Animal crackers
  • Marshmallows
  • Trail Mix
  • Muddy Buddies Mix

Road Trip Snack Bag Must Haves 

  • Paper towels
  • Wet wipes
  • Disposable silverware
  • Ziploc bags, quarts and gallon size
  • Clothes pins or Chip Clips
  • Refillable water bottles

Snacks for Mom

I do the majority of the driving on our road trips so I have my own snacks in the front seat since my kids will eat everything within their reach.

  • Sweet and salty nuts
  • Good crackers
  • Edamame
  • Bean Chips, like the SnapPeas Crisps
  • Good Cheese
  • Bottled cold coffee drinks
  • Canned sparkling water
  • Gum
  • Sweet tarts or other really tart candy

I also pack treats that wake up my mouth so I can stay alert. After a few hours on the road I like to chew gum. I have a roll of Sweet Tarts or other candy that’s really tart. I alternate unsweet ice tea or iced coffee and sparkling water.

What About Dad?

Dads want a break from the daily obligations of parenting too. So let him eat junk, just for the trip.

  • Pork Rinds
  • Bugles
  • Pistachios, just give him something for the shells
  • Sunflower seeds, same
  • Gas station hotdog
  • Slim Jim
  • Hot Fries
  • Hostess Cupcakes
  • Twinkies
  • Fried Pies
  • Antacid
best road trip snacks for kids
Grab a reusable bag and pack it full of your favorites. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Tips for Road Trip Snacking

First off, I make it easy and fun. I forget about the cute little containers I saw on Pinterest. Let’s get real for a minute, what am I supposed to do with all those containers on the second day of our trip?

I skip the plastic containers and especially the glass Mason jars. I buy individual serving sizes so I grab all the trash from the back seat when I stop for gas. Don’t think I’m the only one with messy kids.

Then I load everything up in one of my reusable shopping bags. Since it’s soft-sided, I can stash the bag in another place if needed.

Since it’s vacation my kids get what they want, except for chocolate, a giant barrel of cheez balls and Capri Suns. The chocolate and the cheez balls for obvious messy reasons.

Let me tell you a story from the summer of 2010, a Capri Sun gunfight broke out in the backseat of my Toyota 4 Runner. I didn’t know that my boys could turn drink pouches into sticky sweet weapons. They did and they had a great time. Now Capri Suns are permanently banned from my SUV.

The snack bag is another passenger and has its own spot in the the back seat. My 15-year-old daughter is in charge of the snack bag in route. As the driver I need to stay focused on driving. That and I don’t have time for any snack squabbles that break out.

I really have two snack bags. One with the kids and one hidden in the back of the SUV. I use as it as back stock. If if give all the snacks to my kids at once, they would eat everything like a pack of puppies.

Did I miss your favorite? Let me know in the comments.

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16 Ways to Apres at Squaw Valley Village with Kids

 

Enjoy Squaw Valley with kids where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe.
Squaw Valley offers families the place to ski big  plus a village full of family fun. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Squaw Valley–More than a Ski Resort

Taking the entire family skiing requires more than a few lift tickets. Squaw Valley Ski Resort offers a village packed full of fun for everyone on a family ski getaway, not just the skiers.

When I’m planning my family’s annual winter getaway, I look for fun activities for everyone. I want shopping, dining, and winter activities like sledding and skating all within walking distance. I found all that in Squaw Valley’s Village on a recent visit. 

Top Family Fun at Squaw Valley

  • Snow Tubing
  • Mini Snow Mobiles
  • Sledding
  • Indoor rock wall
  • Outdoor trampoline
  • Roasting s’mores
  • Take the aerial tram to High Camp
  • Tour the Olympic Museum
  • Snow shoeing
  • Dog sledding
  • Cross country skiing
  • Shopping
  • Spa treatments
  • Yoga
  • Fireworks on select nights
  • Live music on select nights
  • Horse-drawn sleigh rides on select nights
  • Plus lots of holiday fun during December

What I loved about The Village at Squaw Valley

  • Everything is right in the Village so you don’t have to leave the resort.
  • Even in the busiest time of the year it never felt crowded.

What I wanted from The Village at Squaw Valley

  • A skating rink in the Village.
  • Better labeling in the parking lots since it tends to be a sea of cars.
family fun at Squaw Valley where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
I found lots of family fun at Squaw Valley that doesn’t require a lift ticket. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Family Fun without a Lift Ticket

My kids could ski or snowboard everyday but Mom can’t. I need a break after a few days or my legs will fall off or worse.

Sure, my kids would love to explore on their own but I’m not comfortable letting my kids, 10, 13 and 15-years-old run wild on the mountain. So I add a rest day into our family ski getaway.

I might get to sleep in an extra hour but I’ve got to keep the kids moving. And that means heading outdoors for winter family fun.

What to do at Squaw Valley Village with Kids

In a corner of the Squaw Valley Ski Resort, I found the SnoVentures area packed with winter fun. Located next to Squaw Kids, the ski and snowboarding school, SnoVentures offers a day’s worth of fun.

For kids of all ages, snow tubing gives families a fun outlet for competition. Grab a tube and use the covered surface lift for more fun with less work.

A free sledding area, located next to the snow tubing area, offers all-day fun for free if you bring-your-own equipment. Or pick up a sled in Tahoe City, just 10 miles away.

For the kids, mini snowmobiles offer thrills and a taste of the adrenaline sport with just-the-right-size option for kids. Limited to kids 6 to 12.

The Village at Squaw Valley also features an indoor rock wall. Outside I found a Sky Jump Trampoline for the kids.

More than a ski resort, Squaw Valley Village offers family fun off the slopes with outdoor sports along with indoor activities as well. See a full list to plan your winter getaway.

For the winter athlete, the Nordic Center at the Resort of Squaw Creek at Squaw Valley offers 18km of groomed trails, located close by. Winding through the meadows in Squaw Valley offers postcard-perfect scenery.

Too much of a workout for a vacation? Try snow shoeing and pull the kids in a toboggan for fun with the littles.

Families looking for an Arctic-inspired adventure can find it at Squaw Valley. Imagine a team of Alaskan Huskies pulling the family through the snow-covered meadow on a dog sled.

Don’t forget that Squaw Valley offers horse-drawn sleigh rides and live entertainment during December. Santa skies into Squaw too. And remember to try one fo the festive meals for the holiday season.

Squaw Valley’s Aerial Tram

The aerial tram offers spectacular views of Squaw Valley and Lake Tahoe beyond. A scenic ride aboard a large tram car offers a fun outing to High Camp, the terminus for the tram.

With a couple of restaurants at High Camp, take the family on a ride for lunch or dinner. Don’t forget to tour the Olympic Museum. Tickets are required.

Olympic Museum where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
Learn a little ski history at the Olympic Museum at Squaw Valley’s High Camp and remember to grab a gold win selfie. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Squaw Valley’s Olympic History

Squaw Valley’s skiing is not the only thing that’s legendary. Their successful 1960 Olympic bid is as legendary as the games themselves.

In 1955 Alex Cushing, the chairman of Squaw Valley, saw a newspaper article announcing Reno as the possible site for the 1960 Olympic Games. He threw his resort in the mix, boasting only a single chairlift and a couple of rope tows at the time.

The place to beat—Innsbruck, Austria, an international favorite.

Against all odds, Cushing secured the vote in France. With the help of the State of California and Walt Disney, the infrastructure grew out of the valley virtually overnight.

Days before the opening, Squaw Valley lacked the snow it needed. Then a fierce snowstorm blew in from the West and dumped the much needed snow.

As if orchestrated by Walt Disney himself, the head of pageantry, the clouds cleared moments before the official the start of the Olympic Games. Moments later Walt Disney released 2,000 doves into the air signaling the start of the 10-day long games.

Be sure to walk through the Olympic Museum at High Camp. My kids loved standing on the Olympic podium.

Indoor Winter Escapes

Need an escape? Sneak out to the Trilogy Spa located in The Village at Squaw Valley. Don’t forget that massages can work out the mountain kinks.

The Wanderlust Yoga Studio, located in The Village, offers drop-in classes.

The Village is packed with shopping and offers more than winter gear. Shop at the Squaw Valley Logo Company or any of the shops featuring home, kids or toy shopping.

The kids can even craft on their winter getaway.

Après-Ski Fun

Every Saturday evening, the Village at Squaw Valley offers live music. Then at 6 p.m., the night sky lights up with fireworks.

Squaw Valley also features a film series selected nights throughout the winter season for free movies at the Olympic Village Lodge.

For adults looking to unwind, the Auld Dubliner Irish Pub draws a crowd along with several other bars in the Village area. 

Rocker Where to take kids Skiing in Lake Tahoe
My kids ate big after a day on the slopes at Rocker in the Squaw Valley Village. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Where to Eat in The Village

The Village at Squaw Valley offers lots of options for families.

During my visit, we ate at Rocker, steps from the lifts. It features a patio to watch the fireworks and a casual environment for families.

My kids dominated a plate of nachos as big as the state of California. With a little kids’ menu, big kid pleasing hamburgers, a choice of farm fresh salads, the whole table left full and happy.

Snacks for kids where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
We love crepes and I found lots of tasty treats across Squaw Valley Ski Resort for families. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For snacking during the day, I stopped by the Euro Snack trailer for savory and sweet crepes. Of course, I ran into Starbucks for coffee and hot chocolate. I also found pizza, sushi and grill options.

For the Skiers and Snowboarders

Squaw Valley Ski Resort is more than a ski resort, it’s a bucket list destination and an international favorite for over 50 years. And it was recently voted Best Ski Resort in North America by the readers of USA Today.

Any day on the mountain can’t be beat, and a day at Squaw is epic. It’s more than the world-class runs, it’s a the feeling seeps in and takes hold. It’s the kind a day that you remember for decades.

Family Skiing at Squaw Valley where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe
Heading up the First Venture lift right after we get to the SnoVentures area. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Squaw Valley by-the-Numbers

Base Elevation: 6,200 ft. Summit Elevation: 9,050 ft.
Vertical Drop: 2,850 ft. Skiable Acres: 3,600
Type of Terrain Percentage of Runs
Green 25%
Blue 45%
Black 30%
Total Named Runs: 170
Lifts: 29 total:

1 aerial tram, 1 funitel, 1 high speed 6-pack, 3 high-speed quads, 1 quad, 9 triples, 3 doubles and 5 surface lifts

Squaw Valley Ski School

Squaw Valley offers programs divided by age. For the youngest skiers, ages 3 to 4 (potty-trained kids only), the Pioneers program focuses on fun with first time, full-day and half-day programs available.

For the 5 to 7-year-olds, kids can choose from skiing or snowboarding. The Explorers Ski and Grommets Snowboard Program is for more active kids and broken down by ability–green, blue or black-level runs.

Kids 8 to 13-years-old explore the mountain trying lots of runs along side similarly-skilled kids. The Mountaineers Ski and Jibbers Snowboard program will be on the snow the majority of the day.

All kids’ programs (ages 3 to 13) feature an afternoon first time package. Teen group lessons are available though they meet in the adult lesson area.

Is it Your First Family Ski Trip?

What do you need to pack for family ski trip? I’ve been there. And here’s a list to prep and pack.

Need some advice on picking a ski school for your kids? I’ve got some tips for families to find the best program. 

More Lake Tahoe Fun for Families

Looking for more places to discover in Lake Tahoe? Got a couple of my favorite spots to share.

Mt Rose Meadows for sledding 

Spooner Lake for sledding 

Granlibakken Tahoe  

Northstar Ski

Mt Rose Ski Tahoe 

Then discover a quaint town to spend an afternoon, like Tahoe City.

Where’s Squaw Valley Ski Resort

Squaw Valley Ski Resort is located at 1960 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley, California. Squaw Valley is 12 miles south of Truckee, California, along California Highway 89. Tahoe City, California, a quaint mountain town on the western shores of Lake Tahoe is 10 miles away.

If flying into Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) to visit Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley is 48 miles from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) via Interstate 80.

Parking Available

General Parking Free
Premier Parking $20
Valet Garage Parking $30 or $40 holiday

Disclosure: 

My family was hosted by Squaw Valley Ski Resort though I have skied at Squaw Valley for years.

Know Before You Go

  • Pack a bag of marshmallows and a couple of roasting sticks, I found several fire pits, perfect for an après-ski
  • Squaw Valley Ski Resort’s partner resort, Alpine Meadows is a short complimentary shuttle ride away.
  • Before heading out check out road conditions at NVroads.com for tire chain requirements. I use Nevada’s website for the Lake Tahoe region since it’s easier to use on a mobile device than California’s website.

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9 Things To Do in Tahoe City with Kids this Winter

Watson Cabin, Where to go in Tahoe City with Kids.
Walk by the Watson Cabin along the shores of Lake Tahoe. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

What to do in Tahoe City with Kids

A day on the mountain can’t be beat, but Mom needs a break after a couple of days. That’s why I plan a day to sled and ice skate with the kids. Tahoe City offers 9 activities perfect for families that scream fun like sledding, ice skating and snowshoeing, all within walking distance. Then answer the question, what to do in Tahoe City with kids.

Tops for Sledding Granlibakken Tahoe

Granlibakken features the fastest sled hill in Lake Tahoe
My 12-year-old needs a sturdy ride and Granlibakken features MH sleds.

Nestled in the evergreens, Granlibakken Tahoe offers lodging and a small ski operation, although my kids love their crazy fast sledding hill. For nearly half what other ski resorts charge for an hour of snow tubing, Granlibakken offers a full day of sledding fun.

For $16 per person ($17 during holidays), kids get unlimited rides down their monitored hill and a saucer sled for the day. Kids can climb Granlibakken’s hill over and over, racing each other and even Mom.

Tahoe City where to sled at Lake Tahoe
My kids discuss strategy as they figure out how to beat Mom down the hill. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

After a few sledding runs, time for s’mores! The ski hut at Granlibakken sells s’mores packages with enough chocolate, grahams, and marshmallows for a family of four to toast at the fire pit. Or bring your own in your snack bag. The ski hut also features hot drinks, soups and Mexican favorites in an authentic log cabin with a pot belly stove.

Find Granlibakken Tahoe at 725 Granlibakken Road. It features a small ski hill with a rope tow and inexpensive lift tickets ($30 – $35 per person for a full day).

Tahoe City Winter Sports Park

First on my kids list, the Tahoe City Winter Sports Park, to ice skate. All the winter sports activities are conveniently located next to each other and rental equipment is available.

Go ice skating in Tahoe City
Take the kids ice skating in Tahoe City. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

TAHOE CITY ICE RINK

Tahoe City features an ice rink with jamming tunes and festive lights, perfect for kids of all ages. Located in the center of town (251 North Lake Blvd), this rink offers families a place to strap on their skates for some outdoor fun.

We laced up our skates and hit the ice under a canopy of twinkling lights. My kids grabbed the seals that beginners use to push around the ice for confidence and stability.

Rental skates are available or bring your own. Admission for skaters and tables for non-skaters.

CROSS-COUNTRY SKI TRAILS IN TAHOE CITY

For outdoor enthusiasts, Tahoe City Winter Sports Park offers 4 km of groomed trails. Meander through a meadow in the center of Tahoe City enjoying the sights and scents of the season.

The Tahoe City Winter Sports Park offers ski rental. And trail passes required.

Tip: Teens enjoy cross-country skiing though not suited for the youngest kids.

TAHOE CITY SLEDDING HILL

Looking for more outdoor kid fun? Tahoe City Winter Sports Park offers a small sledding hill steps away from the ice skating rink. Admission based on age.

SNOWSHOE TRAIL IN TAHOE CITY

Snowshoeing requires no new skills, just strap on snowshoes and walk with a couple of poles. I found a snowshoe loop that’s dog-friendly at the Tahoe City Winter Sports Park. Grab a toboggan and pull the littles for family fun.

Special shoes aren’t required and the Tahoe City Winter Sports Park offers snowshoe rental.  I just strap them to my snow boots. Admission for the snowshoe loop pass.

 

Tip: Want to do it all? Buy a Sports Park All Day Fun Pass.

CAFÉ ZENON

Tahoe City where to sled at Lake Tahoe
I sampled the mac-and-cheese along with the fries at Cafe Zenon after skating for a while in Tahoe City. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

After a couple of hours on the ice, we needed to eat. Steps away from the ice rink at Tahoe City Winter Sport Park I found Café Zenon. With a large menu of upscale comfort food offerings, I found entrees that satisfied my palate and the kids.

The mac-and-cheese is not just for the kids. Adults can order it with pride. The chicken tenders with fries are cheat-worthy. Don’t tell the kids! But the fries are really frites–yummy.

Café Zenon offers a full bar with inventive and signature cocktails. For the kids, order a hot chocolate.

THE TAHOE ART HAUS AND CINEMA

See a Movie, what to do in Tahoe City with Kids
Baby it’s cold outside so grab a seat and see a movie. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Evening comes early in the winter so escape to the movies. Sit in the cozy couch seating or rock away in a leather seat, the Tahoe Art Haus Cinema shows latest blockbusters.

As Lake Tahoe’s only cinema draft house, order a local draft beer or coffee drink. Don’t miss the popcorn spice bar and I found hotdogs and cheese pizza too.

COMMONS BEACH PARK AND PLAYGROUND 

Visit the Playground, What to do in Tahoe City with Kids.
Kids have lots of choices at the Commons Beach playground. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

If the snow isn’t too deep then let the kids play along one of most picturesque walking paths at Lake Tahoe. The Common Beach Park features open spaces for running, a walking path and a playground.

The divided path offers a lane for cyclists and walkers along with interpretive signs. My kids found playground gold at Commons Beach Park. Even my 14-year-old scrambled over the climbing wall.

Since I found plenty of seating, a few picnic tables and a restroom located next to the playground, families congregate here year-round. Even the little kids have a separate play structure. Free

Along the shore of Lake Tahoe, the quaint hamlet of Tahoe City offers families winter fun, minutes from the area's best ski resorts.

Where to Shop in Tahoe City 

Quaint, locally owned shops line the streets of Tahoe City. As a bonus, you can walk between all the shopping in Tahoe City.

Skiing and Sledding Near Tahoe City

Enjoy Squaw Valley with kids where to take kids skiing in Lake Tahoe.
Lake Tahoe offers families the place to ski big with lots of family friendly runs and terrain parks. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Lake Tahoe offers world-class skiing for families, including some of the best ski schools around. And Tahoe City is minutes from several top resorts.

Squaw Valley Ski Resort offers families Olympic skiing and history with lots of mountaintop green runs served by a large gondola.

Northstar Ski Resort offers families a luxury ski getaway with a premier kids learning center.

Diamond Peak Ski Resort has been a locals favorite for years.

Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe boasts lots of green runs just for kids along in the Enchanted Forest.

Then I’ve got a couple of FREE sledding hills nearby too.

Tahoe Meadows

Spooner Summit

First Time Skiing? 

What do you need to pack for family ski trip? I’ve been there. And here’s a list to prep and pack.

Need some advice on picking a ski school for your kids? I’ve got some tips for families to find the best program. 

Disclosure:

My family was hosted for part of our visit to Tahoe City. Consideration for locations listed.

Know Before You Go:

  • The ice rink is open everyday throughout the winter season though check after a heavy snowfall when snow removal temporarily closes the rink.
  • Outdoor ice skating rinks have faster ice than indoor rinks. Bring a helmet for kids learning since falls are common.
  • Park at the Tahoe City Winter Sports Park and walk to the park, movie theatre and shopping.
  • Before heading out check out road conditions at NVroads.com for tire chain requirements. I use Nevada’s website for the Lake Tahoe region since it’s easier to use on a mobile device than California’s website.

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Oregon Goes Boom at Newberry Volcano in Bend

What to do in Bend with kids, walk on a volcano.
Kids love volcanoes so add Newberry National Volcanic Monument to your Oregon road trip. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

What to do in Bend with Kids

In-between Crater Lake and Columbia River Gorge, I found Bend, Oregon, located where the ponderosa pine forest transitions to the high desert. I did a little research and found Bend is a favorite outdoor destination throughout the seasons. Then I found a national park site where my kids could climb a volcano. Sold!

After we arrived in Bend, we spent the day at the Newberry Volcanic National Monument. With two different locations, it features lakes, hot springs, lava flows, a lava cave and a cinder cone in the middle of the Deschutes National Forest.

What to do at the Newberry Volcano

The Newberry National Volcanic Monument is divided into two areas, each with it’s own visitor center with seasonal hours and staffed with U.S. Forest Rangers.

Lava Lands Visitor Center

If limited on time start at the Lava Lands Visitor Center, located at the northern end of the monument closest to Bend. Conveniently located of U.S Route 97. It features a 3-D topographic map and introductory movie.

What to do in Bend with kids, hike to the Newberry Fire lookout.
Hike to the Newberry Fire Lookout when exploring the volcano. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During our visit, we hopped the shuttle bus ($2 per person, round trip) to the top of Lava Butte, a 500-foot tall cinder cone volcano. A must-do for the family, we hiked up to the Lava Butte Lookout, an historic and active U.S. Forest Service fire lookout since 1913.

Staffed by an official fire lookout that scans the forest for tiny columns of smoke before they turn into raging infernos. During our visit, a volunteer Forest Ranger told us about the eruption 7,000 years ago that formed the butte and its crater. On the way back to the shuttle bus stop, we hiked the easy .25-mile hike along the Lava Butte Rim.

Climb a Volcano with your kids when you explore Oregon. Got all the family fun in the outdoors conveniently located between major destinations.

If visiting the Newberry National Volcanic Monument during the summer season (May 1 to Labor Day), explore the Lava River Cave, Oregon’s longest lava tube. An unguided tour that descends 55 steps into an unlit one-mile long cavity created by a massive lava flow.

Lava River Cave requires a 2-mile roundtrip hike and you must carry two light sources. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the season. A ranger-led tour starts at 3 p.m. and reservations are made day of the tour.

Newberry Caldera

Located in a historic Forest Service guard station, Paulina Visitor Center is at the southern end of the monument, off Paulina Lake Road or County Road 21. During the summer season a forest ranger hands out maps and Junior Forest Ranger booklets. Staffed weekends only during the spring and fall from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and during the summer most days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

What to do in Bend with kids, visit Paulina Cabin.
Stop off at Paulina Cabin for more information when you visit. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During our visit, we hiked to the Big Obsidian Flow, a 1-mile loop moderate trail with a 500-foot elevation gain. The obsidian, or Black Glass, was formed 1,300 years ago and is the youngest lava flow in Oregon. This area has a vault toilet and picnic tables along with seasonal (summer) interpretive rangers.

Another hike for families, and especially waterfall-loving Moms, is the Paulina Falls trail. A .25-mile easy trail leads to an 80-foot twin falls. Both hikes have parking areas.

Within the the Newberry caldera, I found two lakes with hot springs, Paulina Lake and East Lake. Boating is permitted though both lakes have a 10-mph speed limit. Kayaks and paddle boards can be rented nearby.

What to do in Bend with kids, hike the big obsidian flow.
Hike a big pile of obsidian at Newberry Volcanic National Monument. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Newberry National Volcanic Monument with Kids

Since the Newberry National Volcanic Monument is managed by the United States Forest Service, kids can earn a Junior Forest Ranger badge. Pick up a booklet at the Lava Lands Visitor Center or the Paulina Visitor Center. The booklet focuses on activities for kids 7 to 12, though I always help my younger kids.

The Junior Forest Ranger badge is rather painless, with a few easy to complete activities. Most kids (my two boys 8 and 12 did it with no real complaints) should finish it under an hour. It doesn’t require attending a ranger program but kids have to interview a ranger.

Cool Facts about Newberry 

Located on the eastern edge of the Cascade mountain range and known for its volcanic activity, the Newberry Caldera is a 1,200 square mile volcano. About the size of Rhode Island, the Newberry Caldera is still active with seismic and geothermal activity. Ordinarily kids would snooze through this but mention seismic anything when standing next to a volcano and they start to listen.

The Newberry Caldera is thought to be 500,000 years old when the top layer of the earth collapsed and formed the crater. Subsequent eruptions formed cinder cones and lava flows.

Named after John Newberry, who explored the area in 1855 for the Pacific Railroad, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument was dedicated in 1990. Astronauts trained at Newberry during NASA’s Apollo program.

Where to Stay in Bend

I found lots of options in dining, lodging and camping in Bend. During my visit, I stayed at the Riverhouse on the Deschutes ($$-$$$), located at 3075 N. Business 97 in Bend.

Stay at Riverhouse on the Deschutes and what to do in Bend with kids.
During our visit we stayed at Riverhouse on the Deschutes. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Riverhouse on the Deschutes offers the ultimate base. The newly renovated rooms feature sophisticated, modern details with a convenient location perfect for family travelers. Centrally located, the Riverhouse on the Deschutes offers quick access to enjoy Bend’s outdoor adventures.

I found six campgrounds in the Deschutes National Forest, some of the sites are reservable.

Where’s Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Located 95 miles east from Crater Lake National Park and 140 miles south from Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Lava Lands Visitor Center is 12 miles south of Bend, Oregon. During my visit, I stayed in Bend, with the largest selection of lodging and dining in central Oregon.

Newberry National Volcanic is open year-round though the visitor centers are open seasonally from May 1 to October 31. The monument requires admission, use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a day use pass for $5 per vehicle, good at all designated parking lots.

Bats and White-Nose Syndrome

If you plan on exploring Lava River Cave, the lava tube, you will be asked if you have visited a cave, like Oregon Caves National Monument in southern Oregon. You can not wear any clothing, including shoes, that’s been in another cave due to White-Nose Syndrome.

White-Nose Syndrome kills hibernating bat colonies across the U.S. and Canada. A fungus that thrives in low temperatures and high humidity that’s killed 6 million bats since it’s discovery in 2006. Since the fungus can survive in the soil for years, rangers forbid visitors from entering the cave with the same clothing or shoes from another cave.

Know Before You Go:

  • Wear appropriate shoes for hiking on the lava flows, like hiking or athletic shoes. I slipped a couple of times even with hiking sandals.
  • The lava flows offer little in shade. Wear a hat, light-colored clothing and bring plenty of water if hiking in the summer.
  • The shuttle bus to the top of Lava Butte takes exact change only and kids under 2 ride for free.
  • Kids under 6 earn a Smokey Bear pin by completing the Smokey’s Helper Booklet.

Disclosure:

Consideration for brands mentioned.

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Discover Utah’s Bryce Canyon to Share Fun and Adventure

Discover Utah's Bryce Canyon with kids
Discover the pink spires at Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo Credit: National Park Service

Discover Utah’s technicolor show where the delicate pink of a sunrise pops into vermillion red then rusts into a sunset orange. Bryce Canyon National Park offers expansive views at every turn in the trail. The Paunsaugunt Plateau’s dramatic scenery is a hiker’s dream and draws visitors from around the world.

History of Bryce Canyon National Park

What started as an inland sea approximately 40 million years ago until 20 million years ago when the Colorado Plateau began to rise and dry out. Bryce Canyon’s rainbow-colored limestone layers actually represent different eras of time.

Explore the Bryce Canyon River when you explore Bryce Canyon with kids.
Catch the Bryce Canyon River as it snakes through the firs at the bottom of the canyon. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Bryce Canyon is located on the top portion of the Grand Staircase, a sequence of sedimentary rock layers in northern Arizona and southern Utah. It offers a geologic survey of 525 million years displayed in exposed rock. Where Grand Canyon National Park represents the bottom of the Grand Staircase, Zion National Park offers a glimpse of the center.

Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon Pioneer and Bryce Canyon’s namesake, settled in the area and at times seemed obvious to its haunting beauty. Bryce Canyon National Park earned its national park designation in 1928.

What to do in 2 hours

On my first visit, I had limited time so after grabbing a map at the Visitor Center I hopped a complimentary park shuttle. At the Sunrise Point stop, I headed to the Rim Trail, a paved path running next to the edge. To walk from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point is an easy 1.0-mile hike.

NOTE: This path doesn’t feature a fence next to the canyon but is approximately 10 feet off the rim’s edge.

Walk through Bryce Canyon Lodge when you explore Bryce Canyon with kids.
The historic Bryce Canyon Lodge offers guests rooms steps away from the rim of the canyon. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For more adventurous families, the Navajo Trail offers an up-close look at Bryce’s rock formations as the trail takes hikers into Bryce Amphitheater’s slot canyon. It starts at Sunset Point and is a 1.3-mile moderate trail.

I walked over to the Bryce Canyon Lodge to tour the historic park building. Inside I found restrooms along with a large gift shop, a restaurant and a ballroom that hosts ranger programs.

Explore Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park for family fun and adventure. With cabins, hikes and horseback rides, families can make memories together as they discover the pink spires of Utah.

After exploring from Sunrise to Sunset Points, I headed for Inspiration Point. Close but yet another vantage point of the Bryce Amphitheater then boarded the shuttle bus for the roundtrip ride back to the visitor center.

Family Fun in Bryce Canyon National Park

For older kids who love adventure, explore Bryce Canyon by horseback with a one-and-half hour guided tour that takes small groups to Fairy Castle and back. A three-hour tour explores the Peek-a-Boo Loop by horseback as well.

Take a hike when you explore Bryce Canyon with kids.
Kids love to hike and Bryce Canyon National Park offers several family hiking trails. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Bryce Canyon National Park hosts two summer festivals. An Annual Astronomy Festival in June and an Annual Geology Festival in July for visitors looking for specialized programming.

Bryce Canyon National Park features night sky programming. The park’s dark rangers, who specialize in the night sky, host programs to see a world beyond the naked eye.

Outfitted with high-powered telescopes, dark rangers point viewfinders on the Milky Way and nursery nebulae. On full moons, dark sky rangers guide visitors through Bryce Canyon on moonlit hikes.

Bryce Canyon with Kids

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Bryce Canyon National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the patches that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

Lodging in Bryce Canyon National Park

Stay in a historic cabin when you explore Bryce Canyon with kids.
Reserve a cabin steps from Bryce Canyon’s rim to make memories with your kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For lodging in the park, the rustic Bryce Canyon Lodge offers rooms in the 1925 historic lodge listed on the Register of Historic Places. The Bryce Canyon Lodge features a restaurant, a pizzeria along with lodge rooms and a few suites.

For guests looking for more space, western cabins are located steps from the canyon’s edge and the lodge. They offer rustic elegance in a more private setting.

Where’s Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is located approximately 270 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada, to the south and 270 miles from Salt Lake City, Utah, to the north. Both cities offer international airports.

Bryce Canyon National Park offers a difference landscape and included in national park itineraries. It’s located 85 miles from Zion National Park. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is 158 miles away.

Bryce Canyon National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $30 per private vehicle.

Bryce Canyon National Park offers a free seasonal shuttle bus from the visitor center every 15 minutes and stops at the lodge, the campgrounds and Sunset, Bryce, Inspiration and Sunset Points.

Know Before You Go:

  • Bryce Canyon has frequent thunderstorms during Monsoon season, June through August. For your safety, when thunder roars, head indoors.
  • Bryce Canyon doesn’t have a partial fence around the canyon like Grand Canyon. Hike with the kids within arm’s reach.
  • Take it easy at Bryce Canyon, elevations range from 6,600 to 9,100 ft
  • Seasonal road closure can occur during the winter.

Take Your Kids to Prison for Family Fun

Alcatraz with Kids
On a clear day, Alcatraz doesn’t look that creepy but of course looks can be deceiving. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Why would you visit Alcatraz with kids? Well, Alcatraz topped the San Francisco to-do list for my kids, 9, 13 and 14. ALL DAY they asked, when are we going to Alcatraz. Seriously. And it was their favorite national park site of the summer after stopping at most of the national park sites on the West Coast, like Redwoods, Death Valley, Olympic, Mount St. Helens, Oregon Caves, Lassen Volcanic and Mt. Rainier.

A Prison with Kids?

I have boys and my boys are fascinated by prisons, along with a list of other things that most Moms don’t want to talk about. So I decided to tour the prison that defines hard-core prison life.

Explore Alcatraz with kids.
A walk through Alcatraz at twilight defines creepy for me. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

As a kid of the 80s, I’m all about scaring a couple of kids straight.  A walk through Alcatraz at twilight is creepy and borderline scary.But tweens and teens love to walk the line of scary and creepy so it’s perfect for them.

Though it’s not all creepy. The views of downtown San Francisco can’t be beat, really stunning. I booked the evening tour and the ferry ride along with the sunset were top-notch. Though I think we were lucky, remember that San Francisco fog!

Take a ferry to Alcatraz with kids.
On a clear afternoon, the view of downtown San Francisco can’t be beat. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I had to see it for myself. Alcatraz is one of the places you have to visit to understand. Pictures can be haunting but walking through the cell block as the dabbled light casts a ghostly glow is eerie.

Alcatraz–What’s behind the name

Derived from the Spanish word alcatraces, or seabirds, the birds have called the island home for generations. In the 1850s, the island became a military fortress due to its strategic positioning in the San Francisco Bay.

Since the shipping traffic increased from San Francisco after the gold rush, a lighthouse was needed. In 1854 the Alacatraz Island Light became the first lighthouse on the West Coast.

During the Civil War, Alcatraz Island housed 400 soldiers and numerous cannons to protect the port. However, in 1907 the U.S. Army decommissioned Alcatraz.

The island always housed prisoners from the early days as a military fort. And soon after its decommission as a fort, military guards built a cellhouse.

Explore Alcatraz with kids and walk through the cell block.
A few of the cells on the tour feature personal belongings of the prisoners. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In 1915, Alcatraz was renamed the United States Disciplinary Barracks, Pacific Branch, a military prison. During the Great Depression, Alcatraz transferred from the War Department to the Department of Justice. Soon after, it became a high-profile, maximum-security federal penitentiary.

Home to the worst of the worst, infamous inmates like Al Capone, along with others with nicknames like Creepy, Doc, Machine Gun, and Birdman of Alcatraz were all incarcerated on The Rock. Inmates that caused problems in other prisons, came to Alcatraz too.

Explore Alcatraz with kids during your trip to San Francisco.
Alcatraz offers few windows so the light is dim and spooky. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

After the prison closed in 1963, Native Americans occupied the island in effort to claim it for all tribes. Support dwindled and in 1972, Alcatraz became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Explore Alcatraz with Kids

Alcatraz is creepy and eerie in the evening so the younger kids might be frightened by the night tour. My kids, 9, 13 and 14, loved this tour but tweens and teens love to be freaked out a bit. Actually Alcatraz was their favorite national park site from the entire summer.

Explore Alcatraz with Kids when you visit San Francisco.
My kids, 9, 13 and 14, loved this tour because its was equal parts eery and creepy. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Hard to believe, yet kids lived on Alcatraz as prison guards lived on the island and brought their families with them. The kids of Alcatraz played in the gardens and Moms rarely locked their doors.

Stop by the Ranger Station at the dock and pick up a Junior Ranger booklet. Take the tour, finish the booklet and turn it back in to the park ranger for a special badge.

Night Tour

Tour Alcatraz with kids during your trip to San Francisco.
The hospital ward creeps out adults and younger kids might want to skip it. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

We explored Alcatraz during the twilight hours for the Night Tour. A special feature of this tour is the cell house lock-down where a Park Ranger unlocks then locks all the cell doors on the cell block at once. A must if you take the Night Tour.

This tour is especially creepy since the setting sun casts deep shadows throughout the prison. The lighting is limited and the hospital ward is particularly eery in the evening. It might be too scary for younger kids, my 9-year-old decided to skip this portion of the tour.

Lock the kids up when you tour Alcatraz with kids.
Sometimes good kids go bad. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Birds of Alcatraz

The birds came first, though moved on after humans occupied the island in the 1850s. When the prison closed in the 1963, the birds returned to the protected location that lacked natural predators.

The island offers refuge for over 5,000 birds today. The waterbirds include Pigeon Guillemots, Snowy Egrets, Western Gulls, Black-crowned Night-Herons and Brandt’s Cormorants. Some areas of the island may close to protect nesting birds that will abandon their nest if humans come too close.

Is a tour of Alcatraz Prison right for your kids? Find out the best time to visit and what to except for one of the most popular tours in San Francisco.

Birders, remember your binoculars and grab the brochure, Waterbirds of Alcatraz, at the kiosk after disembarking the ferry.

The Gardens of Alcatraz

The gardens that still bloom off the most surprising feature of the former high-security prison. Sprinkled throughout the property, residents first planted the gardens in the late 1800s.

Visit the gardens when you explore Alcatraz with kids.
Gardens sprinkle Alcatraz Island, planted and maintained by former inmates. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With the help of reclaimed water, green houses and specially-trained inmates, the gardens flourished until 1963, when the prison closed. Over 230 species of ornamental plants still flourish on Alcatraz, including roses, calla lilies, bearded irises, agapanthus and hydrangeas.

Garden lovers, grab the brochure, The Gardens of Alcatraz, at the kiosk after disembarking the ferry for more information.

Get the App!

The National Park Service developed an NPS Golden Gate App, covering Alcatraz Island among other NPS sites around San Francisco. The app includes an interactive map, hidden stories and up-to-date ranger information.

Where to eat at Alcatraz

Got hungry kids? The Landing at Alcatraz, the ticketing and boarding area off The Embarcadero, offers a cafeteria with options for families along with rain ponchos and souvenirs. Food service is not available on Alcatraz Island.

Picnics are allowed near the docks when you disembark the ferry. Only bottled water is permitted on the tour.

Getting to Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is located in the San Francisco Bay and reached by ferry only. The Alcatraz Ferry Terminal is located at Pier 33 on The Embarcadero.

Parking is an issue while visiting Downtown San Francisco. During my trip, I used public transportation and left my car at my hotel.

Alcatraz Cruises 2017 Tickets

Ages Day Tours Night Tour
Adult 18 to 61 37.25 44.25
Senior 62 + 35.25 41.25
Junior 12 to 17 37.25 43.25
Child 5 to 11 23.00 26.50
Toddler 0 to 4 Free Free
Family Pack 2 Adults + 2 Kids 112.75 Not Available

 

The Behind-the-Scenes Tour is 4 to 5 hours long and not available for kids under 12-years-old.

More Information about Alcatraz and San Francisco:

If you need more information about Alcatraz or San Francisco with kids, I recommend the Lonely Planet Guides, like the following.

 

Disclosure:

Consideration for brands mentioned. This post includes affiliate links.

Know Before You Go:

  • Tickets go on sale 90 days in advance.
  • Parking is an issue for San Francisco. I used public transportation during my visit.
  • Alcatraz Island, or ‘The Rock”, is hilly and requires climbing. Motorized transportation is limited.
  • Luggage larger than a standard backpack is not allowed.
  • Photo ID required for the purchaser of the tickets.
  • Give yourself at least 2-and-a-half hours for the tour.
  • Bring a jacket and rain gear since the weather is unpredictable.
  • Make reservations for this popular tour months in advance, especially for the evening tour.
  • In Mid-August flies that hatch from the bird colonies and swarm.
  • The Self-Guided booklet, Discover Alcatraz – A Tour of the Rock, costs $1.
  • The cost of the tour includes an audio tour headset.

 

Discover a Land of Destruction at Mount St. Helens

 

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids.
Explore Mount St. Helens with kids to learn about the 1980 eruption that blew off a mountaintop. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Mount St. Helens, once a recreational playground for Washington, until one quiet Sunday morning in 1980 when the snowcapped mountain vaporized. A mudslide decimated a forest and a crater remained where a peak once stood. A scar in the landscape recovers and a trip to Mount St. Helens with kids is a must for your Washington road trip.

What happened at Mount St. Helens 

In 1792 British explorer Captain George Vancouver officially named Mount St. Helens after Baron St. Helens, an ambassador. Though the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and Yakama Nation’s name translates into the smoker, suggesting a history of volcanic activity.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids while in Washington.
A one-mile wide crater dominates the landscape at Mount St. Helens. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

On March 20, 1980, a 4.2-magnitude earthquake rocked Mount St. Helens and jumpstarted the volcanic activity. The next week, steam started to vent. Volcanologists flew in from around the world to watch Mount St. Helens from every vantage point. By the end of April, a bulge appeared on the north side of the mountain.

After weeks intense monitoring, Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, in a fury that geologists compared to Mount Vesuvius. Another earthquake, a 5.1-magnitude, melted the snowpack into a violent mudslide and pulverized the top of the stratovolcano into a cloud of black ash.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids and learn about the 1980 eruption.
During our visit, we attended a ranger program to learn about the fateful day in May 1980. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For the next 9 hours, a plume of ash soared 12 to 16 miles into the atmosphere that turned day into night. The eruption generated 3.9 million cubic yards of material, like ash, pumice, trees and boulders, that rushed 17 miles downstream.

In all, the eruption of Mount St. Helens killed 57 people. In its wrath, it destroyed 47 bridges, 15 miles of railroad, 185 miles of highway and 250 homes. It was the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history.

Explore Washington's Mount St. Helens with your kids to learn about the 1980 eruption along with the continued volcanic activity that rocks the area. Top of your adventure with a stay in a cozy off-the-grid cabin to ignite the imagination of your kids.

After the eruption, Mount St. Helens went from a 9,677-foot snow-capped peak to a 8,363-foot mountain with a one-mile wide, horseshoe-shaped crater. Since the 1980 eruption, Mount St. Helens continues to rumble, with intermittent episodes of venting steam and erupting lava domes. The majority of the area is closed to visitors so scientists can continue to monitor the volcanic activity.

What to do in 3 hours at Mount St. Helens 

Drive to the Johnston Ridge Observatory’s visitor center, at the end of State Route 504 (Spirit Lake Highway) and walk through the exhibits detailing the eruption. Watch one of the dramatic films and attend a ranger program, if available. Our program offered amazing historic photos of the eruption.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids.
Take a hike and see how the landscape recovers at Mount St. Helens. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Kids need to move so we hiked the Eruption Trail, a .5-mile trail from the Visitor Center. See the lava dome and the crater along with a pumice plain and landslide deposit. If time permits, stop at the Loowit Viewpoint, just west of the Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Mount St. Helens with Kids

The Johnston Ridge Observatory is a must for school-age kids with geologic exhibits and live seismographs. The visitor center offers two different films, perfect for school-age kids. Though the movies might be intense for preschoolers and too loud for babies.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids during your vacation to Washington.
My kids earned a Junior Ranger badge during our visit to Mount St. Helens with special Junior Ranger programming. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During our visit to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, my kids attended a Junior Ranger program that explained the eruption in a way a kid could understand. The program took less than an hour and parents are welcome to stay or explore the monument on their own.

Family Fun at Mount St. Helens 

Due to the delicate nature of the recovering landscape and the continued seismic activity, I found limited recreational activities at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument’s Johnston Ridge Observatory. Visit other nearby locations.

  • Coldwater Lake Recreation Area offers a picnic area, an interpretive trail and a boat launch.
  • Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake is a Washington State Park that offers exhibits on the 1980 eruption. Located 6 miles from Castle Rock along State Route 504, it’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer season.
  • Try the eastside or southside of Mount St. Helens for more recreational activities, like Lava Canyon, Ape Cave or Spirit Lake viewpoints.
  • Eco Park Resorts offers horseback tours, the closest to Mount St. Helens, that ride through the blast zone.

Camping near Mount St. Helens 

For my visit to Mount St. Helens, I decided to stay as close as possible. At Eco Park Resort, just 25 miles west from the Johnston Ridge Observatory, I found several cozy, off-the-grid cabins along with tent and RV camping that unplugged my kids and recharged my spirit.

Visit Mount St. Helens with kids and stay in a nearby cabin.
We stayed in an off-the-grid cabin, minutes from the Johnston Visitor Center. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With a flicker of the gas-powered lights, my kids, 9, 13 and 14, and I settled in for the night under our cozy patchwork quilts. Set in a pristine landscape in the shadow of Mount St. Helens, it’s hard to believe the destruction that happened here 37 years ago.

Our cabin featured a pair of bunk beds that’s my boys fought over (in a good way) and a full-sized bed, each dressed with a cozy quilts for the brisk Washington nights. Since the cabins lack electricity, two gas-powered, wall-mounted lamps lighted our cabin. The flickering glow ignited my boys’ pioneering imaginations.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids and stay in a cozy cabin.
Inside our cabin, I found a pair of bunk beds along with a full-size bed, dressed with cozy quilts. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Inside our cabin, I found a table with four chairs, perfect for games after dinner. The long counter on one side of the cabin offered amble space for organizing camping equipment.

Outside our cabin, I made dinner on my gas camp stove, while my daughter swung on the cabin’s back porch swing. As we looked across the grassy meadow, we saw the first flickers of the nightly fire in Eco Park’s fire pit while my boys played in the late summer sun.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids and stay at a cabin.
Steps from our cabin, the newly renovated bathroom had lots of hot water with a locking door and a flushing toilet. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The owners of Eco Park Resort, Dawn and Mark Smith, offer their personal experiences of the day that Mount St. Helens erupted. The Smith family resort, Spirit Lake Lodge fell victim to 500-feet of ash that day. As the land recovered, the Smith family returned and opened Eco Park Resort in 1995 at 14000 Spirit Lake Highway.

Where’s Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

The Johnston Ridge Observatory is located 52 miles east of Castle Rock, Washington, along State Route 504 (Spirit Lake Highway). It’s located 110 miles northeast of Portland, Oregon, and 150 miles southeast of Seattle, Washington.

Both cities offer international airports. The closest towns with traveler’s services are Castle Rock or Kelso, both along Interstate 5. Public transportation is not available to the Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area offers a scenic drive, just 165 miles away. Astoria and the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks offers more national park fun, 120 miles west.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is open 7 days a week from mid-May until the end of October, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase an adult admission for $8 per person, kids 15 and under enter for free.

Know Before You Go: 

  • Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument’s Johnston Ridge Observatory is closed from the end of October until mid-May.
  • Mount St. Helens includes levels of restricted areas for the safety and protection of the recovering landscape.
  • Pets, bikes and horses are prohibited to protect the recovering landscape. Though a few bike trails are open.
  • Camping is prohibited at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
  • Eco Park Resort is open from May until November and reservations are required.
  • Bring a battery-operated lantern for your stay at Eco Park Resort for additional lighting in the cabin and making after-dark runs to the potty.
  • Individual ground fires aren’t allowed at Eco Park Resort, though they light a fire pit that guests can enjoy. Remember the marshmallows!
  • Due to the remote location, Wi-Fi is not available at Eco Park Resort, though I had reliable cell service.
  • Since the cabin is off-grid, no electrical outlets are available in the cabin. Remember to charge the phone before arriving.
  • The cabins are heated though I didn’t turn of the heat for my stay.
  • The hot water is on a timer and the bathrooms contain showers only. The doors lock and if you have little kids, I recommend staying with them.

Take Epic Expedition with Explorers in the Pacific Northwest

Explore Fort Clatsop with Kids.
Discover the Columbia River like the legendary explorers, Lewis and Clark. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

After exploring the U.S. and the majority of Canada with my three kids, 9, 13 and 14, I’m still amazed by what fascinates them. I thought historical sites about explorers would be a hard sell.

Not so. My boys, 9 and 13, knew more about Lewis and Clark than I did. Of course, they were hooked after the park ranger fired off an antique musket at our first stop.

Who are Lewis and Clark?

Explore Fort Clatsop with kids.
Retrace the steps of Lewis and Clark’s expedition at Fort Clatsop in Oregon. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The famous explorers that charted the western U.S. after the Louisiana Purchase. President Thomas Jefferson dispatched Merriweather Lewis and William Clark, both in their early 30s, to discover a water passage to the Pacific Ocean.

Starting in 1804, Lewis and Clark along with the other men of the Corps of Discovery, set out from St. Louis, Missouri, headed west to the Pacific Ocean. Not until November 1805 did the Lewis and Clark Expedition plus Sacagawea and her baby reach the Pacific Ocean across uncharted territory.

Explore Fort Clatsop with kids.
Explore Fort Clatsop at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park with your kids to learn about fur trading and the Corps of Discovery. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Needing a place to spend the winter, they built Fort Clatsop at the mouth of the Columbia River. For three months, the Corps of Discovery sewed moccasins, hunted and made salt in preparation for the trip back. In March 1806, they left for St. Louis.

Family Fun at the Lewis & Clark National Historical Park

During our visit we stopped by the visitor center at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park at Fort Clatsop first. With an introductory movie and an interpretive area, my kids got the basic history of the expedition.

Explore Fort Clatsop with kids.
Kids learn about primitive fort life in 1800s at Fort Clatsop. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Next we hiked to the replica of the wooden Fort Clatsop that features living history demonstrations. We explored the fort to see how the Corps of Discovery lived, learned about fur trading and the woolen Hudson Bay blankets used in trading.

To my boys’ delight, our costumed ranger loaded up an antique musket. With a blast of fire and a boom that rumbled through the forest, the ranger fired off the rifle. My boys wanted to enlist as explorers on the spot, instead we explored more Lewis and Clark sites.

Explore Fort Clatsop with kids.
The costumed Park Ranger demonstrated the firing of an antique musket during our visit. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During the summer, ranger programming is offered from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. most days at the fort. Several different programs are offered and the schedule is available at the visitor center.

Fort Clatsop with Kids

Discover Fort Clatsop with kids.
My kids knew more about Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery than I did. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Park Rangers present them after completing their booklets.

To earn the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks Junior Ranger patch, grab an age-based booklet at the visitor center and complete required activities. The Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks Junior Ranger patches comes with rank patches based on the number of Lewis and Clark sites kids visit.

Explore Fort Clatsop with kids and earn a Junior Ranger badge.
Explore Lewis and Clark sites in Oregon and Washington to earn a Junior Ranger patch with a special rank patch. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Complete seven activities in the Junior Ranger booklet and visit one site to earn the rank of Private. Visit two sites to earn the rank of Sergeant, three sites to earn the rank of Captain and visit four sites to earn the rank of President. Some of the sites are in Washington, across the Astoria Bridge.

Hiking at the Lewis and Clark Parks

Fort-to-Sea Trail offers a 6.5-mile path from Fort Clatsop to the Pacific Ocean. It retraces the route that the Corps of Discovery took from Fort Clatsop to the ocean and to Netul Landing along the river.

Fort Stevens State Park offers hiking paths north of the Lewis and Clark National and State Parks. Sunset Beach State Recreation area offers hiking as well, both in Oregon.

Cape Disappointment in State Park in Washington offers hiking. I found hiking at Fort Columbia State Park in Washington as well.

Other sites to explore about Lewis and Clark

Explore the Pacific Northwest to retrace the steps of the legendary explorers, Lewis and Clark, with your kids with eight sites across Oregon and Washington.

The Lewis and Clark National and State Parks is a collection of national and state park sites dedicated to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Located on both sides of the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon, start at the main visitor center at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park in Astoria, Oregon, or Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington.

Though several Lewis and Clark Expedition sites preserve the history across the western U.S. Along with the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail that retraces the route from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean across present-day Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Explore the Lewis and Clark sites with kids in Washington.
Members of the Corps of Discovery made salt from ocean water with this oven to preserve meat. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Oregon:

  • Fort Clatsop at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park—one of the main visitor centers
  • Netul Landing—along the Lewis and Clark River
  • Fort Stevens State Park—visit the 1906 wreck of the Peter Iredale along the beach.
  • Salt Works—where the Corps of Discovery made salt from ocean water to preserve meat.
  • Ecola State Park—Captain Clark and Sacagawea trekked to this area.
Explore Fort Clatsop with kids along with the beaches of the Pacific.
A safe and navigable route to the Pacific Ocean lead Lewis and Clark across the continent in the early 1800s. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Washington:

  • Cape Disappointment State Park— one of the main visitor centers and offers a full-service state park.
  • Fort Columbia State Park—home to the Chinook Indians and the coastal defense fort.
  • Dismal Notch—a landing spot for the Corps of Discovery along the Columbia River.

Where’s Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

Located at 92343 Fort Clatsop Road in Astoria, Lewis and Clark National Historical Park is open seven days a week (closed December 25). Summer hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and until 5 p.m. during the rest of the year. Use an annual pass or pay $5 per person for adults, 16+ (kids under 15 are free).

Know Before You Go:

  • Be prepared for rain at any time.
  • Limited food service at the park sites so pack a picnic.

Hike like an Ewok in California’s Redwoods

Take a hike as one of the things to do with kids in the Redwoods.
Explore Redwood National and State Parks with your family to meet the tallest trees on the planet. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Kids love records and it doesn’t matter if it’s tallest or shortest most days. On a recent road trip up the California coast from San Francisco, my kids discovered the tallest trees. Then we learned the ancient, or old growth redwoods, are tallest trees in the world and the tallest living things on our planet.

Redwood National and State Parks

Hike a trail as one of the things to do in the Redwoods with kids.
The redwood groves offer family-friendly hikes where Ewoks once played. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Until 1800, approximately 2 million acres of redwood forests covered California’s northern coast. Then the gold rush started to tarnish and logging became the next gold mine.

California preserved the remaining redwoods in 1923 when it created the first of three state parks. In 1968, Redwood National Park extended the area of protection to link all the state parks and in 1978, the park expanded further. In 1980, the United Nations designated Redwood National and State Parks as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Hike the Lady Bird Johnson Grove as one of the things to do in the Redwoods with kids.
Explore the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, a former first lady, during your trip. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Three types of redwoods exist yet only one type grows in the Redwood National and State Parks. With bark that measures 12-inches thick, redwoods have no known diseases or suffer from insect damage.

  • The Coast Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world and located along the northern California coast. They are the tallest variety with heights over 370 feet from a seed the size of a tomato’s.
  • The Giant Sequoias are located on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in Central California. They are bulkier with thicker trunks yet not as tall.
  • The Dawn Redwoods were thought to be extinct, yet discovered in 1944 in Central China.

6 Things to do in the Redwoods with Kids

Redwood National and State Parks offers lots of recreation options for families.

Take your family to a mysterious land where Ewoks once played. After that kids can spot a Roosevelt Elk or hop on their bikes in a favorite national park in northern California.

Scenic Drives

If limited on time, the scenic routes offer glimpses of the magnificent redwood forests. Drive down Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, a 10-mile paved road that parallels U.S. Route 101, for some of the best tree viewing. The Enderts Beach Road is a 2-mile road that offers amazing views of the coastline near Crescent Beach.

Family Hikes

Hiking always tops my list. During our visit, we hiked the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail, a 1-mile loop off Bald Hills Road. The path meanders through a fern-covered grove where the dedication of Redwood National Park took place.

For families with younger kids, try the Ah-Pah Interpretive Trail, a .3-mile walk off Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. This trail takes visitors through the rehabilitation process after logging.

Cycling

Redwood National Park offers back-country cycling on rehabilitated logging roads, one of just a few parks that allow this. Check in at the visitor center for a brochure and current conditions.

Widlife Viewing

The Roosevelt Elk herd graze in the Orick area. Catch a glimpse in the spring and fall, especially during the elk rut in the fall. The annual mating ritual when males battle each other for the right to mate.

Tide Pooling

Bring the water shoes and check out the tide charts so kids can explore a tiny marine world. The best place to find a tide pool is Enderts Beach, .5-mile hike from the Crescent Beach Overlook. Whale watching from the shore is best in November and March during the gray whale migration.

Organized Tours

Elk Meadows Cabins can arrange guided tours like family horseback riding and kayak tours. Rent mountain bikes and arrange a guided trip. Or reserve a fresh and salt water fishing excursion or a birding tour.

Redwoods with Kids

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Redwood National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the park rangers present them after completing their booklets.

The Redwood Junior Ranger booklet is the same for ages 4 and up. Kids complete the number of activities in the booklet based on their age. A ranger program is not required to earn this junior ranger badge though visiting a tide pool or taking a hike in the redwoods is encouraged.

The California State Parks offers a Junior Ranger program for kids visiting the Jedediah Smith Visitor Center or the Prairie Creek Visitor Center.

Lodging in the Redwood National and State Parks

Stay in a Cabin as one of the things to do in the Redwoods with kids.
Redwood National and State Parks offers limited lodging in the area so we stayed at the Elk Meadows Cabins. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During my visit to Redwood National and State Parks, I reserved a cabin at the Elk Meadow Cabins ($$-$$$). Located three miles north of Orick, California, Elk Meadow Cabins offers six three-bedroom, two-bath cabins that I would describe as a small house instead of a cabin. They line a short street right off U.S. Route 101 in an area that has a resident herd of Roosevelt Elk.

Outfitted with all the necessities a family needs, I found this house a charming place to stay for a couple of days. This area of California is remote and the Elk Meadow Cabins offers an excellent location to base your Redwood National and State Parks excursions.

Stay in a cabin as one of the things to do in Redwoods with kids
Stay in a cozy cabin in the Redwood State and National Park on the northern California Coast. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With homespun charm, my cabin featured two bedrooms with a queen bed each and one bedroom perfect for kids with a pair of twin beds. One bathroom included a tub for the kids who bath and the other bathroom had a shower and stackable washer and dryer.

Stay in a cabin as one of the things to do in Redwoods with kids.
My cabin offered three cozy bedrooms decorated with charming quilts. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The kitchen included all the necessary cooking equipment for a family, including a dishwasher. During our stay, I opted to grill outside since it’s a kid-pleaser and easy-to-clean up for Mom. I found a grill on the back deck along with a table for dining al fresco. Grab groceries before heading out to Redwood National Park.

Our cabin featured cable television and Wi-Fi but my kids played outside until dark. Bring the bikes or kayaks, the cabins feature a small garage for storing your toys. Elk Meadow Cabins offers a community fire pit and Jacuzzi.

Grill up some dinner as one of the things to do in the Redwoods with kids.
Stop by the grocery store and grill up dinner on the outside grill or use the fully-stocked kitchen. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Where’s Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks are located along U.S. Route 101 in Northern California. From the south, Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center, 2 miles west from Orick, California, is 312 miles north of San Francisco. On the north side of the park, the Jedediah Smith Visitor Center in Crescent City, California, is 322 miles south of Portland, Oregon.

Redwood National and State Parks is 63 miles to Oregon Caves National Park, 170 miles to Crater Lake National Park and 185 miles to Lassen National Volcanic National Park.

Details for Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks are open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. The Redwood National Park is a fee-free area. Though Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park and Prairie Creek Redwood State Park collect day-use fees at their respective campgrounds.

U.S. Route 101 runs north and south though the Redwood National and State Parks. Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway offers a scenic drive and several unpaved roads offer beach access. Though trailers are prohibited.

More Information:

I recommend the Moon Guides if you need more information.

Disclosure: 

Consideration for brands mentioned. This post contains affiliate ads.

Know Before You Go: 

  • When exploring the beach, never turn your back to the ocean. Sneaker waves can occur at any time.
  • Rip currents are strong currents that can occur at anytime. Put the kids in life jackets.
  • If exploring the tide pools, remember rising tides can cut off access.
  • If you feel a strong earthquake, move to higher ground in case of Tsunami.
  • Ticks carrying Lyme disease have been found in the Redwood National and State Parks.
  • Know how to identify Poison Oak; it can be found along the trails.
  • Best places to restock: stop at Crescent City, California if driving down from the north and McKinleyville, California, if arriving from the south.
  • Give Roosevelt Elk space, they are unpredictable animals that weigh 1,000 pounds.