California with kids
By Mimi Slawoff
Catalina Island is one of the best islands to visit in California. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Not only does California have beaches, mountains, deserts and valleys, it’s got several family-friendly islands as well. From rustic to posh, the islands are diverse, each with a unique personality. Those in the Channel Islands National Park are undeveloped. These islands, ideal for one-day outings or primitive camping, offer families an opportunity to explore scenic, rugged terrain. Islands closer to the mainland, on the other hand, are packed with activities, restaurants and lodging. These retreats round out a tropical family vacation with summer concerts, holiday boat parades and watersports. Half the fun of island hopping is getting there by boat. Depending on the season, you may even see dolphins and whales.
Here’s a sampling of the best islands in California.
Best Island in California for a Rugged Getaway: Santa Cruz Island
Part of theChannel Islands National Park, Santa Cruz is the largest of the best islands in California. The undeveloped, rugged island has mountains, canyons, beaches and amazing sea caves. It’s a true island getaway! Yet, it’s easily reachable. Island Packers offers one-hour boat rides to the island year-round. Thrilling family-friendly activities include kayaking through caves, snorkeling, swimming and hiking. The water is so clear you can see kelp beds and California’s state fish, the Garibaldi. Primitive camping is available. Whether visiting for the day or overnight, bring your own food and supplies.
Hotel Acacia (Photo: booking.com)
When enjoying your time in Santa Cruz, you should definitely choose Hotel Acacia – Santa Cruz Island as your accommodation. The hotel is located in the middle of the island and offers stunning views of the cliffs and ocean.
There are plenty of outdoor activities to take part in, such as hiking, biking, and fishing. You can also go kayaking, whale watching, or sailing. After a day of exploring, you can relax in the hotel’s sauna or Jacuzzi.
The food served at Hotel Acacia is incredible, with fresh seafood being a specialty. You can also enjoy a drink at the hotel’s bar while enjoying the beautiful views.
If you’re looking for an unforgettable and rugged getaway, Santa Cruz Island is the perfect place for you. And, Hotel Acacia is the perfect place to stay while you’re there. With stunning views, plenty of outdoor activities, and incredible food, you’ll have a vacation that you’ll never forget.
Best for Beach Picnics: Santa Rosa Island
The second largest of the eight Channel Islands is known for sandy beaches and sheer cliffs. Because of the wind and ocean currents, water sports are discouraged for families. However, you can hike and enjoy a picnic on a beach. Water Canyon Beach is a favorite with visitors. Island Packers offers three-hour boat rides to Santa Rosa spring through fall. There are no services on the island, so bring your own supplies.
Portofino Island Resort (Photo: booking.com)
Santa Rosa Island can become an even more romantic and family-oriented place if you decide to stay at Portofino Island Resort. This resort features Adventure Cove Water Park, which the kids will be sure to enjoy. You can also find plenty of beach activities, including sunbathing, swimming, and fishing.
Santa Rosa Sound and the Gulf of Mexico are the two main bodies of water that surround the island. You can take a ferry to get to Santa Rosa Island from Pensacola Beach.
The white-sand beaches are definitely the highlight of Santa Rosa Island. You can find secluded areas to have a romantic picnic or you can enjoy the company of your family and friends.
If you’re looking for an incredible beach getaway, Santa Rosa Island should be at the top of your list. And, if you want to make it even more special, consider staying at Portofino Island Resort. With its water park, beach activities, and secluded picnicking areas, you’ll have a vacation that you’ll always remember.
Best Island in California for Water Sports: Catalina Island
Located 22 miles from Long Beach, the island is easily accessible by boat or helicopter. The island’s numerous activities and amenities rank it among the best islands in California for active families. Water sports include kayaking, snorkeling and fishing. Non-snorkelers and young kids can view underwater life on glass bottom boat rides. On land, there’s zip lining, biking and riding golf carts on this mostly car-free island. Family-friendly lodging includes hotels and vacation rentals. To avoid the busy summer season, visit in May or fall, for great weather and lodging deals.
Pavilion Hotel (Photo: booking.com)
If you are planning to spend your vacation at Catalina Island, Pavilion Hotel is a great accommodation option. At the site, the lush natural gardens and a lounge with fire pits and cabana chairs create a special atmosphere.
You can also enjoy the ocean views from the hotel’s sun deck. After a day of exploring, you can relax in the outdoor pool or Jacuzzi. There are plenty of activities to take part in while you’re at Catalina Island. You can go scuba diving, fishing, kayaking, or sailing. You can also find plenty of restaurants and bars to enjoy.
The food served at Pavilion Hotel is top-notch, with fresh seafood being a specialty. You can also enjoy a drink at the hotel’s bar while enjoying the beautiful views.
Best for Walking: Balboa Island
Accessible via ferry and bridge, this intimate, manmade island is located in the middle of Newport Bay. Charming bistros and boutiques line narrow streets. Family-friendly activities include simple pleasures like bike riding, swimming and fishing. Be sure to indulge in the island’s signature chocolate-dipped Balboa Bar. The yummy ice cream is a favorite with locals. Vacation rentals are available for overnight visits.
Balboa Island Home (Photo: booking.com)
The romantic, special atmosphere of Balboa Island is greatly enhanced by the beauty of Balboa Island Home – a cozy vacation home that offers lodging with features like free WiFi and a TV and is located very conveniently – in Newport Beach, which is 1.1 kilometers from Newport Beach and 1.3 km from Balboa Beach.
Moreover, all the fun is right behind the corner! South Coast Plaza is 13.2 km and Fashion Island is 3.9 km away from the holiday rental. A playground and a balcony are available to visitors which makes the place especially convenient for families with kids.
Best Italian-Inspired Island: Naples Island
Designed after an Italian waterfront community, Naples is actually comprised of three islands. The islands are divided via canals, which open into family-friendly Alamitos Bay. Calm water for kayaking and small, kid-friendly parks make Naples among the best islands in California for families. Gondola rides offer Old World charm through scenic canals. These cozy cruises are perfect for romantic couples and fun-loving families.
Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Naples (Photo: booking.com)
If an Italian-inspired vacation is what you are dreaming of, the Hawthorn Suites can become a place to remember forever. is close to regional beaches and Interstate 75. Every non-smoking guest suite at the hotel comes with a fully functional kitchen and complimentary WiFi.
The Naples Hawthorn Suites’ 24-hour fitness center and an outdoor pool are available to guests. Visitors can play basketball on the court after using the putting green. The hotel also has a business center and a convenience shop opens round-the-clock.
Each morning, a complimentary hot breakfast buffet is offered at the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Naples. Guests are welcome to join an evening social hour with complimentary refreshments and hors d’oeuvres from Monday through Thursday.
Best for a Resort Vacation: Coronado Island
Looking for a posh island experience? Coronado has prime beaches and family-friendly boutiques and luxury hotels. The fun starts with a scenic 15-minute ferry ride from San Diego to the island. Rent a golf cart or ride a bike or surrey to get around. Pick up free maps and discount tickets for activities at the downtown visitor center.
Hotel Marisol Coronado (Photo: booking.com)
To make the most out of resort activities at Coronado Island, you can try out Hotel Marisol: 8 kilometers separate from the San Diego Convention Center. The distance to San Diego International Airport is 12 kilometers.
The Hotel Marisol Coronado offers cable TV and iPod docking stations in each of its air-conditioned rooms. A small refrigerator, a laptop safe, and a coffee maker are included in the guest rooms. Free toiletries and a hairdryer are provided in each private bathroom.
Rooms at this historic boutique hotel in Coronado come with complimentary WiFi and Italian linens. It takes less than five minutes to walk to Coronado Beach.
Mimi Slawoff of Planetfamilytravel contributed this to MiniTime. She is a Los Angeles-based journalist and a seasoned family travel expert who explores the world with her three children and writes about their journeys.