THE BEST PLACES TO STAY WITH CHILDREN IN CALIFORNIA
Planning a family trip to CALIFORNIA and wondering where to stay with your children? The following list of our favourite places to stay with kids, reviewed in the order you’d encounter them on our Big Trip California itinerary, includes family-friendly hotels slap bang in the middle of Hollywood, cosy lodges in Yosemite National Park and Mammoth Lakes, and a historic Death Valley inn that’s surrounded by desert. Accommodation in August, the best time for families to visit California, can be pricey, particularly in San Francisco, so make sure you book well in advance.
With the exception of Yosemite Valley Lodge, you can reserve all of our recommended places to stay in California through Booking.com; clicking on the hotels’ name below will take you directly to their booking page, where you can fill in your dates and secure your stay. To find out more about why we’ve partnered with Booking.com, see here.
HOTEL ZEPHYR, SAN FRANCISCO
Boutiquey HOTEL ZEPHYR is San Francisco to a T: quirky, alternative and bags of fun. A playful nautical theme runs throughout, with Popeye murals and old shipping containers worked into the decor and rooms that sport porthole windows and lights that look like buoys, strung from the ceiling with rope. But it’s the communal areas that will really grab your kids’ attention. The funky outdoor courtyard is home to oversized versions of Connect Four and shuffleboard and is a great place for teenagers to hang out at the end of the day, when fire pits are lit and the retro campervan trailer serves up snacks. There’s also a pool table and table tennis if they’re feeling a bit more active, whilst some of the rooms have magnetic dartboards and/or a backgammon board. There’s certainly little chance of getting bored here. It’s a great location for families, too, just a five-minute walk from Pier 39, ten minutes from Pier 33 and the ferry to Alcatraz, and a short streetcar or cable-car ride from pretty much everything you’d want to see. The rooms themselves are bright and even the standard ones can sleep 4 (they come with two double beds); they’re on the cosy side if your kids are older, but interconnecting rooms are available. Several rooms have balconies, and those on the top floor enjoy fantastic views of the Bay, including the Golden Gate Bridge. Breakfast is extra, but the courtyard camper stocks pastries and there are plenty of diners nearby.
To reserve your stay at Hotel Zephyr, click here
For more images of Hotel Zephyr, see Booking.com
HANDLERY UNION SQUARE, SAN FRANCISCO
No prizes for guessing that the HANDLERY UNION SQUARE is just off Union Square, though it’s fair to say that the location of this well-established hotel is definitely a winner, in the heart of Downtown San Francisco and with easy access to the Powell/Hyde cable-car turnaround (for the ride up to Lombard Street and Fisherman’s Wharf) and the streetcar stops on nearby Market Street. Rooms are a good size for a central hotel in this city and several feature two double beds. Make sure you know what part of the hotel you’re going to be saying in, though, the Victorian-era “Historic Section” or the plusher, more modern “Premier Section”, as double beds in the latter are queen-sized and can easily sleep 4, whilst these rooms also have slightly better amenities; they’re also closer to the hotel’s heated outdoor pool, essential (the heated bit) for San Francisco’s notoriously fickle climate. For something more luxurious, you could book your family into the One-Bedroom Suite, which has a sofa bed in the living room, or the San Francisco Suite, which features a mini kitchen and king-sized bedroom that connects to a living room with a queen-sized sofa bed. The on-site restaurant, Daily Grill, is part of a chain of a dozen restaurants nationwide that specialise in classic comfort American food such as chicken pot pie, meatloaf, cobb salad and cheeseburgers; it can often get busy with non-guests stopping by for dinner, but there are plenty of other options within a few minutes’ walk.
To reserve your stay at Handlery Union Square, click here
For more images of Handlery Union Square, see Booking.com
YOSEMITE VALLEY LODGE, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Backdropped by the spectacular granite cliffs of Yosemite Valley, the YOSEMITE VALLEY LODGE is one of the most family-friendly hotels in the national park. Its location is incredibly convenient, off the Valley loop road, between the Merced River and Yosemite Falls – Lower Yosemite Fall comes plunging (or trickling, in summer) down just behind the lodge. It’s also fairly central to Glacier Point, just across the Valley but 30 miles by road, whilst the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is around 35 miles to the south. The cluster of low-level buildings are done in a modest but aesthetically sympathetic way, a combination of wood and glass that has a kind of a pioneer feel to it. There’s too much great outdoors to enjoy in Yosemite to be in your rooms too long, but these are appealingly homey and generally come with two double beds, a mini refrigerator, coffee maker and TV; some also enjoy a private balcony or patio. The jumbo Family Rooms have a king-sized bed, two bunk beds (with a double bed on the bottom bunk and a single on top), a dining table and a large TV with DVD player but are in short supply – you’ll need to book a long way in advance if you want to snag one during summer. None of the rooms have air-conditioning (fans are provided), but with Yosemite sprawling across the High Sierra, you’re unlikely to need a night-time breeze anyway. The upmarket Mountain Room restaurant has a good-value kids’ menu; otherwise, there are sandwiches and shared platters at the Mountain Lounge, plus the recently renovated canteen-style Base Camp Eatery, also home to a Starbucks. Note that breakfast isn’t included in the rates. There are plenty of activities to keep the kids entertained: free ranger-led talks, covering topics like bears, climbing and the Yosemite Firefall, are held each evening at the amphitheatre, and the lodge has its own bike-rental stand and (open summer only) large swimming pool. The Yosemite Valley Shuttle Bus (for the trailhead to Vernal Fall) stops right outside the entrance.
TENAYA LODGE, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Just a couple of miles from the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park, TENAYA LODGE is a large mountain-chalet resort that’s focused firmly on families. The thick forest surroundings play host to some of the huge variety of activities on offer here – rates for most of the lodge’s rooms include guided morning hikes, gold panning and a S'mores Event each night, where everyone gathers around the outdoor firepits to toast marshmallows – and there are three outdoor swimming pools, including a kid's pool. In summer, family-friendly films are played poolside each evening, an event wittily dubbed “Dive-In Movies”. Indoors, the lodge’s games room has a pool table, shuffleboard, air hockey and Xboxes, plus popcorn in the evenings. On top of these, there are numerous additional (paid-for) activities such as archery, guided astrology walks, a climbing wall, a children’s adventure course and daytime and evening kids’ clubs. And that’s before you even start exploring the park itself – the lodge is well located for the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, just five miles away, whilst the awe-inspiring rock formations of the Yosemite Valley are around 35 miles to the north. Tenaya’s public areas are reminiscent of an alpine lodge, with lots of exposed brick and wooden beams and leather sofas scattered in front of welcoming fireplaces. Most of the rooms can accommodate children in one form or another, though the best options are the Queen Rooms, in the main building, and the more secluded Queen Cottages, both of which have two large beds (sleeping up to 4) and a mountain view; the “Extended” version comes with an additional sofa bed and a balcony. Rollaway beds and cots are free of charge. New Explorer Cabins (sleeping up to 6) are significantly larger but significantly pricier to boot; the Family Cabins are the most fun, featuring an extra-large double bed, a bunk bed and a sofa bed. There are several on-site restaurants, most offering a children’s menu, and a deli. Breakfast is not included.
To reserve your stay at Tenaya Lodge, click here
For more images of Tenaya Lodge, see Booking.com
THE CAIN HOUSE, BRIDGEPORT
There isn’t much in the way of accommodation just east of Yosemite, so the homey rooms and old-time hospitality on offer at THE CAIN HOUSE are all the more welcome. Set on the frozen-in-time Main Street of dinky Bridgeport, just over 30 miles from Tioga Pass, this charming B&B is named after James Stuart Cain, the principal landowner of nearby Bodie, now one of the most atmospheric ghost towns in the country. It’s a great place to hole up on your way between Yosemite and Bodie – preferably in front of the cosy stove in the wood-floored living room – and if you get here early enough, you can also enjoy a late-afternoon soak in the natural pools at Travertine Hot Springs, about two miles’ drive away. Surrounded by a white picket fence and opening onto manicured lawns, Cain House is a quaint period property with seven cosy en-suite rooms, two of which can sleep 4 in either two brass queen beds or a queen and a double. All rooms are appointed with local antiques and have cable TV, a fridge and coffee-making facilities. A tastefully furnished two-bedroom cottage, also sleeping 4, comes with its own kitchen, living area and fireplace. If Cain House itself is full, then across the lawn, and partly hidden from the house by trees, is Silver Maple Inn, a vintage roadside motel that’s run by the same owners. It was built in the 1930s but has been well maintained and features Deluxe Queen Rooms with two large double beds. All guests enjoy a complimentary continental breakfast of cereals, yogurts, muffins and the like, plus plenty of coffee; guests staying in the Cain House and the cottage can also help themselves to drinks and cookies in the parlour each afternoon. There are also free mountain bikes to use if you fancy a cycle round town.
To reserve your stay at The Cain House, click here
For more images of The Cain House, see Booking.com
VILLAGE LODGE, MAMMOTH LAKES
The mountain town of Mammoth Lakes is a great place to break your journey south to Death Valley, and the Alpine resort-style VILLAGE LODGE, around 30 miles from Mono Lake, is a cosy stop-off with plenty of things to do for the kids. The big draw of the Village Lodge is its convenience, both in location and amenities. Families can choose from one-bedroom (sleeping 4 in an extra-large double and a sofa bed), two-bedroom (sleeping 6) and three-bedroom (sleeping 8) apartments that have a lounge with handsome stone fireplace – Mammoth can get quite chilly at night, even in summer – a dining area, large picture windows with views of the mountains, a balcony and either a kitchenette (one-bedroom) or a well-equipped kitchen. They’re all spacious, with the two-bedroom apartments clocking in at nearly a thousand square foot of space. The lodge is set in the middle of Mammoth, so there are plenty of restaurants (BBQ, Mexican, sushi) and shops within a few minutes’ walk. There’s a DVD library, a games room with PS4, Xbox and arcade games, and a heated outdoor swimming pool and hot tubs. You can try stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking on beautiful June Lake, about 20 miles to the north, and there’s plenty more to do in and around town itself if you decide to stay put for a couple of days – Mammoth Lakes is something of an outdoor activity centre for the Eastern Sierras, and there’s great hiking nearby, a gondola to ride up scenic Mammoth Mountain, and 80 miles of mountain-bike trails to tackle in the Mammoth Bike Park.
To reserve your stay at Village Lodge, click here
For more images of Village Lodge, see Booking.com
THE INN AT DEATH VALLEY, FURNACE CREEK
Accommodation options in Death Valley are as sparse as the surroundings, but the INN AT DEATH VALLEY stands head and shoulders above the rest. This historical Spanish Revival-style hotel, looking very elegant after a $100 million refurbishment, is a real oasis in the desert, seemingly popping up out of nowhere and welcoming dusty, sun-baked visitors with fountains, lush grounds shaded by towering date palms, and an inviting spring-fed swimming pool. Families will be in either a casita in the garden or in a pool bungalow. Casitas (sleeping 4 or 6) can be set up with a king bed or two queens and have a living room with flat-screen TV and a sofa bed. They’re nice and private, enjoy great views and come with their own golf cart for getting up the main hotel. The pool bungalow, also with two queens, is perfect if you want to be closer to the action – as the name suggests, you’re literally steps from the swimming pool. Aside from the pool, there are a couple of hard-court tennis courts (you’ll have to play very early or very late if you want to use these in the summer), though the best entertainment comes in the form of the superlative views, particularly at the end of the day, when sunset casts the desert landscape in a pink glow and the night sky is a pin cushion of razor-sharp stars – this is a sensational spot for stargazing. The one drawback is the expense, both the accommodation – thanks, presumably, to the lack of any real competition – and the dining, although cheaper fare is on offer at The Ranch at Death Valley, their sister property that’s less than a mile down the road. Despite the high rates, breakfast is not included.
To reserve your stay at The Inn at Death Valley, click here
For more images of The Inn at Death Valley, see Booking.com
LOEWS HOLLYWOOD HOTEL, LOS ANGELES
Just off Hollywood Boulevard, LOEWS HOLLYWOOD HOTEL is in the heart of the action, less than a hundred yards from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and with direct access to Hollywood & Highland, an entertainment complex that’s home to restaurants, shops and cinemas – the Oscars are held here each year in the Dolby Theater. Loews is also less than ten-minutes’ drive to Universal Studios, and if you book your ticket through the hotel, you can visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter an hour before the park opens. Rooms are smart, perhaps a touch business-like with their slate-grey decor and modern oak work desks, but they’re a good size (even the standard ones can be set up with two double beds), the beds are very comfy and they all come with flat-screen cable TV and iPod docking stations. Some rooms also have views of the Capitol Records Building, the Hollywood Hills – spying the Hollywood sign in the distance is an exciting bonus for most kids – or, from the Skyline Rooms, far-reaching panoramas of Los Angeles. The best rooms for bigger families are the Studio King Suites; expansive and with two king beds, a sofa bed and the capacity to take an extra rollaway if needed, they make a brilliant base for a couple of days in and around Hollywood. There’s a busy, buzzy vibe about the hotel, but staff are always extremely helpful and accommodating, and the concierge is a good port of call for tours and tickets. The lovely heated rooftop pool and sun terrace that can serve as a just reward at the end of a day’s sightseeing, with poolside cabanas and menu from LA celeb chef Wolfgang Puck. Loews has several other cafes and restaurants, most notably the convenient “grab and go” market on the ground floor, and there’s a huge range of eating options just outside the door. A really good buffet breakfast is, unusually for California, included in the rates; parking is not, however, and costs $17 per day at an adjoining car park. Note the late check-in time of 4pm, though you can use the pool whilst you wait for your room to be ready.
To reserve your stay at Loews Hollywood Hotel, click here
For more images of Loews Hollywood Hotel, see Booking.com
LOEWS SANTA MONICA BEACH HOTEL, LOS ANGELES
Backing straight onto the sand and just a couple of blocks from Santa Monica Pier, LOEWS SANTA MONICA BEACH HOTEL enjoys a superb location on Ocean Avenue. To the front, it’s a short walk to Main Street’s restaurants and shops; out back, an inviting pool overlooks swaying palms and the Pacific. The high-ceilinged public spaces are light and breezy, a tone that is carried over into the stylish, airy rooms – standard two-queen bedrooms have 52-inch flat-screen TVs and a step-out balcony; others have ocean views, private patios or their own firepit. The hotel’s central pool is narrow and flanked by rows of loungers, but it’s heated and has great views of the palm-fringed beach, particularly lovely at sunset. Parents can relax whilst the pool concierge brings them chilled towels, kids can enjoy the poolside ice cream shop. For something a bit more substantial, the on-site restaurant serves classic California cuisine and has children’s menus; breakfast is steep, but there are lots of other options in the vicinity. It’s the amenities that make Loews Santa Monica a proper family-friendly hotel, though. All children under 10 receive a free welcome gift; there’s a “Kids Closet” where you can borrow books, toys, DVD players and DVDs; films are shown each night (with popcorn); and tweens and teens get music download cards and a handy list of local shops that will appeal to them. Families with children under 4 receive a child-proof kit for their room if the need it, and the Kids’ Closet also contains everything from potty seats to pushchairs. All this is great, but you’re really paying for the location. You’re just yards from the golden sands and consistent surf of Santa Monica Beach (your room rate includes beach towels, beach chairs, umbrellas, and toys for younger kids), and just behind the hotel a beachfront promenade runs down to the Venice Boardwalk – borrow some bikes, roller skates, skateboards or scooters from the hotel’s rental shop and pop down to watch the beefcakes pumping iron at Muscle Beach. Note that there’s only valet parking at the hotel (a hefty $55 per night), so you’re probably better off parking your car at the Santa Monica Pier deck, accessed via a ramp at the intersection of Ocean Avenue and Colorado Avenue, which is open 24 hours a day and costs $15.
To reserve your stay at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, click here
For more images of Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, see Booking.com
OCEANPOINT RANCH, CAMBRAI
Six miles south of Hearst Castle and just a mile more from the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, lovely OCEANPOINT RANCH stands above the Pacific, only separated from the sea by the back road to Cambrai. There’s a feeling of more space here than at some of the other hotels further along the seafront, with the guestrooms and suites spread around nine acres of manicured gardens. Far removed from its life as a former motel, Oceanpoint has been cleverly re-imagined, and the cosy ranch-chic rooms – with vaulted wooden ceilings, faux cow-hide rugs, plaid throws and bull-horn wall hangings – have been very nicely remodelled. Standard queen rooms come with two queen-sized beds, a large HD TV and a mini fridge, and some have with their own patio or courtyard, but it’s worth paying more for the family-friendly suites, equipped with a kitchen and their own fireplace. The Rodeo Suite sleeps up to 4 in a king and a sofa bed (in a separate living room), the brilliant Bunkhouse features a stylish en-suite master bedroom, bunk beds and a well-stocked kitchen-diner; it sleeps up to 6 and opens out onto a rose garden at the back. There are gas fire-pits for roasting marshmallows, a multitude of outdoor games (shuffleboard, bocce, boules – you name it) and a heated pool. Best of all, though, is the easy access to Moonstone Beach, a dramatic stretch of coast, often lashed by frothing surf and covered in a briny sea mist. A boardwalk runs along the bluff behind the beach for about a mile and a half, though it’s more fun down on the sands, tight-roping along the driftwood, sifting through the pebbles for moonstones or poking around in the tidal pools. Breakfast (home-made oatmeal, breakfast burrito, buttermilk blueberry hotcakes; not included in the price) is served in The Canteen, which also stocks picnic supplies and does dinner dishes like smoked baby back ribs and wild mushroom pasta; there’s a good range of restaurants in Cambrai itself, a few minutes’ drive away.
To reserve your stay at Oceanpoint Ranch, click here
For more images of Oceanpoint Ranch, see Booking.com
PORTOLA HOTEL & SPA, MONTEREY
The swish but friendly PORTOLA HOTEL & SPA is brilliantly located in the centre of historic Monterey, the most appealing place to stay at the end of Big Sur. The hotel is less than five minutes’ walk to Fisherman’s Wharf, home to cheery restaurants and the departure point for whale-watching trips out into the bay, and just round the corner from the trolley stop for Cannery Row and the city’s fabulous aquarium. Portola has a gorgeous interior, particularly the striking lobby (host to occasional wine tastings from nearby vineyards) and the attractive Jack’s Monterey atrium restaurant, both dotted with weathered trees – though most kids will be pre-occupied by the warm homemade cookies that are dished out on arrival. Bright rooms are nicely appointed, with shuttered windows and comfy beds, a flat-screen TV and a fridge; some also have harbour views or their own patio and cabanas. Even the standard rooms come with two queen beds, though as these are on the small size, you may require a rollaway (available on request) or one of the Studio Suites, which have a king and a queen sofa bed and can also take an additional rollaway to boot. There’s a heated outdoor pool and hot tub, along with a top-notch spa, although these are separated from the main hotel buildings by a pedestrianised street. Between the hotel’s two restaurants and its microbrewery, there’s a good range of meals and drinks on offer at the Portola; both restaurants have a kids’ menu and under 5s eat free at the varied breakfast buffet. Staff are great with kids – the majority of people staying here are families – and the front desk can help with anything from local restaurant recommendations to securing tickets to the aquarium in advance (buying them here can save you queuing at the venue). There’s a library, fire pits for chillier nights and bicycle rental, and kids under 12 receive a Portola Pirate Bag and self-guided treasure-hunt map to keep them entertained round the property. Note that parking is on site but costs $21 per day.
To reserve your stay at Portola Hotel & Spa, click here
For more images of Portola Hotel & Spa, see Booking.com