Tips and tricks for travelling with kids from someone who's been through it.

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I never thought I’d leave New York. I loved it. I moved from Australia as an adventurous 21-year-old and lapped up everything the city had to offer.

But fast forward 10 years –  and there’s me, the stereotype of a tired, grumpy commuter with personal space issues. Gripping my toddler by one arm and mentally navigating my snowy walk home, I started dreaming of a different commute.

One where, yes, I’d be replacing subways with freeways, but I’d have sun, beaches and space.

I was dreaming of California.

My husband and I had visited Los Angeles the year before. We loved the warm sunsets, museums, parks, Hollywood. So that was that, we packed our stuff and headed out West.

From breathtaking coastlines to snow-capped mountains, California has everything you could imagine. And guess what? It’s a goldmine for kids!

Here are my top six tips and tricks for travelling with kids through the Golden State.

1. Be strategic with theme parks.

One of California’s most obvious child appeal factors is that it’s home to some of the coolest theme parks ever. But as even the most blissfully unaware parent might suspect, you need to have a good game plan to tackle each park and minimise time spent in line.

Disneyland, Legoland, Knots Berry Farms; all awesome, but you need to be strategic.

Take the time to plan the day, know what your kids want and where to find it and remember; lines are much more bearable first thing in the morning.

Also, you can save money by staying outside the parks! My son was keen on San Diego’s Safari Park and Legoland so we stayed at an inexpensive hotel in La Jolla, a beach town between the two.

We dedicated a day for each park, with a beach day in the middle. We saved money on accommodation and the park separation meant my son wasn’t so exhausted and overwhelmed.

tips for travelling with kids
“Take the time to plan the day.” Image: supplied.

2. Dine on local produce.

Restaurants can get pricey and exhausting, so we take advantage of something California does really well – Farmer’s Markets! Cali is known for an abundance of fresh produce, so enjoy and save money.

On one trip we stopped at the beautiful town of San Luis Obispo where their Farmer’s Market is a perfect storm of local treats, fresh produce, inexpensive food trucks, and kid-friendly fun.

My husband and I wanted casual good food, but my son needed to burn some energy. We got it all!

3. Hit the road.

Even with kids, driving is the best way to see California. The drive from LA to San Francisco is particularly amazing. Yes, it’s long, but there are countless places to stop and so many things for kids to do. It’s a great way to discover California’s less touristy spots while letting your kids explore.

Pismo Beach is a striking beach with a ton of activities and without the high prices.

Head up to the famous Hearst Castle, Morro Bay, check out the Elephant Seals at San Simeon, chill out in Big Sur and let’s not forget Monterey Bay.

The road trip also allows a certain freedom, my five-year-old loves knowing that if he sees something cool, we’ll stop and check it out.

tips for travelling with kids
Checking out the Elephant Seals at San Simeon. Image: supplied

4. Use your feet.

California is a ‘get outside and go’ kind of place, a quality which makes it fundamentally good for children, and Los Angeles is no exception.

I’ve never lived anywhere with such a range of hiking trails or biking paths. Whatever you want; ocean views, city views, mountain views, LA has an impressive number of picturesque trails, all offering unique and inexpensive ways to explore the city.

There are lots of easy hike options for children.  My five-year-old for example, loves biking around the Hollywood Reservoir, which also happens to have one of the best views of the Hollywood sign!

5. Embrace the ‘Off-Season’.

If you’re looking for low-key wintery fun versus serious slope time, hit the ski towns in the offseason. We went to Big Bear in early November.

There was enough snow to have some fun at the Snowdrift Snow Tubing Park, but no crowds. Or there’s Mammoth Mountain. We went right after the season officially ended.

We spent considerably less on accommodation and the slightly warmer weather meant we could include some different activities for the kids, like exploring Wild Willy’s Hot Spring!

A picturesque, natural hot spring, this off the beaten path gem is a great place for kids to explore and parents to relax.

tips for travelling with kids
Wild Willy’s Hot Spring is a great place to visit no matter the time of year. Image: supplied.

We lazed in the springs in the morning, then played in the snow at the top of Mammoth Mountain in the afternoon. Cali is also home to some gorgeous National Parks. From Mammoth Lakes we spent a day at Yosemite, a quick, inexpensive drive and again, because we weren’t visiting in peak snow season, the kids could enjoy a range of activities like canoeing.

From the desert to the beach, in California so much is easy and accessible.  Whatever your dream, the Golden State won’t let you down.

How would you spend your time in California?