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Family Travel in the Golden State

Ranch & Coast Travel Editor shares tips on where to go and what you need to know for traveling throughout California this summer

Guests Enjoy Mad Tea Party as Disneyland Park Reopens
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California’s June 15 “re-opening” date is upon us. That’s welcome news, especially if your pod includes restless kids who are ready to hit the road. Does this mean that everything is “back to normal?” No, sorry. Capacity control and social distancing are still factors, and at theme parks, not all rides and shows are open. To avoid having to turn people away at the door, most attractions require reservations in advance. You also still have to follow CDC guidance about wearing masks in public and, because your family won’t be the only one traveling, you’d be wise to book hotels and camping spots well ahead of time. 

I also highly recommend that you travel with an ample supply of hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and your COVID-19 vaccination record. And, if you’re thinking of a fly-drive holiday, book the flights and car as soon as possible. Some rental car companies sold off vehicles last year rather than have them idle when very few people were traveling. Reduced supply means last minute reservations may be hard to come by, and travelers should expect to pay more than pre-COVID prices.

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure

The happiest place on earth is open, but just for California residents, and every guest age three and over needs to have a ticket and a park reservation in advance. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa has begun a phased re-opening, but the Disneyland Hotel is still closed. Face coverings are required for all guests two and up. disneyland.disney.go.com/experience-updates

Greater Los Angeles 

The Griffith Observatory, a favorite of mine, is still closed, but the La Brea Tar Pits, Petersen Automotive Museum, and the L.A. County Museum of Art — all great for families and fairly close together on Wilshire Boulevard — are open. Advance tickets are required.

The La Brea Tar Pits
An active “dig site” at La Brea Tar Pits enables visitors to experience science in action

Universal Studios is open for California residents and out-of-state visitors who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19. The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash is an all-new ride and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter continues to provide guests with a wild trip to Hogwarts Castle. Tickets must be purchased in advance. universalstudioshollywood.com 

On the Central Coast 

Hearst Castle is still closed, but you’re in luck — the wonderful Monterey Bay Aquarium is open. Buy timed tickets online in advance and then plan to spend a full day falling in love with sea otters, being mesmerized by pulsing jellies, and watching wildlife weave through sea kelp in the multi-story living kelp forest exhibit. For a sneak preview, check out one of the aquarium’s live webcams. A few minutes with the jellies puts me in a meditative state. montereybayaquarium.org

A leopard shark (Triakis semifasciata) swimming  in the Kelp Forest
The Kelp Forest at Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the tallest aquarium exhibits in the world

The aquarium is on the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail at the south end of Cannery Row. This scenic walking and biking path follows the former Southern Pacific Railroad line. If you decide to overnight here, all rooms at the waterfront Spindrift Inn come with fireplaces and complimentary room service breakfast. spindriftinn.com

Santa Cruz

Less than an hour north of Monterey, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, one of the last classic seaside amusement parks in the country, has been a popular attraction since it opened in 1907. The vintage rides include the 1911 Looff Carousel and the Giant Dipper roller coaster from 1924. From the top of the Dipper, there’s a spectacular view of the wide expanse of sand that runs from the boardwalk to the ocean. The arcades are open daily and California residents can enjoy boardwalk rides on weekends with advance reservations. beachboardwalk.com 

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk overlooks a mile-long stretch of sand

Santa Cruz has been a surfing mecca since three Hawaiian princes introduced the sport in 1885. The Surfing Museum on West Cliff Drive documents the sport’s local history, and is open Thursday to Monday. 

A short drive inland, train buffs will enjoy Roaring Camp Railroads excursions. The vintage steam train starts in Felton and travels under a canopy of old growth redwood trees. Advance reservations are required. roaringcamp.com

Roaring Camp's authentic steam train
Roaring Camp’s authentic steam train provides a great view of towering redwood trees

About 15 minutes north of Santa Cruz, near Davenport, a sandy trail leads from Pacific Coast Highway to Año Nuevo State Park, where there is a large colony of elephant seals. The park normally offers guided “seal walks” as well as self-guided tours to observe one of the largest breeding colonies of these animals in the world. At the moment, the park is not fully open, but check back for updates closer to when you’ll be in the area. 

The Davenport Roadhouse on PCH is a casual spot where you can sit outside with your family, listen to live music, enjoy a meal and a microbrew, and  count your blessings.

The Davenport Roadhouse is about ten minutes from Santa Cruz and a hundred yards from the ocean
Featured Photo The Mad Tea Party has been a popular ride at Disneyland since the park opened in 1955
Image Credits Disneyland: Photo courtesy of Disney Parks & Resorts, La Brea Tar Pits: courtesy photo, Monterey Bay Aquarium: Photo courtesy of See Monterey, All other photography by Adams/Hansen Stock Photos

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