Southern California

8 California Family Resorts to Indulge and Delight All Ages

California writer Ella Buchan selects the ultimate Golden State hotels where the whole family can enjoy a fun-filled, memorable family vacation.

Kids could be forgiven for thinking they’ve stepped into a fairytale, or witnessed their dream resort come to life. There are wedges of iced sponge cake bigger than their heads, and lobby areas with enormous boulders and water features. Even the bathrooms are a riot, with pink marble and design inspiration straight out of The Flintstones.

The Madonna Inn, just outside San Luis Obispo on California’s Central Coast, is a place where it’s OK for kids to have eyes bigger than their bellies (you can always get the cake boxed up, for later) and to lose themselves in a world that’s unashamedly bright, playful, and downright fun. And parents will want to join them.

Which is exactly what family vacations should be about: sharing moments of delight, eating too much dessert, and spending precious time together.

California’s best family-friendly resorts are filled with the kind of details–subtle and not-so-subtle–that please all generations without seeming to try too hard. Just as the Madonna Inn’s kitsch fabulousness is an all-ages hit, these hotels combine stylish accommodation with adorable details that make the entire family feel pampered, special and, above all, welcome.

Throw in California’s abundant attractions, from wineries that welcome family picnics to beaches with wonderfully weird elephant seals, and you might just have hit the family travel jackpot. Base yourself at one of these fun-filled yet gorgeous resorts–and wave goodbye to compromise.

A Chic SoCal Resort With a Sense of Fun

Hotel The Resort at Pelican Hill proves that traveling with kids need not be a barrier to pure, unadulterated glamour. The stylish property–which feels like a small, charming town–sprawls luxuriously by the coast in Newport Beach, famous for its lavish Christmas Boat Parade.

Teenagers pedal bikes along the quiet paths, skimming past bungalow suites and along the edges of the resort’s two 18-hole golf courses, whose greens roll to meet the endless blue of the Pacific. Toddlers splash and giggle in the hotel’s striking centerpiece, the dramatically colonnaded Coliseum Pool.

Forget tucked-away playrooms with plastic toys. Here, the kids’ club–Camp Pelican–gives children aged 4-12 their own vacation with crafty activities and mini talent shows, while a dedicated teen program runs excursions from hiking to surfing.

There’s plenty to do as a family, too, like special movie and dinner nights in summer. Because, ultimately, vacations should be about togetherness.

Hotel The Resort at Pelican Hill

Top rated
Newport Beach
9.4 Excellent (2206 reviews)

Experience saltwater soaking tubs and steam rooms inspired by Ancient Rome.

It’s all about outdoor play at Hotel Monarch Beach Resort. Which is just as it should be for a hotel right by the Southern California coast. Why stay inside when you can be splashing in one of the outdoor pools, whale-watching on a cruise from Dana Point Harbor, or trying stand-up paddle boarding?

And surely nothing can provide such joy–and endless laughter–as learning to surf as a family? All this plus more–and s’mores–are offered at the resort and its private beach. The beachy-chic rooms make the most of the surrounds, too, with breezy decor and a balcony or terrace as standard.

It’s an easy drive to Disneyland and Legoland, if you can tear the kids away from all the oceanside fun.

Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club

Top rated
Dana Point
9.3 Excellent (4751 reviews)

Perfect Pink Moments at an Idyllic Ojai Property

As the sun dips down over the Ojai Valley each evening, something magical happens. The Topatopa Mountains, a brownish-gray by day, begin to glow in shades of peach and lilac. Clouds (if there are any) billow above like candyfloss, and the sky streaks with soft pinks and purples.

These “pink moment” sunsets have helped put this tiny, bohemian-spirited city on the map. There’s something hypnotic and ethereal about them that never gets tired–and the experience is even more precious shared with your loved ones.

Witness this nightly miracle at Ojai Valley Inn, a Spanish hacienda-style resort tucked in prime position within the valley. You can watch the sunsets–and, on some dates, a movie–from the pool, which strikes an enviable balance between kid-friendly and luxe thanks to comfy beds, exclusive cabanas and a snack bar that serves indulgent ice-cream sandwiches.

Activities are all about getting outdoors. After waking up in one of the huge rooms, imbued with subtle touches of luxury and design, spend the learning about beekeeping or pedalling out for a picnic before huddling together to roast s’mores around the fire pit.

Ojai Valley Inn

Top rated
9.6 Excellent (2212 reviews)

A Glamorous Getaway in the Hills

We often equate a secluded getaway with an adults-only vacation, but it needn’t be that way. Tucked on the canyon of Rancho Santa Fe and surrounded by hills, Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa feels like a private family home that’s just for you and your loved ones.

Perhaps it’s because each of the 49 casita suites and villas has a garden patio and outdoor fireplace, or perhaps it’s the seemingly endless grounds, planted with olive trees. It could also be the pool, which oozes Mediterranean glamour with cabanas, striped sun beds and a palm-fringed backdrop.

You can be sociable if you feel like it, of course. Pedal around the grounds and beyond with complimentary push-bikes, take advantage of a range of court sports, or head out to explore nearby San Diego and La Jolla.

Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa

Top rated
Rancho Santa Fe
9.8 Excellent (313 reviews)

Family Fun at a Pure California Classic

Getting wet is pretty much guaranteed if you’re staying at Great Wolf Lodge Garden Grove. But then, so is having a cheesy grin plastered on your face–and your family’s faces–for the entire duration of your stay, and perhaps a little afterwards, too.

It’s just that kind of place, and it’s the fun that oozes from every whimsical room and water slide that has kept families coming back for decades. The action is centered around a huge indoor water park, with slides, a lazy river and a surf simulator.

Children truly are the priority here. The golf is glow-in-the-dark, the spa is ice-cream themed, and rooms have bunk beds tucked in “caves” or cabins. Give a kid a crayon and free rein to create their dream resort and, chances are, they’d come up with something similar. And that’s exactly what makes it so joyous for adults, too.

Great Wolf Lodge Garden Grove

Garden Grove
8.6 Excellent (2054 reviews)

An Enchanting Pink Palace in SLO County

The Madonna Inn, a kitsch icon close to San Luis Obispo, is a popular stop for those taking a Pacific Coast Highway road trip. But you need to stay overnight to truly appreciate this fabulous, fascinating place.

Themed rooms range from riots of pink furniture and floral carpets to huge family suites with three-bedrooms and showers designed like waterfalls. In short, it’s pure fun, and without sacrificing luxury. There’s the outdoor pool, perched high above the resort with views of the Nine Sisters chain of volcanic peaks, and a family-friendly steakhouse with plush, cerise leather booths and chandeliers.

It even has its own mountain. Well, sort of. Cerro San Luis is nicknamed “Madonna Mountain” due to its proximity to the resort. Follow well-marked trails to the summit, or take a trail ride on one of the resident horses.

Madonna Inn

Top rated
San Luis Obispo
9.2 Excellent (2475 reviews)

The Ultimate Hotel for Disney Fans

Sinking into your marshmallow-like bed in a spacious, wood-accented room at Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re on a luxury adults-only retreat. Look closer, however, and the resort is dotted with delightful details designed to enchant smaller guests.

Disney’s cheeky chipmunk brothers, Chip ‘n’ Dale, lurk in the branches of the orange tree mural that decorates the wall behind the headboard. Pull out the sleeper beds in select rooms to reveal images of woodland critters from Bambi. The Fountain Pool combines chilled-out cabanas with a backdrop of whimsical woodland.

Such a thoughtful balance between grown-up luxuries and childlike charm feels rare, which is what makes this a favorite of the Disneyland resorts.

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

Top rated
8.8 Excellent (2588 reviews)

A Luxe Ski Resort that's Perfect Year-Round

More like a village than a resort, mid-mountain The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe takes a granular approach to luxury. No details are overlooked in its facilities and activities for guests of all ages.

Even fireside s’mores are taken to a new level thanks to a dedicated “Marshmologist”, whose job is to demonstrate how to toast the perfect marshmallow sandwich.

In winter, it’s a ski-in, ski-out resort with access to runs for all levels. Newbies can take bespoke ski or snowboard lessons, with special programs for parents skiing with young kids. Though it’s equally lovely when the snow has melted, taking the crowds with it.

The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

Top rated
9.0 Excellent (618 reviews)