The biggest challenge of planning family travel is accommodating everyone’s varied agendas, but there are places that truly have something for everyone. If you’re looking to savor the famed Orange County coastal lifestyle — and who isn’t — there’s no better setting than the Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point. A former St. Regis property, the resort reopened in 2016 after a $40 million renovation that added a range of family-friendly features, from art projects on-site to fire pit s’mores on a private beach. Budding young marine biologists will like the Sand Crab Beach Club, where instructors teach kids about the Pacific and build ocean awareness through tide pool walks, scavenger hunts, bodyboard lessons and sandcastle making. Other resort perks: a family pool with a graduated entry, family movie nights and even family tee times.
This AAA Five-Diamond luxury resort features six ocean-view restaurants, including Marin favorite Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak Orange County. Named the number-one restaurant in the county by the Orange County Register, it features Mina’s butter-poached and dry-aged steaks as well as tableside-grilled Tomahawk rib eye and a roaming martini cart.
Planning a trip with a few families or a family reunion? The area’s special combo of luxury and natural beauty has made the La Quinta Resort in Palm Springs a popular destination for Bay Area families since its opening back in 1926. Fun fact: wealthy San Franciscan Walter H. Morgan developed the property as a retreat for Hollywood stars. Today the property has expanded from the original 20 units to over 650 whitewashed adobe casitas with cozy fireplaces dotted around private pools. In all there are 41 perfectly heated (or chilled) pools and 53 hot spas throughout the 45 acres. Guests can also enjoy 21 tennis courts, eight pickleball courts, eight boutiques, seven restaurants and five championship golf courses, including the world-renowned Stadium Course at PGA West.
During the holidays, in honor of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, directed and co-written by frequent resort guest Frank Capra, the grounds are transformed into the quaint town of Bedford Falls. Other holiday-inspired fun includes roasting chestnuts, yuletide cocktails and a fully festive tree-lighting on November 24.
This 800-acre property has had deep Marin ties since opening in 1996. Not only is the hotel a popular choice for family travel, but it has become a popular second-home destination for many Marinites. You’ll find seven pools, including a family-friendly sand beach and a fishpond carved out of lava rock, ideal for snorkeling with young swimmers. The extensive fitness and spa center includes a rock wall, popular with little and big kids alike. This is the only property on the island with a cultural center, which features an After Dark experience for kids, with interactive games, Hawaiian storytelling, movies and campfire s’mores.
In a new salt harvesting program, a chef leads a culturally informative short group hike to nearby lava fields, where you harvest sea salt and learn about the role and uses of this crucial mineral in Hawaiian history — including food preservation, cooking, medicine and more. The chef also leads a cooking class incorporating salt in everything from appetizers to sweets. And in the spa, adults will appreciate the sea salt’s role in a treatment designed to detox the body, balance energy and maintain well-being.
The Force just got stronger in SoCal with the opening of Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. If piloting the Millennium Falcon, rubbing shoulders with the Resistance and building your own lightsaber sound like family fun, book a room at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. Aside from being one of Disney’s most impressive resorts, the Grand’s other big selling point is location, location, location: hotel guests get their own security checkpoints and easy entry into both Disney California Adventure (DCA) and Downtown Disney. Start your day with a character breakfast at Storytellers Cafe, then hit the parks using Disneyland’s MaxPass system ($15/day) to maximize your time. When hunger strikes on Batuu, the Outer Rim planet home of Galaxy’s Edge, head to Ronto Roasters for a Ronto Wrap, grilled pork sausage and roasted pork in a pita with peppercorn sauce and tangy slaw, and wash it down with some Blue Milk from the Milk Stand. Back at the hotel, relax with a glass of California wine or a signature cocktail like the Prickly Pear Rosé or Pineapple Ginger Margarita at the newly opened GCH Craftsman Bar before dinner at award-winning Napa Rose.
Oga’s Cantina, reminiscent of the iconic Mos Eisley watering hole from Star Wars: A New Hope, is the first place in Disneyland Park to serve alcohol. Try inventive cocktails like the Jedi Mind Trick and Fuzzy Tauntaun. Over at DCA, newer can’t-miss attractions include Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission Breakout! and the Incredicoaster, and Lamplight Lounge serves up inspired gastropub fare in an uber-cool open-air space on Pixar Pier.
Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, overlooking Ko Olina’s breathtaking beachfront cove on the coast of Oahu, employs Disney’s signature attention to detail to create an immersive and distinctly Hawaiian experience in a family-and-kid-friendly retreat. Spot the native animals carved into the volcanic-rock-themed Waikolohe Valley pool area, an intricate network with waterslides, children’s splash areas and a private snorkeling lagoon teeming with local tropical fish. Learn to speak Hawaiian over cocktails and light bites at The ‘Olelo Room, join Mickey and pals for breakfast or dinner at Makahiki, and watch the sun set over the cove at beachfront ‘Ama ‘Ama, where the views are rivaled by succulent center-cut king crab legs and truffle macaroni and cheese. (If you’re smart, you’ll come back in the morning for the buttermilk pancakes with macadamia nut–Tahitian vanilla sauce.)
Parents, ready for some grown-up time? Head to Aunty’s Beach House, a secure, sprawling (and free) kids’ club where you can drop off the little ones from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. while you sneak away to relax at the Laniwai Spa or take a dip in one of several adults-only pools. Round out your family’s immersion at Ka W’aa, Aulani’s luau, where kids will enjoy learning to play the ukulele, getting a “tattoo” and stringing their own floral bracelets before feasting on roast pig and watching a lively show celebrating Hawaiian history and culture (with a side of Mickey and Minnie, of course).