A family relaxes with a bonfire on the beach in Lincoln City. (©Cody Cha)
From the picturesque beaches of California to the coastal breezes of Oregon and Washington's Puget Sound, summers on the West Coast are marked by sun, surf and exploration. It's never too early to begin planning a summer family vacation; we've got all the must-visit spots right here.
La Jolla/Coronado, California
An upscale beach town just 20 minutes from San Diego, La Jolla's casual-chic atmosphere makes it the perfect spot for a summer vacation: the beaches are absolutely pristine, the cuisine is top-notch and there are attractions aplenty. The laid-back downtown is lined with mom-and-pop shops and designer boutiques; Warwick's is the oldest family-run bookstore in the United States, and the eclectic Hi Sweetheart carries fine stationery, candles, jewelry and a large selection of children's items. Don't miss out on Ark Antiques, it's beloved by locals—and, even better, all proceeds go to animal charities.
When it's time to head to the beach, the La Jolla Underwater Park has numerous activities to avail yourself of. The park is a 6,000 acre-wide area of ocean floor that lets even the most wee ones explore tide pools, coves and an ecological reserve home to spotted leopard sharks, sea lions and dolphins. You may even be able to spot a migrating whale.
Enhance your stay in La Jolla at one the city's most stately properties in a luxury vacation rental.
A short, scenic drive from La Jolla, the must-visit Hotel Del Coronado beckons. This luxe resort has been sitting just off the Pacific Ocean for more than 128 years—it offers oceanfront dining and sand castle building, among numerous other activities. Should you decide to call it home base for a vacation, splurge on a beach cottage or villa; you'll have a balcony or deck all your own, as well as a gourmet kitchen, fireplace and bathroom with marble interior. When mom and dad opt for a spa treatment or a cocktail on the glorious hotel deck, babysitting is available for the kiddies.
You're in the land of the Mouse now. But that doesn't mean you're in for an ordinary Disney-style vacation—see Disneyland in a whole new way on a VIP tour. Bogged down by planning your attack of the park, deciding where to eat and how you can get on those rides that don't allow the little ones on? A personal concierge will plan every last deal for you. You can also make the most of your Disneyland experience by staying at one of Disney's on-site hotels, which have themed water slides and monorail access to the park.
Of course, Anaheim is much more than Disneyland. Since summer and baseball go hand-in-hand, it's the perfect time to fit in a Los Angeles Angels game; take a look at the schedule for special "Kids Run the Bases," family nights and fireworks. For more thrilling adventures, the family can take to the cockpit of a simulated flight deck or try their hands at foam ball-shooting air guns.
Get back to mother Earth at the Oak Canyon Nature Center, a 58-acre park with four miles of walking trails in Anaheim Hills. In addition to discovering local flora, fauna and wildlife, the center rolls out numerous events for families come summertime: "Nature Nights" begin with a twilight walk and presentation by the center's naturalists; the "Discover Nature Family Program" takes place on weekend mornings; enjoy the evening air when you watch "Cinema Under the Stars."
Located just off Coast Highway 101, there are seven miles of beach paradise in Carlsbad. Taramack and South Ponto beaches are ideal for families, with a host of activities such as swimming, surfing, scuba diving, kayaking, fishing and beachcombing; at Taramack, don't miss the four-mile-long Seawall. Looking for that great wave? The secluded Terramar Beach is for you.
South Ponto Beach is just south of the Batiquitos Lagoon, a 561-acre lagoon home to a bird sanctuary where the endangered Snowy Plover, California Least Tern and Clapper Rail have all been spotted. It's also home to mini summer arts camps for kids 7-12 years old.
The beauty of the area should also be witnessed from a visit to the Aqua Hedionda Lagoon & Discover Center. Not only is recreational boating and a native plant garden available here, the discovery center features an ant farm, a reptile room and aquarium with a touch tank and three saltwater environments.
Of course, the big theme park in the area is Legoland (best for children between the ages of 2-12). It houses more than 60 rides, shows and attractions, plus a water park and the SEA Life Aquarium. The nation's first Legoland Hotel's rooms are all themed as pirate, adventure or kingdom, and 3,500 Lego displays can be found throughout the hotel.
Camano Island/Cama Beach, Washington
First a site where Native Americans clammed, fished and gathered berries and later mapped and named by European settlers, Camano Island's earliest industry was shipbuilding, thanks to its prolific Douglas firs. This unique island getaway affords panoramic views of Puget Sound and allows visitors to go back to an earlier time; Cama Beach State Park is a restored 1930s fishing resort with year-round cabin rentals and recalls the days before electronic devices ruled our lives.
The fishing here is spectacular. Sturgeon enthusiasts will find that the coveted catches are plentiful every month of the year at Iverson Beach. Salmon can be had there from winter through summer, and in May and June, lingcod, Dolly Vardens and cutthroat can be found in its waters. Those wishing for a sandy beach in which to squish their toes should seek out Iverson Spit.
Want to get back to nature? Take a tranquil hike through the forest-loop trails and celebrate your serenity. Afterwards, get out on Puget Sound itself while beachcombing for shells and rocks.
Lincoln City, Oregon
A beach town on the central Oregon coast, Lincoln City delights with kitesurfing, glassblowing, crabbing and clamming clinics and much more.
Kite flying is a way of life in this town known for its consistent coastal winds; there's never a good time not to fly one. In fact, June's biggest annual event, the Summer Kite Festival, draws pro talent from across the country. Watersports enthusiasts take this to the extreme, letting the kites guide them through the open, blue waters while kitesurfing. Be sure to be prepared and that you're a good swimmer if you undertake it; beginner's classes are available.
A fascination with art glass also marks Lincoln City and you can bring the kids along to the Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio to create your own glass float, then take it to the beach with you. And at the North Lincoln County Historical Museum you can view a special display on Japanese glass fishing floats.
Not ready to quit playing? Head to Siletz Bay, where there's enough driftwood to build a fort, watch harbor seals at play and maybe even catch a clam dinner during low tide.
Two hours north of the Redwood National Park, the charming Bandon lies on Oregon's southern coast. It's worth spending as much time outdoors as possible here, taking in the pristine surf and sea. Discover a new way to explore the tide pools, rock formations and caves on horseback; at the family-oriented Bullard Beach State Park, a horse camp allows for equestrian campers to enter the beach, as well as to explore sand dunes. With three looped camp sites, it's popular for family stays, especially in one of the 13 available yurts. Don't miss out on a trip to the Coquille River Lighthouse, open from mid-May through September.
The seafood, as one would expect, is amazing here in Bandon; a visit to Tony's Crab Shack is a must for anyone who loves crustaceans. Those with a penchant for rock formations should check out Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, the home to a Native American legend and the Circles in the Sand beach labyrinth experience.
The quaint Old Town Bandon is full of independently owned shops, including Cranberry Sweets, taking this cranberry capital's deliciousness to new levels. It culminates with the Bandon Inn, which overlooks Old Town to the Pacific.
San Juan Island, Washington
One of just four islands served by ferries among the 172 in San Juan County, the multitude of activities available won't have you longing to get back on the boat anytime soon. Friday Harbor, the gateway to San Juan Island, is packed with art galleries, bookstores and antique shops, but make your first order of business The Whale Museum, which offers fun and educational exhibits about whales, as well as promoting their stewardship; it was the first museum in the country devoted to a species—the orca—living in the wild. Kids will love July and August here, when they can sleepover in the museum.
Next, it's off to Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm, where you can interact with a herd of more than 70 friendly alpacas, as well as find clothing for every member of the family to take home. A farm of a different kind, the Pelindaba Lavender Farm, is just as enticing; the farm handcrafts local and organic products, including its appetizing lavender lemonade, iced tea and ice cream—be sure to stop by for some after your tour. Blooming begins in early May and some of the 50-some varieties of lavender are still blooming into October. Harvest your own lavender bouquet from the cutting field; in July and August you can let your creative energies grow wild in special craft workshops.
Before you leave, some exploration is in order at Lime Kiln State Park—one of the best whale-watching spots in the country—named for its restored 19th century lime kiln. The best time to sight pods of orcas, gray whales, humpback and minke whales is from May through September.
San Luis Obispo, California
The relaxed charm of this quaint town on California's central coast makes it perfect for family adventures. The coast's wide-open spaces make for a great hike, and San Luis Obispo has its own interactive trail system geared toward kids; Laguna Lake Park features easy hikes, and those that loop at Johnson Ranch can be shortened if necessary. Feel like skipping some stones? The opportunity to do just that awaits at the Creek Walk, accessible via a path in Downtown's Mission Plaza, which leads to enticing shops on Higuera Street. In fact, there are numerous foot tours of this easily walkable city.
From Higuera Street, access one of SLO's most unusual attractions, Bubblegum Alley, a 70-foot-long alley wall with thousands of pieces of gum stuck to it.
Visiting the Farmer's Market here is a tradition that shouldn't be missed—fill up on local, organic items before heading out to the Crux Climbing Center, where your little Spideys can burn off some of that energy; leave them to their own devices in the youth program while it's off to the spa or the winery for the grownups. Consider a stay at the enchanting Madonna Inn, which can be a home base for these activities and more.
Other fun finds for families in San Luis Obispo include the children's museum, complete with a "thinkery" for youngsters ages two and a half to six years old; the railroad museum, chock full of displays and artifacts that bring the history of the California's railroads to life; and the Anam Cre Pottery Studio, where parents and children can craft their very own, original creations.