1. Dive Into History in Chinatown

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Dive Into History in Chinatown. Photo: Fodors

If you want to experience real California history, head over to Chinatown in San Francisco. Not only is it the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, but it’s also the oldest Chinatown in the U.S. Some highlights include the Chinatown Dragon Gate and theGolden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Make it a point of coming on Chinese New Year for epic parades and fireworks.

2. Explore the National Parks

With eight national parks across the state, families can choose the topography that is best suited for their young explorers. From the boulders and dusty brush of Joshua Tree to the giant trees in Redwood to the historic hikes and biking trails in Yosemite, families will find opportunities for all ages and skill levels. This year the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary, which means even more activities for families to enjoy. Have the kids try their hand at becoming a junior ranger or sign up for guided hikes, including dark sky talks, throughout the summer months.

3. Go Horseback Riding at Point Reyes National Seashore

With more than 70,000 acres of preserved parkland and some 150 miles of trails, the Point Reyes National Seashore has plenty for your family to explore. How you do so is completely up to you. Hike along the trails, peek out at gray whales as they migrate past the 1870 lighthouse, or gaze down at elephant seals from a lookout above the sandy headlands. Or elevate your viewpoint and take to the hillsides and forested pathways on horseback.

The six-hour trip over Inverness Ridge and down to Wildcat Beach includes a view of the Alamere Falls. Before you leave make sure to visit Kule Loklo, the re-created village of the Coast Miwok people who were the area’s first inhabitants. Ranger-led walks (check with the visitor center for times) help to put the area into a historical context.

4. Find the Weird at Venice Beach

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Find the Weird at Venice Beach. Photo: Fodors

All the weird, wild, and wacky of California counterculture can be found at Venice Beach on the westside of Los Angeles. Along the Venice Boardwalk, you’ll encounter body-builders getting jacked at Muscle Beach while weed wanderers try out the latest kush from local headshops. Stepping away from the water, the Venice Canals transport pedestrians to Venice Italy as multi-million-dollar homes reside casually along the manmade waterways. Venice Beach has something for everyone–surfing, volleyball, art, and some of the best people-watching in the world.

6. Commune With Nature at Yosemite National Park

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Commune With Nature at Yosemite National Park. Photo: Fodors

Part of a sprawling park network in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park is known for its giant sequoia trees, epic waterfalls, and abundance of wildlife. The park is filled with activities like rock climbing, hiking, and mountain biking. Remember, reservations are required to enter the park, so plan ahead.

7. Find Jaw-Dropping Vistas at Big Sur

One of the most spectacular drives in the world is Highway 1, which runs winds up the Pacific Ocean and through jagged mountains and redwood trees. The scenery isn’t the only highlight of this drive, if you head down to the beach, you might find herds of barking elephant seals or fluffy sea otters hanging in the kelp beds.

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Find Jaw-Dropping Vistas at Big Sur. Photo: Fodors

8. Ride the Rails

The single-unit, self-propelled motorcar that ran as the California Western Railroad when it launched in 1885 is best known by the nickname it got for the pungent smell it gave off as it passed. Today the “Skunk Train” remains one of Northern California’s most popular family outings. Choose between the one-hour Pudding Creek Express or a longer four-hour route that takes you deeper into the redwoods. Get kids engaged by having them keep an eye out for local wildlife as you listen to engineers providing information about the train and your surroundings.

9. Experience Opulence at the Hearst Castle

In its heyday, the Hearst Castle in San Simeon was a hotspot for celebrities with roaring ‘20s parties that catered to everyone from Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable to Jean Harlow and the Marx Brothers. Built by media mogul William Randolph Hearst between 1919 and 1947, the castle was fictionalized and lampooned in the classic film Citizen Kane. Today, visitors can tour the opulent palace, which features a zoo, gold-leaf Roman pool, and a priceless art collection.

10. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge

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Golden Gate Bridge. Photo: Fodors

Opened in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic symbols of San Francisco and California at large. The mile-long suspension bridge connects San Francisco to Marin County and is a stunning display of engineering. Visitors can cross the bridge on foot, by bicycle, or drive across. Contrary to popular belief, the bridge is not re-painted every year.