Planning a California family vacation? Looking for tips on visiting Disneyland’s Cars Land, San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, and San Francisco with kids? Our TravelingMoms have been there!

Tips for a California family vacation and visiting Cars Land in Disneyland

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

California Family Vacation – Start at Disneyland!

Melissa, a TravelingMom.com reader, asks, “Thinking about a Disneyland, San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, Muir Woods and San Francisco trip with our three kids, ages 5, 9 and 12, this summer. We have no problem driving. Just looking for tips. Cars Land is our priority, thrill rides are not. It’s our first time out west!”

Your first visit to Disneyland can be overwhelming, and you’ll definitely want to read these 7 tips for first-time visitors to Disneyland. It can be challenging to plan a family vacation with a range of ages, but Julie Bigboy, Day Trips TravelingMom, tells you what you need to know about Disney to make everyone happy. “Before your trip, plan ahead and write down the top three items that each family member wants to accomplish,” says Julie.

Planning a California family vacation

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Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

Tips for Visiting Cars Land in Disneyland

According to Leslie Harvey, Frequent Flyer TravelingMom, all the rides in Cars Land are appropriate for Melissa’s kids. “Radiator Springs Racers is a thrill ride, but it’s a thrill ride that kids of that age would be fine going on unless they have a real aversion to speed,” says Leslie. “My daughter rode it for the first time when she just hit the height minimum at 3 1/2 years old and has enjoyed it every year since (she’s nearly 7 now). Fastpasses do go quickly for the ride and getting one early in the morning is a priority. Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree is also age appropriate and lots of fun. The newest addition to Cars Land is Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters which just opened this week and will be quite popular as a result. If you are staying in one of the Disneyland resort hotels, you will have early morning access to California Adventure through Extra Magic Hour several days of the week. That is a great time to hit these very popular rides.”

Tween ‘N Teen TravelingMom Jennifer Greene says, “If the 12 year old wants to ride Radiator Springs Racers and the rest of the family doesn’t there is a single rider lane and it does move quickly.”

Jennifer also says, “Be sure to be there at dusk when the neon comes on! It’s so amazing. Ask a cast member when they will do it.” Mimi Slawoff, Los Angeles TravelingMom, writes about some of the Cars Land rides here and agrees that her family loved Cars Land at night when all the signs were lit up.

And of course you don’t want to miss the character meet and greets! Leslie says,”Lightning McQueen, Mater, and sometimes other cars will make an appearance near the Cozy Cone Motel.”

“Dining options in Cars Land are excellent and well-themed in a way that kids will love,” says Leslie. “Flo’s V8 Diner serves 1950’s style American food and has a filling breakfast. The Cozy Cone Motel offers a variety of snacks all shaped like cones, including ice cream, pretzel bites and a few wackier options. There’s a healthy fresh fruit stand right near the entrance to Cars Land by Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree for a quick bite too.”

Can You See Everything at the San Diego Zoo?

The San Diego Zoo is home to more than 3,700 rare and endangered animals and a botanical collection with 700,000+ plants. Certainly in a zoo this extensive; you could spend many days seeing the sights. But what if you only have one day? Julie Bigboy has an indispensable guide on how to see everything at the San Diego Zoo in one day! She also recommends beautiful Balboa Park for families visiting the San Diego area. “There are a variety of gardens, museums, cultural spots, theaters, playgrounds and walking trails in this 1200-square foot park,” says Julie. “And in pricey Southern California, it’s wonderful to find a single location with tons of activities that are completely free in San Diego!”

Lorikeet Landing at San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Lorikeet Landing at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

SeaWorld Tips and Tricks

LifeStyle TravelingMom Amy Barseghian says, “We’ve been to SeaWorld when the kids were in various ages and stages, and we learned a few tricks along the way to make the trip fun for everyone.” Check out Amy’s 4 Tips for Visiting Sea World San Diego with Kids.

And don’t miss this post on the Top Ten Thrills, Chills and Spills at Sea World San Diego by Gwen Kleist, Healthy TravelingMom – it’s not just about rides.

Sea World

Photo credit: Gwen Kleist / Healthy TravelingMom

San Francisco with Kids

From cable car rides to Alcatraz, you’ll be sure to hit the highlights with these 10 things to do in San Francisco with kids according to Leslie Harvey, Frequent Flyer TravelingMom. You’ll definitely want to check out these five FREE things to do in San Fran, too!

And when it’s time to eat, Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan, International TravelingMom, has a great list of family-friendly restaurants in San Francisco.

Need help planning a perfect family vacation? Ask a TravelingMom!