Beyond its many famous theme parks, California offers amazing zoos and wildlife attractions, museums, discovery centres, and, of course, the surfing culture and great outdoors, writes Deborah Dickson-Smith.
Most family holidays to California include Disneyland on the agenda (it's almost compulsory when kids are concerned), and after all this time it hasn’t lost its appeal. Created in 1955 and the only Disneyland to be designed by the great man himself, no detail has been overlooked. The queues might still long, but there’s plenty to entertain you while you're waiting. Even the toilets are themed.
At Universal Studios, the star is once again King Kong, this time in a ride created by Oscar-winning New Zealand film maker and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson. King King 360 3D has the world’s largest surround digital 3D projection system and takes you into a tangled jungle where you’re confronted by hungry raptors and 10-metre-tall dinosaurs.
Legoland now has the world’s first Lego-themed water park, where as well as shooting at high speed down their many waterslides, you can custom-build your own Lego raft ready to float down Build-a-Raft River.
San Diego’s Seaworld has a spectacular new show called Blue Horizons to showcase its brand new Dolphin Stadium, which features bottlenose dolphins, Pacific pilot whales and acrobats and a musical score performed by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
Pith-helmeted, khaki-wearing guides take you in zebra striped open tour buses for a tour of San Francisco’s sights
Down the road at San Diego Zoo you can explore the new Polar Bear Plunge exhibit and find out what a polar bear’s life is like in the Arctic, as well as how to reduce your own carbon footprint to help preserve the polar ice caps these creatures depend upon for their survival. Keeping with that conservation theme, the Ecosystems exhibit at the California Science Centre is well worth a visit. Here you can experience a flash flood in the Extreme Zone and walk through a simulated ocean floor tunnel.
Further north in Sonoma Wine Country, Safari West is a wildlife preserve and tent camp that is home to over 80 species of African natives, and like a traditional safari, you are led on guided jeep tours, sleep in luxury tents, and wake to the sounds of wildlife all around you.
The Urban Safari tour in San Francisco really is a tour with a difference. Pith-helmeted, khaki-wearing guides take you in zebra striped open tour buses for a tour of San Francisco’s sights. They’ll show you hidden gems, murals, movie sights and entertain you along the way with trivia and sing-a-longs.