Traveling via road trip or in an RV to national parks in California tops every family’s bucket list. Luckily, there are several national parks near San Diego where you can explore the beauty of nature and have unforgettable adventures close to home. We even show you where to book a stay in cozy cabins and amazing nearby Airbnbs during your travels to majestic locales including Joshua Tree, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks and the Channel Islands. Read on for where to plan your family vacation.

Joshua Tree National Park


Check a visit to the stunning Joshua Tree National Park off your bucket list. Hike enthusiasts will love hiking this desert terrain featuring towering boulders, and picturesque cacti and trees. The twisty tree shapes, cactus forests, and blobby boulders in Joshua Tree make wonderful Dr. Seuss-style memories for your kiddos on this desert adventure. For a simple trek, the one-mile loop trail through Hidden Valley is a good introduction for little ones. Start your adventure at the West entrance, then work your way along the road exiting the park at the South. The most scenic sections will be located close to the road at the beginning of the trip.

If your kids like to climb, seek out Skull Rock. Don't miss Cholla Cactus Garden to capture some otherworldly photographs. 

Good to know: You can also experience Joshua Tree virtually here.

Airbnb Nearby: Exploring Joshua Tree? Then call The Joshua Tree House home during your visit. This stylish 1949 hacienda is conveniently located 10 minutes from the west entrance of Joshua Tree National Park.

Cabrillo National Monument

Bonnie Taylor

Located just ten miles from downtown San Diego, Cabrillo National Monument honors the 1542 landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo on San Diego Bay. Established in 1913 by Woodrow Wilson, you can learn all this and more at the Visitor’s Center–a great place to start if your kid enjoys an educational tour. Little seafarers can take a scavenger hunt to identify the local history, while you soak up the sights of the ocean, Coronado Island and the San Diego skyline. Stroll the paved path outside and discover the Old Point Loma Lighthouse (currently closed). Then, hop in the car and take the winding road down to the famous tide pools. Note that Cabrillo Sea Cave is currently closed. What's open at this time: Trails, Cabrillo Exhibit, Assistant Lighthouse Keeper's Quarters Exhibit, Park Store, outdoor areas, and restrooms.


Airbnb Nearby: Gather your group of family and friends and splurge on this luxe Point Loma oasis that has a gorgeous pool with waterfalls, a spa, a fire pit and an outdoor kitchen. You'll love spending time swimming and dining in the sunshine while enjoying the glorious views of San Diego.

Channel Islands National Park

Priya Karkare via Unsplash

The Channel Islands are a world away but still right here in SoCal. The Park encompasses five islands and the one mile of ocean that surrounds them. This guide helps you plan your visit to this remote locale that's an amazing break from city life. Channel Islands are referred to as California's Galapagos Islands and they are home to over 2,000 plant and animal species that thrive under protection and preservation. A visit here takes some planning and effort, but it's well worth the reward of visiting these blissful island escapes.

Good to know: Plan ahead of your journey to secure transportation to the Channel Islands from Santa Barbara via park concessionaire boats (Island Packers) and planes (Channel Islands Aviation) or by private boat. Once you reach the islands, there is no transportation except on foot, or by private boat or kayak.


Airbnb Nearby: This Santa Barbara family retreat is the ultimate home away from home. You'll have plenty of indoor and outdoor space to relax at this newly remodeled 5 bedroom and 3 bathroom home. Enjoy the Mediterranean outdoor setting that boasts a gas fireplace, plentiful seating, a custom fountain with Belgian picnic table surrounded by olive trees, and an outdoor bar with infrared grill, refrigerator and outdoor television.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Susan Q. Yin via Unsplash

Stroll among the giant, towering Sequoias and feel blanketed by a canopy of trees and immersed in nature like never before. You'll find the largest trees in the world at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, as well as caverns, canyons and mountains. Hike, watch wildlife and camp in this exquisite environment. You can also explore Crystal Cave once it reopens to behold stunning underground rock formations.


Airbnb Nearby: This quaint, newly built Little Bear Cottage is poised just three miles from Sequoia National Park. Soak in the hot tub on the expansive deck while taking in the mountain views. You'll feel nestled among the trees in this cozy abode. The interior is beautifully decorated, cozy and clean. It's the perfect mountain retreat.

Mojave National Preserve

Joshua Sortino via Unsplash

Access the Mojave National Preserve between Los Angeles and Las Vegas to be transported to desert tranquility that also offers plenty of adventure: "singing sand dunes, cinder cone volcanoes, a large Joshua tree forest, and carpets of spring wildflowers are all found within this 1.6-million-acre park," as explained by the National Park Service. Take advantage of the Preserve's Ranger Programs (currently postponed) and if you're interested in desert camping, click here.


Airbnb Nearby: This adorable tiny house called The Peacock is located on Sandy Valley Ranch, 45 miles from Mojave National Preserve. Watch the sunset from the rooftop patio where you'll get lost in a sea of stars and serene solitude. You can also book horseback rides and reserve breakfast, lunch and dinner from the ranch.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Ron Atory via Unsplash

Located in Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Mountains are home to 500 miles of trails and teeming with wildlife "hidden in plain sight" adjacent to the bustling city. Known as Los Angeles' urban jungle, here you can climb a mountain and swim in the ocean in the same outing. You can also visit historical and cultural sites and learn how the Native American communities lived in the Mountains for over 10,000 years. The Mountains are easily accessible and a great escape into nature for SoCal families.


Airbnb Nearby: You can either opt for a stay in this breathtaking oceanfront beach home on Livingston Beach in West Malibu, where you'll enjoy ocean views and a quiet beach right outside your doorstep, or retreat to this Malibu home situated on eight acres in the middle of the mountains with glorious views of the ocean and mountains you can enjoy from the expansive deck.

Editor’s Note: When planning your trip to any of the locales listed above, be sure to visit Park websites to learn about up-to-date closures, regulations and restrictions so you can proceed accordingly.

––Beth Shea


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