Warner Springs Resort
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10 family vacations for Southern Californians

Back in the day, Warner Springs Ranch, a no-frills resort about two hours southeast of Los Angeles, was an escape for the likes of Clark Gable, John Wayne and Charlie Chaplin, who fled here to soak in the legendary mineral pools, ride the endless horse trails and gaze into the starry, starry night. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald retreated here to work on “The Great Gatsby,” shaping his famous book about the excesses of the Jazz Age against the backdrop of this one-time stagecoach stop.

Think of Warner Springs Ranch as they did: rehab from your increasingly frantic and demanding life. (Alex Tesoro)
Warner Springs Ranch is part Catskills retreat, part California dude ranch. Summer activities include crafts, horseshoes and riding clinics. Three pools offer famed mineral baths and freshwater swimming. The 6,892-yard championship golf course has stunning views — that’s the Palomar Observatory you’ll see off the 15th tee. Best of all, you can cowboy up, just like the Duke did, on one of the ranch’s 75 horses: a selection of Arabians, thoroughbreds and quarter horses that travel the nearby Pacific Crest Trail.

The equestrian options set this broad-shouldered resort apart from most family vacation spots. Trails pass through creeks, brimming this spring, and across meadows, ridges and hills dotted with oaks, manzanita and sage.

Children younger than 6 can take free pony rides, and beginners 6 and and older can sign up for clinics and private or group lessons. Kids 6 and up can also go on trail rides. (Lisa de Araujo)
It seems that even millions of years of animal instincts cannot compete with the lure of Big Bear Lake’s towering pine trees, sparkling blue waters and rugged mountain peaks. The rustic outdoor playground, a two-hour drive from Los Angeles in the heart of the San Bernardino Mountains, is home to the largest wintering population of bald eagles in Southern California. But last year, for the first time in recent memory, a pair of bald eagles ignored their instincts to migrate north for the summer, choosing to nest year-round. Who can blame them?

Conditions have improved this winter with an unusually heavy snowfall that locals hope will turn drought-stricken forests green and lush. Thanks to the liquid bounty, the mountains should be exploding with eye-popping wildflowers and enough greenery to stave off the insatiable bark beetles and a ruinous fire season.

So Big Bear right now is an ideal place to gather the family, sniff the pine-scented air and soak up the brisk spring mountain atmosphere(Dan McKernan)
Most people who visit Kings Canyon National Park go no farther than a 10-minute drive inside the entrance. They stop at Grant Grove, behold the stand of sequoias led by the 267-foot General Grant Tree and head home.

Not that these colossi aren’t impressive, but they are merely the beginning of one of the best outdoor family destinations in the West.

Drive on for 30 minutes through spectacular mountain vistas and you’ll enter the real Kings Canyon: Cedar Grove. Just getting here is an E-ticket ride on a road dangling thousands of feet above a gorge cut by the south fork of the Kings River. At the end of the road — there’s only one way in and out — rustic Cedar Grove remains as untouched by the hordes as it was when my family started coming here five decades ago. There’s no gas station. No cellphone service. (Myung J. Chun, Los Angeles Times)
Coronado hovers off the coast of San Diego like some sort of pricey, patinated Alcatraz. Until 1969, when the bridge opened, life here puttered along at the pace of the trolleys that once shuttled visitors from ferries to the island’s grand hotel.

The bridge changed Coronado’s rhythms but not its soul. To this day, Coronado remains a city in a bottle — nautical and of another time.

It still prides itself on a relaxed pace. The destination you may know — wide beaches, sparkling sunsets — is temptation enough. But the real, slightly quirky Coronado — its treasure hunts, its concerts under the stars, its funky diners — is worth exploring too. (Don Tormey, Los Angeles Times)
What happens if, two-thirds of the way to a Palm Springs weekend, somebody grabs control of your family’s vehicle, veers hard to the right, follows the cliff-clinging goat path known as California 243, then roars into the pines looking for a soft meadow between granite peaks?

Idyllwild is what happens. Arriving from Los Angeles, you first climb to the largely residential community of Pine Cove, then descend to about 5,300 feet, where you see half a dozen blocks of shops, restaurants and art and craft galleries, all surrounded by trees, rocks, scattered vacation cabins, the odd A-frame and the odder geodesic dome. The year-round population is about 3,500. (Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times)
It’s the contrasts that most inspire during the warmer months in the Eastern Sierra. The almost sharp-looking granite standing watch over soft pine forests. The deep, icy lakes shimmering in the bone-warming sun. The abundance of natural life — deer, hawk, marmot, trout and bear — and the vast spaces into which that life can disappear.

Conventional wisdom says you need to spend three months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to experience that grandeur. But it’s accessible even to small kids who can’t hike more than half a mile, let alone backpack. With a home base at Mammoth Lakes, families can experience the Sierra in all its soul-stirring, high-altitude glory, then toddle home to a cabin or condo with comfy beds, a well-stocked kitchen and a reader-friendly front porch.

Mammoth Lakes has the quiet charm of small-town life — folksy and comfortable, the sort of place where Patagonia-clad neighbors chat with one another at the Looney Bean coffeehouse, at the town’s lone market or movie theater, or at its two bookstores. (Dan Blackburn, For the Times)
In meteorology and hydrology, there are few certainties. One exception may be the Kern River. When the Sierra Nevada gets an above-average snow dump — such as the one that whitened our majestic mountain range this winter — the Kern will surely roil with torrents of snowmelt in spring and summer.

If your family is up for an exhilarating, unpredictable ride on a foaming river, this may be the best rafting season in years. Several white-water outfitters in Kernville, about a three-hour drive northeast of L.A., offer a variety of daylong tours on the Kern. Some are rollicking adventures for thrill-seekers; others are gentle paddles suitable for 5-year-olds.

The river is never the same day to day, and that’s part of the thrill of white-water rafting. Changing water levels, shifting boulders and underwater logs can turn a calm eddy one day into a swirling whirlpool the next. (Dwight Pascoe, For the Times)
Where’s the Palazzo? Strange, it doesn’t use a zillion kilowatts to spell out its name. Only in the context of Las Vegas could this hotel be subtle, but it is — the Palazzo Hotel-Resort-Casino is the Venetian’s less kitschy sister. The lobby features miles of gleaming marble and a rich Italian color scheme of golds, yellows and ambers. Under a sky-high gilt rotunda, gigantic ice-white nudes, lighted from within, look down on our dusty arrival.

Up on the 31st floor, our two rooms are connected by a door, and for a while, we four occupy about 1,400 luxurious square feet. The gold-paneled bedroom opens to a spacious sunken living room, at the end of which are large picture windows that convey a sense of endless space. The kids are thrilled: “I could sleep, like, eight of my friends in here,” one of them says. (Mark Boster, Los Angeles Times)
Ventura, California’s Main Street between Ventura and Laurel avenues is a collection of independent bookstores and boutiques, serious taquerías and chichi wine bars, and endless secondhand stores — vintage clothing spots, antiques purveyors and thrift shops. The latter are great for treasure hunting used toys for young kids or cool retro fashions for older ones. At Main Street’s western end is the San Buenaventura Mission (a must-see for fourth-graders).

On weekends, the outdoor stage at the Ventura Harbor Village wharf is home to kid-friendly performances, including, on a recent Saturday, magician Dan Ray, whose bag of tricks included a bird (pulled from a hat) and a wooden board used to levitate a young volunteer. San Buenaventura State Beach, with its small dunes and rolling surf (and lack of lifeguards) is just a short and sandy stroll away. (Chris Schinsky)
The approach is stunning: Spectacular rock formations reveal themselves around every turn on the steep drive up, in brilliant relief against a dark blue sky. Then a thick stand of California fan palms, like nothing you’ve ever seen — their shaggy beards hang all the way to the ground. They’re a little surreal, like a council of elephants conferring in the desert.

This is Indian Canyons, a preserve that belongs to the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians, and it’s one of the best things about Palm Springs.

Yes, we come to the desert to decompress at midcentury boutique hotels with no shortage of spa treatments and mojitos. We love to shop and dine and lounge in the pool and play tennis. But Palm Springs is also a great place to bring the kids, and its hiking trails are as compelling for them as for adults. (Jay L. Clendenin/ Los Angeles Times)