The Best Place to Travel with Kids in California?

After a month of the lack of routine that comes with summer vacation, my family and I are gearing up for our big trip. We leave for a month in Brazil soon, and with that comes packing, getting vaccines, making last-minute lists, preparing our housesitters, and trying to keep our kids happy at home so we can get things done. While I can’t wait to share all the wonderful things that await in Brazil and even new packing tips and gear, I don’t want to leave without introducing you to a place we visited recently, one which I think might be the best place to travel with kids in California.

Columbia was developed in the 1850s, but the Columbia State Historic Park is the wonderfully preserved business district. This town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains was once a center of the Gold Rush, and people scrambled here in hopes of finding lots of gold. While we weren’t the only ones who clearly think this place is awesome for kids, here are the reasons we enjoyed it so much.

The rocks that surround the town were exposed during the Gold Rush, when miners washed away much of the dirt and took gold off these limestone boulders. Now they not only create an interesting landscape, they’re also fun for kids to practice climbing.

Travel to Columbia, California | This Is My Happiness.com

The streets of historic Columbia look like they did more than 150 years ago: the only traffic is horses, the streets are made of dirt, and dust flies up behind your feet as you walk. Plank sidewalks, a real saloon, and historic details that seem untouched since the 1850s make Columbia special.

Travel to Columbia, California | This Is My Happiness.com

Where else do you find a real working blacksmith’s shop?

Travel to Columbia, California | This Is My Happiness.com

And with a guy that looks like this working the counter? (By the way, many people who work here actually dress the part, and somehow it doesn’t seem cheesy.)

Travel to Columbia, California | This Is My Happiness.com

The town is so fun to look at, and the old doors of Columbia are beautiful.

Travel to Columbia, California | This Is My Happiness.com

Because Columbia is the site of real history (versus something fake like at Disneyland), the activities felt more interesting and valuable to me. The stagecoach ride on a restored 100-year-old stagecoach is an adventure for kids, especially when the coach is stopped in the woods by a “robber” demanding that each passenger hand over his or her coins.

Travel to Columbia, California | This Is My Happiness.com

Just a half-mile from the state park is a campground where we stayed in a nice, new, 2-bedroom cabin. My mom and her husband stayed in style, in their brand-new Airstream.

Travel to Columbia, California | This Is My Happiness.com

The walk from the campground to the state park through peaceful woods and past limestone boulders was the highlight of Columbia for me.

Travel to Columbia, California | This Is My Happiness.com

But the drive to Columbia was also beautiful, through the valley and up into the low mountains, past farms and rolling hills:

Travel to Columbia, California | This Is My Happiness.com

I’ll post about what else there is around Columbia soon, including visiting the giant sequoias, but here’s more information about Columbia. What is your favorite historic place to visit with kids? Did your parents ever take you to a place like this?

This post is part of a new on-going series called “Secret California,” which aims to cover the variety of interesting and beautiful places in California that many locals don’t even know about.

14 Comments

  • Wow, as a family of five, Columbia is now on our travel wish list. It’s very different to the only part of California we know: San Francisco. Thanks for the introduction.

    • Jenna says:

      There are nice things to do around the area, too, which I’ll be covering soon. It makes a nice place to stay for 3 days before moving on to Yosemite or Tahoe.

  • What a cool place to travel! We travel with our kids through our Dream Trips vacations, so I’ll have to see if Columbia is one of the places we can go! We are in Canada, and California is one of the places we want to see a lot of =) Thanks for the awesome pictures!

  • Cindy says:

    Love this post, Jenna! Fantastic photos. (My favorite is the “robber!”)

    Columbia is a magical place for kids – it has stayed with me for decades, since my family visited in the 1950’s – and I agree with you that the walk from the campground into town is a secret highlight!

  • noel says:

    Very cool, i’ve never been to this part of gold rush country, looks like a great place to explore and discover next time I come and visit California. Love old towns like this.

  • Jenna, you always write about places in California I’m unfamiliar with but would love to visit. One of these days I need to take a list of your recommendations for northern California and make it a week-long trip. My NBA-obsessed son would like to see a Kings game, so maybe we’d start in Sacramento and spend a week enjoying all the under-the-radar spots in the region.

    • Jenna says:

      I’m happy that you are discovering places you would like to visit on this blog. That’s definitely one of my goals since I think California has so much to offer beyond its big sights. 🙂

  • Thais says:

    Hi Jenna, we are in Columbia right now and all your recommendations were great! The stage coach is a blast and our son loves rock climbing on the big boulders. We also did the trail to the campground and it was fun. We got here super early when there was no one on the streets and found a delicious bakery. Thanks for the valuable tips!

  • Shahid says:

    Hi Jenna,

    i love Columbia it’s very beautiful place. and you have shared very nice article

    Regards
    shahid

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