The Golden State is home to some of the best restaurants in the world, partly because of the long list of acclaimed celebrity chefs—Thomas Keller, Tyler Florence, Alice Waters, to name a few—who call the state home. So it should come as no surprise that California also boasts countless kid-friendly eateries fit for burgeoning young gourmands. From a chocolate factory serving up colossal hot fudge sundaes to a children’s afternoon-tea service in a rose garden, here are some don’t-miss spots to take the kids on your next California vacation, listed north to south.
Jelly Belly Factory
The playground-like Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, about an hour’s drive from San Francisco along I-80, is a candy mecca. It offers free quarter-mile-long, self-guided tours on an elevated viewing platform that lets you see the candy making in action. You also get to play with interactive exhibits and nosh on free samples, from fruity-sour-apple and birthday-cake jelly beans to treats with such intriguing flavors as skunk spray and stinky socks. For a master’s class in candy making, you can, for a fee, take the Jelly Belly University tour, led by a Dean of the Bean. You’ll suit up in a white lab coat, hairnet, and gloves—no sandals, flip-flops, or high heels allowed—to go behind the scenes and watch master confectioners at work.
Afterward, head to the Jelly Belly Café for bean-shape pizzas, bean-shape burgers, garlic fries, and more.
Ghirardelli Chocolate Company
In the mid-1800s, James Lick and Domenico Ghirardelli established the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company in the Fisherman’s Wharf area. That site, now known as Ghirardelli Square, has become a must-see when visiting San Francisco. In addition to other shops and restaurants, it now houses the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop.
On the dessert-only menu, you’ll find indulgences like the Ocean Beach, which was named after one of the Bay Area’s top surfing spots: it’s a vanilla ice cream sundae with creamy caramel, hot fudge, sea salt, and whipped cream. Chocolate-loving families should go straight for the colossal Earthquake, a bowl filled with eight scoops of ice cream, eight different toppings, and fresh bananas.
Looking for the perfect San Francisco souvenir? Don’t miss the emporium stocked with everything from dark chocolate-covered honeycomb to milk chocolate squares housed in cable car-shaped red tins.
Pea Soup Andersen’s
If a California road trip takes you north on Highway 101 or Interstate 5, plan a lunch stop at Pea Soup Andersen’s and be sure to try the namesake family recipe. The eatery has two locations: The original, opened in 1924, is near the bucolic Danish town of Solvang off Highway 101, and the second location is just south of Stockton off Interstate 5 in the Central Valley.
The restaurant was initially named Andersen’s Electric Café after Danish-born couple Anton and Juliette Andersen purchased a coveted electric cookstove. The couple later added the family soup recipe to the menu. Now the famous restaurant—replete with an inn and marketplace—serves up gallons of the vegetarian and gluten-free green soup every day. Not in the mood for soup? Other options range from Danish sausage in a tomato-and-onion sauce to Hap-Pea’s monster burger with American cheese on a grilled sesame-seed bun. Kid-friendly selections include grilled cheese sandwiches, buttermilk pancakes, and Belgian waffles.
Post-meal, comb the adjacent marketplace for saltwater taffy, Danish cookies, chocolate-covered sunflower seeds, kids’ T-shirts, and pans for making aebelskiver, the spherical Danish pancakes.
Looking for just about any type of donut imaginable? You just might find it at Surfside Donuts in Pismo Beach. Founded in 2015 by surfer Andy McKay and his wife, Carin, the joint is appointed with a surfboard collage and photos of popular surf spots and piers in Southern California.
The daily-rotating donut menu might include the Strawberry Clam Shell with fresh strawberries and cream; the Mexican Hot Chocolate topped with toasted marshmallows; the glazed Maple Bacon drizzled with bacon bits; and the Dirt Surf, a brown-sugar crumb donut. Other drool-worthy fried rings for kids (or just kids at heart) have toppings like Fruity Pebbles and Oreos.
Surfside also offers healthier options, like frozen acai or pitaya (dragon fruit) bowls mixed with granola and your choice of fresh fruit. And to accompany your breakfast—or to carry down to the nearby Pismo Beach Pier—order a Stumptown coffee.
Belgian Waffle Works
This cozy spot, situated in a Tudor Revival–style chalet overlooking Lake Arrowhead, first opened for business in 1982. Now a local landmark, the husband-and-wife–owned eatery serves an expansive menu for kids and big kids alike, with sandwiches, burgers, salads, and, of course, savory and sweet waffles, including more than 15 different dessert waffles. Standouts include the Hot Apple Annie—topped with a mound of cinnamon ice cream, warm spiced apples, and whipped cream—and the Belgian S’more—a campfire-inspired concoction with chocolate ice cream, marshmallows, and graham cracker crumbs.
Kids (ages 12 and younger) can also choose from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, served on bread or a waffle, or the Chicken in a Basket with two chicken tenders served with waffle fries and fruit.
Can’t get enough of the dreamy waffles? Buy the house mix and re-create them at home.
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