We try to head out to California once a year to visit my brother and sister. Last year we decided to explore as much of the state as we could and turn it into a destination family road trip. We were ready – or mostly ready – for car games, gas station snacks, beautiful scenery, boring scenery and a really, really long drive. (#arewethereyet?)
Our Family Road Trip Route:
We allowed 11 days for this trip and flew into Los Angeles via a direct flight from Southwest. A shout out to Southwest and their great airfare prices. Our route was LAX Airport to Legoland in San Diego (a no-brainer with kids ages 8, 5 and 2). We then headed back up to San Luis Obispo and from there followed the coast to Monterey and, finally, San Francisco.
If anyone from California is reading this post you are probably saying, “Wow, that was an overzealous itinerary.” And yes, it was! But I learned a lot, which you can read more about later in this article. For the record, and for your personal sanity, I would not recommend doing everything we did.
Thursday through Saturday morning: As mentioned earlier, we went to Legoland, which took two hours from LAX airport due to traffic and a mandatory stop at In-and-Out Burger for an early dinner.
Saturday: It took us five hours to get to San Luis Obispo from Legoland. We followed Highway 1, which was a long, but beautiful drive. After checking in, we spent several hours at the pool before dinner on the Harford Pier at Mersea’s. The kids loved all of the seals and other wildlife we saw. Ah, the California lifestyle!
Easter Sunday: We spent the day with friends and family, most of it outside enjoying the weather.
Monday: Our first stop was back to Harford Pier to say “hi” to the seals. Then we picked up a picnic lunch and headed to a local winery called Tally Vineyards. The kids were able to run around outside and explore and the adults enjoyed themselves as well. (Not too much, of course.) Although it was sunny, the wind really kicked up by late afternoon and so we decided to see “Zootopia.” A movie is not our usual plan on vacation, but it worked. We followed the film with dinner in downtown San Luis Obispo at Novo Restaurant Lounge. The outdoor deck seating made this kid-friendly.
Tuesday: We got up and explored tide pools down on Pismo Beach. Our 2-year-old enjoyed the Dinosaur Caves Park while her big brothers checked out the ocean’s edge. Then we headed up Highway 1 to Monterey by mid-morning. Along the way, we stopped to view the Elephant Seals (they are about 15 minutes down the road from Hearst Castle), stopped for lunch and then hiked McWay Waterfall Trail in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur. The trail is super easy, less than a mile and STUNNING! We arrived in Monterey late afternoon and were ready to call it a day.
Wednesday: We spent all day (it was really that great) at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and grabbed dinner out at a local restaurant close by.
Thursday: We headed for San Francisco, stopped for lunch at Phil’s Fish Market in Moss Landing and arrived in the city by early afternoon. The rest of day was spent enjoying time with friends at their house.
Friday: We took the ferry into San Francisco from Novato. Our day included walking to Chinatown from the Ferry Building, lunch in Chinatown, cable car to San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park with playtime for the kids, snacks, some brief shopping and a Pedi cab back to the Pier.
Saturday: We hiked in the morning, went to a softball game for our friend’s daughter, had some downtime at their house, walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and then ate dinner in Sausalito.
Sunday: We flew home. Adios, Cali.
Legoland. Since we only had Thursday night through Saturday morning we decided to stay at the Legoland Resort, and we are so glad we did. The family suite with bunk beds for the kids and a treasure box to open alone made it worth it. On Friday, we had access to the park a full hour before the public did and this made our overnight stay worthwhile, too. Friday night the kids were entertained by an interactive staff performance allowing my husband and I time to sit and relax while watching the kids have fun. It was a win-win for everyone and today, I barely remember how many Legos I stepped on during that trip.
Avila Beach Lighthouse Suites. Avila Beach is about 15 minutes from San Luis Obispo and located on the Pacific Ocean. We have stayed at this hotel twice and love it. The suites are huge, featuring two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a living room and a great covered porch. There is also a pool, book library, giant-size chess pieces, homemade cookies and the walkability to the beach, shops, and restaurants in Avila Beach.
Monterey. We rented a house (VBRO) in a residential neighborhood that had a great backyard with a basketball court for the kids and a fresh garden we could pick from daily. It was also a mere 15-minute drive to the aquarium.
San Francisco. Our accommodations in San Francisco were my favorite: with friends. It’s always nice when on the road to get a taste of everyday life. Especially when visiting people who are near and dear to your heart.
The Best Parts:
Showing our kids our favorite city, San Francisco, was extremely rewarding in and of itself. However, specific high points included the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Golden Gate Bridge, which our daughter is still talking about today. Also, visiting the seals in Avila Beach and the tide pools in Pismo Beach are moments that remind us that it doesn’t take much to entertain kids. Just let them explore and their experiences will someday become cherished memories.
What I Learned:
This trip was definitely a learning experience for me: I packed in too much, five hours was WAY too long to waste in a car on vacation. We should have skipped Legoland (saved it for another vacation) and spent that extra day in Avila Beach because there is plenty to do in that area.
I have also learned when traveling with kids it’s great to have a game plan but know that it will probably change. Don’t expect to see everything you normally would. Pick the most important things and everything else you see/explore/visit is just an added bonus.