My family loves to take road trips, and we’ve seen some incredible places during our travels. Some of our favorites are just a short drive from Los Angeles, but we’ve also racked up some mileage traveling further north on the West Coast.
Little by little, we’ve discovered the perfect formula for crafting a road trip that’s guaranteed to be fun for kids and adults alike. We don’t always follow this formula faithfully, but when we do—watch out! The adventure is sure to be epic.
Whether it’s hitting our favorite stops in Big Sur or taking in new sights in San Francisco (don’t miss my post on Killer Airbnb Experiences in the San Francisco Bay Area), there are many ‘hot spots’ along the way up the coast. And there are different highlights depending on which route you choose. We recommend one of the following routes:
Why Families Should Road Trip California?
California has many destination points that are perfect for family members of all ages. Many of these destination points are ideal to visit on a road trip because they don’t take a long time to visit, and are close enough together to break up long driving distances.
Younger, more active members of your family will appreciate the opportunity to get out of the car, spend a few minutes moving, and see some sights that can only be enjoyed in the Sunshine State!
What are the Best Stops for Families Along the Scenic Route?
Travel Time (without traffic): 11 hrs
Directions Summary: Highway 1
1. Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle is a California State Historic Landmark and National Historic Landmark located in San Simeon, California. The mansion was designed by architect Julia Morgan, William Randolph Hearst’s personal architect who also designed other estates in the area.
Hearst Castle was built on Rancho Piedra Blanca that Hearst had purchased in 1919. Hearst’s wife, Millicent Willson Hearst had been born there and he liked it so much that he wanted to have one just like it for himself. In addition to being a popular tourist site for its historic value, the castle has also been used as an elaborate backdrop for movies such as “The Godfather”, “Spartacus” (1960), and “The Bodyguard”.
2. Pfeiffer Beach
Pfeiffer Beach is a hidden gem tucked away off the main road with a narrow entrance that can be easy to miss. Just take it slow and steady, and you’ll be rewarded with a day of fun in the sun. Also, there is a small fee to enter the park, but trust us, it’s worth it.
Once you make your way to the beach, don’t miss the real star of the show here: the sand! It’s a stunning shade of purple that can be seen just below the surface or in areas where the waves have washed away the top layer. This beach is one of the only places in the world where sand this color exists.
Keep in mind that the sea can be wild in some areas. and calm in others. Be careful if you’re not a strong swimmer and make sure to keep an eye on the little ones. And if you’re feeling adventurous, take a hike over the mountain in the evening for an absolutely breathtaking view of the sunset.
3. Visit Monterey Bay Aquarium
This aquarium features both indoor and outdoor exhibits featuring everything from octopuses and jellyfish to sharks and sea lions! It’s a great place to visit no matter what your interests are or if you have kids who enjoy science or just being outdoors.
4. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is located in Santa Cruz, California. The park is comprised of two parcels: one forested area that features a historic barn and campground, and another area that’s popular for hiking.
The most popular trail at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is the Bay View Trail, which has been described as “one of the best hikes on the entire West Coast.” It’s about two miles long and should take you about two hours to complete if you’re moving at a leisurely pace. If you have children or are traveling with elderly relatives, this may be a great place to stop for lunch before carrying on with your journey (although it’s not likely they’ll want to linger). Be sure to bring water along with any snacks or food items so that you won’t get dehydrated while hiking through dense forest terrain!
If there happens to be rain in your forecast while visiting here (which seems unlikely), there are few options: either bring an umbrella or wear waterproof gear like ponchos over layers of clothing; both will keep you dry even if there isn’t much sun shining down during rainy weather conditions! However if it does get too cold outside then consider stopping by one nearby town called Felton where there are plenty restaurants/cafés serving delicious meals indoors where warmth can still be found even when outside temperatures drop below freezing point.”
5. Golden Gate Bridge
If you’re a traveler, you’ve probably heard of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s been one of the most photographed places on Earth since it was completed in 1937, and it’s consistently ranked as one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco. There are a lot of reasons why this iconic bridge has become such an important symbol for people around the world: its breath-taking views of San Francisco and Marin County; its historic significance as an engineering feat; its central role in American pop culture (it was featured prominently in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”).
What are the Best Stops Along the Classic Historic Route for Families?
Travel Time (without traffic): 8 hrs 20 min
Directions Summary: Highway 101
1. Solvang: California’s “Little Denmark”
This Danish-themed town is located 30 miles north of Santa Barbara and makes for an easy stop on your way up north. It’s known for its architecture, which includes buildings designed to look like they were transported straight from Denmark. It’s home to many boutiques, restaurants and wineries — You can spend hours browsing the shops or wine tasting at some of the town’s many vineyards.
Located in central California, Pinnacles National Park is known for its dramatic volcanic rock formations. The park also contains a rare type of desert forest called a “sky island” that’s home to many unique species of plants and animals.
You can find a great selection of hiking trails, including one that takes visitors through a cave! The park also has plenty of picnic areas with tables, fire pits and barbecues available for use by visitors who want to stop for lunch or dinner before heading back out on the road again.
Gilroy Gardens opened in 1968 as a family entertainment park with gardens and attractions designed for children. It was originally called “The Flower Park,” but the name was changed to Gilroy Gardens in 1982 after a successful expansion project added rides and attractions for children. The park has been owned by the city since 1976 and today features more than 100 acres of botanical gardens as well as rides and attractions suitable for all ages.
Today, Gilroy Gardens is an amusement park that offers over 30 rides, shows and attractions. There’s also a petting zoo where you can ride on ponies and feed goats.
Recommended: 11 Powerful Soul Searching Trips in the USA
What are the Best Highlights Along the Fastest Route (Interstate 5) for a Family?
Travel Time (without traffic): 6 hrs 30 min
Directions Summary: Interstate 5
The Nethercutt Museum is an eclectic collection of cars, trucks and motorcycles that dates back to the early 1900s. The museum represents the life’s work of collectors George and Bertie Nethercutt. The couple collected thousands of cars, motorcycles and other vehicles, along with hundreds of pieces of art and memorabilia from Hollywood’s Golden Era.
Six Flags Magic Mountain has been open since 1971 and has become one of the most popular amusement parks in the world. It’s also conveniently located between Los Angeles and San Francisco, so it’s easy to pack in a day at the park before heading back home.
The park has more than 40 rides including coasters like Colossus, Superman: Ride of Steel, Batman: The Ride and Riddler’s Revenge. There are also water rides like Roaring Rapids and Logger’s Run, along with plenty of flat rides for smaller kids.
The Ridge Route Communities Museum is an old homesteaders’ ranch house from 1899 just outside of Lebec, California. The house was moved to this site from its original location on the Ridge Route and refurbished.
Today the museum offers a variety of activities such as tours, corn husk wreath creation, and basket weaving classes. Additionally they hold annual festivals such as Wind Wolves Spring Nature Festival, Lilac Festival, and Fiesta Days.
Its a great spot to get out, stretch your legs, get out some of the kids energy and enjoy nature. There are also hiking trails and picnic areas available.
4. Bravo Land
This pioneer town inspired location is a treasured respite along Interstate 5. There is a restaurant, ice cream parlor, extensive shopping, and a play area for children and dogs.
Adventure Playground is an amazing place to take the kids in Berkeley. The playground is made up of a giant treehouse and is surrounded by trees, bushes and flowers. There are slides, swings and even a zip line!