California Coast Family Road Trip

Hello friends,

Today I am excited to share with you a re-cap of our California Road trip. During the second week of July, we drove from San Francisco to San Diego over the period of eight days. We planned this trip kinda last minute and sort of on a whim, but it ended up being one of my favorite family vacations ever. If you have ever wanted to drive the California Coast, I can’t recommend it enough.

There are many ways to approach this trip and we did a little research before booking everything. We only had one week available to do this trip and I wish we had more time. There were so many amazing places to visit, and I did feel a bit rushed. Knowing that we only had a week forced us to be really selective about the places and attractions we visited.

For example, we decided to by-pass L.A. as we have visited this city several times. We have been to Disneyland twice, and then for Spring Break 2017 we took a Cruise from LA to Mexico, so we felt like we had “been there and done that”.

Worth noting, there were a  few things that were unique to our particular visit to the California Coast. The first is that we have good friends that live in Los Gatos which is a cute little town that is part of Silicon Valley. Fun fact, Netflix is headquartered there! We spent 2 nights of our 7 day adventure visiting with our friends. If you were planning a similar trip, you would leave San Francisco and head south to Santa Cruz or Monterey Bay.

The second thing to mention is that we had to skip Big Sur which was a bummer. A huge stretch of the Number 1 highway which takes you down the California Coast was closed for a year and a half due to a mud slide. Apparently it has just partially re-opened. I found this helpful website, if you are planning to drive this beautiful part of the Coast.

Bixby Bridge. Photo by Stan Russell

So with that in mind, here was how we drove from San Francisco to San Diego, family road trip style!

Day 1 – Arrive in San Francisco

This is one of my favorite cities and I am so happy we started our trip here. We packed a ton into a 24 hour period which I decided to make into a separate post, so stay tuned for that! I will tell you that we bought tickets for a hop on- hop off tour that was good for 24 hours and that is what enabled us to take in so much of this beautiful city in such a short time.

Day 2 – Sightseeing in San Francisco

On day 2 of our adventure, we got an early start on some more sightseeing around the beautiful city. Then in the late afternoon we made our way South to stay with our friends in Los Gatos. We were supposed to pick up our rental car on this day, from a rental agency downtown. The rental car was one of the biggest expenses of the trip, almost more that our airfare! We needed a minivan so that added to the cost, and then we learned that when you are picking up in one location and dropping at another, there is a (steep) surcharge for that. My husband spent a great deal of time before the trip, searching for a rental car online to find the best deal. But here’s the kicker. When we went to pick up our car, the rental place had closed! At 1 pm on a Saturday! That possibility had never even occurred to us, so we didn’t think to check the business hours. What kind of car rental company (ahem, cough, Enterprise) closes midday on a Saturday?? That threw us a serious curve ball and we had to scramble to find another rental and it ended up almost doubling the cost of the car! Anyway, I have gone off on a little rant here. Expensive lesson learned for us!

Day 3 – Santa Cruz

We did this as a day trip from Los Gatos, but it would be a good place to go from San Francisco. We took the kids to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and they absolutely loved it!

Day 4 – Monterey Bay & Carmel by the Sea

We had such a fun visit with our friends in Los Gatos, but Monday morning it was time for us to hit the trail! We headed to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

I must admit I was not overly impressed and am not convinced that this was a worthwhile attraction to visit. The first issue was that it admission for our family of 5 was a little over $200! Ouch! When you consider the exchange rate, it was closer to $250 Canadian. That is pretty steep price to pay to wander around and look at fish. We did take in a really interesting movie about sharks, but overall, I was underwhelmed by what this facility had to offer. We are also quite spoiled with the Vancouver Aquarium. I think maybe if you have younger kids, you might enjoy the Monterey Bay Aquarium a bit more. I think my kids found it a bit boring. To quote my kids “didn’t love it, didn’t hate it”.


From there we made our way South to Carmel by the Sea. The beach there was gorgeous and the little town is so adorable! Our kids were actually pretty tired so they hung out in the car with my husband and I wandered up and down the main street and looked at all the cute buildings and shops. In hindsight, we should have skipped the Aquarium and just spent the day in Carmel. But live and learn!

From Carmel we drove South via the 101 to Cambria where we spent the night. We stayed in this adorable place called the Cambria Pines Lodge. Our accommodations were cabin style and quite charming. There was a great pool and pretty amazing free breakfast buffet. We could have happily spent a few nights here. But no moss grows on a rolling stone, so the next morning we were up and at it for Day 5!

Day 5 – The Hearst Castle and San Simeon

Now this was one of my favorite days of our trip and I LOVED Hearst Castle. I didn’t know really anything about this attraction before arriving there, so the whole experience was a pretty unexpected surprise. If, like me, you have never heard of this magical place, it was once an estate for a wealthy newspaper magnate, but is now a historic house museum and a California State Park.