Last year I found out that I had a work trip to San Diego for a week in October. My husband and I had never been to California and jumped at the chance to turn the work trip into an amazing 9 day family vacation. After all, who wouldn’t want to fly cross country with a 7 year old and a 1 1/2 year old? I’ll admit, embarking on a 9 day trip with 2 young kids to a place we’d never been before, did seem a little bit intimidating. But in the end this journey ended up being the trip of a lifetime thanks to some VERY careful planning and LOTS of snacks!
- Day 1 – Philadelphia to San Diego
- Day 1-5 – San Diego, Coronado, Disneyland, La Jolla
- Day 6-7 Santa Barbara
- Day 7-8 Solvang, Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), Monterey
- Day 8-9 Muir Woods, San Francisco
- Day 9 – San Francisco to Philadelphia
I shared California Dreams Part I in November and our adventures starting in San Diego, visiting Coronado Island, up to Disneyland and La Jolla. This time I’m going to share what we did the remaining days of our trip.
After we checked out of our Hotel in San Diego, we drove north to Dana Point and got on Route 1. During most of our trip to San Francisco we traveled along Route 1, otherwise known as, the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, it hugs the coastline for hundreds of miles. There are definitely quicker ways to get from San Diego to San Francisco but we wanted to see the beautiful California coastline during our drive north.
We drove to Santa Barbara on Day 6 through a bunch of southern California towns that you’ve probably heard about from one of those Bravo shows. The trip from San Diego to Santa Barbara with stops and lunch took most of the day. Along the way we stopped in Newport Beach for sandwiches at Gary’s Deli and had a beach lunch. It was interesting to see all of the lovely cliff side homes. One thing that’s so different from the east coast is the elevation near the beach. On the east coast where we live, the beaches and beach side communities are very flat. It’s just the opposite in California, very steep and rocky, which was surprising to me.
After lunch, we drove through LA, the traffic was busy but not unlike any East Coast city. We didn’t really want to stop in LA so we kept going North to Santa Barbara. When we arrived it was mid-afternoon, we checked into our Hotel (Hilton Santa Barbara) and then walked around the town. We were in Santa Barbara mid-week during October and it was definitely quiet in terms of crowds. I can see why a lot of celebrities live in Santa Barbara (Gwyneth Paltrow, Oprah, Julia Louis Dryfus and more) – there were many beautiful restaurants and shops and the waterfront was lovely. We ate dinner on the pier (Stearns Wharf – California oldest working wharf) because the views were fantastic (the food was meh). After dinner we walked back into town and took the kids for ice cream at McConnells – which had a ton of funky flavors, it did not disappoint.
We woke up early the next day and headed to the quaint little town of Solvang for breakfast. I would have preferred to spend the day in Solvang wine tasting – but our kids probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it much. Even though we didn’t partake in the vino, the town was so cute and surrounded by lots of beautiful vineyards. If you haven’t heard of Solvang, it’s a little Danish town in California complete with windmills and delightful Danish bakeries. We ate breakfast in Solvang at Paula’s Pancake house. We made a quick stop into the Christmas shop and bought Solvang ornaments. Then we headed back to the car for our long journey North to Monterey via the Pacific Coast Highway.
Next stop on the journey was a quirky place called Morro Bay to see Morro Rock. It may seem weird to stop and visit a rock but it was really cool.
Morro Rock is actually the plug of an extinct volcano (how cool is that?) There are also Peregrine Falcons that make their home in Morro Bay. This was a great place to stop for lunch and take some photos of the Rock.
Next stop on our trip was Hearst Castle. Hearst Castle is a State Monument in San Simeon. It was built by William Randolph Hearst in the early 1900s. We did not purchase tour tickets because we had a long day ahead of us but we did pull off the road to take some pictures. We also went down the road to San Samieon Pier – a great place to view otters, seal lions and humpbacked whales.
Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur – I’ll be honest, the drive from San Simeon to Big Sur is truly incredible but not for the faint of heart. No one really warns you that many areas of the road have no guard rail and no cell phone reception. I kept telling my husband to slow down and he was only going 25 mph. Let’s just say this is a SLOW part of the trip.
Don’t forget to grab a few shots of Bixby Bridge in Big Sur. It’s the one in all of those expensive car commercials. Seriously, it’s an amazing sight!
McWay Falls – Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park – When I was doing research for our trip, I came across McWay Falls. I’m so glad that I did, it was incredible and one of the most memorable parts of the drive. Keep a look out for the Falls , because the signs are not great and if you miss it, turning around may be difficult. We parked in the parking lot across from the falls and then walked on a path that went underneath the highway. We did it with our 18 month old and 7 year old and they were fine – just hold tight to small children.
After McWay Falls, we made our way towards Monterey and checked into our hotel around 4pm. The drive up the Pacific Coast Highway was not easy but it was truly an unforgettable experience.
In Monterey we stayed at the Intercontinental Monterey. It was a great waterfront location on Cannery Row. Our room was very comfortable and even had a small fireplace. We walked around town and found delicious food at Cannery Row Brewing Company. After dinner, we headed to bed for an early night. We were planning to get a very early the next day to drive to Muir Woods. Sadly, we didn’t have time to scope out any of the Big Little Lies sites.
Muir Woods was another favorite stop during our California trip. We booked tickets for an 8am arrival so you can imagine that we woke up REALLY early to get there from Monterey. If you’re ever in San Francisco, take a few hours to visit Muir Woods, it is truly an amazing experience and really just across the bridge from the city. Don’t forget to book tickets well in advance. We saw people that didn’t have tickets and could not enter the forest or park which is a total bummer for coming all of that way. Muir Woods is a National Monument made up of beautiful redwoods with lovely walking paths that make it very accessible. Its one of the primeval forests and a wonder to experience.
After a couple of hours in Muir Woods, we drove back across the Golden Gate Bridge and checked into the Omni San Francisco. After checking in, we headed down to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch at Boudin Bakery. We had the bread bowl chowder and the kids snacked on some teddy bear bread.
After lunch, we walked down the wharf to view Alcatraz. We didn’t get tickets because our youngest was only 18 months and we didn’t think the stairs were doable. The sea lions at Pier 39 are quite a sight to see.
After hanging out with the Sea Lions for a while,we went down to Ghirardelli to grab an amazing ice cream sundae. Then we spent the rest of our afternoon walking around shops. During our walk back towards the hotel, we hopped on a cable car for the true San Francisco experience. We got out near Chinatown and strolled through the colorful streets, looking at the beautiful red lanterns. We ended our day in San Francisco with a room service dinner since we had an early flight.
We had such an incredible adventure in California, we can’t wait to go back!