Best Stops for Kids on a Road Trip Down the California Coast

Best stops for kids on a road trip down the California coast
Best stops for kids on a road trip down the California coast
Best stops for kids on a road trip down the California coast
I love a road trip. Love. I think it’s because I grew up in California, and there are so many great places to get to by car in this state. When Ryan asked what I wanted to do for my birthday my immediate answer was ROAD TRIP! So we planned it out so that the kids could see a few towns on the California coast that we’ve never been to before as a family.
Chevrolet was kind enough to loan us a Traverse for the trip and it was awesome. We just recently bought the Bolt EV (the all-electric car) and it’s perfect for running around town but we prefer something a little bigger for our squirmy family of four on longer drives. The Traverse was perfect for spreading out and hauling all of our gear (ahem, travel crib and double stroller and giant suitcase); the extra cargo space was incredible. We found it to be a great family car — comfortable and spacious, with room for everything that we needed. We planned the trip so that we would drive for about two hours on each stretch, and get out at an awesome destination every time. Our trip started from the California Central Valley, but you could just as easily start from elsewhere in the state, or even do our route in reverse. So if you’re traveling with little ones, here are our favorite California coast stops and a few tips & tricks.
Best stops for kids on a road trip down the California coast
Carmel-By-The-Sea
I used to go to Carmel when I was little with my family all the time, and I grew to love this gorgeous, quaint little place. Head straight down Ocean Avenue first thing and blow off some steam at one of the most beautiful beaches in the state. The sand is soft and if you wait until the tide rolls out there are some awesome tide pools. It’s also a leash-free beach, so be ready to frolic with some dogs.
After the beach, take a walk a few blocks to Thinker Toys and let the kids test out some fun toys. We grabbed lunch after that at Little Swiss Cafe, which is adorable and perfect for kids. There are murals on the walls with all kinds of kids characters hidden in them, so it’s the perfect distraction while you’re waiting for your food. The staff was also so sweet and happy to supply us with crayons and coloring books. Before you get back on the road, grab a little something from Cottage of Sweets.
Hop back in the car and hope your kids nap on the way to your next destination. Ours napped and it was really nice in the Traverse because the ride is so smooth and quiet — they both zonked out.
Best stops for kids on a road trip down the California coast
Pismo Beach
I had never really spent much time in Pismo before, but it’s a perfect stop on the way down the coast to relax. The Pismo Lighthouse Suites is awesome for kids — the rooms are huge and each is a suite so you don’t have to all cram into one bedroom. There’s also a free breakfast (clutch for families whose kids are hungry as soon as they wake up) and lots of fun amenities, like a life-sized chess board, ping-pong tables, and a pool that looks over the ocean.
Obviously whenever there’s a beach around, that’s where our kids want to be. There’s a stretch of Pismo that has some swings and a little playground, so snag a spot there and bring a bucket and a shovel. Hours of entertainment. For dinner, try Rosa’s Italian. It’s nice enough that the grownups will feel like they’re having a good dining experience, but super kid-friendly as well. If you’re there during the right season, stop by the Monarch Groves as well! The butterflies flock to a eucalyptus grove in the winter and they hang on the branches by the thousands.
Best stops for kids on a road trip down the California coast
Best stops for kids on a road trip down the California coast
Best stops for kids on a road trip down the California coast
Santa Barbara
We took a scenic route from Pismo to Santa Barbara so that the kids could run around Lake Cachuma for a bit. There’s a scenic overlook where you can pull off and explore (there are bathrooms there, too). It was a perfect spot to send up the drone so we took this little clip of us with the Traverse:

After you blow off some steam, continue on to Santa Barbara. We went ASAP to Shipwreck Park, one of the coolest playgrounds I’ve ever been to with the kids. The structures are all built in the shape of sunken ships and other ocean imagery, and it’s just too fun. There are nice clean bathrooms nearby and good benches for parents. You could really spend some time here. Once you work up an appetite, grab lunch at Shalhoob Meat Company. This was actually one of my favorite meals on the trip! The seating is all outside in the sunshine, and the food is killer. There’s a great kids’ menu as well.
Best stops for kids on a road trip down the California coast
Best stops for kids on a road trip down the California coast
Best stops for kids on a road trip down the California coast
Los Angeles
It wouldn’t be a road trip for our family if we didn’t hit our old stomping grounds. But this time we did something we’d never done before and took the kids to the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre. This place is a total gem. Puppeteers make marionettes sing and dance to old songs and the kids were completely entranced. Don’t miss this if you’re in LA with little ones. And speaking of LA driving, we were completely floored by the surround vision technology that the cameras provide on the Traverse. It gives you a bird’s-eye view of the car so you can see from every angle what’s surrounding you. It pretty much makes it so that you’re a parallel-parking wizard.
It was a birthday trip for the books! And we’re so grateful to our friends at Chevrolet for helping us get there and back. I’m always happy to come back home after traveling but I’m not gonna lie — I’m already mapping out our next road trip. I’m thinking we go north next time? We’ll see. Happy trails! xoxo
Vehicle and accommodations for our trip were graciously provided by Chevrolet. All opinions are my own.
Best stops for kids on a road trip down the California coast