My husband, myself and our friends visiting from London decided to pile into the car and drive up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH aka Highway 1) from LA to San Francisco this summer with two babies under a year and a half. Our friends had ventured all the way to California to visit us in our new city that we call home, LA.
We had travelled frequently across Europe together before we had children and were excited to explore a new part of the world together. Travelling with two babies, we knew we’d have to adjust our normal travel regime to make more frequent stops, stay in kid-friendly accommodation and travel with a lot more stuff than we did before.
After asking around and doing some research I compiled a loose itinerary that was tot friendly. We only travelled part of the PCH and I wish we could have had more time to continue past San Francisco but we’ll leave that for another trip!
We had four adults, two babies and all of the luggage, strollers and car seats that comes with the tots. We tried to be pretty strict with that we packed but we still barely fit into our trusty rental Dodge Caravan.
We took off from LA and hopped on the PCH just outside of Malibu to avoid the traffic but if you go through Malibu, two great places to stop are Paradise Cove, a laid back family friendly restaurant on the beach and the Malibu Café. The Malibu Café is this amazing restaurant on a large piece of land, think Soho House meets summer camp. It is definitely worth stopping for a meal or a coffee and to let the kids run around.
First stop was Santa Barbara, a cute Mediterranean-style city that is located on the central California coast. It is a great town to wander around, do a bit of shopping and visit the beach. We ate at a casual spot directly on the beach called the East Beach Grill, it is a great spot to have pancakes or a burger whilst the little ones run around and you watch boats go by.
We enjoyed the scenic drive as we made our way north to Pismo Beach, our first overnight stop. We got our hotel recommendation from another member of Bebe Voyage, which was the Pismo Beach Lighthouse. It is a great hotel for families. It overlooks the sea, the rooms are mostly all suites and include a mini kitchen (perfect for cleaning bottles) and there are a lot of fun activities for the little ones. Dinner was at a great retro looking restaurant that was on the cliff side overlooking the ocean called the Ventana Grill which has fresh housemade tortillas made right in the middle of the restaurant.
After breakfast, where we filled up on snacks for the kids for the car trip we headed off again. First stop was San Simeon to see the Elephant Seals. This was more enjoyable for the adults than the babies as I am not sure they could quite make out what they were but this is definitely worth a stop to see these enormous creatures and there are volunteers who give free informational talks. We then headed to Morro Bay for some delicious Barbeque from Brickhouse Barbeque, which was a welcomed warm lunch after spending quite a bit of time outside in the Pacific Ocean’s breeze.
We continued to make our way north to Big Sur where we were staying the night at the Big Sur Lodge. Big Sur is a rugged stretch of California’s central coast between Carmel and San Simeon. The drive through Big Sur takes you on winding roads through mist that makes you feel like you’re driving through the clouds. With the Red woods on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other it is quite a spectacular drive with many photo ops long the way. It is worth a stop for a drink at the Nepenthe restaurant, which has spectacular views, and if you really want to splurge for a meal stop at the luxurious Post Ranch Inn. The Big Sur Lodge is a moderately priced accommodation that offers small cabin-esq suites to stay in. The lodge is based inland from the sea in the redwoods. The cabins are a bit dated but for the location worth it. There are plenty of hiking and walking trails from the lodge that range from easy to difficult. We enjoyed a swim in the pool and a great dinner at their restaurant, which is built on a deck high above a stream, and at the base of enormous redwoods.
A must when passing through Big Sur is a stop at the Big Sur Bakery – two words for you, bacon croissant. This bakery turned restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner but be quick in the morning as the bakery items sell out by 10am every morning. So get there early to join the line up of campers, hikers and road trippers. The bakery has all home made items ranging from the decadent bacon croissant to homemade donuts to delicious scones.
We headed back out onto the trail and made our way on the winding road along the gorgeous coast. We stopped in Carmel for a coffee and to stretch our legs. Carmel is a cute town with beautiful architecture; it is worth a stop for sure. We then headed to Monterey to see the Monterey Aquarium.
The aquarium was a fun day and my 15 month old son loved it. They have a kids section where they could color and run around and play. He loved seeing all of the fish in the deep sea exhibit. We then headed to San Francisco and arrived there in the evening after we stopped at a few fresh farm fruit stands along the way.
In San Francsco we rented an AirBnb so that we would have more space and a kitchen, which made the weekend much easier with two babies. We stayed in the Haight-Ashbury district right across from a great park called the Buena Vista Park. Highlights of the weekend included riding a famous cable car through the hilly streets of San Francisco, brunching at the kid friendly Presidio Social Club and exploring Lombard street neighborhood.
We spent our final morning and afternoon in the Castro and Mission district and then made our way to drop off the rental car and fly home.
Top tips for road tripping on the PCH:
- Try avoid major rush hour times when near LA or San Francisco
- Take a lot of snacks with you for the road for the little ones
- Take advantage of stopping at parks and beaches to let the little ones burn off energy
- There is limited cell phone coverage in Big Sur so make sure you have back up maps
- Make sure to stop along the way for photo ops and to take in the scenery
- Sometimes there are long stretches without gas stations or places to stop so just be conscious of this