Pacific Coast Highway (LA to San Fran)
Coastal Drive on the Pacific Coast Highway (HWY 1)
Powered by Bébé Voyage Ambassador Anne McGregor
My husband and I and our friends packed two babies, aged 14 months and 8 months and a decent amount of luggage into a rented mini van to drive the 9-11 hour scenic Pacific Coast Highway (aka Route 1). We had researched and asked around for tips to make a few stops to break up the trip and see the sights along the way and ending in San Francisco.
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 bébés 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 traveled 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 accommodations and travel with a lot more gear than we had before.
After asking around and doing some research I compiled a loose itinerary that was tot-friendly. We only traveled 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.
A car is a necessity as there isn’t really any other way to travel Route 1. We luckily didn’t have to bring travel cots as all of the hotels and apartments had these available to us. Once you’re away from the big cities, mobile phone reception can be spotty so might be worth going old school and having a paper map. Before you enter the Big Sur stretch fill your car with gas as we had to fill up in the middle of nowhere in Big Sur and the gas prices were very expensive. If you’re into hiking bring hiking shoes and a carrier for your little one as there are plenty of hiking opportunities along this route.
Note: This itinerary is a road trip, and therefore requires that you have a car.
Target Age for This Itinerary
Accommodations to Pre-book:
- LAX and San Francisco International
- Hotels: Pismo Beach Hotel, Big Sur Lodge and an AirBnB
- Rental Car: We picked up a rental car in LA (LAX) and dropped it off at the San Francisco airport (SFO)
*Note: Pre-booking accommodations is recommended especially during holidays or during the summer, as the PCH is very popular so accommodations may book up quickly.
Recommended Packing List
- Sunscreen, hiking shoes, warm jacket or sweaters even in summer as that pacific ocean is cold! And it gets chilly at night
- Baby carrier if you want to do walks or hikes
Local Food to Try:
There are many good food options a few of our highlights included: Big Sur Bakery, Nepenthe, (A very big treat- The Post Ranch Inn), Ventana Grill, Presidio Social club.
Morning Travel (Drive to LA up the Pacific Coast Highway to Pismo Beach)
We left from Los Angeles and hopped onto the PCH just outside of Malibu to avoid traffic.
You can either get in the PCH (Highway 1) near Santa Monica or just outside of Malibu to avoid the traffic, 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 is Santa Barbara, a cute Mediterranean-style city that is located on the central California coast. You can stop for a bite to eat at a casual spot directly on the beach called the East Beach Grill, it is a great place to have pancakes or a burger whilst the little ones run around and you watch boats go by.
Along the way: We fed the babies and timed their morning naps with our leaving time and then stopped for lunch let them run around and then hopped back on the road and stopped at a few places along the way. Anything from a great photo shot or a cute farmers market stand.
Afternoon (Hotel Check-in)
After lunch, Enjoy the scenic drive a you make your way north to Pismo Beach, your first overnight stop at 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. For dinner there are a number of options but a great one is a retro looking restaurant that is perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean called the Ventana Grill which has fresh homemade tortillas made right in the middle of the restaurant.
First stop is San Simeon to see the Elephant Seals, this is definitely worth a stop to see these enormous creatures. Continue your way up north to Big Sur for the next overnight at Big Sur Lodge. Big Sur is a rugged stretch of California’s central coast between Carmel and San Simeon. 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 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.
Make 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. The next stop is Carmel for a coffee and to stretch your legs break. Carmel is a cute town with beautiful architecture; it is worth a stop for sure. Then make your way to Monterey to see the Monterey aquarium.
The aquarium if a fun day for the whole family. There is a kids section where they can color and run around and play.
Along the way: Photo stops along the way, Carmel, Monterey
In San Francisco 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.
END OF ITINERARY
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