California Road Tripping with the Family

Winding roads, sloping green hills and never-ending horizons filled the window of my 2006 Toyota Matrix during a 10-day, 1,200 mile jaunt along the California coast and the mystic roads of Highway 1. My husband and I were inspired by the same sun and sea that stirred Jack Keroauc and Neal Cassidy, but gone are the days of stopping at the wineries and breweries and slumbering on the beach in a Steinbeck-infused sleep.

Our days of travel now revolve around potty breaks, getting our wiggles out and seeking out the best playgrounds in the area. Here are some notable stops we made on family road trip with the motto of “taking it slow,” two 30-somethings in need of wanderlust and four-year-old boy who is always up for an adventure.


  • Emma State Beach
    • Beach filled with smooth stones and the perfect spot for surfing, bonfires, hiking and picnicking.



San Luis Obispo

Morro Bay

  • Skateboard Museum
    • Small, independently owned skate shop and collection of skateboard memorabilia.


  • Downtown Sacramento
    • Visit the state capital and scurry among the huge office buildings, brand new stadium and the hustle and bustle of the financial district.
  • Old Town Sacramento
    • An vintage western town and home of the California State Railroad Museum.

San Francisco

  • Golden Gate Park
    • Drum circles, carousel, hot dogs, ice cream and huge playgrounds.
  • SOMA Skatepark
    • Not for young kids, but fun for older skaters and street art enthusiasts
  • Fisherman’s Wharf
    • Lobster bisque bread bowl and live street performers (and lots of hungry sea gulls!)
  • Pier 39
    • Ride the carousel, gaze at tulips and enjoy the view. (During the Spring, Pier 39 serves as a home to over 200 different species of tulips at Tulipmania.)

Boulder Creek

  • Big Basin / Little Basin Campground
    • Great little cabins, just bring a sleeping bag and some hotdogs and marshmallows to roast. Walk the creek and catch salamanders. Explore the 100-year-old Redwood forest.

San Simeon

  • Elephant Seals Lookout Point
    • In the Spring, you can catch hundreds of elephant seals during mating season lining the beach and enjoying the sunshine.


  • Cambria Pines Lodge
    • A quaint and gorgeous hotel surrounded with beautiful rose gardens, nature trails and adorable rooms.
  • Moonstone Beach
    • Stop and admire the millions of tiny stones that line the beach, try to find the magical moonstone.


  • Plan destinations that are no more than 2-3 hours apart (this worked especially well for traveling with a child under 5).
  • Use the Google maps app to find nearby nature trails, stores and restrooms. (We stopped at several stores along the way for cold cuts, bread and snacks – which saved on pricey convenience stores or fast food.)
  • Short on car space? Rent a camping cabin, instead of having to lug camping gear around.
  • Plan most stops, but leave room to be spontaneous

Blog written by Virginia Sandfer, founder of Third & Brand, an out-of-the box design studio. She has a developed a niche client base that includes a diverse collection of small businesses with a creative passion: from organic restaurants, dance studios, to retailers. If you catch her away from her desk, she’s usually working on her craft by researching styles at local thrift shops, or meeting up with fellow creative types exploring new ideas.