Camping and Hiking and Beaches, Oh My! Our California Road Trip
Wow, do we live in an incredibly beautiful state! We just wrapped up an epic summer road trip across CA, and I have to share the itinerary in case you're interested in embarking on this adventure next summer. If you are, add a reminder to your calendar for next February with a link to this post: camping spots go faster than concert tix, so you'll need to snag them 6 months to ahead of time (August is ideal so you *hopefully* miss June Gloom - no, it doesn't rhyme, and as a non-native, that still bugs me, but it is a thing).
Long Beach is home for us, and we couldn't bring ourselves to drive south before heading north. BUT, if you are starting further south, essential stops for a road trip with kids would include San Diego (the Zoo and beaches at Coronado), Laguna (the tidepools there are really special - we go monthly) and, of course, Long Beach (the Aquarium and Colorado Lagoon are favorites).
Our journey began 1.5 hours north of Long Beach at Point Mugu Beach in Ventura...
DAYS 1-2: MUGU
- Logistics: There are a couple campgrounds at Point Mugu SP, but Thornhill Broome is the one you want: the sites are directly on the sand, so you can have your very own beach front property for $35/night. Reservations are available on a rolling 6 month window and they go QUICKLY.
- Activities: Clearly, the activity here is the beach, but there are a few other things to check out...On your way to Mugu, consider stopping at the Malibu Getty (free advance reservations required), and when you're almost to the campground, Point Dume is a very easy hike with panoramic views. If you're up for more of a workout, Nicholas Flats is NOT flat and also offers panoramic ocean views in the middle of your 3 mile trek (we did see rattlesnakes...so, be careful!). There's also a dune on the other side of PCH just south of Thornhill Broome that the kids really loved hiking up and sliding down - you can't miss it on your drive in :)
DAYS 3-4: PISMO / PASO
- Logistics: We have family in the area, but we did stay at Vespera one night - beautiful property with fun outdoor space right across from the beach - yard games, fire pits, etc. We walked from there to the Oyster Loft for dinner that night - excellent food and views.
- Activities: You can drive onto the beach at Oceano Campgrounds, and despite the cars, there were tons of sand dollars and clams covering the shoreline when we visited. If wine country is your thing, Daou was our favorite Paso spot on a previous kid-free visit: we brought a backgammon set and spent the afternoon there because the views of rolling hills were so picturesque (and the wine was pretty great as well!)
DAY 5: MONTEREY
- Activities: The aquarium here is very interactive, educational and impressive. Reserve your tix in advance, and consider taking the free trolley from there to the warf afterwards - there were so many extremely active sea lions there, our kids liked that free "attraction" about as much as the pricey aquarium 😅
DAYS 6-7: SAN FRANCISCO
- Logistics: SF is a big city, and where you stay depends on where you plan to spend your time. We chose an AirBnB between Russian Hill and North Beach - loved it because we could easily walk to China Town, and jump on the cable car down to the Warf.
- Activities: There is SO much to do in SF - you could easily dedicate a whole summer there and not cover it all. We broke up our drive from Monterey to SF by stopping at the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz (cute, quirky and fun - reserve tix in advance). Once we arrived in SF, we toured around China Town, had an incredible dinner at Michelin star restaurant, Mr. Jiu's, and then went to Club Fugazi (7 Cirque du Soleil alumni perform a beautiful "Love letter to SF" in an intimate theater - easily a highlight of our entire trip!). On day 2, we took the kids to the playground at the Golden Gate Park, toured around the Warf, took the Blue & Gold ferry to Sausalito, then headed back for a delicious, old-school Italian dinner at Soto Mare. If we had more time, I would've loved to check out the Saturday farmer's market at the Ferry Building, the Exploratorium, and countless other fun attractions in SF. Before heading out of town, we had brunch at Brenda's - New Orleans soul food, with delectable shrimp and grits + beignets.
DAYS 8-9: YOSEMITE
- Logistics: As with Mugu, camp sites go QUICKLY! You'll book through a separate reservation system (national vs. CA), and they're available in blocks of one month at a time, up to five months in advance, on the 15th of each month at 7 am PST. I doubt you can go wrong with any campsite, and we have friends who prefer the cabin/hotel options too, but our personal favorite place to be is in the Valley: Upper Pines (238 sites), North Pines (81 sites) or Lower Pines (60 sites). We go for Upper for the best chance of actually snagging a spot - they literally go in seconds.
- Activities: Hiking, and biking and swimming, oh my! And bears...yes, don't forget the bears. I'll admit I was very nervous about bears, but we followed the safety protocol strictly and only came across one bear on our drive out of the park! Ask a ranger or someone at the camp supply store in the valley for recommendations on what hikes are open and have the best conditions during your visit.
Phew! It was a lot, but it was incredible, and we made unforgettable memories along the way. I hope you found this helpful and would love to hear any feedback or ideas for us to add to future trips!