California Family Road Trip  

An adventure they’ll never forget

Take the ultimate family adventure following Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles

From tots to teens, California has something for every kid. There are theme parks like Universal Studios and Disneyland and world-class attractions like the Monterey Bay Aquarium to dazzle and entertain in equal measure, and the chance to head out on Pacific waves for whale watching, paddleboarding and kayaking. Brilliant museums, including San Francisco’s Exploratorium and California Academy of Sciences, are impressive and unmissable, but this trip also allows plenty of downtime on gorgeous beaches. Plus, with family-friendly hotels from start to finish (often with fantastic swimming pools, nightly s’mores toasting, and as much pizza as they can handle), this truly is a family trip of a lifetime.

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San Francisco, Carmel & Monterey, Pismo Beach, Los Angeles

Ideal for
Rolling all different types of family holidays into one memorable and extraordinary trip.

Recommended itinerary

San Francisco

Welcome to the neighbourhood

San Francisco is a fantastic city for kids. Watch the sea lions at Pier 39, then hire bikes and cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge. Make time for Golden Gate Park, where the excellent California Academy of Sciences houses an aquarium, planetarium, and rainforest. Visit The Walt Disney Family Museum (getting you in the mood for Disneyland later in your trip) or get hands-on at the impressive Exploratorium at Pier 15.

San Francisco

What to do in San Francisco

Fisherman’s Wharf and beyond

Take a fully loaded guided tour to see all the highlights in double-quick time. Visit Lombard Street, the ‘crookedest street in the world’. Smell the sourdough at Boudin bakery, slurp soup from a bread bowl, and stop at Ghirardelli Square to sample some world-famous chocolate – or go full an ice cream with every possible topping. The tour wraps up with a cruise of San Francisco Bay.

Where to stay in San Francisco

The best family hotels

Weigh up the location advantage of nautically-inclined The Argonaut at Fisherman’s Wharf with the swanky (yet surprisingly child-friendly) Fairmont San Francisco or the smart Hyatt Regency close to the Ferry Building and Exploratorium. The Laurel Inn is right by Golden Gate Park – we love the free cookies and fresh décor, plus some rooms feature a handy kitchenette.

Carmel & Monterey

Set off on the PCH

Pick up your hire car and head 120 miles south of San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway, perhaps stopping at Half Moon Bay for lunch and stretching your legs. The towns of Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel are smushed together on a particularly gorgeous peninsula of California. It’s known for the sensational Monterey Bay Aquarium and the gazillionaire mansions on the 17-Mile Drive.

What to do in Monterey & Carmel

How you’ll spend your days

This ruggedly beautiful yet utterly refined part of central California always succeeds in charming the socks off its visitors. While the headline attractions of the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium and whale-watching tours are unmissable, be sure to factor in some time for the rest of the area, perhaps kayaking on Monterey Bay or biking the Coastal Recreation Trail. Spend time on the vast sands of Carmel Beach and linger there for Golden Hour to get some beautiful family snaps.

Where to stay in Monterey & Carmel

Consider the valley…

Stay inland at the blissful 500-acre Carmel Valley Ranch –a favourite option for families thanks to the facilities and activities offered, like helping out on the farm, heading off on scavenger hunts, and tennis coaching. For family time, the River Ranch is the resort’s family pool area with ping pong and bocce courts and a splash zone. Then head to The Market & Creamery for local treats and homemade ice cream.

Pismo Beach

A handy stopover

Break up the road trip between Monterey and Los Angeles and stop at Pismo Beach. On the way, you’ll drive through the incredible Big Sur area – stretching 90 miles south of Carmel - and stop at the Pfeiffer State Park to crane your necks at giant redwood groves or play on the purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach. Keep an eye out for zebras as you drive past Hearst Castle!

What to do in Pismo Beach

Go big on adventure

San Luis Obispo County's Pismo Beach has all the California feels you’d expect from a beach town along the Pacific Coast Highway. Surfing, skateboarding, and seafood are a way of life. It’s a year-round-summer kind of place, with warm weather, whatever the season. Kids will make a beeline for the Whale Surfing Playground at Pismo Beach Pier Plaza, so grab a coffee from one of the vintage Airstream kiosks first. And beyond that, there are simply miles and miles of beach.

Where to stay in Pismo Beach

Beachfront boltholes

Choose the swish surroundings of Vespera Resort on Pismo Beach to be steps from the sand and the 60-acre pier. Or how about the surf-chic surroundings of SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel or The Cliffs Hotel & Spa?

Los Angeles

Welcome to La La Land

The final leg of your road trip brings you to LA. Plan to break up the journey and stop in beautiful Santa Barbara for lunch and a runaround on one of the beaches.

What to do in Los Angeles

Movie mayhem

With the All-Inclusive Pass from Go City, you have three days to cram in as much as possible from a huge list of options, including Universal Studios. And don’t forget the original Disney theme park, Disneyland, is in Anaheim.

Santa Monica

Griffith Observatory

Where to stay in Los Angeles

Beach or city?

If you plan to spend a few days in the theme parks, it might make sense to base yourself in Anaheim or Studio City. For beach days, head to Santa Monica (Shutters on the Beach is an excellent option to end your trip in style), where there’s also the iconic Santa Monica Pier, home of Pacific Park amusements. Or why not experience the best of both worlds by staying in LA and then venturing to Huntington Beach or Laguna Beach to finish your trip on a relaxing note?