Since he was born I’ve been attempting to brainwash my son into sharing my love of road trips, landscapes, and culture. His first obsession were the trees in Dr. Seuss movie The Lorax leaving him singing “I say let it grow” long before he learned about that farmer McDonald. With a summer birthday I made it my goal to take him on an epic trip every summer. The first few years have been spent in training squeezing in as many mini road trips as we could. This year he was ready to return to his homeland, California. He has an obsession with bridges and I have an obsession with scenic views making the choice in destination clear; The Pacific Coast Highway.
I kept the itinerary simple with 5 key highlights.
1. San Francisco
2. Monterey/Carmel By-the-Sea
3. Big Sur
4. Los Angeles
5. San Diego (Not part of the Pacific Coast Highway, but a must if you’re here)
We begin … in San Francisco. It’s probably pretty obvious what his major interest was when visiting the legendary city, The Golden Gate Bridge. The rain, however, changed the majority of our planned activities centered around the iconic bridge. Luckily he really only cared about getting to look at the bridge. So we drove over the bridge, over and over again.
We easily found a spot to park at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center to stare at the bridge from the safety of our car.
The next morning before heading down the coast we crossed the bridge one more time to Battery Spencer to take in the epic view of San Francisco.
MONTEREY & CARMEL BY-THE-SEA
After a simple introduction to the immense city, we headed south to Monterey, Carmel By-The-Sea. We spent our day contently gazing at the turquoise water at Carmel Beach City Park.
And devouring some of the tastiest food at Baja Cantina.
Next on the agenda was the part I was looking forward too most, Big Sur. To kick it off we had to stop for some obligatory pictures at the Bixby Bridge. Several oh’s and ah’s later we continued down the coast traveling at a leisurely pace focused on avoiding running over cyclists and pulling over frequently at the multitude of pull offs to breath the fresh air.
There are a multitude of trails to further explore in this section of the world, but as previously stated I’m traveling with a 4 year old so we stuck to the beaten path for this trip. The one exception we made was McWay Falls. There is parking and the hike is short. It makes for a great spot to get out and stretch your legs.
After a long winding day on the road we stopped for a spell in Ventura. Chilling around Ventura Harbor Village to look at the boats and hopping across the street to watch the surfers at Surfer’s Knoll on Ventura Beach.
Bypassing Los Angeles for the moment we cruised, and by cruised I mean sat in stop and go traffic for hours, down the I-5 and into America’s Finest City, San Diego - the place we used to call home.
Our first stop in San Diego was Sunset Cliffs. This has always been one of our favorite places in the city. It has some of the best views and parking is relatively easy to find in one of the various parking lots lining the cliffs. It’s a favorite spot for a run and is just down the street from the hipster beach area of Ocean Beach where you can walk the pier and eat some of the best tacos at South Beach Bar & Grille. As a new mom Sunset Cliffs was my favorite spot to stop to give Desmond a quick bottle and stare at the water.
Next up, some time in La Jolla. First on the agenda was a drive up to Mt. Soledad where you will be greeted with stunning views at the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial. This view of the city is second only to that of Cabrillo National Monument, one of my favorite places to visit for both the natural beauty and the cultural history.
Driving back down the hill we stopped for a tasty treat at The Living Room. One of my favorite small coffee shop chains, it is decorated with an assortment of vintage furniture. The La Jolla location has a coveted window where you can sip your coffee while watching the waves.
A short stroll down the hill on Jenner St. leads you to Seal Rock to watch the seals play in the waves from Children’s Pool Observation Walkway. The name might confuse you if you’re not a local. Once a protected swimming area for children the cove has been claimed by local wildlife that is now safely view from a distance (though the city has a history of going back and forth between their preference for the seals right to the spot and the humans). We were lucky and also were able to spot some whales while we were there.
To round off the day we visited the cliffs above Black’s Beach.
This is one of my all time favorite spots. The view is breathtaking. A steep hike down the hill will lead you to a secluded beach where you will find local nudists sunbathing. For today we stayed at the top of the cliffs and watched the paragliders at Torrey Pines Glideport.
Our next day was dedicated to Balboa Park. The possibilities of what to do here are endless and many days could easily be dedicated to exploring this stunning park. Today, however, we have opted to leave out the museums and stroll. Our first stop was, naturally, the Pepper Grove Playground. For a boy in love with machines, the playground was made magical by watching the planes come in for a landing at the nearby San Diego Airport as he played.
A quick stroll down the sidewalk brought us to the Rose and Desert Gardens and the Bea Evensong Fountain. Stroll down El Prado to the Botanical Gardens and Coy Pond (If you child is like mine hold their hand or you’ll be fishing for you child).
Continue your stroll to the Alcazar Garden. This is one of my all time favorite spots in the park and the place where Desmond discovered his new obsession, BELLS! We sat here for a long time lying to him about not being able to climb up the bell tower, which of course you can in fact climb the California Tower at The Museum of Man if you are up for it.
If you leave the Alcazar Garden from the back and cross over a small parking lot, you will find a small boardwalk that takes you past one of my favorite spots in Balboa Park. Technically part of Palm Canyon, the massive Moreton Bay Fig tree adjacent to the wooden steps is a fantastic hidden gem and a must see while you are in the park.
As you leave this path you’ll see in front of you the Spreckels Organ Pavilion where we were able to sit for a bit and listen to the organist play.
It was time to say goodbye to all of our old friends and head back up the coast for a day in Los Angeles. Desmond requested to see the Hollywood sign so we headed up to the Griffith Observatory to get a great view of the iconic sign. If you do one thing in Los Angeles this is what I would recommend.
The view by itself is breathtaking and most of the observatory is free as is parking if you can find it. Catch one of the fantastic shows at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium complete with a live narrator and wonderful reclining seats. Note: children under age 5 will only be admitted to the first show of the day, must sit on the lap of a parent, and are warned that the shows may be disorienting for them. Use your best judgment on whether your child is ready or not for the experience.
As our 4th Birthday Adventure was coming to an end Desmond spotted his favorite celebrity hanging out in the airport.
The drive up the West coast is a must for anyone and a true joy with children. Hope you enjoy your drive and give me a call to get you on the road.
Must run for now. Talk soon!
HOLLY MANN: As an Independent Contractor of Vista Travel Consultants, Inc. a member of the Virtuoso Network, my access to the highest quality of vetted global travel partners allows me to create rich, culturally immersive, and liberating travel experiences.