Wanting to share our love of travel with our 4 teenage kids, we took them on a California adventure, and what better way to experience some of this beautiful State than to drive the Pacific Coast Highway from San Fran to L.A.

Get Ready Kids!

Planning a holiday for others, even your own kids, can be a little stressful, but exciting too as you try to make it the best for everyone. The thrill of giving them an eye-opening experience of another country, had us happily planning for weeks and even months. Once our itinerary was set, our budget sorted, and even our accommodation booked, Mark made an itinerary booklet for each of the kids, and printed special luggage tags.

Having a graphic designer in the family is always a bonus.

We departed at some ungodly hour of the morning from Sydney, in a limo. This worked out to be a good financial choice, as it fitted all 6 of us, and our luggage in one vehicle. And it was special…

Our flights were long from Sydney to L.A., particularly given we had booked flights that went via Melbourne (I’m pretty sure it saved us some $$) but everyone was excited and coped well with the assistance of their iphones.

First stop = Disneyland!!! We’d been in the country around 2 hours when we dropped our bags at the hotel and hopped on a bus to take us down the road to the land of Mickey Mouse. We chose to buy a 3-day pass, that also covered California World and we hit the rides.

TIP: get the fast pass when you can for popular rides. It can save queuing in long lines – up to 3 hours!

From Anaheim, we flew to San Francisco. Jazz buskers were playing outside our hotel window, and we were surprised to find the sweet smell of weed wafting passed us regularly as we wandered the city.

Our first full day, Mark did a little research to see what events were happening, and thought it would be hilarious to go to the ‘Gay Jesus look-alike’ competition. It was Easter, what can I say, this appealed to our sense of humour. But first we got on a Big Red double decker bus that travels around the sites.

Alcatraz cells

Later that day, we wandered into Golden Gate Park, looking for the gay Jesus parade. But instead of finding guys in white dresses with thorn crowns and crosses on their backs we walked into something quite different. With kids in tow, we walked right through the heavy beats and thousands of people enjoying some kind of festival. Marijuana filled the air, and pop up stands sold it freely along with edibles and merchandise. We found out later that we’d marched the kids into the middle of the 4/20 Marijuana Festival. That’s one for the book on responsible parenting, quite the departure from Disneyland.

We spent the next day visiting Fisherman’s Wharf and trying the local clam chowder, and later went on a night tour of Alcatraz. This is a self-guided tour, and the headset activates as you move through the cells, highlighting features and recreating the dim life of the prisoners. It was fantastic! The kids also enjoyed the day and we highly recommend this as a must-do in San Francisco.

Alcatraz by night

On day 3 it was time to hit the road. We hired a large Dodge to fit us all and we carefully maneuvered out of the San Francisco grid of streets, remembering to keep right, mostly.

Our drive down the magnificent Pacific Coast Highway was perhaps the prettiest road we’ve ever driven. Hugging the coastline and pulling in at the multitude of stopping areas along the road to take in the beauty of this paradise, we felt no pressure from traffic that was there. We were all driving this road for same reason – to admire the coastline beauty.

A fantastic drive down the coast

TIP: If you want to get the best views as your drive – choose to drive North to South. That way you’ll be on the side of the road closest to the sea and pulling over on the sea-side is easier.

We stayed 2 nights in Carmel-By-The-Sea, a stylish seaside resort town, with quaint cottages and an artistic community. Here we ran into Robert Redford, who was casually exiting his Porsche. We tried to stay cool. Also we had the most entertaining dinner – a Turkish restaurant, complete with mid-dinner singing and dancing around the tables. Special blog post coming on this one!

Then on our way to Santa Barbara, we detour to the magnificent Hearst Castle, a national historic landmark that has been restored as a museum. We took a tour here, it’s well worth seeing and hearing about the lavish days of Hollywood actors and politicians, partying with the wealthy creative tycoon, William Randolph Hearst in days gone by.

Hearst Castle

Down the road a little further and we arrive in Santa Barbara and we spent a couple of wonderful days here, much of it on the pier and boardwalk, riding bikes.

Riding bikes in Santa Barbar

The last leg of our journey took us back to LA for 5 lovely nights in Santa Monica. Staying in a 3 bedroom house we’d found on the website VRBO.com, now part of homeaway.com. Santa Monica, with tree-lined streets, and a lack of power lines was meticulously well groomed, warm and friendly. We felt like we were living like the locals, shopping in the supermarkets, taking afternoon walks, and greeting the neighbours. A short walk away we found the long stretch of beach, and further on, the famous Santa Monica Pier.

Venice Beach Workout

We also journeyed to Venice Beach, admiring the strong men at Muscle Beach, checking out the medical marijuana doctor’s pop-up rooms, and the multitudes of individuals with strong fashion sense and some attitudes to match. There was a certain hardness to this area. It felt sleazy and somewhat unsafe, particularly with 4 teenagers in our care, so we didn’t linger.

Still being tourists, we took the kids to Universal Studios, which was fun, but Warner Bro’s back-lot tour was a big hit with the kids. Animated actors hosting the tour made the sets come alive.

With memories to share forever, we flew home, dreaming of the day we will return to this magical part of the world, with it’s soft natural beauty, oversized meals (we often shared one meal between 2) and glitzy, ritzy fun.

It’s all in the detail

 Marix Tex Mex in Santa Monica
Treat your self to the kick ass margaritas – the best we have ever had.
Food servings are large so ask for a share plate. They will split the food over two plates for an extra $1.

Marine Layer
Mark swears by these lightweight soft cotton T-shirts. Stores all over LA

Go LA Card
Grab one of these cards before you leave. We took out a 5 day pass and it was fantastic value. Save up to 50% on top Los Angeles attractions.

Grab a SIM Card
We planned on getting one when we reached LA but found them at Sydney airport. We went with T-Mobile and it was $80 for unlimited calls and 6GB of data. We used it mostly for Google maps which made driving stress free and easy. If you hire a car, make sure you take a USB adaptor for car cigarette lighter plug-in to keep your phone charged while travelling.

Alcatraz by night tour
Book before you go as the night tour is very popular.

We stayed at:
DoubleTree Suites By Hilton Anaheim Resort/Convention Center
Palomar San Francisco, a Kimpton Hotel
Quail Lodge & Golf Club – Carmel
The Fess Parker – A Doubletree by Hilton Resort – Santa Barbara
House in Pacific Palasades, Santa Monica https://www.vrbo.com/482463

Car Hire through Thrifty
We used the Super Shuttle to transfer us from the Airport to Anaheim https://www.supershuttle.com

3-Day Disneyland pass was bought directly through Disney https://disneyland.disney.go.com/tickets/

If you want any further information or suggestions from our California trip with the kids, please feel free to contact us – we’d love to share what we know. And we’d also love to hear about your experiences of California. Did we miss something we can do next time?