This time last year we were preparing for our long awaited, family road trip from LA to San Fran.
Mr D grew up in San Francisco and — even though we’ve spent loads of time in the USA as a couple — we’d never gone to the west coast together.
We’d planned our holiday for months and it was such an epic and amazing couple of weeks.
I wanted to chart everything covered on our San Francisco road trip, here on the blog, and figured it would be easier to list off everything we did, here, in one post — then write about each adventure separately.
Our holiday was from 5th April to 21st April; which included 15 days of sightseeing — plus a drive down the pacific coast highway — with 2 of flying/travel.
We really packed everything in — without even having time to visit any Disney or any of the other theme parks.
Here’s the full itinerary of our family road trip from LA to San Fran.
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Family road trip from LA to San Fran — Our Itinerary
London, Heathrow to LA.
We flew in to LAX and got a cab to our hotel — The Redondo Beach Hotel — which was just 20 minutes drive. We picked up our hire car the next morning, as the hire place was just a short walk from our hotel.
Day 2 & 3
We spent the first couple of days exploring the town of Redondo.
Redondo is such a lovely town — with a thriving market with amazing seafood restaurants, it was a great place for us to catch our breath and get used to the time difference.
And, happily, our good friends lived there so we got a guided tour!
We took a day trip to Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach.
Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach for the day.
AM — Beverley Hills (including Rodeo Drive); followed a midlife ear piercing at Body Electric in Melrose District.
Then downtown Hollywood — including the walk of fame.
PM — The Griffith Observatory.
I’ve written a full post on this because it absolutely warrants it. A brilliant day out — enjoyed by the kids and adults alike.
On the road! We left our base at Redondo and began the drive to Carmel.
Driving 6 and a half hours, from LA to San Francisco with kids might seem a bit daunting, but if you split the journey up and add in a a couple of stops, it’s really manageable.
We drove for 3 hrs 45, then stopped at Morro Bay for lunch and ate at Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant.
Then a further 2 hrs 30 on to Carmel; where we stayed at the worst hotel we’ve ever spent a night in (even worse than the scary guesthouse in Keswick)!! We were due to stop two nights at The Wayfarer Inn in Carmel but the place was so grim we left as soon as we could, the next morning.
If you’re looking to stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea, AVOID the Wayfarer like the plague.
AM — We had breakfast at a great little diner in Carmel; The Little Swiss Café. It’s quite quirky but the food is good and the staff are very friendly.
Top tip is to sit in the back room as they’ve got a brilliant mural on the wall.
See who you can spot!
We did a quick tour round Carmel town, then headed back to the car and did the 17 Mile Drive, which I highly recommend.
Then on to Monterey; where we spent the day.
PM — We were due to go back to Carmel but the hotel really was so bad, we couldn’t face another night there.
We left Monterey and drove to the Hilton Santa Cruz/Scotts Valley hotel (50 minutes drive) who were offering cheap overnight stay for a family of four.
On the way we stopped at a fabulous farm shop. Sounds a bit odd but it was a great place to have a loo break and stretch our legs. The boys loved looking at all the different fruit and veg — and we loved looking at all the graffiti and the crazy array of ‘saucy’ sauces!
If you’re on a family road trip from LA to San Fran, on highway 1, I’d highly recommend stopping at Barn Fresh Produce — if only to see all the amazing condiments on offer!
AM — Roaring Camp Railroad.
Again — this needs a whole post of it’s own just for all the pictures we took. A really, really phenomenal day out; one of the most memorable of our whole trip.
PM — The final stretch to San Francisco! Just one and a half hours in the car, from Roaring Camp, so it was a nice, easy drive.
We checked into our hotel — Hilton Union Square — then had a wander up to Union Square, the China Town for tea.
There’s a great Dim Sum restaurant called Dim Sum Corner; it serves really reasonably priced food that’s super tasty. The boys loved the broccoli in oyster the best! I’d highly recommend for a quick and easy tea.
Exploring Downtown San Fran in the morning, then off to see the baseball at Oracle Park. San Francisco Giants got their butts kicked by the Colorado Rockies!
First stop Alcatraz; then Pier 39, where we went to the Aquarium.
AM — We went to Ghirardelli Square in the morning. This is brilliant for gifts, ice-cream and chocolate!
PM — Exploratorium in the afternoon; one of the best places we’ve ever been to — ever. An absolute must-visit.
One word of warning. Give yourself more time. I wish we’d spent an entire day there, rather than a half day.
There was so much to see — the kids absolutely LOVED it.
AM — In the morning we took a drive over the Golden Gate and up to Muir Woods.
PM — We drove to the town where Mr D grew up — Tiburon — and had lunch in a fantastic restaurant called Sam’s Anchor Café. If you’ve hired a car I highly recommend this place. The food was outstanding and it was in such a fabulous setting!
AM — We went to the Golden Gate Park, followed by the California Academy of Sciences.
PM — We left the museum at about 3pm and walked through San Francisco Botanical Garden, down the residential streets of Sunset District, to Ocean beach.
Even though it was a beautiful day, it was SO foggy! We could barely see each other in the gloom.
But despite the greyness, it was weirdly warm.
On the way back to the hotel, we went via the birthplace of the hippie movement — Haight-Ashbury. So many cool vintage shops — the area still has a relaxed, boho feel.
AM — We swapped hotels.
We’d booked into a hotel we’d always wanted to stay at, for the final two nights; The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel.
With interiors designed by Philippe Starck, The Clift is achingly cool. Probably not the most family friendly hotel but as it was somewhere we’d always wanted to stay, there seemed like no better time.
We absolutely loved it!
My husband’s old school friend lives in Redwood City — near Cupertino (home of Apple and Google) — and he drove to San Francisco, picked us up and drove us all to his home.
We spent the day with him, his wife and their three boys. Ate at America’s favourite fast food joint — In-N-Out-Burger (really reminded me of the old fashioned Wimpy in the UK. A limited menu — with really tasty burgers!).
AM — We went to one of the most popular diners in San Francisco for breakfast — The Pinecrest Diner.
It’s a 24 hour eatery but the breakfasts there are legendary and if you don’t get there at just the right time, you may have to queue for quite a while! We walked past a couple of times, to see people queuing down round the corner.
A really fantastic alternative is the Mason Diner.
We ate breakfast and dinner here — the food and service was brilliant. But best secret of all is that they serve Champagne (not Prosecco) by the glass, for just $6!!
After breakfast, we took a trip to the Coit Tower.
Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig
And that concludes our family road trip from LA to San Fran!
I’ve spoken to lots of people since, who wanted to know how we got on doing a California road trip with kids.
All I can say — hand on heart it — it was BRILLIANT!
As long as you plan your itinerary in advance, you can definitely make a California road trip kid friendly.
San Francisco to Los Angeles is around 6 and a half hours drive, down the pacific coast highway, so we could have driven it in one hit.
But, to be honest, the journey — and the stops we made — were the thing that made our trip so memorable. They were just as amazing as the two cities.
We had a phenomenal time and really packed the sightseeing in (in fact we didn’t really have one day of down-time). Some days were gentler than others; but the pace was good and our little boys were never bored — or too tired.
We did so many more things than I’ve listed here; rode in the San Francisco street cars (trams to us English). Drove down Lombard street — officially the most crooked street in the world! Plus so many other things, on a day to day basis.
No doubt I’ll try and list them in another post but this is the bare bones of our family road trip from LA to San Fran.
17 days which will be etched in my memory for a lifetime.
Caro Davies is a former art-director turned writer and content-creator, and editor behind UK lifestyle blog The Listed Home. She writes about home-related topics, from interiors and DIY to food and craft. The Listed Home has been featured in various publications, including Ideal Home, Grazia, and Homes & Antiques magazines.