At the beginning of July, we went on a 9 day road trip with kids from Vancouver, BC to as far as Big Sur, California; driving 3,800 kms, stopping at hotels along the way and making it one of the BEST experiences of our lives. Words can’t describe how many laughs we have had as a family and how beautiful Northern and Central California is. We left on July 1st, Canada Day, and in its honour we drove our way through Pacific Coast with a flag and tattoos. So, if you saw us, yes, that was us. Haha, it was a blast!
Now onto 100 pictures and I will tell a bit about each place we visited (BTW, thanks for all advice).
San Francisco became our favourite city out of all West Coast. LA, Seattle, Portland and Vancouver are beautiful cities, but San Fransisco blew us all away with its views, history and attractions. We spent 3.5 days there and did almost everything we wanted to, but another day or two would cover really all of it. There is just so much to do, so if you want to do it all, a week would be great. Coming from a coastal city, Vancouver, we were not that much interested in the nature part because we have got it all at home, so we quickly drove or walked through Sausalito, Land’s End, Embarcadero and Baker Beach. But they are absolutely gorgeous and there is so much to do!
If I could give you advice on San Fran, it would be to bring pants, sweaters, and a wind breaker. Even in July, the hottest month of the year, it was max +20C and wind is ALWAYS blowing, especially on the water. You can tell by my crazy hair. San Francisco is quite a chilly city despite being in CA.
You gotta ride cable cars. The line ups are long but the trick is to wait at one of the stops rather than at the end, a turnaround, where lineup could be as long as 3 hours. One ride is $7 one way per person, not cheap at all, and you gotta have exact change, so I highly recommend to buy a clipper card which costs $45 per week per person. It gets you all transit (including cable cars) which you will want to take. We walked 2.5 days out of 3.5 but there are 43 hills in San Fran, so bring your runners. Our kids did amazing with walking actually, we explored San Francisco on feet 90%. It is possible, people, and then you can eat whatever you want.
This is California Street and if you have ever seen that iconic pic of San Francisco, this is it. I have this print in black and white from Ikea and I was hunting after this view. I found it at Washington St and California St intersection.
There is also FREE cable car museum at Washington and Mason streets which is the heart of cable car system – you can actually see how it works. It was amazing!
The crookedest street in the world is fun to drive and the views from the top are breathtaking. We walked it as well.
It is an area with shops, attractions and seafood restaurants. Similar to Pike Place in Seattle (less seafood for sale) and Granville Island in Vancouver. It was super busy and we ate a chowder because we were hungry but honestly the crowds are insane. There are so many things to do there, you gotta go and see for yourself. Especially if you do not come from a coastal city, you will love it.
If you got boys, there are quite a few ships and even a submarine to visit. We picked Jeremiah O’Brien’s ship because it was $20 per person (cheaper for kids) and we couldn’t do it all, but I would say this ship was a highlight of Fisherman’s Wharf haha. It is fully operating ship that was actually in Normandy during the World War II. The history is mind blowing, it is very well set up and you can visit almost every part of it.
There is also a mechanical museum, which contains one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of mechanically operated musical instruments and antique arcade machines. Which were so much fun to play, so naive and innocent, you just can’t stop smiling and they are only 25c each.
Visiting Alcatraz Island, a former federal penitentiary for high risk criminals, was one of the most memorable experiences for all of us. If I could give you the biggest piece of advice is would be – book tickets online 1-2 months in advance. Otherwise, you will not get in. It is #1 attraction in the US and it is SO worth it. The tour is very well organized. You board a 10 minute ferry that is not packed at all, get an audio tour through the main prison (which makes it so funny watching people walking like zombies), and explore the whole island as long as you want (you can come back on any ferry).
My boys loved it! We al loved it! It was chilling to the bones to stand in front of the cells where one of the most intricate escape has been devised. The audio tour makes you feel like you have been there. And before Alcatraz was a penitentiary, it was a military fortification, a military prison and afterwards it has been even occupied by Native Americans. You gotta GO before it closes its doors and eventually it will because it is deteriorating and maintenance costs are too high. The history of Alcatraz is mind blowing.
Alcatraz was our favourite part of San Fran!
Coit Tower offers breathtaking views. The lineup was about 45 minutes and cost $20 for 4 of us. We didn’t go up because we were tired by then. The view at the bottom of it has sufficed.
San Francisco has one of the oldest Chinatowns. Highly recommended, and not only for awesome fidget spinners.
Golden Gate Bridge
Oh my, what didn’t we do with the Golden Gate Bridge haha. I mean, we took photos of it from 4 different view points, we walked it, we drove on it and still we couldn’t get enough of it. It is gorgeous, its history is amazing(and very well presented to tourists) and the construction magnificent.
Piece of advice – the bridge is in the fog most mornings and evenings. I think fog is present in San Fran every day. So, we found mid-day was the best time to see the bridge in all its beauty. And watch for sprays in the water – those are humpback whales. Yes, I saw whales everywhere in San Francisco, apparently there is a ton of them there right now.
Golden Gate Recreational Area
If you are after that postcard iconic view of Golden Gate Bridge, you need to go to Golden Gate Recreational Area and spend time at numerous viewpoints, beaches and attractions. It’s free and is worth a day of its own.
Recognize these Victorian homes you see in many movies and shows (particularly Full House)? We just wanted to see them for ourselves. It was a fun trolley bus ride which made us see so much more of San Francisco (transit is amazingly cheap and relaxing way to explore the city). But overall, it is just a row of Victorian homes with a nice backdrop of modern downtown, but the city is full of Victorian style architecture. SO pretty but not a must see.
Union Square – all the shopping which we didn’t care about.
Walking the gorgeous full of history and hills streets.
This was a place I saw on another blog, Holmes doughnuts, and really wanted to take kids to, but honestly we were disappointed. Overpriced with little selection place, even famous cruffins were not there because of “technical difficulties”. So not worth it but coffee was good.
We stayed in Executive Hotel Vintage Court that I booked on Groupon. Hotels in San Fran are not cheap but it is once in a lifetime experience that is worth every penny. Everything about our hotel was so cool! Coming from a typical North American suburban subdivision where houses are 10 years old, we found hotel’s Victorian style, narrow staircase, 10 layers of paint on windows, metal fire external stairs and 100 year old rooms CHARMING. Silly but true. We were truly mesmerized by the hotel’s age, funny as it is.
There was complimentary wine hour in the lobby every night 5-6PM, where we met the most amazing people of America. It was like in the movies – normal way of interaction with people from different parts without connecting online, sharing stories and drinking wine.
I have to say that all PEOPLE we met along 3,800 kms were nice, kind and generous!!!
After 4 nights in San Francisco, we drove Hwy 1 south stopping along the way. We had only 2 days and you need so much more to properly explore all the beaches, lighthouses, parks, fruit stands etc. We saw so much along the way – Mexicans working on produce fields feeding North America, 7 avocados for $1 produce stands, SO MANY parks OMG, sand dunes, license plates from at least 15 different states. We would have loved to visit the oldest amusement park in Santa Cruz but we just drove through town, same with Carmel by the Sea. We had amazing affordable seafood dinner in Monterey, which is a gorgeous coastal city that needs a few days of exploring, especially if you want to visit Monterey Bay Aquarium (like I said we have been to many beaches on Oregon Coast and to Vancouver Aquarium many times so we didn’t bother). Exhausted we crashed at Olympia Lodge that I booked on Groupon and highly recommend. Sadly, had to leave early AM to drive the coast.
There is so much to see! Sigh.
On the way to Big Sur, we stopped at Point Lobos reserve where you pay $10 California State Park fee and you get access to all the parks around. It closes at 6:30PM so get there early. It was gorgeous – all the coves, seals on rocks and whales.
My toothless cutie pie! I love this cheeky guy so much, although he is a handful, but he is darling and I wouldn’t trade him for any girl! He finally behaved on a trip, his first time.
Our Canadian Russian tank.:)
Big Sur, where do I begin?! Whenever I feel sad or tired, I close my eyes and see Big Sur. I will be brave enough to call it the most beautiful place on Earth, although I haven’t been everywhere but I’m pretty sure it is. Sadly, the bridge has collapsed right after the Big Sur Lodge and the road is closed. We could get only that far from north and of course you can come up from south, but unfortunately you can’t drive through Big Sur right now.
We are coming back next year for 3-4 days to properly explore and enjoy Big Sur. Big Sur has my heart! It is soul and mind healing to watch blue waves crashing onto rocks and sand beaches from such a height, the sunset, the whales, the no WiFi zone… I am in love!!! As long and as much it takes but next year we are coming back in Westfalia or RV, we will be back.
To note, Big Sur is very similar to Oregon Coast, just warmer. But the beauty is similar, Alex said, but I was blown away, still.
Point Sur – which was closed at the time. Another park, another lighthouse. See, there are so many places to see.
Bixby Bridge – which looks way more magnificent from another side.
Amy’s Drive Thru
Have you heard of Amy’s – America’s only organic drive thru? Once I did a few years ago, I knew I had to go. Not that I would eat there every day but it is kinda a cool place for health conscious folks, don’t you agree?! It is located in Rohnert Park and it was on our way to Sonoma anyways. The experience was as cool as we expected! Kids loved it so much they saved empty cups and burger boxes.
There is al living roof, 2 outdoor covered sitting areas, rustic decor that makes you feel like you are in a good quality restaurant and not just a fast food place.
All condiments are organic. Soda is organic. Lemonade is freshly squeezed. Iced tea is freshly brewed organic tea, my friends. And I got the best inspiration for another healthy summer drink besides kombucha, so stay tuned. I am still dreaming about it to this day. Amy’s was the best!!!
Menu is organic, meat free, elaborate and affordable.
You can order a lettuce wrapped burger! We LOVED Amy’s! Well done. And yes, it’s the same company that makes organic canned soups, frozen burritos and dairy free pizzas.
We wanted to visit Napa Valley to see what the buzz is all about. I couldn’t book anything in Napa but I booked Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County through Groupon, again. It was pricey (everything in that part of the world is) but I am glad I bit the bullet because resort is amazing, the pool is huge and we got it all to ourselves early AM, we got upgraded to a suite and a free breakfast. Front desk was amazing, thanks, Dan and Katie!!!
Our suite’s huge windows.
Boys had a blast in the pool and I was in a blissful mama moment thanking heavens for all the boys that can swim, who want to play with dad in the pool non-stop haha.
My take on the wine country. Having gorgeous Okanagan Valley with all the vineyards in British Columbia, Napa and Sonoma was nothing new to us. However, I understand the hype. I would say it is a great place to visit for adults only and tour the wineries (pricey though). It is hot and busy, but definitely fun for adults!
San Francisco road trip was one of the best trips we ever did!!! I would highly recommend to do a road trip with the kids before they grow up! As for the logistics, I booked all hotels online in advance after roughly planning our itinerary according to our previous experiences, our kids’ age and time. Everyone’s will be different.
As for food, I loaded the truck with Costco snacks, bottled water, canned soup and salmon, car plugin cooler, beach cooler and cutlery. There was little time to eat in sit down restaurants which are pricey and are a lot of work to find what you like, never mind the reservations with 2 kids. There was always a continental breakfast in a hotel, nothing healthy but we made it work. We snacked in a car while driving for lunch. And dinner was always out but sometimes we ate roasted chicken with baguette and vegetables from a grocery store. We made it work by eating out once a day.
Keep in mind that traffic around cities in California is insane. Freeways around San Francisco, Santa Cruz, along Hwy 101 are 5-6 lanes one way and bumper to bumper no matter what time of day or day of the week. We took turns driving and both of us had sweaty hands, and we come from a huge Canadian metropolis but California’s population is of Canada’s. So imagine the traffic, and when we got home we felt like in a remote village of Alaska – no people, no huge plazas and slow moving cars. Honestly, load up your car with food and water because you will spend a lot of time in it driving California. However, that made our road trip a road trip – we laughed so hard as devices were off limits and our 6 year old entertained us, I mastered sudoku, Kyle did do-to-dot puzzle (can you imagine a 10 year old not on iPad in this day and age?!), we sang songs, we argued, fought and then laughed at ourselves. It was AWESOME!
And last but not least. Travelling more than half of America’s West Coast made me realize how much of a device addicted nation we are, it’s horrible and sad. People are like zombies walking and taking pictures they will never look at again. Selfies rule our social life, what for?! Once again, I got proved how social media is destructing. At the beginning of the trip, I decided not to get US data on my phone, see everything with my eyes and not update my social media. I told my kids to take pictures with their eyes for the bedtime, when you close your eyes and dream away, for a lifetime ahead. Because who honestly cares about my Instagram selfie?! Sharing a full of memories post like this one is much more meaningful.