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California’s Highway 1 stretches 656 miles along the coastline bordering the Pacific Ocean from the North end to the South end of the state. It is a breathtaking road trip that everyone should do at least once. It might seem a little daunting to do the entire road trip with children, but there are so many stops and such beautiful scenery along the way that they’re sure to keep entertained. You and your family can also break the trip into smaller segments to save time and money. Here are the must-stops for each segment of the trip:

Mendocino County

Start the trip in the northernmost part at Mendocino County and make your way down to Sonoma County for some of the world’s most famous wine. This is a segment of the trip that can be skipped if you have little ones, or saved for a romantic adult getaway. If you start here, keep an eye out for the rainbow Robin Williams Tunnel.

San Francisco Bay Area

This is also a great place to start off the trip, as you can stay one night in the city and tour San Francisco and get settled for the trip ahead. Do a quick hike at Golden Gate Park to see the bridge (it’s not very long and more of a touristy stop, so good for smaller kids). You’ll make your way down through Silicon Valley, which is a great opportunity to take kids on campus tours of the biggest tech giants in the world, like Apple and Facebook. Santa Cruz will have some gorgeous beaches to stop and relax at.

Monterey Bay

Stay the night in Carmel, an incredibly charming beach town that is also very walkable (giving you a rest from the car for the night). Dine at one of the many gorgeous restaurants in town just blocks from the ocean.

Big Sur and Central Coast

Perhaps one of the most breathtaking sceneries in the United States, Big Sur will captivate you and your family as you wind along the mountains overlooking the ocean. Be sure to stop for a photo opportunity at Bixby Canyon Bridge, and for lunch at precariously perched Nepenthe. If you’re an outdoorsy family, camp at one of the many great campsites like the Ventana Inn to get plenty of time to explore local hiking trails and beaches. Further down, see if you can spot the herd of zebras (yes, real zebras) and see the horde of elephant seals at San Simeon. Finally, stop to tour the opulent Hearst Castle.

Los Angeles

Just an hour before you reach the City of Angels, stop to tour Santa Barbara if you have the time. Relax on less touristy beaches here, walk around the cute little town for lunch, and tour the old Mission for an exquisite rose garden. Then, reach L.A. and spend a night there (or two) to recoup and explore. Los Angeles has plenty of kid-friendly options like museums, theme parks, beaches, and studio tours.

Orange County

Make your way down through Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, and Crystal Cove State Park. Highway 1 ends here, but you can continue down to San Diego for a final stop in one last beautiful west coast maritime city.

Camille Barron
Camille Barron
Camille is a New York native living in Nashville, Tennessee. She loves yoga, running, nutrition, and fashion, and is grateful for the opportunity to share important information with parents. You can check out more of her writing on her personal blog at