Don’t let the last days of summer fade off into the sunset. A road trip is the perfect way to make that summer feeling last well into the fall. So pack up the kids, program the GPS and head out! Whether you splash in the waves in Pescadero or celebrate the National Parks centennial at Lassen, the kids will be thrilled to let the summer live forever. Read on for some of our favorite road trip destinations filled with family fun.
Waves and Banana Slugs in Pescadero
The quiet town of Pescadero is a great spot to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area and is just a quick drive up the coast from Santa Cruz. You get the best of both worlds – a bunch of beautiful beaches for sitting in the sand and also a redwood forest to explore. Grab a campsite at Butano State Park or bunk at the lighthouse hostel if you want to stay the night. Make sure you grab a warm-from-the-oven loaf of the famous artichoke garlic bread from Arcangeli Grocery, right in town. Check out this article for more must-dos while in Pescadero.
Strike it Rich in Gold Country
If you don’t want to make the trek all the way to Tahoe, the Sierra Nevada foothills are a great option for a weekend of relaxing family fun. The town of Sutter Creek has a quaint downtown with the Sutter Creek Ice Cream Emporium for the kids and lots of wine tasting spots for mom and dad. Nearby Fiddletown hosts Scofields Cowboy Campfire, a dinner and show featuring Old West music and cowboy poetry for all ages. Cool off in the caverns of Black Chasm in nearby Vallecito. Take the tour through the cave or mine for gold in the water flumes outside the visitors center.
Gobble Up Some Garlic in Gilroy
Our nearby neighbor to the south is a fun spot to head for a quick weekend getaway with the family. Follow your nose to the many stores along Highway 101 for some garlic-y goodies. The kids will love learning about the Ohlone Indians at Chitactac-Adams Heritage County Park. Spend a day at Gilroy Gardens where you can ride in a giant bulb of garlic and learn about horticulture at the same time. Gilroy has lots of overnight options including Coyote Lake – Harvey Bear County Park for those looking to wake up in a sleeping bag to the sounds of wild turkeys. More info on what’s fun for families in Gilroy can be found here.
Explosive History at Lassen Volcanic National Park
If you’ve been wanting to head to Lassen Volcanic National Park, now is the time. The National Park Service is celebrating its centennial this month and is making admission to all national parks free from August 25-28. Yes, FREE! If you miss the August weekend, you can head there for free on September 24 or November 11. Also, all 4th graders get free access to the national parks for a whole year through the Every Kid in a Park program.
Lassen is a four hour drive north of San Francisco and totally worth it if you have a few nights to stay and explore. Learn all about the four types of volcanoes that shaped the landscape of this gorgeous park. Loads of glamping options are available including Drakesbad Guest Ranch, cabins that offer meals, horseback riding and a hot spring-fed pool to relax in. Nearby Lake Almanor is home to Plumas Pines Resort where you can sleep in a rustic cabin, rent a pontoon boat or jet ski and eat lakeside at the restaurant that’s perfect for families.
Sip, Safari and Schultz in Santa Rosa
Looking for a taste of wine country and fun for the kids at the same time? Santa Rosa is calling your name. This sweet little spot just an hour north of San Francisco will make you feel away from city life like you can’t even believe. Safari West offers a taste of the Serengeti for all the explorers out there. Sleep over in their tent cabins or come for the day and enjoy the 3-hour safari tour.
Cartoon history buffs of all ages will enjoy a trip to the Charles M. Schultz Museum where you can dress up as the Red Baron and sit atop Snoopy’s dog house. Bonkers for bacon? Put Zazu Kitchen on your list and don’t skip the bacon caramel corn. Reward mom’s good behavior with a trip to Paradise Ridge Winery where you can enjoy a picnic on their expansive grounds. For more ideas on what to do and where to stay, check out our recent post here.
Cruise on Down to the Central Coast
If you follow 101 south to Paso Robles and then head west to the coast, you will come to the towns of San Simeon, Cambria and Morro Bay. This area of the central coast is definitely worth exploring over a long weekend. Check out the massive elephant seals at the rookery in San Simeon near the Piedras Blancas Light Station. The Museum of Natural History in Morro Bay is free for kids 16 and under and full of interactive exhibits. Hike the Black Hill Trail to the summit (3 miles round trip) for some amazing views of Morro Rock and the coast.
Summer on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe
Summer in South Lake Tahoe brings days on the beach, hikes through some of the most gorgeous terrain and lazy days of family fun. Head to Camp Richardson where you can eat at The Beacon, rent a boat or kayak and even reserve a cabin for a week of rustic lakeside fun. For some amazing panoramic views, take the Heavenly Gondola to the top of the mountain where there are zip lines, ropes courses and loads of other adventures to be had. Kids will delight in being able to catch their own dinner at Tahoe Trout Farm (they even provide all the equipment that you need). On your way out of town, stop at Echo Lake where you can ride the water taxi to the other side of the lake and take a 2-mile hike back to the marina on one of the most gorgeous trails you will come across.
How will you extend your summer of fun? Let us know in the comments below!
All photos by the author.