The Ultimate West Coast Family Road Trip Part 1: Northern California

July 24, 2018 Hilary

The Ultimate West Coast Family Road Trip Part 1: Northern California

Having spent the majority of my life living on the West Coast of the United States I’ve driven up and down more times than I can count. Yet, even after a lifetime of road trips ranging from Seattle to LA, and back again, there is still so much to discover. With this in mind our most recent adventure took us north along the coast from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. We returned via central Oregon and over the course of two weeks drove 2300+ miles.

Cypress Trees in Point Arena California

Cypress Trees along Highway 101 in Point Arena


Along the way we discovered a love of lighthouses (We saw 15!), spotted whales and other amazing wildlife, peered into countless tide pools, walked in ancient forests, explored secret beaches, and stared down into volcanic craters.

Swanton Berry Farm Pescadero California West Coast Road Trip

Swanton Berry Farm

The coast roads are winding and narrow, real nail biters, so we took our time, and stopped often, breaking up the miles. Our boys, ages 10 and 15, passed the time between stops enjoying the scenery, reading, drawing and (I’ll be honest) staring into their devices.

Pacific Coast Highway 1 Jenner California

Road with a view

There were many highlights on this trip and we all agreed it was hard to choose a favorite. I’ll be sharing more details about our favorites (lighthouses anyone?) in the coming weeks but in the meantime here is an overview of this year’s, our third annual, epic road trip. Grab your cuppa, coffee, or a glass of wine, this is going to be a long one…

Santa Cruz

We wasted no time getting to Santa Cruz, located 340 miles from LA, and about 75 miles from San Francisco, where we met up with friends. Great beaches, an amusement park, and a vibrant downtown keep us coming back time and again.

The Hook Santa Cruz California

The Hook

Highlights of this visit were surfing at The Hook, ice cream at The Penny Creamery, and roasting marshmallows around a beach campfire at Twin Lakes State Beach.

You might also be interested in: Santa Cruz California 

Pescadero & Half Moon Bay

Swanton Berry Farm

Don’t blink or  you’ll miss Pescadero located on HWY 1 about halfway between Santa Cruz and San Francisco.

Swanton Berry Farm Pescadero California West Coast Road Trip

Swanton Berry Farm

There are many farms in the area, but Swanton Berry Farm is our favorite. We love the delicious pies and treats and the welcoming atmosphere reminiscent of a simpler time.  You won’t find a shopkeeper, instead the till is operated on the honor system!

There is a lovely selection of jams and other items to take home, and depending on the season there is a U-pick patch. We never leave without a jar or two of Swanton’s Olallieberry Jam, but not before we’ve played some of the farm’s old fashioned games and enjoyed our pie!

Pigeon Point Light House

Pigeon Point Lighthouse is one of the two tallest lighthouses in California and in the United States. The lighthouse itself is currently under renovation, but the grounds are beautiful and provide stunning views of the lighthouse and surrounding coast.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Pescadero California West Coast Road Trip

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Barbara’s Fish Trap, Half Moon Bay

Barbara’s Fish Trap is a casual dining restaurant with friendly service and consistently great food. We love the take away window, and over the years have met many interesting and fun people while sharing the restaurant’s sunny yellow picnic tables.

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Half Moon Bay The Ocean Is Calling… & Año Nuevo State Park

Golden Gate Bridge

We didn’t stop in San Francisco on this trip, as we’ve been many times, but crossing the bridge is always special, and a stop to take in the view is an opportunity I never miss. If you have time consider parking on either side, and walking across.

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco California

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco California

You might also be interested in: One Day In San Francisco

Agate Beach

Agate Beach was a great place to stop and stretch our legs. Upon our arrival we were told of some blue whale bones partially buried in the sand some distance down the beach. The tide was coming in, but we decided we had time.

Agate Beach Bolinas California

Agate Beach

We poked around in the tide pools, a flock of pelicans flew overhead, and we met a friendly dog, who wanted to play fetch. It was such an idyllic setting, we soon lost track of time…

Agate Beach Bolinas California

Agate Beach

Pretty soon the dog stopped playing and started barking. He would run to us bark, and then run down the beach. He repeated this a number of times, before we realized, “He wants us to follow him!”

Agate Beach Bolinas California

Our Rescuer

Whoops, the tide was coming in! We needed to hurry if we didn’t want to get stranded on this beach, or worse. We quickened our pace, and the dog was delighted we’d understood! Once we reached the trailhead he went to his family, and we went safely on our way. Thanks friendly dog!

Point Reyes National Seashore

Historic KPH Maritime Radio Receiving Station and Cypress Tree Tunnel

It was my love of tree tunnels that brought us to the Point Reyes National Seashore, I’d read about the Cypress Tree tunnel  and was determined to see it.

Cypress Tree Tunnel Point Reyes California

Cypress Tree Tunnel Point Reyes Station

Cypress Tree Tunnel Point Reyes California

Cypress Tree Tunnel Point Reyes Station

Point Reyes is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest on the North American Continent, so it wasn’t really a surprise that it was fogged in the day of our visit. Although we missed the Point Reyes Lighthouse opening hours (by minutes) we did get a foggy view of the lighthouse from above and enjoyed walking the grounds.

Point Reyes Lighthouse Point Reyes Station California

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Bodega Bay

Having visited Bodega Bay a number of years ago, our visit there was short, however it’s worth mentioning that we stayed in an Airstream trailer, which is way out of my comfort zone.

Chanslor Ranch Bodega Bay California

Bodega Bay Surf Shop

The boys thought it was the best thing ever, the sunset was spectacular, and we enjoyed a lovely campfire with a view.

Chanslor Ranch Bodega Bay California

Airstream accommodations Chanslor Ranch

The Airstream is located on Chanslor Ranch with horses, a creek, and 400 acres of land in which to explore.

Sonoma Coast State Park

With the rare exception just about every mile along the Pacific Coast Highway is gorgeous, so stopping every time we saw something amazing wasn’t reasonable, but every now and again, we just had to stop…

Pacific Coast Highway 1 Sonoma Coast State Park California

Sonoma Coast State Park

The Sea Ranch

Architecture lovers won’t want to miss a stop at The Sea Ranch, a private community encompassing ten miles along the Sonoma County Coast. The community is known for it’s unique architecture, and the way in which the structures blend into the land.

Sea Ranch California

View from The Sea Ranch Lodge

Though it is a private community there are public beaches and walking trails within the Sea Ranch. We loved our walk to Shell Beach, which was perfect for the timing of our stay.

Shell Beach Sea Ranch California

Shell Beach Sea Ranch

If you’d like to stay longer The Sea Ranch Lodge has a lovely restaurant and rooms for rent. Additionally many of the homes are available for vacation rental.

Point Arena Lighthouse

There are two lighthouses in California that claim the Tallest Lighthouse title. The first is Pigeon Point, and the other is Point Arena, they are both 115 feet tall. The current Point Arena lighthouse was built after the first was heavily damaged in a 1906 earthquake.

Point Arena Lighthouse Point Arena California

The Point Arena Lighthouse is 115 feet tall.

Point Arena is open daily for tours and a climb to the top is included. The views of the coast line and surrounding areas were stunning.


The Point Cabrillo Light Station, located just north of Mendocino was definitely a highlight (pun intended) of this trip!

Cabrillo Light Station Mendocino California

Cabrillo Light Station

The walk to the station is truly lovely offering stunning views in every direction, and we were delighted to encounter wild turkeys and their young as well as a California condor along the way.

Cabrillo Light Station Mendocino California

Scenic views await at Cabrillo Light Station

The lighthouse, built in 1909, has a small museum and gift shop inside. The tiniest aquarium you ever saw is just down the path.

Cabrillo Light Station Mendocino California

The tiny aquarium at Cabrillo Light Station

Should I find myself this way again, I’ll definitely be looking into the unique accommodations offered onsite at the Point Cabrillo Light Station.

Fort Bragg

Famous for the large amounts of sea glass on its shores I’d always wanted to visit Glass Beach in Fort Bragg.

Glass Beach Fort Bragg California

Glass Beach Fort Bragg

How did all that sea glass get there? At one time the beaches were used as dumping grounds by the city of Fort Bragg. over time the constant pounding of the waves transformed what was once trash into shining gems.

Sadly most of the sea glass is now gone. What we found instead was a large number of people pilfering what little glass remains and leaving large amounts of trash in its place. Glass Beach was my one true disappointment on this trip.

Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree

You know what they say about the best laid plans…  When we realized we wouldn’t make our original destination, Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, before dark, we decided instead to visit the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree in Leggett, California. I really wanted to show the kids giant redwood trees and what better way than to drive right through one?


Would any hilarystyle trip be complete without street art?! We stumbled upon these fabulous murals during our brief stay in Eureka, and learned they’ll be holding a mural festival in the near future. We loved this Asian piece by Dan Kitchener, and marveled at the immense size of it!

Dan Kitchener Street Art Eureka California

Artist: Dan Kitchener

Street Art Eureka California Duncan Jago and Joe Murdter

Artists: Duncan Jago and Joe Murdter

Wildlife Stop

There was wildlife aplenty on this trip, and we saw everything from California condors and wild turkeys to whales and elk! Speaking of which, this herd of elk were just hanging out by the side of the road near Trinidad, California.

Wild Elk Herd Trinidad, California


America’s roadside attractions, are often incredibly silly, but at the same time irresistible, meaning there was no way we wouldn’t be stopping at the Trees of Mystery for a visit with its spokesman Paul Bunyan. The GIANT statue waves, talks and has a “hairy” chest!

Once we arrived we decided a walk among those mysterious trees was also in order, after all we’d missed out on those other giants in Humboldt State Park.

Trees of Mystery Klamath California

Trees of Mystery

Crescent City

Crescent City is the last city before crossing the California Oregon border. That novelty alone would have been enough reason to stop (for me), but the presence of the Battery Point Lighthouse, one of California’s first lighthouses, sealed the deal. Exploring the area’s tide pools was a highlight of our visit.


Welcome to Oregon

Welcome to Oregon Sign Highway 101

Welcome to Oregon Highway 101

If you’ve made it this far, thank you! If you can believe it that was just the first four days of our Northern California/Oregon road trip! We spent the next six days in Oregon, visiting lighthouses (yes, more lighthouses) sand dunes, prehistoric gardens, a cheese factory, the city of Portland, and so much more. Stay tuned I’ll be sharing all the Oregon highlights in my next post.

Pin for later:

Family Road Trip Northern California #lighthouses #redwoodtrees #familytravel #norcal

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I love to travel & explore the world both near and far! I do my best to make the most out of life each and everyday! I have two boys and they are, at the ages of 13 and 18, world travelers and all around go along guys. There isnt anywhere I cant take them. It is my hope this blog will be a way to share the fun things Ive learned while on our many adventures together!

Comments (46)

    • Hilary

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! I’ll be sharing all about the Oregon Coast next week!

  1. This looks like an epic roadtrip. I would love to do this, there we so many amazing sights along the way. The little Berry Farm looked so cute and that street art – wow, amazing! Is Eureka the name of the town? Never heard of it. #farawayfiles

    • Hilary

      The berry farm is adorable and delicious! Yes the town is Eureka. It’s pretty sleepy, but a nice place to stop and they’re revitalizing it with parklets and art.

  2. Your photos bring back some memories. I loved Swanton berry farm and used to stop by to get overflowing trays of juicy red strawberries. I’ve only been to Fort Bragg once and I tried to find the Glass Beach but there was very little colour on the day I visited.

    • Hilary

      The berries there are the best since they’re so fresh! The glass beach is a big disappointment. I’m afraid most of the glass is gone… you have to hunt and peck to find it.

  3. Oh my word you guys visited the most beautiful places! AND the food… the food.. I am drooling! Everything looks so good hehe

    • Hilary

      Such a scenic trip we stopped so many times just to look! Yes, we had some delicious treats!! Now I’m paying for them. Haha!

  4. I wish I could like this post a hundred times! You hit up some of the loveliest places! I had no idea Cali also had a tunnel of trees! You’ve found so many beautiful lighthouses and went to Fort Bragg! I’ve always wanted to go there annnnnd you brough back childhood memories of the Redwoods and Paul Bunyan who I could never remember where he was!!! Pinnnnnned! #FarawayFiles

    • Hilary

      I’m so happy you enjoyed this!! I know you love California as much as I do! Paul Bunyan was so funny!! Are you coming to visit?

  5. Trish

    Now this is what I call a fantastic road trip – and it’s only the beginning! I love all the spectacular scenery, the jam shop and, oh yes, the lighthouses. Many of our best travel moments have involved lighthouses, in particular a special one we saw on a road trip in Sweden.
    So wonderful to look at your photos and read about your trip.

    • Hilary

      Thank you! We had such a lovely time! I’m definitely hooked on lighthouses now. Many of them have fabulous beaches and tide pools to explore providing something for everyone!

  6. Clare Thomson

    Wow, this is a seriously stunning drive, Hilary! And I love the idea of a road trip where you get to stop at lots of different places along the route. Think I’d be wanting to stop every five minutes on a road like this though. I love all those wild beaches. #FarawayFiles

    • Hilary

      Clare, I wonder how many times I said “Wow! Look at that!” We had a truly lovely time as a family on this one and visited so many beaches. I thought of you knowing you’d have loved all of them as much as I did!

      • Clare Thomson

        How perfect. Especially as everyone in the family loved it. The best kind of trip.

  7. Lyn

    Some great suggestions here, but my favourite was a surprise you included some wonderful street art

    • Hilary

      I was surprised to find it in the sleepy town of Eureka! It was pretty amazing too!

  8. We have a picture of Point Reyes lighthouse very similar to that and we had spent the better part of an hour sitting in the viewing point waiting for something, anything to be visible! I have been following your trip on FB with nostalgia, such a good journey. Fab post.

    • Hilary

      Thank you!! It was a fabulous family trip! Funny! It is the foggiest place in the US, so it makes sense… I bet it’s amazing on the rare sunny day! Next week I’ll share all the best Oregon bits!

  9. We have only traveled as far as San Francisco along the West Coast and would love to explore further North! Oregon looks like a special place. It is on the (very long) list of places to visit! #farawayfiles

    • Hilary

      I know what you mean about a long list! I think my number one wish right now is Croatia!

  10. Brilliant I love a road trip. I’ve travelled a small part of the west coast, but this has definitely wetted my appetite for more. I love the airstream you stayed in too. #FarawayFiles

    • Hilary

      It truly was a wonderful trip! The West Coast is definitely worth exploring!

  11. Such a fantastic trip, it brought back so many memories of our west coast road trip back in 2006, a revisit is so overdue.

    It made me smile seeing all the lighthouses, we seem to be drawn to them wherever we go. I love your photos #farawayfiles

    • Hilary

      Thank you so much! We really had a wonderful time! Stay tuned for part two! Oregon!

  12. It looks like an amazing road trip! Your photos are always fantastic. Being a native Californian, I often take for granted the beauty that California has to offer and opt to travel out-of-state. But this post reminds me that there’s still so much to discover! I’ll have to go back and plan road trip like this 🙂 Thanks for sharing! #farawayfiles

    • Hilary

      I feel the same way, I was skeptical when my husband suggested this trip, but we loved it!

    • Hilary

      Thank you! My family hates it when I take so many photos, but then they love the results!

  13. katherinefenech2017

    You stopped at the pie place in Half Moon Bay! I’ve driven past it a couple of times and kicked myself for not stopping there to check out the pies. Now that I’ve seen one I HAVE to go. We love Santa Cruz as well (but far out it’s a pain in summer when everyone is trying to get there). There are so many great places along the coast to stop for a picnic or to stretch your legs. Great post!

    • Hilary

      Yes, we love the pie! The crust is delicious!! This was Swanton not to be confused with The Pie Place. 😊 the coast is pretty spectacular… but traffic is horrendous on a sunny beach day isn’t it!

  14. Beth

    Amazing photos of an amazing road trip! I was happy to see some familiar sights from our time living in NorCal. Point Reyes was an unexpected delight (as well as foggy for us, of course). The idea of the scope of what you were able to see makes me want to plan more road trips! I look forward to reading more about the specific places. And your time in Oregon. Again, love the photos, you have some stunners.


    • Hilary

      Thank you so much! It was an amazing trip! We saw SOOOO much! I’ve just published the Oregon post today!

  15. Roy

    That sounds a pretty fun list! There are so many places I would love to visit, my list keeps getting bigger and bigger!

    • Hilary

      I can relate! I have such a difficult time trying to narrow mine down…

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