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

Sea Ranch 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 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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!”

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 Station

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

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.

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.

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…

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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!

Artist: Dan Kitchener

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.


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

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 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.

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