San Diego to San Fran... I need a plan.
November 27, 2019 4:32 PM   Subscribe

We are a family that only gets to take a trip every couple years (so I have lots of pressure to make it great!). I am planning on taking my family to California in April or June 2020 for 10 days. They've never been and last time I was there I was staying in the back of a '79 Celica. I really want to see the best of California. What would you say we shouldn't miss?

We love nature, spectacular scenery, quaint, history. We love unique restaurants and museums and living history places. I want to see at least a couple of national/state parks - not sure which ones they should be. Any reason I should NOT choose April or June?
posted by beccaj to Travel & Transportation around California (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Big Sur is one of the most beautiful, magical places in the world.

June gloom though is a thing in Southern California, so weather might not be the best. Something to take into consideration.
posted by namemeansgazelle at 5:16 PM on November 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

Monterey Bay Aquarium! It’s spendy but worth it.
posted by Lycaste at 5:25 PM on November 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

If you're planning on taking the PCH, you will have a much nicer scenic view starting your trip from SF and working your way down towards SD because you'll be driving on the outer lane closer to the coastline.
posted by cazoo at 5:40 PM on November 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

Seconding Big Sur. If you're in California in April, the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve is beautiful. You may be able to see whales migrating along the coast. Yosemite is probably the most spectacular park...Sequoia is also pretty amazing. Off-the-beaten path, I like the small town of Bolinas (north of SF) and a hike along the coast to Alamere Falls, a waterfall that lands on a remote beach. It may still be raining in April, FYI. Sometimes there are problems with landslides on Highway 1.
posted by pinochiette at 5:41 PM on November 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Monterey. It has the aquarium, which is great, it's a good place to cycle, it's beautiful and has sea lions and stuff, and don't miss the beachcombing/tidepooling at Asilomar Marine REserve...incredible sea creatures I'd never seen before. great destination with kids.
posted by Miko at 5:49 PM on November 27, 2019 [7 favorites]

You might want to update to give a specific definition of "family" - are there toddlers, seniors, teens, mobility concerns, etc? Anybody have special interests that would mean must-see destinations?

Those months are pretty safe. They are both cool spring months, with some risk of gloom (which won't stop you from doing anything, and most days burns off by midday) and cool enough nighttime temperatures that you'll probably want indoor accommodations, but probably not any serious snow in your driving range. April will be before most schools are out, which will mean fewer other tourists but also might mean the big song-and-dance features at some locations may not be out in full force.

I think it's hard to get anything terribly wrong, and hard to know where to suggest you go way out of your way to see without knowing your specific interests. If you want to do a couple days in San Francisco and then come south, you could plan for major stops at Monterey, somewhere in upper SoCal*, and then San Diego.

*Depending on your interests, I could make an argument to skip LA. Come down from Monterey to San Luis Opisbo-ish, cut over on the 58 or 166 to the 5, and come around east of LA through the National Forests and high deserts. You could plan to stop over around Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead, Idyllwild, Palm Springs, or Joshua Tree, and then continue on to San Diego (about 3 hours, give or take) from there.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:50 PM on November 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

The monterrey aquarium will be a popular suggestion, but make no mistake that it's surprisingly pricey. If money is tight, see if you can find tickets from locals on Craigslist.
posted by jimmereeno at 7:15 PM on November 27, 2019

For interesting in San Fran, the Exploratorium is a lovely day with family. The Getty in/near Malibu was amazing with lots of outdoor family fun that’s free...pre-wildfire. Worth checking on.
posted by childofTethys at 8:39 PM on November 27, 2019

Exploratorium in San Francisco
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Monterey Aquarium
Hearst Castle
The canonical idea of Southern California beaches starts in Santa Barbara and continues south.
The Pacific Coast Highway in Orange County south to San Diego County, stopping wherever it looks good.
posted by blob at 9:11 PM on November 27, 2019

April's usually better weather than June along the coast; this year the fog came in late May. If you'll be in the Sierras then June may be better.

For park recommendations tell us how much walking you'd like. Visit the redwoods in the Santa Cruz area if you're traveling PCH / Highway 1. Henry Cowell Redwoods SP has big old-growth trees very close to the visitor center parking area.

It's touristy but a cable car ride in San Francisco is worth doing. Also in SF the Legion of Honor museum is my favorite, with a wonderful, broad art collection.

Ten days is short! Don't spend too much of it in the car.
posted by anadem at 9:20 PM on November 27, 2019

Echoing blob: the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is fun. It's low pressure because it's not a closed park, you can wander in and out, and pay only for one or two rides if you want (the Giant Dipper roller coaster is good!) So you don't need to feel you must spend a whole day there just to get your money's worth.
posted by anadem at 9:26 PM on November 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hearst Castle is a wonder. I wouldn’t go again, but I’m glad I went once.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:36 PM on November 27, 2019

Some good answers here.

Henry Cowell has a great loop trail with big redwoods. There's also a train ride there if you have little ones.

Monterey Aquarium is good. For towns to stay in there, I prefer Carmel. There's a nice sandy beach right in town, and Forge in the Forest is a family-friendly restaurant with outdoor seating.

Yosemite is a great place to go. I'd double check on the weather if you're committed to April. June is safer. Staying right in the valley is really nice if you can manage to get reservations.

April, you might be able to catch some nice wildflowers, so maybe someone can suggest where that could happen.

In my opinion you really have two good ten-day itineraries -- SF (cable car, murals, burritos, bicycling, ferry ride) plus environs (redwoods, beach, Monterey, maybe Napa) plus Yosemite and maybe Tahoe OR a coastal trip like you outlined. Going all the way east to Yosemite doesn't fit well with doing the coast. Either could be great. Is your family more into woodsy inland mountain pine-tree experiences or ocean and fog and Southern CA (including its cities) and palm trees?
posted by slidell at 10:38 PM on November 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sequoia National Park is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been. Absolutely worth making time for.
posted by something something at 3:24 AM on November 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's a very large state with a lot to see, so try to narrow it a little. I drove the PCH and out was spectacular. If the Cliff House in SF is still open, go have a drink, great views. San Francisco has good walks. There's a long outdoor stairway that is beautifully covered in mosaic.

Several of the national parks are in the mountains and are hard to access parts of the year, some roads can be closed until June, so check their NPS sites and the California DOT sites.
posted by theora55 at 5:03 AM on November 28, 2019

I loved the Winchester Mystery House.
posted by vrakatar at 8:48 AM on November 28, 2019

I always recommend San Diego for family holidays. I think there’s something for everyone! Based on your interests I would suggest:
- Balboa park for lovely walks and museums
- Old Town for history and great Mexican food
- The cliffs of La Jolla or Torrey Pines for lovely walks and views
- Family group kayak at La Jolla Shores
- Picnic at Mission Bay, on a sunny day (most days to be honest) the water sparkles

June gloom and May grays were definitely a popular saying in San Diego. But I don’t think they particular effect my suggestions although sunshine certainly improves the experience of fresh tortillas and margaritas in Old Town! I agree with earlier comment that the overcast often burned off by afternoon and it just meant you needed to bring a sweatshirt around with you. You can still wear a lot of shorts and flip flops.

For the rest of California I’d add:
- Big Sur
- Hearst Castle
- If you’re gonna hit up Monterey add a day to squeeze in the 17 mile drive for fantastic photo opps, ending at Pebble Beach Golf Resort’s 18th hole. Walk around to see the amazing cute houses in Carmel and then watch the sunset on the beach with about 100 other folk. The large gathering feels like a lovely community shared event.
- I would skip LA
posted by like_neon at 2:03 AM on November 29, 2019

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