Family-Fun Drive from Santa Monica to Pismo Beach

Skateboarders in Venice, sand dunes in Pismo—something for everyone on this epic California coast tour.

Trip length: 3 days
Total distance: 184mi/297km

SANTA MONICA. Walk over the waves at Santa Monica Pier, and take a spin on the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel at Pacific Park , then see sharks in the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium . Head downtown for shopping along Third Street Promenade and at Santa Monica Place, where you can enjoy ocean views from its Dining Deck . INFO Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau ; 800/544-5319

VENICE (2mi/4km; 7min). Marvel at top skateboarders as they shred the pool and go vertical in Venice Beach Skate Park . Groove to the rhythms of congas, snares, and pretty much anything that can be banged at the Venice Beach Drum Circle . Fill up on chimichurri chicken burgers and inventive “barn-to-belly” dishes at Barlo Kitchen + Cocktails . INFO Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board ; 213/473-0800

MALIBU (14mi/23km; 24min). Kids will love spotting tile mosaic sculptures of a coyote, king snake, and red-legged frog as you walk through restored Southern California habitats in Malibu Legacy Park . A path leads to stylish shopping and Café Habana’s Cuban/Mexican cuisine at neighboring Malibu Lumber Yard , where the courtyard design incorporates giant salt-water aquariums. INFO Malibu Chamber of Commerce ; 310/456-9025

OXNARD (33mi/53km; 41min). Visit museums dedicated to the glories of automobiles. The Mullin Automotive Museum celebrates the high art of French design, while the Murphy Auto Museum showcases vehicles from Model Ts to muscle cars. Try the banana-walnut pancakes and discover why Mrs. Olson’s Coffee Spot (117 Los Altos St.; 805/985-9151) earned accolades as one of America’s top breakfast joints. INFO Oxnard Convention & Visitors Bureau ; 800/269-6273

SANTA BARBARA (41mi/65km; 48min). See the Santa Barbara beachfront from the water on stand-up paddle boarding tours with the Santa Barbara Sailing Center . Grab a table along the deck for ocean and harbor views, then let the kids try their first oysters (why not?) at seafood fave Brophy Brothers . INFO Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau ; 805/966-9222

SANTA BARBARA (2mi/4km; 8min). Go bananas—not only over the gorillas,but also lions, penguins, and a life-like T-Rex at lush Santa Barbara Zoo . For a very different kind of beauty, Mission Santa Barbara is celebrated both for its architecture and La Huerta Historic Gardens, where you can see rare plants and crops from California’s Spanish past. INFO Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau ; 805/966-9222

LAKE CACHUMA (20mi/32km; 28min). Climb high into the Santa Ynez Mountains and stop for the famous chilies in the rustic setting of Cold Spring Tavern , a onetime stagecoach stop that dates back to 1886. Explore Cachuma Lake Recreation Area ; rent kayaks or motorboats at the marina and hike the shoreline Sweetwater Trail. INFO Santa Ynez Valley Visitors Association ; 805/686-0053

SOLVANG (12mi/19km; 15min). Travel to Denmark without leaving California in Solvang, where the Elverhoj Museum of History & Art  celebrates old country culture and local history, while Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery serves pastries straight out of Copenhagen. Near town, stop by Quicksilver Ranch to see a herd of spirited miniature horses. INFO Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau ; 805/688-6144

GUADALUPE (44mi/71km; 50min). Learn about the West Coast’s tallest dunes at The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center , then hike at Oso Flaco Lake, a unique coastal freshwater lagoon. At The Great American Melodrama & Vaudville , casual dinners come with sides of frenetic comedy. INFO Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor & Convention Bureau ; 800/331-3779

PISMO BEACH (16mi/26km; 23min). Fish for flounder and surfperch from the cantilvered decks along 1,370-foot/418-meter Pismo Beach Pier , where bait and tackle are available. No bites? Then Splash Cafe offers a sure thing for seafood lovers thanks to its nationally renowned clam chowder and tasty ahi tuna tacos. INFO Pismo Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau ; 800/443-7778