California’s natural beauty and diverse attractions make it the perfect place to plan a family road trip. With so many places to see in one very large state, there are multiple routes you can take to accommodate time limits and family interests. Guide your planning with these tips and then develop your itinerary with our California road trip ideas. Explore our list of fun educational holidays and download our free printable Child's Guide to California from Little Passports for even more child-approved destinations!
1. Check car safety laws. Before you embark, look at California’s car laws, which include the following: children under two years old must sit in a rear-facing infant seat in the back seat; children aged 8 and under should be buckled in with a booster or car seat; and those 8 and older (or who are at least 144 cm) just need to wear a seat belt.
2. Plan around rush hour. In the metro areas, the 'rush hours' can start before 8 am in the morning and as early as 3 pm or 4 pm in the afternoon, so map out your routes accordingly, or program your GPS to take non-freeway routes, where you’ll see more variety and scenery anyway.
3. Need a break? For nicer toilet facilities—and a higher likelihood of finding changing areas for babies—and wider lunch or snack selections, consider pulling over at a shopping centre next to the freeway instead of stopping at a fuel station. Stopping at a shopping centre is also a good way to stretch your legs, pick up something you've forgotten to pack or to wait for heavy traffic to dissipate.
4. Call in at a California Welcome Center. Collect information about your next destination or activity, grab a free California Visitor’s Guide, and give the children some brochures to peruse at one of the state’s California Welcome Centers.
5. Budget for at least two days in the major cities. San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco are California’s three largest cities, and each warrants a holiday on its own. But even during a road trip, you should plan to stop for more than a day at these gateway cities to see the major sights on your bucket list.
7. Consider the best route. The trip down Highway 1 is the most famous in the state (and the country, for that matter), but if you have children who get car-sick easily, they might be sensitive to the twists and turns along the coast. The good news is that there are major highways that parallel Highway 1 for those who might need a straighter route.
8. Plan breaks. In advance of your trip, find museums, historic small towns, state parks or beaches that are worth breaking your journey for every couple of hours. Pack a skipping rope or beach ball to get the children moving during the longer stretches, or consider finding an easy footpath for a walk along the way.
9. See locations from a unique perspective. Water adventures are a California coastal must-do: learn to surf, go paddleboarding, kayak or take a whale-watching tour. Consider seeing part of the state on two wheels: hire bikes to ride up and down the coast, around town or across the Golden Gate Bridge.
10. Snack locally. California is an agricultural hub, and you can often taste food straight from the source. Farmers’ markets abound in every region of the state, and often offer live music and local crafts in addition to from-the-farmer produce. Skip the petrol station and stock up on fresh snacks from a market instead.
11. Bring interactive car entertainment. Create your own California-themed puzzle for the drive at Discoveryschool.com. Depending on their ages, give your children disposable cameras or let them use your digital one to document the California trip from their perspective—then create a scrapbook afterwards.
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