Turn those California Dreams into weekend warrior reality! California is not only the most populous state in the country, it’s the most geographically diverse. Hop in the car and you can drive to any of these spots (some may take more than a weekend, if you’re driving) and explore castles, wine country, majestic mountains, ski vacations, apple picking, desert delights and more. These are our top ten picks for family road trips you’ve simple got to take while the kids are little.

The Central Coast

A Central Coast adventure has many animals to delight young nature lovers. Start at the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery, which covers over 6 miles of beach near Point Piedras Blancas. The viewing areas are open daily, are wheelchair and stroller accessible and are free. You can see elephant seals mating and pupping and then see the (relatively) tiny babies. Don’t forget jackets, as the best time to see babies is January & February, and if you’re warm enough, you can spend all day here. Nearby is Hearst Castle with 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. On the tram up to the castle, keep an eye out the window for zebras! Last stop is down to Pismo Beach (a great little beach town with many family and budget friendly hotels, not to mention amazing cinnamon buns) and the largest Monarch Butterfly Grove in the state. Docents are available for talks, as are telescopes to better spot the insects chilling in clusters in Eucalyptus trees. Look closely. At first glance, the butterfly tree clusters look like dried leaves, but then they start to move and you realize the trees are actually made of butterfly wings!

For more Central Coast adventures (including a goat farm, for more animal adventures) cehck out our guide.

Online: monarchbutterfly.org, elephantseal.org & hearstcastle.org

photo: Meghan Rose


What’s your favorite California adventure?  Let us know in the comment section!

—Beth Shea, Erin Feher & Meghan Rose