Ah the weekend! The perfect time to get in the car and get out and about. But if sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 5 Freeway doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then take the nearest exit to a more relaxed pace of life on the historic 101. This west coast highway connects Mexico to Canada with some surprising gems right along the San Diego stretch. From beach towns to great eats and sights to see, you’ll love puttering along on a classic family drive.
photo:Roman Königshofer via flickr
Best Destination – The California Surf Museum
If you’re a family of wave riders and wax heads, you’ll love the California Surf Museum. Well placed in the northern town of Oceanside, this destination chronicles the rise of surfing within California over the past 25 years. You can check out a brief history of surfboards with wooden planks reminiscent of Polynesian surfing roots all the way through to shortboard designs from today’s top pros. While you’re there you can take in their current exhibition on Bethany Hamilton, a courageous surfer who inspires others in spite of a shark attack. Plus there is a great surf wall which will serve as the perfect backdrop to your family adventure selfie. With plenty of parking and restrooms. the California Surf Museum makes for the perfect pit stop.
Locals’ Tip: Give the kids a challenge to find Wilson from the movie, Castaway! Ten points if you start calling “Wilson, Wiiiiiiilson!”
Cost: $5/adult, $3/student, Free/kids under 12
Open Daily, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
312 Pier View Way
Oceanside, Ca 92054
photo: Eunice K. via Yelp.
Best Casual Lunch – Board and Brew
Cruise into the Del Mar village for lunch and you’ll find a mixture of a small town America mixed with a side of surf and sand. There you’ll find Board and Brew, an amazing sandwich restaurant with a secret sauce that takes their subs to the next level. Locals swear by the Turkado with special sauce but anything on their small, but delicious menu is great. There is plenty of first-in-best-dressed seating in the patio out front or, have your sandwich to go and walk down 15th Street to Sea Grove Park for some amazing views of Del Mar Beach and a mean kids playground.
Locals’ Tip: Board and Brew is located below street level so it might be a little hard to find the first time. Keep your eye’s peeled for a sunken patio out front.
Open Daily at 10 a.m.
1212 Camino Del Mar
Del Mar, Ca 92014
photo: Ines M. via flickr
Best Beach Spot – Moonlight State Beach
Hit up Encinitas and you’ll find Moonlight State Beach, named after the midnight picnics locals you to hold here in the early 1900s. This is a family-friendly stretch of coast — the shore drops down nearer to sea level making it an easy swimming and splashing spot. You’ll find a wide stretch of sand, a kids playground, snack bar, fire pits, volleyball courts and plenty of parking. Stop here to rest the legs or take advantage of the ample restrooms if you need a potty break while travelling.
Locals’ Tip: Check out the locals version of “sledding” with kids zooming down the sand hills on boogie boards and sleds that start appearing in October and November.
400 B St.
Encinitas, Ca 92024
Best Coffee Stop – Pannikin Coffee & Tea
If you need a little pick-me-up to keep powering along the highway, Pannikin Coffee & Tea offers some of the best brews in all of North County. Nestled in an old yellow victorian house this cafe is rustic with wooden floors, farm house decor and sunshine streaming in. They do a great selection of teas, coffees, hot chocolates, baked goods and brunch-style food that you can enjoy in a huge selection of seating. Pull up a chair at the inside tables, relax on the balcony or enjoy the outdoors on the lawn chairs in the garden. Despite being so large it still gets busy here but the line for counter service moves quickly and people are friendly. There’s plenty of parking too.
Locals’ Tip: Google “history of Pannikin Encinitas” and you’ll be able to see this coffee house locations history as the old Encinitas train station!
Open Daily, 6 a.m. – 6 p.m.
510 N Coast Hwy 101
Encinitas, Ca 92024
photo: Nathan Rupert via flickr
Best Way To Get Up Close And Personal With The Sea Life – Birch Aquarium
If taking in all those views of the beaches, inlets and coast lines are making the family yearn to get a bit closer to the sea life then take a detour to Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Sitting high on the hills of La Jolla, you’ll have some of the best views from above of the San Diego coastline. Inside you’ll find plenty of creatures of the deep. The kelp forrest offers a two story floor to ceiling view of an underwater paradise complete with fish, eels, leopard sharks and more while the tide pools outside offer some hands on exploration of local sea creatures found around San Diego. Once the fun is over, pick up an ice cream at the kiosk outside. There’s plenty of free parking and restrooms available too.
Locals’ Tip: Check out the hall of fishes and peer in at fish from around the world, octopuses, jelly fish and more.
Cost: $17/ adult, $14/ ages 13 – 17, $12.50/3 – 12 years old, Free/kiddos 2 and under
Open Daily, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
2300 Expedition Way
La Jolla, Ca 92037
Best Dinner and Drinks – Pizza Port
If a spot of dinner is calling along with one of San Diego’s best craft brews, say hello to Solana Beach Pizza Port. With more than 21 brewed-on-site beers and a 14 delicious pizzas on the menu you’ll be able to relax and refuel. This restaurant is family friendly with a capital F. There are picnic tables indoors and out, fun music blaring and an arcade out back to keep the kids entertained. Regulars love the Carlsbad pizza with pesto, grilled, chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes and feta. They don’t take reservations, so you may need to line up for a little while. Parking is onsite and there’s plenty of it.
Locals’ Tip: If you want the good times to keep going, you can take a six pack of their craft brews like the Swami IPA home with you.
Open Daily, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
135 N. Hwy, 101
Solana Beach, Ca 92075
What are your favorite spots on the 101? Let us know in the comments!
— Lenya McGrath