Here’s the Thing…
Growing up, my family and I always traveled. Big or small trips, there was always something to look forward to. But the one I remember most from my childhood was driving up the California Coast.
I have such vivid memories of pilling in the car early in the morning before the sun was up, bundled up in cozy blankets, a Dixie Chicks CD playing in the background.
I can’t remember the last time we did that trip as a family, probably a decade or more, but in the past year, I got to do that trip three times with new people, and I had so much joy reliving those precious memories from my childhood and showing the people in my life today a piece of my past.
Here are some of my favorite places along the California Coast, starting from Los Angeles and ending in Big Sur:
Solvang: The California Danish Village
Solvang is a little touch of Europe right here in Southern California. With its iconic windmill and Danish architecture splashed across all the buildings, you can peacefully stroll through the town with a coffee in one hand and a fresh-baked pastry in the other.
The street is lined with tons of cute little shops filled with all sorts of goodies for you to take home to remember your time in Solvang.
If you enjoy physical activities, you can rent a tandem bike to explore the town on (there’s even on that seats 9 people!).
Or if you’re like me and you just prefer to eat, there are endless amounts of bakeries and candy shops where you can have your choice of treat!
The Madonna Inn: An International Landmark Destination
Literally. LITERALLY my favorite place in the world. Everything is pink. And beautiful. And the food is delicious.
If I am ever anywhere near the Madonna Inn, I have to stop and eat there. On my most recent trip, we were willing to wait an hour and a half for a table. Worth it.
I do the same thing almost every time I go. First, we go to the Copper Cafe and grab something to eat. The dining room is decked out in pink (as most everything is) from the sugar to the water goblets. After we eat, we explore the grounds, starting with the gift shops and various room in the main building. My favorite is the steakhouse room because it’s pink from floor to ceiling and during Christmas time it has all sorts of pretty decorations. Next, we head outside, which features a beautiful flower garden, pink tennis courts, a waterfall and the hotel rooms; sometimes we even get a peek inside a specially themed room!
If you are anywhere near San Luis Obispo, I would highly recommend stopping by the Madonna Inn. It has so much character and could become a great family tradition!
Harmony: California’s Tiny Town
Harmony is the cutest little town. And when I say little, I mean LITTLE. With a population of 18 and about 5 main buildings, this town takes the cake for small size.
There isn’t a whole lot to do, but there is a certain novelty appeal about Harmony. I love strolling through its simple shops and small buildings and not have that hustle and bustle feeling.
At that end of visiting the few shops and wedding chapel, you can stop in the post office/visitor center and grab a free cup of coffee and baked good! And don’t forget to sign the guestbook on your way out!
Morro Bay: The Gibraltar of the Pacific
Morro Bay was always a must-stop destination for all our road trips and stopping at the Morro Bay aquarium was also a must. Unfortunately, when I was there in August I heard the aquarium would be closing and the animals relocated to new enclosures. I was super bummed to hear that because I always loved to feed the seals and look at all other crazy animals they had. Hopefully, the animals will be in better conditions, though.
Besides the aquarium, I loved to look around the Shell Shop. They have every shell you could imagine, and some of them only cost a nickel!
Typically we would just pass through Morro Bay, but when my family and I were there earlier this year, we actually stayed for a couple days, so we had more time to do other things. They have all sorts of boats you can take out, from motorboats to kayaks, to guided tours. We decided on a guided tour that featured a half boat/half submarine. It was pretty cool because at one point, the guide took us to a popular fish feeding spot and we all went below deck and there were tons of fish to see below deck! It was a unique experience to see the bay from a new perspective.
Whether you have just a few hours or a couple days, Morro Bay is a great place to stop to grab something to eat and maybe even see a sea lion or two!
Big Sur: The Mountain on the Coast
Our trip up the coast always concluded at Big Sur Campground and Cabins, and for as long as I can remember we had the same campsite (one right by the playground for all the kids).
I have so many fond memories of my whole family being together, sitting by the campfire, laughing and playing games loudly until the quiet hours started. Sometimes my best friend Shayla even got to come along, and those were the best trips of all.
During the day we would all rent inner tubes and float down the calm river and in the evening we would hang out around camp, play on the playground and eat dinner. I remember always making friends with other kids who were staying there for the week, so there was never a dull moment at Big Sur.
It’s been awhile since we’ve been back in Big Sur. It’s a combination of life just happening and choosing to take other trips instead, but I will never forget the years spent in Big Sur. If you’ve never experience Big Sur, I would highly highly recommend it, even if it’s just for one night.
The California Coast Roadtrip will always be one of my favorite trips. Although in recent years I have gone on much more extravagant trips, there will always be a place in my heart for the winding highway that snakes its way up the coast of California.
Did you and your family have any trips that were a tradition?