Epic California Road Trip – 5 Tips for Traveling by Car

My family and I will soon be heading for the open road on our first family road trip since adding two more to our brood! We’ll be hitting the road from San Diego and heading to Pismo Beach, Monterey, Reno and Bishop. Eight years ago we took a similar road trip when our older kiddos were in kindergarten. Now that we have four kids, we’re excited (and a bit nervous!) about taking the whole family on the road. Check out where we’ll be visiting so you can follow us on our road trip adventures!

My family and I will be hosted at several of these locations on our trip #hosted

Check out these helpful tips for a California road trip.

California Road Trip

My husband and I are big time “planners” and like to have a solid route and itinerary. We already know a bit of what we’ll be doing at each location, with free time built in for relaxation, play and adventure! With our little one only just turning one year old, we know that extended time in the car won’t be feasible. We’ll be in the car no longer than 3 hours at a time. We’ll be working in plenty of time to get out, stretch and play at each stop.

Check out these helpful tips for a California road trip.

Monterey Bay Aquarium


We’re starting our road trip from San Diego and the first stop will be in Ventura. Even as a SoCal native, there are so many coastal towns I’ve never been to, including Ventura! We’re planning a stop at Marina Park Beach for a picnic lunch and to allow the kids to play on the pirate-themed playground.

Road Trip Tip #1 – No reason you have to eat all fast food or expensive restaurant meals on your entire road trip. Make a quick stop at the local grocery for healthy fruits, prepped veggies or freshly made sandwiches. Our favorites in California are Whole Foods Market and Sprouts.

Check out these helpful tips for a California road trip.

Dinosaur Caves in Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach

Our first overnight of the road trip will be in Pismo Beach with a stay at the Hilton Garden Inn. We stopped in Pismo Beach in spring break of 2010. Our kids participated in an awesome Easter egg hunt and festival at Dinosaur Caves Park that overlooks the ocean. Hoping to make another stop at this beautiful park again this trip! There is an amazing Monarch Butterfly grove here but it’s only open from October to February each year, so we’re missing it this time.

Road Trip Tip #2 -Check the City Calendar

Each of the cities I mention here have a clickable link that leads to their website. You’ll be able to see what activities are happening in each community. Before your visit, check the city calendar to see if any special events are occurring. There might be a festival, art show or seasonal activity. For instance, the Pismo Beach annual Easter egg hunt was a highlight of our last road trip (totally free and fun for the kids before we got back on the road).

Check out these helpful tips for a California road trip.

Where the mountains meet the ocean in Big Sur


Next up for us will be two days in Monterey. With a county that includes Big Sur (a waterfall that pours into the ocean!), Pebble Beach (golfing!), Carmel-by-the-Sea (shopping!) and Salinas (food, glorious food!), there are countless things to do in this beautiful coastal area. We’re staying at the Monterey Tides Hotel, right on the oceanfront.

We’ll be taking in the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium, an agricultural tour at Earthbound Farms, and a surrey ride from Adventures by the Sea. We’ll be dining on local fresh seafood at Flaherty’s Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar and Peter B’s Brewpub. We have a pretty packed schedule so I’m not sure but we might try to squeeze in a Big Sur visit for some hiking. Also hoping that the Dennis the Menace park will be reopened by the time of our visit, it was a favorite of my kids last trip.

Check out these helpful tips for a California road trip.

Dennis the Menace park in Monterey

Road Trip Tip #3 – Study Road Conditions

Check for road construction, updates and closures online before your trip. 7 years ago we drove Hwy 1, a two-lane route alongside the Pacific. Gorgeous, but slow-moving at times. And there is a section of this highway that is currently closed so thank goodness we’re aware of this and not planning on taking the same route this time! Check with CalTrans before your visit for a quick look at road closures.


About 3 hours outside of Monterey we’ll be stopping in Fairfield, home to two cool factory tours. Grown-ups will enjoy the Anheuser-Busch factory tour (with beer sampling). Kids (and adults!) will love the Jelly Belly Factory Tour. We’ll be making time for the Jelly Belly tour for sure!

Road Trip Tip #3 – Research Between the Big Stops

When plotting your course, check out those little towns along your route and see what they have to offer. We never would have considered a stop in Fairfield if we hadn’t seen that the Jelly Belly Factory offers tours here. Fairfield will be the perfect place to have lunch, take a family-friendly tour and make memories!

Lake Tahoe & Reno

After two days along the Pacific, we’ll be heading inland for “snow-much” more adventure! We’re heading to the Lake Tahoe and Reno area, where we’ll be visiting family and exploring the area. We’ll be staying with my husband’s family, except for one overnight at the Atlantis Casino in the city.

I’ll be pampered in the Atlantis Casino spa for my very first massage! While I’m lounging in the spa my family will be taking advantage of the indoor pool. Other than hopefully playing in the snow, visiting family and checking out the local culture, we don’t have much planned yet. And that’s okay by us, we’ll play it by ear.

Check out these helpful tips for a California road trip.

Enjoying the snow in Reno, Nevada

Road Trip Tip #4 Allow Plenty of Travel Time –

The last time we drove this route (from Monterey to Reno) we got held up in a snow storm. Being SoCal natives, neither of us had ever driven in a snow storm before so it was a very tense few hours. After putting on chains, it was a late night white-knuckle drive through the pass that had us arriving to our destination several hours later than expected. This year we’re allowing ourselves plenty of drive time and leaving much earlier in the day.


Our final day of travel will include an overnight in Bishop, CA, one place we’ve never been before. We’ll be letting the kids play at Law’s Historic Village, taking a warm dip at Keough’s Hot Springs and visiting the historic Manzanar site. Bishop is where many “cowboy” movies were filmed, so as we leave town, we’ll stop in for a tour of the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine and take a short hike in the Alabama Hills to view some of the movie sites.

Road Trip Tip #5 A Mix of Fun and Learning –

Along your travels see where you can combine history, teaching as well as fun. While we’ll be visiting the Manzanar site (place where Japanese Americans were interned during WWII) we’re also leaving space in our itinerary for free play and fun.

What are your road trip tips? Share with me in the comments!


Prepping the Car for a Family Day Trip

Find out How I Prep the Car for a Family Day Trip #RoadTripOil #AD

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #RoadTripOil #CollectiveBias

Living in San Diego, we don’t have to drive far to find great adventures! Our summer plans include visits to the beach, local amusement parks, museums and even a drive to the mountains for a hike.  I bought my car brand new almost 12 years ago. It has over 140K miles on it and still runs great! Regular maintenance and oil changes is key, of course. Here’s how we have fun on our day trips, what we pack in the car when we hit the road and how the Walmart Auto Care Center gets the car in top shape.

Find out How I Prep the Car for a Family Day Trip #RoadTripOil #AD

Where To Go

You don’t have to go far to find family fun. Check local activities in your area for a great day trip, some place you can drive to and return home in the same day. Even if it’s just a nice picnic spot in a park, make a day out of it by bringing some outdoor games like a frisbee with you. Or grab a favorite board game and enjoy playing on the grass. We like to head out into the mountains for an afternoon fishing at the lake.

Have everyone in your family give some input on a place they’d like to go and then choose one each week until you’ve covered them all! My big kids wanted to play baseball at the park, I wanted to wander through Old Town San Diego and my little one wanted to swim at the bay. We’ve covered all three this summer and still have a few more fun day trips planned before school starts up!

Find out How I Prep the Car for a Family Day Trip #RoadTripOil #AD

What To Bring

Depending on where you’ll headed, your day trip packing list may vary. I have written this checklist on Traveling Mom for essentials everyone should pack with them in their bag. I keep a fabric bin in the trunk that’s loaded with day trip needs so I’m always ready and I can save myself some time.

If you’re going to be gone all day and would like to budget your meals, make sure to pack snacks and lunches to avoid having to make a costly stop for fast food. Bottled water is a must and I plan on three different snacks per person for the entire day. We like to choose snacks that can handle the heat inside the trunk, like nuts, dried fruit, apples and crackers. If you bring a lunch that needs chilling, place a small cooler in the car with a freezer chill pack that will keep everything a good temperature.

Find out How I Prep the Car for a Family Day Trip #RoadTripOil #AD

Don’t forget a towel, waterproof blanket or beach chairs to sit on. A disposable tablecloth is a good idea if you are going to be dining al fresco (picnic tables aren’t always the cleanest). On that note, bring hand sanitizer too, in case you aren’t able to wash hands before eating.

If you’re going to be gone until sunset, take note of the weather and bring a jacket if necessary. I like to bring my kids at least a clean shirt and shorts to put on at the end of the day so they aren’t sitting in the car wearing sweaty and dirty clothes! Bring a big plastic bag to throw everything in at the end of the day and pop it in the trunk to clean out when you get home. This will help you keep all the mess in one place.

How To Prep

My car has a lot of miles on it but it never lets me down. Pennzoil® High Mileage Vehicle® motor oil helps clean out the sludge lesser oils leave behind, while helping to reduce leaks and oil consumption in worn or higher mileage engines. It’s a motor oil specifically designed for new or late model vehicles with over 75,000 miles, with the mission of keeping engines running clean and going strong.

Find out How I Prep the Car for a Family Day Trip #RoadTripOil #AD

Make your life easier and get your oil changed with Pennzoil at Walmart’s Automotive Care Center. So nice that you can shop for your day trip and get your oil changed while you shop. You’ll be ready to hit the road immediately after check-out! I loved that I was able to drop off my car in Walmart’s Automotive Care Center and take the kids inside the air-conditioned store to pick up snacks for our recent drive up the coast to a theme park.

High mileage oil changes are on Rollback at Walmart ($35.88) from June 15 – September 28 so it’s a great time to prep the car for those summer adventures. Find your Walmart Automotive Care Center and drop in (no reservation needed) to get the oil changed on your vehicle so you can be trip ready too when the adventure-mood strikes!

What family day trips you have planned this summer? Share with me in the comments.


Kid-Friendly Road Trip Tips for Driving to Disney

Kncok out travel boredom with these helpful Kid-Friendly Road Trip Tips for Driving to Disneyland and Walt Disney World

Welcome to this month’s Blogorail Blue Loop. Today we are sharing summer travel tips.

“Are we there yet?” Does that sound familiar? Long road trips can be challenging for adults, let alone kids! I’m personally not a fan of being confined to my seat for long periods of time. Kids in particular can get cranky when sitting too long. Fortunately for my family, it’s only about a 90 minute drive to Disneyland, so we often drive up and back in the same day. But if you have a longer drive ahead of you, it’s helpful to have a bag of tricks ready to occupy and entertain the kids on your road trip adventure!

Here are my kid-friendly road trip tips for driving to Disney!

Knock out travel boredom with these helpful Kid-Friendly Road Trip Tips for Driving to Disneyland and Walt Disney World

Reward Good Behavior

In the days leading up to our vacation, I use a “Disney Dollar” system to reward good behavior and pay for jobs done that are above and beyond the usual chores. The kids can use the Dollars earned on souvenirs during the trip. Cash prizes speak to everyone, don’t they?! Whining and fighting in the car doesn’t have to be the norm, especially if you give incentive towards good behavior. You could incorporate this tactic on the road, handing the kids Disney Dollars that you print at home as reward for appropriate behavior. Whining or fighting may “cost” them their cash. Kids can then cash in their faux money for the real thing at the end of the road. Bribery? Maybe…but if it gets you a few hours of peace, so be it!

Knock out travel boredom with these helpful Kid-Friendly Road Trip Tips for Driving to Disneyland and Walt Disney World

Feed ME!

There are lots of fun Disney dining ideas to use in the car, from sippy cups, plates, snack bags and water bottles. Stock up on Disney-themed food snacks in the store or online to feed the kids on the road and it makes the anticipation to your destination all the more fun!

From left to right (Amazon affiliate links) – Brothers Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Fruit Crisps, Disney Frozen Food Storage Container By Zak!, Disney Pixar Cars Fruit Flavored Snacks, Disney Mickey Mouse Tritan Water Bottle, Bumkins Disney Baby Reusable Snack Bag


Draw Me a Picture

I converted this empty Chick-fil-A salad container into a self-contained art box. We dine at Chick-fil-A about once a week and I always order my favorite, the Cobb Salad with Avocado Lime Ranch dressing! So why not upcycle those sturdy salad boxes into something useful? I decided to turn my boxes into a road trip art box.

Knock out travel boredom with these helpful Kid-Friendly Road Trip Tips for Driving to Disneyland and Walt Disney World

My kids could entertain themselves for hours with drawing so having an art box for a road trip is ideal. But I don’t want crayons melting between the seats or markers making their way to the floor so it’s best to have everything contained in one box per child (no fighting over the art supplies this way either!)

Knock out travel boredom with these helpful Kid-Friendly Road Trip Tips for Driving to Disneyland and Walt Disney World

I gave my son a sheet of Disney themed stickers to decorate his box and filled it with drawing implements. A good supply of blank drawing paper, printable Disney coloring pages and activity sheets attached to a clipboard is sure to keep him occupied in the car!

Answer the “Are We There Yet?” Question

Mouse Ears Mom has this perfect printable countdown calendar to use in the days leading up to your vacation. What if you took this concept into the car? Tape the pieces across the inner door frame of the car or across the ceiling (someplace where your child can see it) and move the Monorail to count down the hours until you reach your Magical destination!

Photo Credit: Mouse Ears Mom

You could also print out a map and slip the paper into a plastic sleeve. Use a wipe-off marker to show kids how far you have gone on your route.

Give them Early Souvenirs

Everyone loves a present! Stock up with a few fun things that you can wrap and surprise the kids with on the road. Coloring books, the new Disney LEGO figures, a character t-shirt and glow-sticks (for them to use in the parks at night) are all fun & cheap.

From left to right (Amazon affiliate links) – Art of Coloring: Disney Villains, LEGO The Disney Series Minifigures, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Little Boys Toddler T Shirt, Disney Frozen Glow Wand


Play a Game

One of our favorite travel games is “Guess Who I Am”. One person gives three clues about a Disney character and the other people in the car have to ask questions until they are ready to guess. The game would go like this: “I am yellow, I like honey and I live in the woods”. Then the other people could ask yes or no questions about characteristics, like “Do you wear clothes?”, “Do you talk?” or “Do you have fur?” until someone is ready to guess, “Winnie the Pooh!” Obviously this game can be played to the child’s age with more recognizable or obscure characters.

Or try the Alphabet Game and take turns naming Disney characters through the alphabet, like “A is for Aladdin, B is for Bambi, etc”

Knock out travel boredom with these helpful Kid-Friendly Road Trip Tips for Driving to Disneyland and Walt Disney World

A rare road trip treat, Slurpees!

Stories and Songs

I’ve never been able to read in the car (I get motion sickness!) but toting books in the car can occupy the time nicely. If you can’t read, consider a story on disc that everyone can enjoy along the way. And of course Disney music from the parks and soundtracks will get everyone singing and in the mood for the wonderful times ahead!

From left to right (Amazon affiliate links)Disney Storybook Collection, Inside Out Read-Along Storybook and CD, Disney’s Greatest, Vol. 1


For more summer travel tips,
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Blue | Summer Travel Tips Loop: