California Coast: Family Road Trip 2018

California Coast: Family Road Trip 2018

The California coast….. Oh man, its beauty just can’t be put into words! Of all the places we visited on our 15-day family road trip, this is the one place I dream of returning. We sat in awe at each stop, starring into the glory of it all, almost stunned. There is just so much to explore along this long stretch of windy roads and steep cliffs. You could stop a million times and never grow tired of seeing its sites. God definitely had his good times designing this place!

We began this part of our trip sightseeing in LA, visited the Santa Monica Pier, then began heading north on Hwy 1. Our 1st Stop was El Matador State Beach in Malibu. There are sea caves here! It’s only about about 25 minutes from Santa Monica. Next, we drove to Santa Barbara, 1-hour 45min from Malibu. This is a beautiful, luxurious town. We spent a couple hours walking around the State Street area and drifting along the Stearns Wharf Pier. Our 3rd Stop was Morro Bay, about 2 hours from Santa Barbara. This is an adorable little town. We loved the vibe of this town. There are a lot of shops to visit, awesome local restaurants and the famous Morro Bay Rock. Don’t’ forget to walk out to the big rock! We spent the night here and enjoyed a little down time in this lovely, low key destination.

The next morning, we Drove to Monterey Bay, 3 hours from Morro Bay. With the road construction during the time of our trip, you must drive 3-hours to Monterey Bay on the 101, then back track to the Big Sur area on Hwy 1, instead of driving the entire Hwy 1. There was mud slide causing a section of the road to be completely closed. Once the road construction is finished, you will be able to drive straight up the coast and avoid back tracking. Don’t forget to check the status of the road construction before your trip.

We spent the day at Point Lobos State Park. This park is amazing! If you ask my kids, they say this was their favorite place. They LOVED the tide pools. They could have spent all day climbing the roads and discovering all the amazing creatures hiding among them. Take a lunch in the park and have a picnic! I would suggest not missing this place if you have a few hours to enjoy it. We stayed in Carmel-by-the-Sea that evening which is a beautiful small town between Monterey Bay and Big Sur.

After visiting Point Lobos, we drove south towards the “17-mile Drive” on Hwy 1. Bring a picnic with you. There aren’t many places to stop and eat. This is considered the Big Sur area. You will be heading south or “back-tracking” if there is still road closures on Hwy 1. This is the part of your trip where things get intense and completely breathtaking. The roads are narrow and windy, but we handled it fine with a 15 passenger van. You will want to stop A LOT. Do it! Slow down and enjoy the gorgeous sites. Also, prepare ahead by taking some motion sickness medication if you are prone to it! Some Big Sur destinations that you don’t wont to miss are the Bixby Bridge, McWay Falls, and Julia Pfeiffer State Park Beach. This entire drive may be the most beautiful thing you see in your lifetime. Try to get all the way to Julia Pfeiffer State Park Beach if you can! Then, you will turn around and drive back toward Monterey Bay.

Next, we drove to Santa Cruz  which is about 50 minutes from Monterey Bay. Santa Cruz was our favorite beach town of the trip! Its a very nice, chill town without all the luxury found in Santa Barbara. It was great for kids. We never felt anyone had to behave a certain way. We absolutely loved the Wharf. You get a very close up views of the sea lions! They are so cute and fun to watch! We ended up spending our entire day on the wharf, watching the sea lions & enjoying the Boardwalk. Some other things you may be interested in doing at Santa Cruz are the Natural Bridges State Beach or Ano Nuevo Park. We stayed in Santa Cruz that night before heading off to San Fransisco the next day.

If you are interested in our detailed, day-by-day itinerary from our entire 15-day Road Trip, go here. We visited Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California!

Santa Barbara, CA

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Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

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Carmel-by-the-Sea/Big Sur, CA

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Santa Cruz, CA

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Coral Pink Sand Dunes: Family Road Trip 2018

Coral Pink Sand Dunes: Family Road Trip 2018

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Our family of five visited the Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park in Kanab, UT on our 15-day Family Road Trip through Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California! It was pretty spectacular! We only spent a few hours here because this was only a stop on our way from Zion National Park to Grand Canyon; however, you could totally plan to stay longer! Immediately upon arrival, my kids took off running and screaming over the sand dunes! The sand really looks more orange than pink, but it is still remarkable. We had never seen anything like this before. It felt as though we were in an Arabian desert!

While we were there, others were driving dune buggies all over the sand. We wished so badly we had known to do this. You cannot rent the inside the park, but you can bring them in and drive them all over the dunes. Let me tell you, they were having a GOOD time and my kids were very envious! If we would have planned to do this, it would have definitely been one of the highlights of the trip. If you can’t rent a dune buggy, at least bring in a board for sand boarding down all the amazing hills!

The park is very easy to from Kanab. You just take a little detour off a main road. You travel down a desolate road for bit and come straight up on the park. There are very nice bathrooms in several locations at the park with water fountains located right outside the bathrooms.

You won’t regret visiting these sand dunes! When you drive into the park, your kids will be dying to jump out and run all over the dunes!

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TIPS: 

  1. Bring water and sunblock.
  2. Rent a dune buggy & trailer for a few hours to bring into the park with you.
  3. Bring a board for sand-boarding.
  4. Bring a dry towel to dust off all the sand after playing in the park.

Joshua Tree National Park : Family Road Trip 2018

Joshua Tree National Park : Family Road Trip 2018

Joshua Tree was definitely one of the most memorable places out of all the places we visited on our 2018 15-day family road trip! If you ask any of my three kids what their favorite parts of the trip were, Joshua Tree is always on the top of the list.

The park is very easy to enter and navigate. There was almost no one else in the park while we were there in June. We had stayed in Kingman, AZ the night prior; therefore, we had a 3 hour and 40 minute drive to the park that morning. We woke up early, stopped at a grocery store for a lunch to pack with us, and arrived at the park before noon.

Being from Tennessee, the landscape was drastically different than anything else we had ever seen. The contrast of the deep blue sky against the shapes and formations of rocks and trees as you look out over the horizon were unbelievable. Interesting little creatures hopped and crawled out of every shrub as we walked through the park. My boys loved finding all sorts of lizards, kangaroo rats, ground squirrels and jackrabbits. My daughter and I let out a couple squeals as lizards ran past our feet! We had hoped to see the bighorn sheep but they were no where to be found during our trip. There were several signs posted that many of them were being treated for a sickness that had spread among them.

First, we found the White Tank Campground and began the hike to Arch Rock. It was a very easy 10 minute hike. This trail is filled with jumbo rocks that my kids enjoyed climbing all over! Their excitement at this point of our trip was over the top! What kid doesn’t love climbing rocks!? But, these rocks are something from another world. It’s the goldmine of rocks for kids!

Next, we headed towards Barker Dam hiking trail. This is an easy, flat trail and is the only area with water in the park. The bighorn sheep are often found here. This is where we saw that amazing landscape I was describing earlier! If you don’t have a lot of time in the park, this trail is a good overview of what the park has to offer. You will find thousands of Joshua trees and cacti, animals of every kind and rocks of every shape and size!

This is a huge park with so much to offer. There are even 9 campgrounds and I’m pretty sure they are all amazing. We definitely wished we had a little longer than one afternoon at Joshua Tree. We only saw a tiny glimpse into its greatness!

That evening, we stayed in Twenty-nine Psalms at Fairfield Inn and Suites. We highly recommend this hotel. They upgraded our room for free and it was a wonderful experience! It is a very nice, new hotel.

We LOVED Joshua Tree National Park. It is definitely one you don’t want to leave off your itinerary if you are going to be anywhere near the park!

For more information on our 15-day family road trip, you can find the information here.

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Bryce Canyon National Park: Family Road Trip 2018

Bryce Canyon National Park: Family Road Trip 2018

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Bryce Canyon is truly remarkable. It was the second destination on our 2018 family road trip. Bryce was one of the first places I’ve visited that was so incredibly unique that my eyes couldn’t believe what they were seeing. I heard so many “ooh” and “awes” as my family of five hiked along the trails!

One great thing about the park is that it is easy to get in and out. This is a huge plus considering we spent hours just trying to drive into some of the other parks we visited!

We had visited Zion National Park the day prior and stayed right outside Zion. We woke up early and had a 1 hour and 45minute drive to Bryce. We stopped while traveling to pick up some lunches to pack in the park with us.

I have three kids who were 12, 9 and 6 during the time of our hike. They had no problem hiking the trails at Bryce. Keep in mind that the entire first half of the hike is downhill. You know what that means? The entire hike out is uphill! My husband and I are in our 30s, in good shape, and we admit that it was quite tiring. We stopped several times along the path on the way out, but it is totally doable.

We hiked the Navajo Loop trail. However, the Wall Street portion of the trail is often closed. Therefore, it’s not really a loop. Basically, you hike down into the beautiful amphitheater and back out the same trail. You can combine this trail with the Queen Garden Loop to see more of the park. We had planned to do this but decided not to once we were there. By the time we got to the bottom of Navajo Loop, the kids were a little worn out and the sites begin to look the same. If my kids weren’t with us, we totally would have stayed longer to enjoy the park. But, with three kids, a half day felt appropriate. There is nothing quite like the hoodoos and natural bridges at Bryce Canyon!

We stayed right outside the park at Best Western Ruby’s Inn and I highly recommend this place! It is a very quaint little area which includes a general store and restaurant on site. There is also a little set of stores right across the street that resembles an old western town. We had a lot of fun walking around the area and enjoying all the amenities.

My family really enjoyed the “Bryce Day” of our 15-day trip. Because it is easy to get in and out of Bryce, it wasn’t a whole day’s event. We were able to spend half the day at the park, then go back and enjoy our hotel that evening.

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TIPS:

1. Bring something to cover your head and use sunscreen. It’s hot in the summer and there isn’t much shade anywhere in the park.

2. Bring something to shield your face. When the wind blows, the orange sand can blow up into your face. My daughter used a bandana to tie over her nose and mouth. Sunglasses would also be helpful to cover your eyes.

3. Bring in water and snacks. There isn’t anywhere in the park to eat. However, you can drive outside the park within 30 minutes to find food.

Zion National Park : Family Road Trip 2018

Zion National Park : Family Road Trip 2018

 

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Zion National Park was the first stop on our 2018 road trip! Our family of five is from TN and this was our first trip out west. We flew into Vegas, picked up our rental and checked in to our hotel. We stayed on the strip to get a little glimpse of the city. However, if you stay there with children, I highly recommend staying in a known-to-be kid friendly hotel. We did have a couple bad experiences trying to guard the eyes of our little ones. However, we loved Excalibur and have also heard great things about Circus Circus.

We woke up early and got on the road the next morning to head straight to Zion. It was about a 2 1/2 drive from Vegas. We stopped midway to pick up a cooler and some lunches to pack into the park. We went during a very busy time but parking wasn’t too bad in the the city of Springdale. You are required to park outside the national park and take a bus in. If you are coming from Springdale, there are several clearly marked stops that will take you into the park and back to your vehicle from the visitor center. Just remember where you parked!

Once the Springdale shuttle drops you off at the visitor center, you must take the park shuttle to get around the park. (Trust me, this is a huge park. It’s the only way!) There are often long lines to get on the park shuttle even though several shuttles are running continuously. Once you are on, there are nine clearly marked stops along the road inside the park. The drive itself is incredible. The park shuttle is not air conditioned, but lots of air flows through as you drive. My biggest suggestion would be to study the map before you arrive to the park. Don’t wait until you get there to figure out what trails you want to do. There isn’t enough time for that! To be honest, the process of getting in and out of the park is quite lengthy. We felt like we were back at Disney World! Don’t be surprised by that. It is completely worth all the work!

You will want plenty of snacks, drinks and a meal if you plan to spend the day there. There are not many places to eat inside the park and it stays quite crowded. Being that we had only one day in the park, we just packed our food with us and had a picnic when we were ready to eat! There are fill stations for water bottles and bathrooms at many of the shuttle stops.

We chose two trails because we only had one day in the park. The first was the famous Narrows! (Make sure you check the weather before doing this one. Flash floods can be dangerous.) You head all the way to the last stop on the park shuttle, stop 9, and begin your hike there. You must get there by taking the easy one-mile Riverwalk trail. (It does not feel like a mile.) At the end of the Riverside Walk, you will dead end into the Narrows! At that point you must get in and begin walking along the river. It was so much fun! You are far down in a canyon with rock as far up as you can see on each side of you. There are several areas where water trickles down the road to form small waterfalls. Sometimes the path is wide and other times it narrows. There will be several areas along the side of the river where you can sit on rock and take a break. Every single turn is breathtaking! The Narrows run for miles and miles. With a family, we just walked as far as we felt like we could, about another mile, then turned around and walked it all back. My kids are 12, 9 and 6 and they all handled the water just fine. We needed to hold the 6-year-old’s hand many times throughout the hike. But, the older ones were dependent the whole time.

Next, we chose to walk the Canyon Overlook Trail. Wow! It was completely different than the Riverside Walk and the Narrows. Canyon Overlook gave us the first wide open views of the gigantic cliffs and canyons. For most of our shuttle ride, Riverwalk and Narrows, we were hidden inside the canyons, looking up to it surrounding us. But, the Canyon Overlook Trail is a completely different perspective! It was a very easy 1-mile trail. It shows you what Zion looks like when the space opens up and gives you a full view of its glory. We all were stunned with every view on this trail.

Once we got back to our vehicle, we choose an amazing Mexican place for dinner right there in the city of Springdale. It is a beautiful small city with many local food choices. Also, there is a glorious view of the Zion’s mountains from every angle in Springdale. Then, we drove about 30 minutes outside Springdale to La Verkin, UT and stayed at a very nice Best Western. My kids love a continental breakfast! You will save a little money on the cost of lodging if you drive outside the park a little ways, and free breakfast is always a plus!

One day in the park wasn’t enough for most people. I’m sure there were so many more beautiful things to uncover and someday we will return! However, having young children, the one day trip felt appropriate. The plan for this road trip was to keep things moving and travel to a new destination each day. The kids were always excited about what exciting adventure the next day would bring!

TIPS:

1. Look at a map and plan your route before you get there.

2. Park in Springdale and ride the shuttle to Zion’s visitor center.

3. Bring a backpack with a drink, snack and a meal.

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