35° 52' 42'' N, 121° 24' 07'' W

Father-Daughter California Road Trip From Los Angeles to San Francisco

Aaron McHugh

The azure blue color of the sea and the barks of the sea lions pulled us from our car. We wandered down an unmarked scraggly brush covered trail as the girls picked nickel sized daisies to decorate their hair. “Let’s go up” they claimed as they climbed out onto the craggy perch above San Martin Rock in Cape San Martin. Witnessing them unafraid reminded me of, Kate Arnold’s article 10 Ways to Raise Brave Girls based on the book The Gutsy Girl.. Our father-daughter California Road Trip was a perfect training ground for becoming Gutsy Girls.

We dreamed up the perfect alchemy for our adventure, National Geographic Adventure meets Sunset Magazine. Repeat our five-day microadventure and you will begin a life-long love affair with California.

Flowers, friends, ocean, air, joy and play
Flowers, friends, ocean, air, joy and play

Not all those who wander are lost.

J.R.R Tolkien

We romped nearly 500 miles launching from Costa Mesa (Orange County), arriving four days later in San Francisco. Most people defer to the herd mentality when experiencing the scenic CA Hwy 1. Although a very accessible way to enjoy the rugged beauty by stopping to take pictures and eating nice meals, you miss the hidden gems of adventure. Our adventure list included sea kayaking, snorkeling, cliff jumping, hiking, ziplining and car camping peppered in between the driving, good food and spotify playlists.

Hunter with daisies
Friends with ocean daisies

Here’s a map I drew up of our adventures

I plan on turning this into a print published adventure guide. This map I drew helped me retrace our steps and add in a few adventures for the wish list as well.

Father daughter California road trip LA to San Francisco custom map
Father daughter California road trip LA to San Francisco custom map

Don’t repeat my mistakes

Before I get into the must-repeat stops and adventures, let me tell you what didn’t work very well.

  • Don’t book an RV campsite just because you can’t find a tent camping site to reserve. It turns out you have to own an RV 🙂
  • Don’t wait until 10 pm to find a place to sleep for the night. If you can’t find a campsite, book a cheap hotel before 8 pm. I drove too late a few nights and ended up needing to pull over and nap in a rest stop.
  • Add an extra day to saunter. We drove the entire route in four days. I would recommend taking an extra day to slow the pace down.

Laguna Beach -Fishermans Cove Beach
Laguna Beach, Fishermans Cove

Take a Nap in a Mermaid Lagoon

After our flight from Denver, we went straight to our favorite beach in Laguna Beach, Fishermans Cove. This beach is just north of Heisler Park. Look for a small unmarked footpath located at the bend in the road where Beverly street and Cliff drive meet.

Morro Rock beach hike in Morro Bay
Morro Rock beach hike in Morro Bay

Beach hike under Morro Rock

Morro Bay State Park located just 15 miles out of San Luis Obispo. Morro Rock stands without peers 578 feet above the shoreline. Get out and stretch your legs on this 3.5 mile beach hike along the bay via Morro Strand Trail.

 

Patagonia-Founded in Ventura
Patagonia-Founded in Ventura

Visit Patagonia’s Original Store

Yvonne Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, used to shape surfboards and pound out pitons for big wall Yosemite climbing in his ironworks shop downtown Ventura.

Gutsy Girls cliff jumping Santa Cruz island Channel Islands NP
Gutsy Girls cliff jumping Santa Cruz island Channel Islands NP

The Channel Islands National Park

Snorkel Sea caves by headlamp. Cliff jump into sublime mermaid enclaves. Sea kayak beginner-friendly pirate escape routes and dodge high-tide blowholes. Picture the Galapagos islands but twenty-five miles off the coast of California. You will find seals, whales, dolphins, sea urchins, octopus, sea anemones, starfish, sea kayaking, snorkeling, sea caves, cliff jumping and wilderness untamed by man. Watch the full NPS video on The Islands. We launched our ferry ride to The Channel Islands from Ventura, CA.

Gutsy girls snorkeling the sea caves of the channel islands
Gutsy girls snorkeling the sea caves of the channel islands

Elephant seal beach San Simeon across from Hearst Castle
Elephant seal beach San Simeon across from Hearst Castle

Get Up Close with 100 Elephant Seals

San Simeon Elephant Seals put on a full blown Discovery Channel live show on the beach across from Hearst Castle. Look for the turn to Hearst Castle on your right, instead hang a left (going North on Hwy 1) and grab your camera before walking down to the viewing area. Growing up in the mountains of Colorado, my daughter had never seen anything like these giants. Watch this video of two bull seals tangling.

Scurrying down from the summit of San Martin Rock lookout
Scurrying down from the summit of San Martin Rock lookout

Scurry onto a rocky summit San Martin Rock

We stumbled onto San Martin Rock lookout. We found an unmarked faint trail leading towards the Pacific. We scrambled our way to the rocky summit (I wouldn’t recommend this for little kids). My brave girls didn’t blink at the steep exposure on either side of the catwalk leading to the lookout.

Monterey Bay aquarium jelly fish exhibit
Monterey Bay aquarium jellyfish exhibit

Monterey Bay Aquarium

World renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium is perfect for a few hours or an entire day. The exhibits are immersive. You become apart of the ocean instead of simply observing the ocean through six inch thick glass. My favorite is the JellyFish exhibit (watch the live web cam) where each tank is backlit as the Jellies dance effortlessly.

Zipline tour at Mount Hermon Adventures
Zipline tour at Mount Hermon Adventures

Zipline tour of Santa Cruz Redwoods

Suspend 150 feet above the forest floor in Mount Hermon Adventures Canopy tour. The 250 foot tall ancient giants redwoods remind you of their life and resilience. Mount Hermon Adventures, $99 aerial adventure canopy tour.

Sleep beneath the redwood giants
Sleep beneath the redwood giants

Sleep beneath the Redwood giants

Henry Cowell Redwoods state park preserves some of the world’s tallest old-growth coastal redwoods. The record holder is 280 feet tall and 1,500 years old. Slumber underneath these gentle giants and reserve a campsite. Five miles from Santa Cruz.

Coit tower at sunset after we climbed Greenwich stairs
Coit tower at sunset after we climbed Greenwich stairs

Watch Sunset from Coit Tower

We climbed the long flights of stairs from Greenwich Street, Greenwich steps. Highly recommend this route as it meanders between homes, private gardens and steep views of the San Francisco Bay.

Greenwich stairs starting down near the piers lead all the way to Coit Tower
Greenwich stairs starting down near the piers lead all the way to Coit Tower