THE ULTIMATE FAMILY FRIENDLY CALIFORNIA BUCKET LIST
I’m so excited to share with you, all the details from our two-week adventure in California with Visit California! The girls had the time of their lives and my husband and I truly felt that we got to have just as much fun as adults on this vacation. I had never thought of planning a California road-trip and it ended up being the perfect place for our family getaway! I’m going to share our itinerary, the highlights of our trip and any suggestions we have below.
Our adventure started in Monterey, a smaller picturesque town with a ton of fun hot spots situated along California’s iconic Pacific Coast Highway. Monterey is such a beautiful place to explore with its beautiful beaches, trendy shops, amazing restaurants/wineries, and historic streets.
We checked into the Portola Hotel & Spa located in Old Monterey. The location was ideal and made it very convenient for exploring because of the numerous shops, restaurants and attractions all around. The lobby was bright and airy with a ton of elegant seating for guests to gather with friends and family. Our room was modern, very clean and a great size for our family.
If you’re staying at the Portola Hotel, some quaint breakfast options nearby include:
We couldn’t go to Monterey and not stop in at the original Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Co. This family-friendly restaurant opened in 1996 and is a classic spot to stop for fans of the movie Forrest Gump. We love a menu that has something for all of us and it definitely did! The coconut shrimp was most loved by my girls and I would definitely order the strawberry salad again.
One of the nights we had dinner at Rosine’s Restaurant and we couldn’t have chosen a better spot! This local favorite offers true homestyle cooking with all the savory, feel-good meals you could dream of. There were homemade soups, hearty plates of meats and potatoes and in-house made desserts that gave my grandma a run for her money. Sooo yummy! Rosine's is third generation family-run and they are celebrating over 41 successful years in business!
While walking along Old Fisherman’s Warf we sat down for lunch at the Abalonetti Bar & Grill. I loved the views overlooking the water and they had the best Buffalo Calamari! This casual but cute original waterfront restaurant does a great job catering to various diet requests as well.
What To Do
The best part of Monterey for us was the spectacular world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. The girls had a BLAST learning about the ocean and discovering marine life. The dark jellyfish room was breathtaking and hosted many species of jellies all displayed in fluorescent tanks. The Open Sea was another exhibit that drew the crowds and rightfully so! This enormous tank was filled with sharks, sting ray, sea turtles, and fish. Don’t miss the feeding time…it was the coolest thing to watch! I personally appreciated the aquariums focus on educating its visitors on conservation of the ocean.
The well known 17-Mile Drive is one of the most scenic drives in the world and stretches from Pacific Grove to Carmel. The drive is open to the public from sunrise to sunset and requires a small vehicle entry fee. We entered through the Highway 1 Gate which gave us access to the stops in the order they are shown on the map. The coastline was by far my favorite section of the drive, and we pulled over to play on the beach and bask in the sun for a bit.
Old Fisherman’s Warf is a well-known spot where you can shop unique boutiques, watch the seals basking in the sun or hop on a glass bottom boat tour and whale watch. The pier is lined with restaurants and the scenic views are truly beautiful.
Cannery Row is lined with luxury waterfront hotels, charming boutiques and unique, enticing restaurants! It gives a glimpse of the city’s history with its historic cannery buildings that add so much charm to the area. We loved exploring this strip of Monterey and the girls loved stopping in for their favorite ice cream flavours from the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop!
We couldn’t visit the sunshine state and not sign up for a wine tour. Folktale Winery in Carmel Valley was probably one of the best wineries I have visited…and I’ve been to a lot of wineries! The atmosphere was incredibly welcoming, the appetizers delish and the wine worth going back for. Mark and I sat on the patio and listened to live music as we tried some of their most popular wines paired with charcuterie. The girls loved playing in the sun and learning about the vineyard.
Next time I go back to Monterey I’d love to add the following to my itinerary:
Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail- an 18 mile stretch of spectacular views by the seaside
Surrey Bikes at Adventures by the Sea- rent bikes here for the best way to experience the Monterey Bay trail
Tide Pooling- Beautiful natural tide pools that invite families to experience local wildlife including starfish and crabs
You can learn more about beautiful Monterey and all it has to offer HERE
Paso Robles was the next stop on our California adventure and I could have spent a lot more time here! It’s not only a major wine district, but it’s incredibly trendy, quaint and hip. This laid-back town is a foodies paradise with top notch cafes, restaurants and bakeries on every corner.
We checked in at the Paso Robles Inn which is famous for its incredible hospitality as well as the amenities it offers for all ages. There is an outdoor pool in the stunning courtyard and right across the street from the hotel is a playground and a large open park. The Paso Robles Inn really is a perfect pick for families with kids of any age and we found we could walk to most places including the downtown shops.
We had the opportunity to fit in one more winery and so we stopped at Fableist Wine Co, where they give special attention to the story behind each wine. The labels on the bottles depict one of Aesops fables, each story a lesson that the makers have learned along the way. The wine was fantastic!
Below are some great spots to eat in Paso Robles. Like I said, I wish I had more time here because there were SO MANY restaurants I wanted to try.
Finca- This newer restaurant located in a historic farmhouse has amazing reviews so we knew we were in for a treat! Finca is a casual spot that features Baja and Sonora style Mexican food. The tacos were so flavorful and the drink selection was extensive. I loved the convenient location, the welcoming staff and the relaxing ambience. 10/10 Recommend!
Negranti Creamery- Delicious sheep’s milk ice-cream!
Spearhead Coffee – right around the corner from our hotel and highly recommended by so many people we talked to. Mark and I both loved their coffee and the girls each chose a treat.
Ziggys – Vegetarian, 100% Plant Based and so good I’d book a weekend trip just to eat there again.
If we had more time in Paso Robles, I would have loved to explore the Sensorio Field of Lights. This art installation looks so dreamy and magical, and the 15 acres are getting so much attention.
Learn more about Paso Robles HERE
The last city we explored on our road trip was Ventura. This relaxed surf town surprised me in so many ways. It had a welcoming small town feel, but was buzzing with energy and fun like the bigger cities that surround it. Ventura was fantastic for kids and families with so many outdoor activities to choose from.
We checked in at Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach as soon as we arrived and were so excited to find it was located RIGHT on the beach! The downtown core is only a five-minute walk from the hotel and boasts unique locally owned shops including candy stores and vintage clothing shops. The location was ideal and the room was incredibly spacious. We had a view of the beach and loved watching the sunset each night. Our weather was cooler and the sun struggled to come out during our stay, but my husband and oldest daughter still went for a dip in the water.
Some of these noteworthy shops I mentioned include:
-Shop Tiki Girl - cute and stylish
-Kariella - hand picked clothing, jewelry and swim
-Patagonia - the highest quality outdoor apparel founded in Ventura
-Rocket Fizz - one of the best candy shops I've ever seen
We had dinner at Nature’s Grill right on main street in Ventura. This local staple has been in business for 20 years and they serve it all. They offered delicious vegetarian and vegan options for me, a cold beer and burger for Mark and delicious fresh smoothies for the girls- so light and refreshing after a full day in the sun.
If you are craving some pizza- stop for the best around at Fluid State Beer Garden! They serve fresh pizzas made with organic Sourdough crust and offer a huge variety of independent craft beers! I loved the vibe at this trendy Main Street restaurant.
If you love coffee as much as I do I highly recommend stopping in at Palm and Boy Coffee and Acai tucked in on Main Street. They have the most beautiful and quaint courtyard where you can order smoothie bowls, avocado toast, amazing coffee and even GF donuts!
Harbour Cove Café is located right at the Ventura harbour and is a hidden gem in my opinion. It is locally owned and is well known for their famous fish and chips. This pet friendly, kid friendly café is worth stopping at!
We went to Pete’s Breakfast House for one of the best breakfasts we’ve ever had. The staff were super friendly, and the menu was impressive - made up of breakfast foods inspired by flavours from all around the world. You MUST try their pancakes and go early because it gets super busy!
What To Do
Downtown Ventura was one of the places we spent a lot of our time. There is a large strip of cafes, restaurants, second-hand stores, and boutique shops that we loved. The laid-back vibe was totally our style and the kids thought it was great they could run down the pedestrian only street.
The Ventura Pier and Promenade were just outside our hotel. There was a playground in the sand for the girls and the boardwalk was a great place to walk, skate, bike, etc. We ended up renting bikes from Wheel Fun Bike Rentals and headed north down the beachfront promenade where we stopped to watch the surfers ride the waves. The Ventura Pier offers picturesque views and is a popular tourist destination. This is an actual fishing pier so don’t be surprised if you see fisherman casting off over the edge.
Ventura Harbour Village is located at the center of Ventura and is a great place for visitors to hangout. This harbour hotspot is home to a bunch of great restaurants and fun shops, pedal boats, kayaks and beaches. The walkway takes you from one end to the other and the entire area is pet friendly. If you want to rent a boat try Ventura Boat Rentals!
The Channel Islands National Park Visitor Centre in Harbor Village is a great place to learn about the 5 famous islands. The centre offers incredible views of the water as well as a tank full of unique sea creatures. If you can’t make it out to Channel Islands National Park, this is the next best thing!
The last thing we did before finishing our trip was a quick stop at Serra Cross Grant Park. The views of Ventura were breathtaking and we would have loved to walk the trails if we had more time.
Learn more about Ventura HERE
I hope I’ve inspired you to add California to your bucket list. I know we can't wait to go back to explore more of this incredibly diverse state! Learn more about all California has to offer HERE.