California Holiday Treks with the Kids – and Relatives

Genie Davis November 17, 2011 No Comments

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The holidays are coming on strong this year, with seasons greetings managing to greet you, ready or not, in the malls, grocery stores, and street corners. And with the holidays arriving, so do out of town relatives, ready for a visit with you and kids.

Sunset Moonstone Beach Cambria

Watching the sunset from Cambria's Moonstone Beach

And, sometimes those relatives want to see a little bit of where they’re visiting. It’s their vacation too – you might as well enjoy it with them, and take the entire family along for trips that highlight the holidays and show off your own home state. If your home is in California, or if you’re visiting the Golden State, here are some great tips for day or weekend trips in the coastal areas, with a little bit of Holiday flare, besides.

Central California Coast

Only two hours from Los Angeles, you’ll find Santa Barbara, and its southerly neighbor, Carpinteria. We love taking visitors to Carpinteria state beach, a pleasant, uncrowded, easy to park at broad stretch of sand that will let adults walk and kids run along a lovely shore line for as long as legs and cameras hold out. And when the brisk sea breezes make everyone ready for a treat, try Chocolate Maya in Santa Barbara proper. A Swiss native, owner Maya is friendly and generous with tasting samples in a shop designed to emulate European shops with hand dipped treats and awesome thick and flavorful hot cocoa to keep everyone in a holiday frame of mind. She uses environmentally friendly packaging and whether you’re after a dark chocolate adult confection or a milk chocolate candy bar the kids will be talking about for a week, you’ll find it here. It’s a great place to pick up holiday gifts, too.

Afterwards, drive down to Santa Barbara’s pier and enjoy another ocean view while browsing the kitschy sea-resort themed gift shops; or rent a pedal powered buggy to work off those sweet calories and get your entire family moving up and down the shore line.

Farther north, at the midway point on highway 101 between San Francisco and Los Angeles, if you pick the right day of the week, you’ll find treats of all kinds at San Luis Obispo‘s justifiably famous blocks-long Farmer’s Market. Held every Thursday evening except Thanksgiving, you’ll find plenty to graze on and gaze upon. Our children love tasting the varieties of olive oil and vinegar local to the region and available in shops and at the market. The market itself has over  120 vendors offering up fruits and veggies, tri-tip beef barbeque, fresh flowers, and seasonal delights like English toffee and peppermint chocolates. Stop in at the town’s historic mission, which is also seasonally decorated, or enjoy a stroll along the downtown streets.

Also in the San Luis Obispo area is the Avila Valley Barn, offering up fruits and veggies, fudge and fun seven days a week. There’s a petting zoo too with miniature horses sure to enchant the kids.

Staying on the coast, but heading farther north, you’ll find wonderful walking beaches in Cayucos and Cambria. Cayucos town beach is flat, sandy, and warmer than Cambria’s rockier Moonstone crescent, but finding sea glass and moonstones makes Cambria’s shore line a family favorite, and one that can keep our kids occupied for hours. Sunset is sweet from Cambria’s shore as well.

Elephant seals Cambria Califorinia

What child and what out of town relative can resist the natural wonders of sea elephants?

Outside of Cambria, you’ll find the elephant seals breeding grounds right off Highway 1. Viewing platforms will offer you an excellent view of these behemoths, and November through January are great times of year to view many of them on shore.

Northern California Coast

If you’re heading up to the Monterey peninsula, kids of all ages will enjoy the slides and climbing tunnels of the enormous Dennis the Menace Playground; but out of town visitors are going to clamor for a stop at the world renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. You’ll find the Aquarium seasonally decorated and worthy of a full day’s visit. You can read more about our experience at the Aquarium my Carmel, California article.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium was also featured on Tots and Travel’s 10 Best Aquariums in the USA.  Smaller children will love the Monterey Youth County Museum’s interactive displays for kids, especially the giant bubble maker and a fantasy theater allowing dress up and performance space.

If you’re closer to San Francisco or you’re taking a longer drive, naturally the kids are going to love the off season quiet of the Santa Cruz boardwalk. Without the long lines for the iconic amusement park rides, you’ll get the thrills without the waiting. If the weather’s chilly, there’s a vast indoor arcade too, including a large and enjoyable laser tag option. If you’re staying overnight the Dream Inn has commodious rooms and is more than accommodating to large family groups, with adjoining rooms and suites available, many with a lovely ocean view. Again, off season here is a treat, with lowered prices and often less fog than in the summer months.

Take a walk in the Natural Bridges State Park, enjoying the arches and coves, or head inland to the Monarch butterfly migration hot spot, in the state park’s Eucalyptus grove. You’ll find more migrating monarchs closer to Pismo Beach which is south of San Luis Obispo and just off Route 1. Both monarch sanctuaries offer viewing glasses to better observe the winged beauties; kids of all ages and out of town guests alike will be enthralled at either spot.

Wherever you go this holiday season, drive safe and enjoy the family – which is really what the holidays are all about.

Related Articles:

Cambria, Cayucos and Carpenteria, California – The three C’s
Santa Barbara has Something Special for Kids
Central California Articles

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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