Driving to San Diego from the Bay Area

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Driving from Berkeley/Oakland to San Diego

May 2014

Planning a trip to San Diego in early June with two young kids (ages 2 and 5) and we want to drive there (from Oakland) via the scenic route (101). Any recommendations for places we should stop along the way to take breaks and/or spend a night? Thanks! AMS

We're doing this trip with our preschooler next week, so I may have better kid- related advice after that...but we've done this route in the past pre-kids, so I can offer some thoughts there. We usually split the trip in either San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara, depending on which day we want the longer drive. (You could also do one going and one coming home if you plan to take 101 both ways-- we usually take I-5 one direction and try to go straight through, and then split the trip the other direction.) We're doing SLO coming home from San Diego this time to be able to stop in Monterey and see the aquarium on the way home, but that's a bit off the direct route. In the past, we've also stopped at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden; the beach (anywhere that 101 hugs the shore; otherwise you lose a lot of time with the stop); Solvang; and Paso Robles. VRBO (and now AirBnB) are good resources for overnight places, and there are a bunch of campsites (some with cabins or yurts) as well. We plan to check out Avila Valley Barn in SLO this trip as well, which is supposed to be great for kids (food, farm animals, hay rides on weekends). The main key in timing stops and choosing overnights for us has been trying to avoid LA traffic. Going north, it's usually worked to leave San Diego just ahead of rush hour (7 am) and be in-between SD and LA during peak commute time, hitting LA by 9:30-10. Going south, if you stop overnight, you can hit LA late morning, stop for lunch, and be out before 2 pm and to SD before rush hour begins there, and that's been okay. Have a great trip!

We just drove from San Diego back to Oakland over Spring Break, and really enjoyed stopping off at San Luis Obispo along the way. There's an area along the creek by the mission (fronting on Higuera St.) where you can find kid-friendly outdoor dining options that overlook the creek. (Just down the street is Bubblegum Alley, if your kids would be impressed by 15-foot-high walls covered in used chewing gum.) Pismo Beach is also a nice spot to stretch your legs and walk along the sand. JP -

That is such a great drive! Have done it many times and always enjoyed it. Not sure how far you are wanting to get the first day ( the whole thing is a very long day WITHOUT two small children), but there are certainly many great places to stop and stretch legs, as well as spend a night. If you do not have a lot of time to waste getting to and from, you may want to at least get to the central coast before calling it a day. Cambria is a great coastal town, and San Luis Obispo is a neat place to pull off and check out. Pretty little wooded downtown, CalPoly campus, great hot dog/burger joint that has been around forever (and I am not even an advocate of hot dogs). My kids also liked stopping in Solvang, a cute Danish settlement just a few minutes east off the 101. Husband views it as a complete tourist trap, but I cut it a little more slack. I like the windmills and Danish bakeries. Ventura is also a really good beachy town that has a strong SoCal vibe going. There is Pismo Beach, as well. These are all north of LA so would be a good goal for first day. Santa Barbara is another option, of course. If you make it as far as the LA area you might as well suck it up and keep trucking to SD. If you just can't muster that last two plus hours, at least head to Venice Beach area for a break or overnighter. Pretty cool area. Not sure where you will be in SD, but for kids I really recommend north county for a beach day. Less crowded, very family focused, super relaxed, friendly places. This would be La Jolla Shores, Del Mar, and Solana Beach, Torrey Pines State Beach. And, of course, Coronado Island. You guys will have so much fun! Kate

Driving to San Diego from North Bay

March 2014

We live in the North Bay and drove to San Diego for vacation last year. We loved it so much we are going back! We stopped overnight last year on the way down nd drove straight on the way home after realizing that stopping was a waste of time.

So this year we are trying to be strategic about the drive. We have an 8 year old who is a non-issue in terms of a long drive but we also have a toddler who will be 17 months by then.

We were thinking of leaving at 3 am to get 3 hours of driving (or however long we can. we are early risers but would continue as long as everyone is happy and contained). Then a quick coffee stop and another 3 hours. Then lunch/play and another 3 hours. We would take I5

So my question for those who have done it with toddlers is: is this good timing? Any good suggestions as to where to stop? We didn't find anywhere on the way back last year that was good so any family friendly suggestions would be great for both directions. Thank you

My suggestion is to take 101 and do it in two days -- we're actually going there over Spring Break, and will do it that way in at least one direction, and will probably stop in LA (museums and ethnic food) in the other direction. 101 has so many more places to stop -- San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach, Santa Barbara, lots of other places once you are south of SLO. Further North we've also stopped in Salinas sometimes -- historic town square with an interesting Steinbeck museum. In terms of places to stay for the night -- Santa Barbara, or if you are on a budget Ventura where you can find walking distance to the beach for less money. There are hardly any places to stop on I5. anon

We have done this drive many times, including when my daughter was toddler age on up. She is about the age of your oldest now. He likes to work backward from the LA traffic so that he doesn't hit it in a peak rush hour. He likes to hit it in the middle of the night which I don't think you can do leaving at 3am, but I think it's nice to leave at night if they will sleep peacefully for several hours if comfortable enough in your car/van.

Places that are good to stop might be the nut tree, or there's a great Danish stopping point in Solvang. I might plan to get there at a mealtime and go to the Heidelberg Restaurant, very cute... or the Greenhouse Cafe... We don't always stop there, because of his schedule... but try it at least on your way home. Happy driving! tabsweb

Driving to San Diego - half-way stops

Oct 2006

We'll be traveling by car over thanksgiving with 2 kids (6 and 9) to San Diego by car and want to break up the trip. Any suggestions for good places to stay/things to do roughly midway, give or take? Any advice greatly appreciated Karen

Take 101 rather than 5 and you'll have plenty of options! It's been many years now, but I thoroughly enjoyed a past visit to the La Purisima Mission, near Lompoc, and your kids are of an age to be interested. It is the only California Mission no longer in the hands of the Catholic Church, and is now a State Historical Park; volunteers often give demonstrations of candle- making and the like and the buildings and grounds are set up with period furnishings etc. In the same general area, you could visit Solvang, or the beach, or a winery. Holly