A Kid-Friendly Central Coast Road Trip Pt 1

Who Needs a Stay-cation?

Who needs a stay-cation when you can see major California scenery up the Central Coast just a short drive away? Here's a travelogue of two fun road trips we recently took with our kids. Below is a rundown of our winter trip, made over Christmas break. The other, Part 2, was a summer road trip. The adventure was not only fun, but educational, too.

Central Coast Road Trip, Part 2

The Central Coast of California

The Central Coast is an area of California situated between the urban centers of Los Angeles on the south and San Francisco on the north. Once you're out of LA and past Santa Barbara, you're in the Central Coast region. The scenic Pacific Coast Highway, also known as Highway 1, runs along the ocean here. The area is famed for its stunning ocean vistas, nature parks and recreational sites. Farther inland, the area is dominated by farms which are the lifeblood of the state's economy.

Big Sur
Big Sur
Solvang
Solvang

First Stop: Solvang

The first stop on the drive was Solvang, a small town that was completely built for tourism. It's a small, Scandinavian themed village complete with windmills, Danish bakeries, and a Hans Christian Andersen (The Little Mermaid) museum. Very kitschy but the kids thought it cute. There is also a small mission, La Purisma, with an entrance right off one of the town parking lots. The highlights: free parking lots with clean restrooms; bakery goodies from Solvang Bakery and fudge from the candy shop; photo op in front of one of the windmills.

Tip: Don't go to Solvang during their September Danish Days festival - too crowded!

On To San Luis Obispo

Our destination in San Luis Obispo was the Madonna Inn. Yes, another kitschy place, but, hey, the kids loved it! It's known for its over the top decor, with each room furnished and named with a unique "theme." We have stayed in the Antique Car and the China Flower rooms. The rooms we booked were almost like suites, family-friendly because there was a queen bed, a full size bed, and a sofa for plenty of sleeping options. Rooms had flat screen TVs and internet access (for $10/day). The family enjoyed the gym, the swimming pool, which had a nice shallow end, and the two hot tubs. They also have a lovely wine & gift shop on site, where we purchased a bottle for our dog sitting neighbor.  Don't forget to check out the bathrooms in the main lobby building.

San Luis Obispo is a college town, home to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Other attractions there include a historic mission, Apple Farm Millhouse, and a children's museum.

Antique Car Room at Madonna Inn
Antique Car Room at Madonna Inn
Poolside at Madonna Inn
Poolside at Madonna Inn

Baby Elephant Seal at Piedras Blancas

Baby Elephant Seal
Baby Elephant Seal

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Beach

During the winter months of December through February, female elephant seals come to the beach to birth to their pups and nurse them. There is a turn-off/parking area off of Highway 1 at Piedras Blancas ("white rocks") where we we got out and watched the cute baby elephant seals bark at their mothers for milk. Did you know that the mother elephant seal gives birth to a newborn pup weighing in at about 60-80 lbs, but then she nurses that baby without eating for the next 4 weeks? During this 4 week period, the pup grows to about 300 lbs! Then right after this nursing period, it's breeding season again and the males are fighting one another to mate with them. Whew, I'm exhausted just thinking about it!

Meanwhile we watched the giant bull seals sparring with each other over the choicest beach territory or females. The seals do not feed while they are on the beach and understandably spend a lot of their time just lazing around. Both males and females lose about a third of their enormous body weight during this hiatus from hunting.

Morro Bay

As we progressed up the coast, we got to see Morro Rock, an impressive 578 foot rock formation towering over Morro Bay. The bay is a protected inlet of ocean where there are hardly any waves. The kids were so excited to see a couple of sea otters playing in the water pretty close to shore. We visited the small Morro Bay aquarium there as well, where the kids could buy small fish to feed the seals and sea lions with.

Morro Rock
Morro Rock
Sea Otters Playing in Morro Bay
Sea Otters Playing in Morro Bay

Well, that was it for the winter trip. But there was more we wanted to do - including seeing the giant redwood forests and visiting Monterey Bay Aquarium - that we decided to return to the Central Coast for a summer road trip.

Central Coast Road Trip Part 2

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