Ask Shelly: Best place to stop on a family road trip from San Francisco to southern California?

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We're not on I-5 anymore: View from the car getting close to Paso Robles on Highway 101.
We’re not on I-5 anymore: View from the car on our family road trip south via Highway 101.

I actually get asked this question so often in person, I’m glad it finally made it to a formal Ask Shelly post! If you’re planning a road trip with kids between  San Francisco and southern California, and you’ll need to make better time than (or avoid the nauseating curves of) driving scenic Highway 1, read on…

Dear Shelly,

I’m in search of a 3-night “vacation” for my family of four to work in as a fun way to break up the drive between the Bay Area and the granparents’ house in Southern California’s Inland Empire. We’d be going either for the Thanksgiving weekend, or during Christmas break.

What we really, really need to make the trip successful is a heated pool appropriate for year-round use. We’re bikers and hikers and sometimes lounge-arounders. Any ideas?



Obviously there are dozens of great weekend getaways within easy reach of the San Francisco Bay Area, but if you’re looking for a good stopover en route to relatives in the south, what I always recommend to friends who want an alternative to the monotonous I-5 drive (and who don’t want to spend 3x as long winding down coastal Highway 1) is to take Highway 101 by way of Paso Robles.

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It adds 1 hour overall to the drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but the drive is much more scenic (more orchards and vineyards, less Jack In the Box), and with Paso Robles just over 3 hours away, it’s  a great place to break up the drive on a road trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles or San Diego. Leave home in the morning and you’ll have the full afternoon to play.

What’s more, if you happen to have your bikes along (or want to rent some while you’re there), there are some beautiful bike routes through the wine country there and even simply around the bike-friendly town (see Bicycle Friendly Paso Robles for more information).

And since you  mention hiking, you’ll find good options there, too. You might like this brochure with an overview of trails right in and around Paso Robles, which also includes a description of the parks in the area (which have playgrounds, restrooms, etc.).

While there are many family-friendly places to stay in Paso Robles, I usually recommend the La Quinta Inn & Suites because we have stayed there ourselves and enjoyed the heated outdoor pool and large outdoor spa with the kids, not to mention the complimentary breakfasts included with make-your-own waffle station (I also liked the fireplace in the breakfast room).

Thanks for the good question; I hope this helps! And if you do stop over at Paso Robles, please let us know how it goes.

Safe journeys,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby and Take-Along Travels with Baby   facebook   twitter   about the author  

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