Monday, April 14, 2014

Toddler Travel: Driving to Southern California

Avila Beach Playground (about 15 min. off 101)

I recently posed a reader's question concerning toddler-friendly stops on I-5 to the SV Toddler community and got a ton of great feedback -- both for that particular reader, and for everyone else who does the drive with a wiggly carseat-bound passenger in the back. Many respondents said that Highway 101 was a much better route, toddler-wise, because it afforded opportunities for a variety of family-friendly stops. (The quote that made me laugh out loud: "I-5 is dead to us now.")

The wealth of information in that one thread was amazing, and I'd hate to have all those insights disappear into the bowels of difficult-to-search Facebook. So here I go with my first crowd-sourced post, cutting and pasting all the reader responses into one easy-to-find blog post. 

Grab your toddler, and get moving! We've got a great state to explore!

Pismo Beach Pier

Heading South on Highway 101

    Sherwood Forest Park, Paso Robles
    (About 10 min. off 101)
  • We took 101 down and took big stops in Paso Robles and Santa Barbara. Paso has tons of good kid friendly restaurants in the town square and a great toddler friendly town square! It's a called downtown city park. Lined with restaurants and cafes (we got take out sandwiches and ate at the park) tons of shade and wonderful new bathrooms! -- Jennifer K.
  • We have done the I-5 route a few times with a toddler and 9 yo. The extra time on hwy 101 is well worth it. So many places to stop and entertain the kids so they are happy to continue on the trek. we go to SoCal every year but I don't think we will be going I-5 anymore...Jennifer King's suggestion in Paso was a great stop for us too. -- Nick D.
    Emerson Park, SLO
  • We make this drive fairly often with our two littles. Both have HATED car rides, so although the drive is a little longer (I think 45 min if I remember right) it has meant the difference between crying babies for hours and happy babies. You are never far from a good spot to run and play, especially since 101 runs right by the ocean. There's tons of good food options, The Madonna Inn in SLO is fun and entertaining, as is Pea Soup Anderson's. I5 is dead to us now. -- Lenessa C.
  • Solvang,Santa Barbara (must stop at McConnell's in State St), the SB mission has great space for kiddos to run around on the large grassy area out in front. Downtown Paso Robles has a great pizza place called Marv's and a great park to run around in. Rocky Mountain chocolate and lots of other shops to visit too. Pea Soup Anderson's in Buellton is a fun place to stop too. -- Christy D.
    Avila Beach Swings
  • We stopped by Solvang on the way down to San Diego because it cuts the trip in half. One of the most awesome playgrounds we stopped at is the sunny fields park in Solvang. It's completely Nordic themed with a completely fenced in toddler area. There are plenty of ginger bread houses and places to climb. 4 toddler swings! I have to say that I wish I had a park like this nearby when I was growing up... it's all kinds of cool. Let me know if you need me to send you a few pics from my phone. -- Joy S.
  • We like stopping at the missions for clean restrooms and a peaceful place to nurse the baby. I really like Mission San Miguel. -- Danielle W.
    Mission Santa Barbara
  • We love to stop in the Avila Beach and Pismo area on 101, we usually make one stop going each direction because there is so much to do there. The Avila Valley barn is an awesome place for kids of all ages and the Avila Beach/pier area has lots of great kid friendly restaurants and a yummy ice cream shop. At Pismo we stop at the Dinosaur Caves park, the beach and pier area to stretch our legs, then Splash Cafe for some clam chowder. If we have time we like to stop at Monarch Grove and see the butterflies (Nov-Feb). -- Bria P.
  • Laguna Lake Park in San Luis Obispo is off Madonna Road. It has a playground and bathrooms. Great stopping point on our way to Santa Barbara. -- Hillarie C.
  • Same feedback as Bria P. Love Dinosaur Caves Park. -- Lisa D.
Pea Soup Andersen's,

Heading South on Highway 5
  • Casa de Fruta has a great playground and lots of toddler friendly things to do. It's not that far into the trip, but it's the best place to stop. -- Casey A.
  • The Firebaugh rest stop has plenty of space to run around, and a cute bench to eat a picnic. Button willow also has lots of space. -- Claire F.
  • Surprisingly there are no play places on 1-5 until you get to Santa Clarita. There is a new farm/produce market I keep seeing signs for before you get to the grape vine. I keep wanting to check it out. -- Jenell C.
  • Murray Family farm I bet Jenell. Such good food! The U pick events are so fun too! -- Alicea H.
  • About midway there, Kettelman City has lots of restaurants -- I bet the McDonalds there has a playground although I can't confirm that (you could call). The other big stop with lots of restaurants is at the base of the "Grapevine" closer to LA -- there's a Chipotle there (not in Kettelman) which is healthier than any other food option on the way for kids, and a drive-thru Starbucks for stressed parents! -- Robyn R.
  • We drive to san Diego via I-5 many times. We like to pack our lunch and stop near the top of the grapevine. There is a lake there. I think pyramid lake. There is a visitors center with benches to eat on overlooking the lake. It's nice and windy when it's hot. My kids like to run and play. Although there is no grassy area, there is an awesome free visitors center with a little museum on the inside and clean bathrooms. Hope that helps. It's Vista del Lago Visitors' Center. -- Tobie C.
  • Lots of rest stops along the way - my toddler loved seeing the big trucks, often dogs, and lots of grass to run around. -- Lesley S.
  • We drive to LA via 152 and I5. We never stop at casa de fruta (though we have made several trips to casa de fruta, I love that place), but we do stop at kettlemann city since it is almost midway to LA.Then if my son is fussy then there are several dennys open on the way. I know there is one right before the hills start (dont remember the name of the place). If you are going to the north of LA then you may not need another pit stop but if you have further to go, we do stop at the lyons ave exit (in santa clarita). It has a lot of places to eat like dennys, in n out, ihop, etc and good place to refuel. -- Suruchi B. 
  • As a kid we always stopped at Casa de fruta. Not too far and someone always has to pee by then. They have the awesome playground, animals, and train too. We'd always stock up on snacks as well! -- Rhiannon B.
  • We just made this drive down I5, we always stop at In-n-out at Kettleman City (about half way) or Tejon Ranch. I did not see a playground at the McDonald's at Kettleman city, it's attached to a gas station. They are building new shops with an old west look. I can't wait to see what goes in there. Murray farms outside of Bakersfield is a good place. We have only been to the one on the east side of Bakersfield toward Tehachapi but I believe they'd be the same and worth the stop for yummy fruits and fudge and they have animals to visit. -- Jen W.

Alright, friends, keep the suggestions coming! And thanks to all of you who have already shared your thoughts. I haven't even added my own personal tips in yet, so I'm sure this list will continue to grow!

Road trips with happy toddlers? What a concept!


  1. Hey! The Kettleman City stop (with the In-n-Out) has a new place called Bravo Farms. It is a big western theme building and has a play and picnic space at the back! They have a sand box with toys, little western themed buildings with slides and little doors, a huge cow, places to climb, a small tire swing, a play shooting game, and synthetic grass. Out toddler cried when they closed and we had to leave. :-( In side they are supposed to have food, ice cream, gift shop, etc. We didn't go inside but will next time. Check it out!

  2. The new outlet mall at Tejon Ranch (Laval Road) has an excellent family bathroom. Also, the new Black Bear Dinner is super family friendly and the food was good too. Great stop while traveling with two little ones. We also hit the Denny's at Kettleman city often. And the Babies r Us in Santa Clarita is a great pitstop for diaper changes if your car is loaded to the ceiling like ours. :)

  3. I second the Bravo Farms recommendation - best stop between Bay Area and LA!!!


Hmm...what to do today?