California’s Pacific Coast Highway is the ultimate USA family road trip, serving up sun-soaked adventure, wildlife encounters and opportunities to let your hair down every inch of the way. Instead of cries of “Are we there yet?”, your kids will be saying: “Do we have to leave?”

On this family road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, not only seeing this patch of coastal Americana from the car window but by bicycle, seaplane, helicopter, kayak and even eco-raft. Boredom just doesn’t exist in California. But before you pick up your hire car, spend a few days in San Francisco. Learn about the city’s pioneering history as you explore its hills, Victorian houses and icons with your own guide, before a spine-tingling evening trip to the legendary island of Alcatraz. Speaking of legends, the Golden Gate Bridge is undoubtedly San Fran’s icon and you’ll see it from two different angles on this California family road trip, firstly from underneath on a cruise in an America’s Cup yacht and then pedalling over it on a cycling trip.

With San Fran under your belt, it’s time to hit the road for your next stop on this California family road trip. Hug the sun-dappled Pacific Coast as you skip from Carmel to Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara, pit-stopping as you go for memorable family experiences. You’ll all be glued to the windows you as you wave goodbye to San Francisco’s skyline on an epic private seaplane flight, while an eco-raft ocean safari will have you gasping as you spot humpback whales, orcas and dolphins in the waters of Monterey Bay. Then, learn how to ride the waves with a family surfing lesson before pausing to reflect on your epic so far with a sunset meal on Pismo Beach.

Once you reach Santa Barbara, you’ll continue to make the most of the coast on this California family holiday itinerary. Trot along creamy sands on horseback in time for sunset and explore California’s Channel Islands together by kayak, paddling their many sea caves with a guide. After two days in Santa Barbara, it’ll be time to fire up the engine again and motor on to Los Angeles. Your children will love being briefly transported back eleven thousand years as they search for prehistoric fossils on a guided tour at La Brea Tar Pits, but Los Angeles is awash with family experiences where you can really take the handbrake off and dive in. Go behind the scenes of some of TV and cinema’s most recognisable film sets at Universal Studios, before your own guide takes you around Los Angeles’ most unmissable sights from the Hollywood Walk of Fame to the stately mansions of Hancock Park. Then, see them all anew on an unforgettable private helicopter flight.

You’ll soak up the LA sunshine for one more day with a stand-up paddleboarding lesson and leisurely cycle along Venice Beach, before pausing for breath with a day of chill among the caramel curves of Laguna Beach. The final couple of days are firmly for the kids – and the kids at heart – with private behind-the-scenes tours at both Legoland California and San Diego Zoo. It’s not just the children that won’t want to go home after this California coast family road trip…


Experience highlights

  • See San Francisco’s signature sights with your own guide. There’s something for everyone on this tour, from the Golden Gate Bridge and iconic cable cars to the child-friendly amusements of Pier 39 and the crooked switchbacks of Lombard Street.
  • Get ready to channel your inner Sir Ben Ainslie as you sail aboard an America’s Cup yacht with a seasoned sailor. Pass under the Golden Gate Bridge, while kids will love taking turns steering and learning the ropes.
  • See San Fran from a bird’s-eye view on a private seaplane flight, soaring high above ancient redwood forests, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the downtown skyline – you might even spot a whale or two.
  • Embark on an eco-raft ocean safari from Moss Landing, where you might paddle past orcas, dolphins and blue and humpback whales. You’ll also glide through the wetlands of Elkhorn Slough, where you may encounter playful otters, seals and sea lions.
  • Ride the Santa Barbara coastline on horseback, trotting along honey-coloured sands and watching the sun set the sky ablaze as it hangs low on the horizon.
  • Set off on a family kayaking expedition around California’s Channel Islands, paddling past kelp forests, rugged cliffs and in and out of secret sea caves with seabirds like Cassin’s auklets and Brandt’s cormorants swooping overhead. You can hop out of your kayak to hike Channel Islands National Park and snorkel kelp beds, too.
  • If your kids have always wanted to be dinosaur hunters, then here’s their chance: a private guided tour of La Brea Tar Pits will have them discovering ancient fossils among the many excavations and museum.
  • Get VIP access to Universal Studios and watch your children’s eyes light up as they catch a glimpse of film sets for Back to the Future, Jurassic Park and How the Grinch Stole Christmas before letting your hair down among the theme park’s many rides and attractions following a chef-prepared gourmet meal.
  • See a mix of Los Angeles’ A-list sights and lesser-known gems on a guided tour of Beverly Hills and Hollywood, before hopping in a helicopter to see LA from a different angle. Soar above the iconic Hollywood sign before perching on a plateau to admire views of Malibu Beach.
  • Enjoy a private guided tour of San Diego Zoo, where you can visit exhibits and areas of the zoo that are normally off-limits for regular ticket holders. Learn about the zoo’s history from your guide and enjoy close-up encounters with its wildlife.
Plan your trip to California

Experience highlights

Start in the Golden City, San Francisco
Stay at the Fairmont San Francisco, with its sweeping city views atop Nob Hill
Explore the city with your private guide, seeing its grand Victorian houses, Pier 39 and Chinatown
In the evening, head over to Alcatraz to explore the former prison's legendary cells and campus
Watch your kids become budding sailors as you sail under the Golden Gate Bridge in an America's Cup yacht
Enjoy a guided family cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge to the charming houseboats and quaint boutiques of Sausalito
Pause for an epic seaplane flight over creamy beaches, ancient redwood forests and Downtown San Francisco
After your time in San Fran, pick up your hire car – this is where your road trip really gets going
Motor along the Pacific Coast Highway to Carmel
Nestle down in prime Californian countryside at Carmel Valley Ranch
Spy whales, dolphins and orcas on an eco-raft safari around Monterey Bay
Children will love the behind-the-scenes tour of Monterey Bay Aquarium
Move on to Pismo Beach, staying at the oceanfront Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa
Take to the waves on a family surfing lesson from Pismo Beach
Follow in the footsteps of the likes of Clark Gable and Barbra Streisand with a couple of nights at Belmond El Encanto
Plod along the Santa Barbara coastline on horseback just in time for sunset
Kayak past dolphins and whales and in and out of sea beds and kelp forests among California's Channel Islands
Leave Santa Barbara and drive to the bright lights of Los Angeles
Bed down among the graceful grandeur of Maybourne Beverly Hills
Watch your kids become dinosaur hunters for the day by searching for fossils with your guide at La Brea Tar Pits
Enjoy exclusive access to Universal Studios – the young and young at heart will love the hidden movie sets and attractions
Explore Los Angeles' big-ticket sights with a guide, including the Hollywood Bowl, Walk of Fame and the art deco apartments of Hancock Park
Hop in a private helicopter and soar over the famous Hollywood Sign, Santa Monica's beaches and the celebrity homes of Beverly Hills and Bel Air
As a family, try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding with a lesson from Santa Monica beach
Pedal past the vibrant shops and eclectic street performers of Venice Beach
Admire the glittering Pacific Ocean from the bluff-topped Montage Laguna Beach
Children can finetune their Lego building skills with a special workshop and private factory tour at Legoland California
Round off your epic road trip with a personalised guided tour of San Diego Zoo

Request your tailor-made California road trip itinerary

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    Where you’ll stay


    Fairmont San Francisco, San Francisco

    Occupying a dramatic position on the swish neighbourhood of Nob Hill, Fairmont San Francisco enjoys some of the city’s best views. But this isn’t merely a hotel: the Fairmont is a symbol, landmark and legend all rolled into one. It was a sign of the city’s rebirth when it was built the year after the 1906 earthquake and the UN Charter was drafted here. Inside, the hotel cements its grande dame status with its elegant columns, wrought-iron balconies and classy clean lines. This is also where Tony Bennett first sang I Left My Heart in San Francisco and you’ll be doing the same.


    Carmel Valley Ranch, Carmel-by-the-Sea

    Nowhere does Californian countryside quite like Carmel Valley Ranch. Pitched among five hundred acres of sweeping valleys, ancient oaks and sun-dappled farmland, the location and masterful wooden builds feel more Swiss chalet than all-American bolthole. But while the floor-to-ceiling windows are fine places to watch the world go by, this scenery isn’t just for gawping at. It’s for getting stuck into and treating as your playground, whether it’s hiking, horse-riding, beekeeping or perfecting your backhand on the tennis court. It has it all.


    Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa, Pismo Beach

    Sometimes, the name just says it all. That’s certainly the case with Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa, where dolphins genuinely jump out of the Pacific, like they’re putting on a show for you and your balcony is the front row. The resort is also genuinely oceanfront – any closer and you’d be in your swimwear – something you can appreciate from all angles at the resort, whether it’s from the beach, the sumptuous seafood in the restaurant or the complimentary bicycles you can ride across the coastal path.


    Belmond El Encanto, Santa Barbara

    When the likes of Carole Lombard, Clark Gable and Barbra Streisand have been, you know it’s a special place. We can’t quite put our finger on why, though. Maybe it’s the country club feel? Or the epic views of the Pacific Ocean? Perhaps it’s the daydream-inducing treatments in the spa or the cool coastal cuisine you can enjoy from the restaurant terrace. It’s most likely a sprinkling of stardust over the whole resort, a magical quality that has wooed the great and good to its glamourous shoreline for decades.


    Maybourne Beverly Hills, Los Angeles

    The tendency in Beverly Hills is to always be in the limelight. Even though it’s in the neighbourhood’s fabled Golden Triangle, the Maybourne prefers to take a back foot combining the effortless luxury you’d expect in this glitzy part of the world with an oasis-like calm that’s often craved by its clientele. That’s hard to believe with its grand peach-hued colonial exterior but inside it’s a languid collection of serene archways, Mediterranean murals and classic furnishings that celebrities love to hole themselves up in away from the cameras and red carpets.


    Montage Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach

    Embodying the thriving arts community that Laguna Beach is known for, the Montage hotel rests on a bluff overlooking the foamy Pacific Ocean that must have inspired plenty of artists over the centuries. Their artwork adorns the Montage’s walls within, with a particular emphasis on pieces from the nineteenth-century Early California era. Dark woods and muted colours allow the artwork to express itself, while activities like kayaking, snorkelling and volleyball mean you can also indulge in California’s sun-soaked beach culture.

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