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Where to stop on the PCH - family with older teenagers

London, England...
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Where to stop on the PCH - family with older teenagers


We're travelling SF to LA June/July 2014 and will be driving down PCH from 30 June before going on to San Diego and Vegas. Have been looking at many options and have 3 nights to stop on way down. Travellers are myself, husband and my daughter 18 and son 16. We need reasonable accommodation as 2 rooms and would like an ocean view for one night or more. Can push the boat out for one night and budget on others if necessary.

Would like to see if we can catch a whale watching tour but other than that happy to take a bit of homegrown advice on best places to get good views and interesting towns. We would like a bit of heritage and things like the mystery spot in Santa Cruz look interesting but not sure if its just a tourist gimmick. We like a little bit of nature and I love a good view and being at one with nature. Daughter avid animal/nature fan and son likes being close to wi-fi.

Inland/redwood area is an option but tbh not sure how feasible this would be if driving PCH.

We want to try and experience as much as poss as this is the first time we have travelled outside Europe and want to give our kids a "holiday of a lifetime" but on a bit of a budget.

I'm spending hours on TA and just getting very confused as soon much information and too many choices.

Thank you in advance.

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Uden, The...
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1. Re: Where to stop on the PCH - family with older teenagers


Do you know you are coming in one of the busiest times of the year around Independence Day (july 4th) and prices will be at a premium and hotels will be booked long before and many hotels along the coast will require at least a 2 nights or longer stays.

Yosemite NP is on a 4 hours drive from San Francisco to the east and highly recommended but reservations are a must again.

You didnot tell how long you have for this trip between SF and LV.

Please check out FAQ at the right hand side of this page.

Grover Beach...
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2. Re: Where to stop on the PCH - family with older teenagers

Your 3 nights could be:


Pismo Beach

Santa Barbara or Los Angeles


Day 1: Leave SF early, drive down to Santa Cruz, but head over to Henry Cowell Redwoods few miles east of town first. Return to SC to check out the beach/boardwalk before continuing to Monterey. Stop at the Elkhorn Slough to see seals, otters, birds, etc. If you arrive in Monterey by late afternoon, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium or rent bikes and ride along the Pacific Grove recreational trail and enjoy the beautiful bay views.

Day 2: Leave Monterey early and stop at Point Lobos State Reserve for a few hours. There are several easy hikes with gorgeous scenery around every bend. Continue south to Big Sur stopping for lunch at Nepenthe or Cafe Kevah. Make a stop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to view pretty McWay Falls. The contrast between the water in the cove next to the falls and open sea is breathtaking. Stop at the elephant seal rookery just past the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse. Continue to Pismo Beach. IF you get there by late afternoon, you can walk the pier and/or pier or rent wetsuits and surf gear for the kids to join the locals in the water.

Day 3: Continue to Santa Barbara for sightseeing and spend the night or limit your time here in favor of time in Hollywood/LA

Edited: 02 August 2013, 16:42
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3. Re: Where to stop on the PCH - family with older teenagers

The Monterey Beach Resort is a nice family place to stay in Monterey. In Pismo, check out The Seacrest Resort. :).

London, England...
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4. Re: Where to stop on the PCH - family with older teenagers

Thanks for your answers.

Tet4 we know we'll be there for 4th july and its more expensive but our kids break from exams at endof June and we have to be back in UK by 15/16 July as daughter going on a world challenge trip to Madagascar around 20 July.

Makes it a difficult choice for our big trip but we also thought it would be an experience to be in the US for Independence Day.

Will go check out your suggestions.


Anaheim, California
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5. Re: Where to stop on the PCH - family with older teenagers

Is The Mystery Spot a gimmick? Well, the things they show are optical illusions, so yes, but it is done in a fun way, and IMHO, worth the hour or so it takes to take the tour. Maybe combine it with a visit to The Winchester Mystery House, and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and spend the night at Santa Cruz.

When you get to the Ventura area, take the 126 east to the I-5 and the Valencia area. Six Flags Magic Mountain is a great place for Teens, especially if they love Roller Coaster and Thrill Rides. Reasonably priced (Buy on line at their website), get a Hotel in the area, since they are reasonably priced. (I like the Comfort Suites, great free breakfast, and the rooms are nice and large). Then head south to the Los Angeles Area and San Diego (You can take the 405 off the I-5 to get back to the coastal area). Make sure and stop at Point Vicente in the Palos Verdes area, your daughter will love it.

Santa Cruz...
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6. Re: Where to stop on the PCH - family with older teenagers

Kibblesmom's suggestions for Santa Cruz are very good.

Henry Cowell Redwoods is definitely worth a visit and easy to get to on your way. The kids would love the Boardwalk, which is an old fashioned amusement park with an historic wooden roller coaster, right on the beach. At various times they have aerial acts and concerts in the summer, which are free, as is admission to the Boardwalk.

I would not spend any time at the Mystery Spot. It is a gimmick based on optical illusions and is pretty tourist-trashy. In addition, Japanese tour agencies send their clients there and in the summer it fills up with no parking available and people parking on the county road and walking in. I would not spend my precious time on it. It is apt to take way more than an hour because of parking problems and waits.

For Henry Cowell, if you tell me which way you will be coming from San Francisco, Hwy 1 or over Hwy 17 from 280, I can give you directions.

Santa Cruz is only 45 minutes north of Monterey.

It sounds like a lovely trip.

Edited: 02 August 2013, 18:47
San Diego...
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7. Re: Where to stop on the PCH - family with older teenagers

I'd suggest dune buggy or ATV riding at Oceano Dunes SVRA right in front of the ocean near Pismo Beach. tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g32814-d26…

Here's a travelogue of the coast posted by another member of this forum: https:/…5621071823861282305

Edited: 02 August 2013, 19:26
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8. Re: Where to stop on the PCH - family with older teenagers

I've been to the Mystery Spot several times and never actually taken the tour. Each time, I have gone with visitors who really want to see it, but every time we have attempted it, the place has been mobbed with people and the wait to take a tour has been 90+ minutes. So rather than hang around, we have always just left without taking a tour.

However, the Santa Cruz mountains are a wonderful place to visit and Henry Cowell (as mentioned) is a great park and quite easy to get to. I would definitely recommend that.

With teenagers, a trip to the Boardwalk is always fun - seaside amusement park with a historic roller coaster :-)

As much as I like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, for this trip I would probably skip it unless your family has a very strong interest. The aquarium is great, but I think that to really enjoy it, you need at least 3 hours or so, otherwise it really isn't worth the entrance fee. You'd have to rush through the visit to the Santa Cruz area to make it down to Monterey in time to see the aquarium.

9. Re: Where to stop on the PCH - family with older teenagers

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