SANTA BARBARA & HEARST CASTLE
It’s time to get behind the wheel again, as you’re heading north out of Santa Monica for your first taste of the Pacific Coast Highway, the dramatic ocean-hugging road that runs all the way up to San Francisco and beyond. It’s just over 85 miles (around an hour and a half or so) from Santa Monica to the pretty Spanish Colonial Revival town of SANTA BARBARA, a good stop-off point with its beaches, wooden wharf, old mission, and range of restaurants around bustling State Street.
From Santa Barbara, the quicker route north cuts diagonally inland, but you pick up the coast again at Pismo Beach, from where it’s just over 70 miles (about an hour and a quarter) to HEARST CASTLE, the Central Coast’s biggest attraction. The extravagant hilltop home of media mogul William Randolph Hearst is just the kind of place you’d imagine an eccentric billionaire would build. It appears to be a Spanish cathedral from the outside, and one-hour tours of the inside [$25, under-13s $12, under-5s free] take in a huge medieval-looking dining room, a cinema, Roman-style baths and a vast pool surrounded by statues of the gods. Antelope, camels and other exotic animals once roamed the grounds, part of the world’s largest private zoo at the time – and you still might catch the surreal sight of a zebra grazing in pastures alongside the Pacific Coast Highway near here.
TOP TIP If you want some more time on the beach before bidding Southern California good bye, then it’s worth heading instead for the legendary surfer town of MALIBU, around half an hour north of Santa Monica. You can lounge on Malibu Lagoon State Beach or white-sand Zuma Beach, further up the coast, or learn how to catch a few waves with Malibu Makos, who should have you standing up and maybe even hanging ten by the end of their private lessons [1hr or 1hr 30min | from $100, includes wetsuit and surfboard].
WHERE TO STAY
THE LIJOMA LOWDOWN
Delve deeper with our tips on what to read and watch before you go, foods and drinks your kids must try, and some key cultural advice
From beachfront hotels to Downtown B&Bs – our pick of the most memorable places for families to stay in California
NEED TO KNOW
A handy overview of California’s weather and climate throughout the year, with recommendations for the best time to visit
Pre-trip practicalities, including getting there, visas and passports, health and safety, and how to get around
MORE AMAZING TRIPS
Inside glaciers, under waterfalls and out into the Atlantic to watch whales
Two weeks exploring the most family-friendly country in Southeast Asia