“If you want to take one of the more exhilarating drives of your life, I highly recommend Highway 1 from Monterey to Big Sur,” says Ilana Wiles (aka Mommy Shorts). The New York City–based mom of Harlow and Mazzy (ages 5 and 8) headed west for a seven-day road trip through Kidifornia. The crew stayed on the move, exploring the tech culture of San Jose, a historic railroad in Felton, the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, sea life in Monterey, state parks in Big Sur, and iconic architecture in San Francisco. We caught up with Wiles to find out her favorite stops and her secrets to keeping mini travelers relaxed, happy, and fully engaged.
Speaking from a parent’s perspective, what was the highlight of your California trip?
Kayaking in Monterey Bay was such a great experience. Our guide was so knowledgeable and even talked about the environmental aspects of cleaning up garbage from the bay. This same point was really driven home by the exhibit in the Monterey Bay Aquarium with the sculptures of sea creatures made out of plastic removed from the ocean. It had a huge impact on my daughters and opened up a great conversation with them about the importance of recycling and reducing waste.
What was your children’s top highlight of the trip?
My kids loved the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. We only planned to be there for one hour but ended up staying for almost three. There we so many kid-friendly rides. They also had such a great time at Nepenthe Restaurant in Big Sur. They got to play ping pong, lounged on the cushioned seating, ran around the big outdoor space, and spotted horses down on the ranches below. That lunch was my favorite meal on the trip.
Which destination or attraction surprised you the most, and why?
I was blown away by the Monterey Aquarium. I usually think of aquariums more for kids, but I would recommend the Monterey Aquarium to everyone. I was particularly impressed with the jellyfish room, the wave simulator and the Open Sea. Plus, the location really can't be beat. It was stunning!
What is your best advice to families looking to experience Kidifornia?
Don’t be afraid to go to more than one area! When there’s a lot of driving between locations, my kids usually fall asleep, which keeps them well-rested for a jam-packed itinerary.
What California destination is next up on your bucket list?
I'd love to go to Lake Tahoe.
Can you share your best tips for a family vacation?
Always make sure you are thinking about which activities will be good for the kids as opposed to just what sites the adults want to see. We always schedule at least a half day at an amusement park. [This trip included Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.] It gives the kids something to look forward to and it's a guaranteed good vacation memory for them. We also make time for the hotel pool and playgrounds. Kids really need to burn off energy after they are cooped up in a car or a plane. Happy kids means a much happier vacation!