Family Jacobsen has had many the quintessential road trip around and about the U.S.; our favorite has to be the Seattle to Disneyland Express. Express is probably the wrong word here since we usually take Highway 101, but with the carrot of Disneyland at the end we manage to make it there in decent humor. Mind you the return trip is always via I-5.
Affiliate disclosure: As an Amazon Associate Sleeps5 earns from qualifying purchases. Sleeps5 provides links to products or services that may interest you. Viewing or buying via a link means Sleeps5 may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.
Our first stop is in Long Beach, Washington. Long Beach is a sleepy beach town, with excellent ice cream, a carnival-like car track, and a beach that stretches far out into the ocean; the water only gradually deepens. We head on down the coast over the Columbia River, entering Oregon through Astoria and passing through the various seaside towns. The Pacific Coast is a truly magical place and surprisingly varying in its topography. North of Coos Bay are the amazing coastal dunes (Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area). The kids love this surreal landscape. Soon thereafter, California pops up on the Hwy 101 horizon. It is time to head into the Redwood Forest, visit Paul Bunyan and Babe (corny roadside attraction), a little hiking, hug some really, really, really big trees, and we’re off. We are still heading down Highway 101 but will eventually reach Highway 1.
Now to decide whether the family would be happier driving through the forest on 101 or along the seaside on Highway 1. Are the kids still getting along? If yes, you can take the slower Highway 1, if not, best to stay on 101. The two roads will come together again just north of San Francisco where you will ride into town on the Golden Gate Bridge (slowly, as the traffic is always pretty thick).
San Francisco can either be a quick stop at the waterfront, including Ghiradelli Square, or an extended stay. It is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited, but it is not Disneyland and so we move on down the coast. (We have hotels that can sleep 5 in San Francisco!)
Our next stop is Carmel and Monterey. The kids love the corny tourist attractions on the Monterey waterfront including the Sea Lions lounging about. The Dennis the Menace Playground is a great place to blow off some steam. The neighboring town of Carmel is an unexpected architectural wonder. Many of the homes and businesses have been seemingly built by Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It’s a charming, small-scale town with good coffee, swanky stores, and lots of dogs. Many of the hotels will cater to canines. Despite the pricy nature of the town we have never had trouble finding a place to stay for a reasonable amount. We have also stayed in budget hotels in the less expensive Monterey. Carmel has a wonderful beach accessed within easy walking distance of the town. It also provides entrance to the “17 Mile Drive” through the Pebble Beach Golf Links along the seaside. Somehow the light here makes the waves turn green. I’ve not seen it replicated — very special.
Further south on Highway 1 is another outdoorsy family favorite: Big Sur State Park. Big Sur Lodge right in the park will house a family of up to six in one “cottage”. There are hiking trails and beaches nearby. This is a special place with incredible natural beauty.
Once we leave Big Sur, as painful as it is, we have backtracked up Highway 1 to take the connector through Gilroy to I-5 and then race our frothing children down to Disneyland — nature completely forgotten. One can drive all the way down Highway 1 to Anaheim/Los Angeles, but we have been repeatedly warned how slow this is, especially when you have kids anticipating visiting Mickey Mouse. So this is the only part of the highway we have never experienced.
After at least three delirious days in Disneyland, we shoot back up I-5, sleep over in Dunnegan, CA, and then aim for Seattle. We often stop over to visit an Auntie in Eugene, Oregon but this drive can be done in one day if your marriage is a secure and happy one. Happy Trails!