Flying has become the preferred mode of vacation transportation these days. Unfortunately, this includes long security lines, lost luggage, cancelled flights, and bad airplane food (if you get any food at all). Air travel also requires a family to haul extraordinary amounts of required kid gear from place to place, fingers crossed that it arrives at their destination. Racing to far off places with the kids may seem exciting, but the effort to get there doesn’t always pay off.
Flying is exciting for a little kid. But there are alternatives that will allow you to discover exciting destinations right in your own backyard. A backyard that might only be discovered by taking a road trip.
I think road trips are nostalgic. An American right of passage.
In the famous words of Ferris Bueller:
“Life moves pretty fast – if you don’t slow down and smell the roses once in awhile, you could miss it”
So, do it. Stop and smell the roses. Discover the adventure threaded into every turn of the road.
If you are hungry. Pull over to the tiny diner by the side of the road. Make sure you have a piece of the homemade pie.
If you are tired. Stop and stretch at a local landmark or state park. Enjoy the view. Breathe.
If you want to see something interesting, stop at the world’s largest ball of twine or check out the giant gorilla holding up a cadillac. You’ll find these and more, listed in Time Magazine’s Top 50 Roadside attractions. Appreciate the uniqueness of America’s small towns. Marvel in their claim to fame. Buy some crappy souvenirs that only a kid would love.
Which is why I love road trips. The freedom of driving on a beautiful sunny California day, sunroof open, windows down, favorite music playing, and the chatter of two little people in the back seat. So channeling my adventuresome spirit, I decided to drive down the coast to Monterey.
When I was a kid, my family took a lot of road trips. We drove everywhere. My parents, four kids, and the dog all crammed into our pistachio colored station wagon. My dad made a wood car top carrier to hold all our belongings and strapped it to the top. Now I for one, don’t know too many dads who are handy enough to construct a car top carrier; but then he painted it with the Ecology flag logo on the front and large green and white stripes on the top. Yep folks, the Ecology flag. For those of you who don’t know, the Ecology Flag was the cultural symbol used in the 1970’s by American environmentalists.
This is the ecology flag as designed by Ron Cobb in 1969:
Now picture that as a car top carrier. Totally Awesome.
Anyways, my family took road trips East to Yellowstone, South down to Tijuana, North up though Canada to Alaska, and everywhere else in between.
I didn’t take my first plane ride until I was 9.
Now there are downfalls to driving everywhere. I have way too many memories of being car sick. One of my earliest was being car sick at 3 years old, somewhere on the back roads of Alaska.
But overall, a road trip was always a big adventure. A state of mind called “Are we there yet?”
Now, my weekend get-a-way wasn’t as ambitious as driving all the way to Alaska, but driving 80 miles down the coast seemed doable with a 2 and 4-year-old.
Below are some of the highlights of our road trip. I’d say, a pretty good list of fun stuff accomplished.
Digging in the sand. Filling plastic pails. Dumping it back out. Repeat.
Building sand castles with shell turrets and seaweed flags. Digging moats and filling them with sea water.
Running into the waves. Running away from the waves.
Beach combing. Searching for the perfect shell. Finding that perfect shell with a convenient hole already drilled into it by some sea creature. Threading it with a bright blue string. Now a favorite necklace.
Searching for rolly pollies (although I call them potato bugs and maybe that’s a Northwest thing). In the patch of flowers outside our hotel room, the girls spent time digging through the dirt; finding rolly pollies to put into their buckets. We filled the buckets with flowers and leaves. Five star hotel terrariums for bugs.
Enjoying the thrill of rinky dink amusement park rides. The girls flying in sea dragons, steering power boats, and driving cars painted with pink flowers. The pièce de résistance was riding the antique carousel.
Seeing the largest blue whale skeleton in the world at the UC Santa Cruz marine lab. There is only one other like it and it’s in Perth, Australia. I do believe this should be added to the roadside attractions list. If you want to read more about how this blue whale skeleton came to be, check out this link.
Exploring aquarium touch tanks. Brightly colored starfish, orange sea cucumbers, squishy anemones, rainbow-hued abalone shells, alien-looking shark eggs, and slippery green seaweed.
Petting a real shark. Need I say more?
Seeing dolphins up close. The marine lab scientists study them and visitors get a an opportunity to view them. The dolphins gave us their own dolphin hello by popping out of the water and nodding their heads in our direction.
Getting their faces painted. Sleeping in their face paint. Please oh please, don’t wipe off the face paint! I want to wear it FOREVER!
Eating giant soft serve ice cream cones that were WAY too big. Both kids ended up covered in soft serve. An elderly couple sitting across from us enjoyed watching me trying to help keep the girls’ ice cream cones vertical in their tiny hands. With each second, each cone’s melty goodness was on the verge of tumbling down onto the concrete. People walked by. They smiled and laughed. All in a way that I could tell they appreciated happy kids tackling ginormous ice cream cones and enjoying my inability to keep them clean. Glad we were so entertaining.
Driving the CA-1 coastline. Beautiful beaches. Stunning cliffs. Wind surfing competition. U-pick farms. Tiny shops with homemade jam for sale. Fresh fruit stands by the side of the road.
Tiny eyes closing, heads bowing, sleeping soundly to the highway heartbeat. Exhausted from all the fun.
So as our first road trip ended and we pulled into the driveway, the girls and I looked at each other and wondered…where to next?