Road Trip to California – With Kids!

And so it began… our long journey to southern California with two children ages five and three. Surprisingly enough, we left our house about four minutes ahead of schedule. However, the fact that I never had time to pick up the kids’ rooms or wash their bathroom mirror before leaving had the potential to drive me crazy all week!

We left as soon as Cory got off work Thursday evening, and after an hour of driving, we found ourselves stuck in the middle of rush hour traffic in Portland. This is also when Jenna announced she needed to use the bathroom. While we tried to prepare ourselves for the reality of many bathroom stops, it didn’t make it any less annoying or inconvenient.

And then there was Connor… While reading the kids’ science book this week, we came across a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge and I told the kids all about how we were going to go see it on our way down through California. From the moment we left Longview, every bridge we crossed over, Connor would ask if it was “the huge one”. You can’t even imagine how many bridges there are between home and the Golden Gate Bridge…

The first night we drove about five hours. The kids watched movies for the first couple of hours, and then we turned them off and made them rest quietly in their seats until they fell asleep. When we arrived at the hotel in Grants Pass, they were wide awake with excitement and it took a little while for them to calm down enough to fall back asleep.

Connor had been complaining that he wasn’t feeling good all night, but I thought it was just nerves from leaving home and going on vacation. Around 3 am I realized that it wasn’t just nerves. My poor baby got sick in the middle of the night, and I was up changing his pull-up while everyone else (including him) slept!

We woke up early, had breakfast at the hotel, and were back on the road again by 7:30 am. After crossing the border into California, we veered off the freeway and took the scenic route.


We stopped off at a little beach for a potty break, but the kids were terrified of the toilets (why are porta-potties so scary?) and refused to go. We had fun running around collecting shells, rocks, and sticks though. In fact, out of all the toys and activities I brought along with us, the stick Connor is playing with in this picture ended up being his favorite “toy” during our drive!


We wound our way through the redwoods and went on a short hike through the forest. The enormous size of the trees is almost unbelievable!


No trip would be complete without having a chance to drive through a redwood tree!

We arrived in Petaluma, CA around bedtime (7pm) and checked in to our second hotel. It was a great price because they were in the middle of remodeling, but it was an ancient building, complete with a crazy ancient elevator. It was right on a main street, so it was noisy well into the night. That night, both of the kids fell off their beds at different times startling me awake with the loud THUD! Another night of me awake in the middle of the night tending to children.


We left early in the morning to meet up with some friends for breakfast, and the kids FINALLY got to cross the Golden Gate Bridge! Connor still wasn’t feeling well and I started worrying he would end up being sick for our whole vacation. (thankfully he was over the bug by the time we reached our final destination!)

We left San Francisco close to eleven and started our long journey to Indio. This is the point where I started to use things from our activity bag. I read them a new picture book, then we pulled out their school work so they could do a little bit of “car schooling”. That kept them busy until we were out of the city and stopped by a fruit stand. It was a great place to stretch our legs a bit, make some lunches, and buy some fresh fruit. I realized I forgot a can opener for my homemade jam, so I sliced strawberries onto their peanut butter sandwiches. The kids were really weirded out and wouldn’t eat them!


I brought a lot of different things for the kids to do, (new coloring books, sticker books, wiki sticks, popsicle sticks, leap pads, etc.) but they each had a few favorite activities.

Connor had fun playing the pipe cleaner “game”. I took an empty can of corn starch and cut holes in the top by using a hole punch. I then cut pipe cleaners short enough to fit in the can. I would empty all of the pipe cleaners out, and he had to push them through the holes into the can to “win” the game. It was simple, I had everything on hand at home to make it, and he loved it!


Another big hit with the kids were the train and car tracks. I printed out a train track and a road, then laminated them. The kids had cookie sheets from the dollar store, and set the paper on their cookie sheet for stability. Then they drove trains or cars on the path.


Jenna’s favorite activity was zoning out and watching DVDs. We don’t do a lot of TV time when we’re at home, so I didn’t feel guilty letting her watch a lot of shows during the drive. Watching cartoons always keeps her distracted from thinking she’s carsick, so it’s a win-win for us!


We used meal times as an opportunity to take a break from riding in the car and actually eat inside a restaurant. While this was a more expensive way to travel, it made it possible for me to find healthier choices of food and gave us a chance to stretch our legs and get a much needed break from driving.


We arrived in Indio in the evening, about 50 hours after leaving home. It was a fun roadtrip through California and we were glad we took the time and detours to enjoy the sights. We all had times of being frustrated or tired… Like the time we were 10 minutes away from our destination and had to stop for an emergency potty break and buy a new headlight… But overall it was a great drive!

As a side note, our drive home was VASTLY different. We chose the most direct route and the plan was to leave early and attempt to drive straight through. We left around 8:00am and arrived home around 1:30am the next morning. It was a miracle drive and I don’t think it was possible to make it in better time. The kids suddenly gained the ability to not have to stop for a potty break every hour and we only made about 4 stops on the entire drive home. We would stop when we needed gas, everyone would use the bathroom, stretch our legs and run around for no more than 5 minutes, then hop in the car and keep driving. We packed our snacks and lunch and went through a drive-through for our dinner. I would never expect it to be that painless again, but it was a huge blessing!


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