Thinking about taking a family road trip between San Francisco and San Diego? There are a number of great travel destinations to explore in this region, and no matter what your family’s interests are, there are a huge range of fantastic places to visit.
With so much to see and do, you’ll want to make an itinerary before you pack up the van. Van, you say? There’s truly no other way to take a family road trip in comfort and style, and vanlife has become one of the biggest family travel trends since the pandemic.
Don’t own a van? That’s okay. Check this website for sweet rental deals!
Spanning just over 500 miles, there are so many attractions to check out during a San Francisco to San Diego road trip. In fact, you might not even be able to find time for everything!
Here are 10 destinations to add to your itinerary when you take this ultimate California family road trip.
10 California Family Road Trip Stops: From San Francisco to San Diego
Golden Gate Bridge
Attracting more than 10 million visitors a year, the Golden Gate Bridge is a San Francisco must-see attraction. With its 746-foot tall towers, it’s one of the city’s most iconic treasures.
Depending on your family’s interests, style, and age of the kids, you can take a guided tour, walk, hike, or shop. Or you can simply drive over the iconic bridge, parking on the side to take photos before moving on.
After-all, this may be of huge interests to adults, but to kids it may just be a bridge! (Though take the opportunity to turn it into a learning experience – the bridge is a Modern Wonder of the World, and took four years to build, so there could be a great opportunity here for some fun facts about engineering!).
Keep in mind that parking is very limited. It’s best to park elsewhere and take public transit to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Golden Gate Park
Encompassing more than 1,000 acres, the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco offers something for just about anyone, though especially kids who have been cooped up in a van with the parents!
The park is home to woodlands, gardens, and lakes. It’s famous for its Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, and the Herschell-Spillman Company Carousel.
Don’e miss out on Golden Gate Park Beach – technically this is the northern part of Ocean Beach within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It’s a stretch of beach in front of the park, which goes from Lincoln Way to Fulton Street, and has more great views of the bridge.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Located in Monterey, this non-profit aquarium is one of the best aquariums in California. It’s home to all sorts of marine animals, including African penguins, bottlenose dolphins, jellyfish, sea otters, and sharks.
Tickets to Monterey Bay Aquarium must be purchased in advance, they are not available in person.
With its location in Laguna Beach, Heisler Park offers one of the most breathtaking views of the California coast that you can take in while having a picnic with a camping stove.
In addition to the scenic oceanfront, the park is also home to bench seats, gardens and wildflowers, and public artwork. The Laguna Art Museum is also nearby.
For all those moments your kids have begged and pleaded to visit a castle on vacation, there’s one right on your route in California!
Hearst Castle was built by William Randolph Hearst and designed by architect Julia Morgan. It took 30 years to complete. Today it’s known as La Cuesta Encantada, or “The Enchanted Hill,” as it sits high above the ocean.
Located in San Simeon, the castle has been visited by numerous famous guests — including Winston Churchill and President Calvin Coolidge. Today, the castle serves as a historical monument that’s worth checking out.
There’s no doubt that this is one of California’s most famous family attractions, and any discerning child is likely to twist your arm into visiting Anaheim.
From Peter Pan’s Flight and Pirates of the Caribbean to Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain, there’s something for everyone at Disneyland.
If the family enjoyed the beach stop in San Fran and you’re all craving another, check out La Jolla once you get to San Diego.
There are a number of great beach options. La Jolla Cove is the most well-known beach in the town — and for good reason. It offers sea caves, clear waters, and warm temperatures for swimming.
There are spots to go snorkeling, surfing, and kayaking. Best of all, it’s also a great place to go sea lion watching.
We’re not sure if this is in the list for the kids or adults, but with its location in Carlsbad, LEGOLAND is another theme park you’ll want to check out.
The theme park offers over 60 kid-friendly rides, shows, and other attractions. The park is geared towards kids between the ages of 2 and 12.
The San Diego Zoo
Ranked as the best zoo in the world, the San Diego Zoo is a must-see attraction. It’s home to 3,500 animals, including polar bears, kangaroos, elephants, and pygmy hippos.
Known for its natural habitats and unique animal encounter experiences, this is a great opportunity to educate your family on wildlife conservation.
The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is an international, nonprofit conservation organization with both a zoo and a safari park, and they integrate wildlife health and care, science, and education to develop sustainable conservation solutions.
They are committed to saving species worldwide by uniting their expertise in animal care and conservation science with a dedication to inspiring passion for nature. This is a great way to increase your family’s understanding, empathy, advocacy, and action for wildlife.
Often compared to New York’s Central Park, Balboa Park spans across 1,200 acres of land. It offers gardens, walking paths, museums, and theaters.
You’ll come here regardless if you’re visiting the San Diego Zoo, so it’s worthwhile staying longer to check out both of these attractions!
These are just 10 attractions you’ll want to add to your to-do list during your family road trip from San Francisco to San Diego. Whether you choose to start or end in San Diego, this road trip offers numerous attractions the whole family can enjoy!