When Los Angeles gets to be too much, my family regularly hits the road to the beach and family on California's Central Coast. We've been touring the area for years, but there is still much to explore, from Hearst Castle and elephant seals to a historic mission and kayaking tours.
"Paso," as locals call it, is one of the Central Coast's biggest towns, known for its laid-back vibe with rustic flavor and Western roots. Be sure to check out the fair and rodeo in summer, the farms and ranches in fall, and don't forgo the beach for play in winter—it's a great time to go.
Paso Robles can get hot in summer, but nights can cool to chilly temperatures.
If you only have time for one thing, make it "Sensorio," an outdoor light installation by artist Bruce Munro.
Paso Robles has plenty of intrigue, from its Mission San Miguel Arcángel days to its recent incarnation as the center of a foodie revolution. Make sure younger kids get an ice cream and time to explore the square playground. Older ones may enjoy the collection of vintage airplanes at Estrella Warbirds Museum.
A short drive away is San Luis Obispo, home of Cal Poly State University, Bubblegum Alley, and a riverwalk lined with shops and cafés. The San Luis Obispo Children's Museum is a great stop for younger kids. While the quirky decor of The Madonna Inn for dinner has wide appeal.
Hit the beach in Morro Bay to walk through a pygmy forest, kayak with seals, eat seafood, and visit The Shell Shop. With miles of coastal trails heading north and south from town, it's a wonderful place to explore by bike.
Save the afternoon for the beach after the marine layer has burned off. Whether your family decides to play in the sand, take a nap on the sand, or learn to surf, this will give you a feel for life on this stretch of the California coast. Cap it off with a night wander through the 15-acre (6-hectare) "Sensario" display.
Drive Route 1, America's favorite coastal road, towards Big Sur. You don't need to drive the whole thing, as there is plenty to keep you busy. You can tour Hearst Castle, count the elephant seals (and zebras!) of San Simeon, and take a walk on Moonstone Beach in quaint Cambria.
Heading back, stop at one of the last unspoiled beach towns of the coast, Cayucos. Grab a cookie at Brown Butter Cookie Company, lunch at Hidden Kitchen, and seek antique mall treasures. My kids love exploring the tide pools at the beach's north end, where you can also go seaweed foraging.