A California Road Trip with Teens – Part One

A California Road Trip with Teens – Part One

America and more specifically the West Coast, has been the desired holiday destination of my Teens for some time now, so with both a 50th and an 18th milestone birthday to celebrate we decided to make it a year to remember with a California Road Trip along the Pacific Coast Highway which would take in San Francisco, Carmel, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and finish in Vegas, Nevada.


  • Golden Gate Bridge

Direct flights from the UK land early evening which gave us just the right amount of time to hail a cab, check in to our hotel, eat and jump into bed.  Thanks to the jet lag there was no hanging around the next morning, so we were up with the larks and off to hire bikes to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge.  We stayed in historic Fisherman’s Wharf and from there you can take a cycle route alongside the bay to the foot of the bridge which is approximately an hour’s cycle.   Although heavily populated, unlike London the cycle paths are wide and on the pavement, away from traffic so it feels safe.  There are a lot of hills on the route so it is physically challenging but the result is well worth the effort.

San Francisco at Dusk

The first sighting of the  Golden Gate Bridge is awe-inspiring.  It looms out of the mist connecting San Francisco to Marin County.  Nothing, however, can prepare you for the experience of cycling across it. You have to go up a steep and winding hill from the shoreline to the cyclepath on the bridge.  One side is for cyclists and one for pedestrians.  Once at the top the first thing that hits you is the noise of the cars.  Highway 101 crosses the bridge which is a busy route, but the cars also make a strange clackety-clack sound as they go over the bridge’s expansion joints which is deafening.  The second is the height – at 220 ft above sea level, the views are stupendous, on one side there is the bay with Alcatraz Island, on the other the open Pacific Ocean with waves crashing on the rocks below.  At this height and in such an explosed spot it is also very windy up there.   The third is the speed of the bikes going across. It is single file, two way traffic and without doubt whilst it is breath-taking it is also terrifying in equal measure.

The bridge is 2.7km long and the outside railing is at chest height for adults.  There is nowhere to stop easily until you are half way across and for those that do try to stop before that point, there is the risk of a pile up or abuse from your fellow cyclists. There are cycling speedometers at intervals on the bridge and there were many who impatient by the slow line of tourists and their kids would overtake at speed which when you are focusing all your efforts on maintaining calm and supporting your 13 yr old novice cyclist daughter to just keep going and not look down is nerve jangling to say the least. Having said all that it is totally exhilerating and something as a tourist you will probably only do once in your life.

When we arrived on the other side we joined the multitude of tourist cyclists that gather to exclaim relief that they made it.  Then just when you think the thrill is all over, you have to make the descent from the foot of the bridge down a hill with a steep gradient that seems to wind on forever.  My lasting memory is of me screaming at the Teens to remember to just hold the left brake.  Mr MoT on the other hand is all about risk and turned the whole thing into a competition of who could get down in the quickest time!  Jesus.  Those are the times when our differences come to the fore.  I am doing “safety” and he is off encouraging the Teens to go for it whatever the consequences because “this is fun!”

San Francisco Skyscape

  • Sausalito

On the Northern side of the bridge in Marin County is the charming little town of Sausalito with houses clinging to the steep hillside along the coastline with views to die for.  Sausalito is full of lovely shops and restaurants and from here you can take the ferry back with your bike to downtown San Francisco.  We did actually move over from San Francisco to Sausalito for a couple of nights to explore that area which is full of beautiful walks and were lucky enough to enjoy spectacular views of the Golden Gate bridge from our hotelroom.  It was great to see it from a different perspective and it is certainly a view you could never tire of.  The only word of warning to anyone thinking of going is to make sure you pack some earplugs as the foghorns do go off quite frequently in the night so if you are not a deep sleeper they are a must.

  • Alcatraz

Perhaps befittingly on the day of our Alcatraz visit, San Francisco was hit by a freak weather system which saw the Golden Gate Bridge closed due to high winds and torrential rain engulfed the city. Renowned as the holding pen for Civil War deserters as well as legendary gangsters including Al Capone, it is a must see on a visit to San Fran.  You do need to book tickets in advance for this trip as it is seriously popular as you can imagine so you can’t just turn up.  The website takes bookings 3 months in advance and a night tour is an option.  The ferry for Alcatraz island leaves from Pier 33 and takes approximately 20-30 minutes.  It is all very organised and boats leave promptly.

When you alight at the Alcatraz dock you are greeted by a National Park guard with a loud hailer giving instructions on where to go and warning people of walking hazards on the route.  The cellhouse sits at the top of the island and is as you would expect foreboding  and walking to it in the lashing rain and wind added to this atmosphere.  Much of the island is steep and hilly and the distance from the dock to the cellhouse at the top of the island is about 0.5km.

You first enter the cellhouse as the prisoners would have done themselves, into the communal shower area and here you can pick up the audio tour which is included in the admission price.  It is fantastic but eerie and really brings to life the terrible conditions of being imprisoned on the “rock” , through the voices of real life inmates and correctional officers.  As you would expect, everything as you go around is dark, dank and gloomy which is further accentuated by the lack of windows.  The cells themselves are horrific yet the solitary confinement units are soul-destroying.

Despite its size, Alcatraz was never filled to capacity with the maximum number of inmates during its 29 years as a federal penitentiary, only 260.  During this time 36 prisoners tried to escape and all but five were recaptured and to this day no-one knows what happened to those five prisoners.

The island is now a national parkland with historic gardens, tidepools and bird colonies.  No food service is available on the island but there is a large picnic area and as well as the cellhouse you can visit various points around the island itself, however, due to the weather on the day we went this was not advised.  All in all the tour takes around two hours.  When we came back we popped along to Pier 39 which is a bustling pier of shops and fab eateries with scenic views across the bay, combined with generous sightings of sea lions.

San Francisco is relatively compact with many of the major attractions quite close to each other, so there is a lot of walking involved – comfortable shoes are a must!  From Fisherman’s Wharf we whiled away an afternoon exploring the nearby shopping on Union Street and then onto Chinatown, which is the largest outside of South East Asia and is an absolute sensory feast.

There are some cities that you visit in the world that you just fall in love with and for me San Francisco was one of them.  It is the perfect mix of cosmopolitan and bohemian and I would say is one of the most beautiful that I have visited.  In the limited time that we had for each of our stops on our road trip route, we definitely only scratched the surface of San Francisco and having now been I would definitely go back again for longer and explore further.  Next stop Carmel for some whale watching.

A California Road Trip with Teens


This post is part of a series you can read the rest here:

Whale Watching in Monterey – California Part Two

The Big Sur – A California Road Trip – Part Three

Los Angeles – A Californian Road Trip – Part Four



  1. July 3, 2018 / 6:51 pm

    Memories of pre-kid days! Oh I so want to do the whole thing again. Funnily enough we were there on 4th July (San Diego towards end of our trip) at that point. It was just magical. Also loved San Fran and Sausalito x

    • Jo
      July 31, 2018 / 12:09 am

      Kindred spirits Nicky. x

  2. July 1, 2018 / 8:18 pm

    Somewhere I have always wanted to go. As you know, we visited New York last Christmas and California is next on my list! xx #TweensTeensBeyond

    • Jo
      July 2, 2018 / 10:53 pm

      Oh I hope you make it Sharon. It is definitely worth it. X

  3. June 27, 2018 / 5:27 pm

    What an amazing road trip #TweensTeensBeyond

    • Jo
      July 2, 2018 / 10:54 pm

      It was for sure. Lots of fabulous memories and they are rare as the teens get older. X

  4. June 27, 2018 / 5:14 pm

    thanks for the memories, it’s a trip we took with our 4 boys then aged 18, 15, 12, 8. It’s also a trip peter and I are planning for the middle/end of next year on our own #tweensteensbeyond

  5. January 16, 2017 / 8:08 pm

    What an amazing experience cycling across the iconic bridge must have been (although slightly terrifying at the same time). So interesting to see inside Alcatraz. Those cells are incredibly grim…I wonder what did happen to those prisoners who were recaptured! San Fran is high on my travel list. Thanks for linking to #citytripping

    • Jo
      January 16, 2017 / 9:17 pm

      It was certainly a holiday to remember and San Francisco didn’t disappoint! We would all go back and do it all over again. Thanks for commenting. #citytripping

  6. January 12, 2017 / 6:48 pm

    This is such a fun reminder of our road trip last summer – my daughter was a good decade off being a teen and we didn’t have quite as much time but it was an amazing trip. We stuck to crossing the bridge in a vintage fire truck although I would have loved to see Sausalito as we ran out of time to fit that in. Maybe we’ll repeat when she’s approaching 18?! #citytripping

    • Jo
      January 12, 2017 / 8:28 pm

      I had prevaricated for so long on the whole American road trip thing and so wish we had done it a bit earlier, but would still love to go back and repeat bits if given half the chance and Sausalito is definitely my go to retirement place. Thanks for commenting. #citytripping

  7. January 11, 2017 / 3:02 pm

    A California road trip with my girls is way high up on my list. My girls being younger though – 7 and 9 – I’m wondering if I should wait a couple of years. My husband and I used to live in San Francisco and have done the drive many times and it’s one of the most spectacular places in the U.S. The Golden Gate, Sausalito, all the places you’ve mentioned. I also really want to take them to Big Sur and that’s why I’m thinking I wait a year or two..want to them to appreciate this majestic place as much as I do! #citytripping

    • Jo
      January 11, 2017 / 4:21 pm

      Hi yes we were the same as you and decided to hang on until they would appreciate it all and they really did. We loved the Big Sur too, in fact there was very little we didn’t like! Lucky you for living in San Francisco, I would love to have had that chance. Thanks for your comment. #citytripping

  8. November 23, 2016 / 10:15 pm

    This made me want to go back to San Francisco, I visited there many years ago before I had BP. A brilliant description of the place Hun, thanks so much for sharing with #pocolo

    • Jo
      November 24, 2016 / 8:09 am

      Thanks Morgan – hope it brought back some happy memories. #PoCoLo

  9. November 22, 2016 / 7:46 pm

    I loved reading this! I used to live in North Beach right near Chinatown, I teared up a little bit when you were talking about the Golden Gate Bridge it’s so interesting to hear from another perspective. I miss home now haha. I love Carmel and Monterey as well, we used to go there for the weekend and go to the aquarium as a kid. Thanks so much for the little flashback : ) and sharing with #StayClassyMama!

    • Jo
      November 22, 2016 / 9:01 pm

      Oh thank you and I am glad you could indulge in a nostalgic moment. We really loved California and if you love Carmel and Monterey you may have another nostalgic moment with my post on the next stage of our journey. xx

  10. November 21, 2016 / 2:30 am

    This sounds like an amazing and gorgeous trip! What better way to spend it, than with family. Teenagers sure can make Road Trips fun!!! #globalblogging

    • Jo
      November 21, 2016 / 11:39 am

      It definitely was alot of fun for all of us I hope. #globalblogging

  11. November 18, 2016 / 1:25 pm

    Oh my god this is like my dream holiday for when my children are older. I would absolutely love to go to San Fran and we’ll all the west coast. China town looks amazing as does Alcatraz although no doubt abit haunting! Thank you for sharing this at #familyfun I can’t wait to see the next instalment xx

    • Jo
      November 18, 2016 / 3:55 pm

      It has been ours for a while although me less than everyone else but having now been I can say it far exceeded my expectations and will go down as one of, if not the best family holiday to date. #FamilyFun

  12. November 17, 2016 / 10:04 pm

    My friend has just moved to San Francisco so I was interested to see what you had to say about it. I’d love to go and visit her and see the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz – it sounds amazing! #mondayescapes

    • Jo
      November 18, 2016 / 3:57 pm

      Oh Jo yes you need to get yourself an invitation, you will totally love it. I hope she is enjoying it there although living somewhere is always different from visiting but I couldn’t think of a nicer city to be in. #mondayescapes

  13. November 17, 2016 / 7:17 pm

    What a brilliant trip planned and one I would love to do myself. Such a great experience. I’ve got San Francisco on my bucket list !
    Thanks for linking up to #familyfun

    • Jo
      November 18, 2016 / 3:58 pm

      Glad to hear it’s already on your bucket list, definitely make it one of those “must do’s” because you will love it for sure. #FamilyFun

  14. November 17, 2016 / 12:22 pm

    Wow! I have never been to San Fran but have always wanted. I can imagine how breathtaking it must have been to see the Golden Gate bridge for the first time. Thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub lovely x

    • Jo
      November 17, 2016 / 3:46 pm

      Oh then definitely put it on your bucket list. #coolmumclub

  15. November 17, 2016 / 10:54 am

    Wow this is like my dream trip! We always planned to travel America before we had Taylor, but we will have to wait a few years now. I’d love to visit Alcatraz, fascinating x #coolmumclub

    • Jo
      November 17, 2016 / 1:54 pm

      It will definitely be worth the wait. It’s so child friendly that it may not be as long as you think. Thanks for the comment. #coolmumclub

  16. November 16, 2016 / 11:57 pm

    I have been living in California for a little over a year now and previously visited SFO a bunch of times but never got to go to Alcatraz. This made for a fun read. I should really plan to go. #globalblogging

    • Jo
      November 17, 2016 / 8:20 am

      Oh lucky you. I totally fell in love with California but particularly San Fran and Marin County as you can probably tell. If you haven’t done Alcatraz do book it. Thanks for commenting. #globalblogging

  17. November 16, 2016 / 9:04 pm

    What a lovely trip! Your teens are very lucky! I didn’t even know alcatraz was open to visitors! Guess you can feel history creeping up on you there? Brr makes me shiver by the thought of it! #PoCoLo Thank you for stopping over from #Countrykids

    • Jo
      November 16, 2016 / 11:11 pm

      It was certainly very eerie and made to feel very realistic. Thanks for your comment. #PoCoLo

  18. November 16, 2016 / 1:06 pm

    A road trip sounds fabulous! My teens are not keen to travel with us on holiday anymore, preferring to go with their friends, but I’m sure if it was as adventurous as this they wouldn’t turn it down!

    • Jo
      November 16, 2016 / 4:25 pm

      One of the reasons we did it was because we knew next year our eldest would be off with friends in the summer and then at Uni so it just felt like the right time to go for it. I have been reliably informed however that they do always come back if the holidays are good!

  19. November 16, 2016 / 9:51 am

    Oh my, what a great road trip. I would love to see the Golden Gate Bridge in real life, it must be amazing to see it for real 🙂

    • Jo
      November 16, 2016 / 4:23 pm

      It was a great trip and yes the bridge is fabulous and just like it looks in all the pictures but as I say it was a view we never tired of.

  20. November 15, 2016 / 8:20 pm

    What a fabulous way to celebrate an 18th and 50th! I worked in Marin County for a few months on a girl scout camp! It was such a fun summer. Every week we would nip across the Golden Gate bridge to visit and explore the city. Like you I loved China Town and Alcatraz:) Thanks for linking up to #MondayEscapes

    • Jo
      November 15, 2016 / 9:26 pm

      Lucky you, it must have been a great experience. I have to say I would quite happily retire there and I never thought I would say that. We bought a fab painting when we were in Sausalito to remind us of the area and are now waiting for it to be shipped over. #MondayEscapes

  21. November 14, 2016 / 10:57 pm

    This looks like such a great trip! I’d love to do an American road trip. Not sure I’d have the nerve to cycle over Golden Gate bridge, walk or drive maybe but think I’d be too distracted by the view to cycle! Alcatraz sounds fascinating too. I spend 24 hours in a prison with no heating, light or running water for charity… my cell looked quite similar! #MondayEscapes

    • Jo
      November 15, 2016 / 8:22 am

      The cycle ride is a must as it’s something you would never forget. I am in awe of your charity night in a prison cell – the solitary confinement cells at Alcatraz were just awful as you would expect but it is the lack of light which I think would be the worst and would tip me over the edge. You must be one very strong lady. #MondayEscapes

  22. November 14, 2016 / 10:02 pm

    Ew those prison cells look ghastly. I can’t imagine life in there, fascinating to see though and the audio guides sound very helpful #mondayescapes

    • Jo
      November 14, 2016 / 10:24 pm

      It was really chilling for sure, particularly the solitary confinement cells they were totally horrific some people were posing for pics inside them and all I could think was “Why?”. #MondayEscapes

  23. November 14, 2016 / 9:16 pm

    This brought back loads of memories. My husband and I did San Fran as part of our honeymoon. We loved the audio tour at Alcatraz.

    • Jo
      November 14, 2016 / 10:20 pm

      Yes it certainly makes the whole experience more intense doesn’t it?

  24. November 14, 2016 / 8:08 pm

    My teen is desparate to live in America (although slightly less so after this week). She also wants us to go on a road trip there but I don’t think she realises quite how large the country is! Your trip sounds manageable and lots of fun, am glad you all enjoyed it. #Mondayescapes

    • Jo
      November 14, 2016 / 10:22 pm

      Ha ha yes you could actually spend several years working your way around it. It is vast and everything there is so big too. We feel like we really only scratched the surface and could easily have done with another week or two to really spend longer in each place although am not sure our wallets would withstand it. #MondayEscapes.

  25. November 14, 2016 / 2:49 pm

    Great post we are doing a California road trip when baby e is almost two. Some great ideas but might need modifying for travel with a lo

    • Jo
      November 14, 2016 / 5:40 pm

      Everything is so easy for travelling with kids in America, they make our facilities in the UK look shabby. There was even a young baby on our whale watching trip which stunned me slightly, but hey why not? #MondayEscapes

  26. November 14, 2016 / 12:11 pm

    Wow what an adventure and you saw so many amazing places. I’d love to do our own road trip one day. My boys 18th seems quite far off yet though so need another excuse 🙂

    • Jo
      November 14, 2016 / 5:42 pm

      My youngest is 13 but am sure much of what we did would be suitable for a younger age group.
      Wherever you go there are buggy parks and kids facilities that it all just seems effortless.

  27. November 14, 2016 / 11:52 am

    Aww this has made me a bit homesick! I love driving PCH! #MondayEscapes

    • Jo
      November 14, 2016 / 5:44 pm

      My first trip to California, can you believe it? I have travelled so much in my lifetime but never to the west coast, the PCH route is the best and the views so breathtaking. #MondayEscapes

  28. November 14, 2016 / 9:48 am

    Sounds a great trip – and so much fun to plan. My oldest two in particular would love a trip like this.

    • Jo
      November 14, 2016 / 10:02 am

      It was certainly one of the best holidays to date. As they get older the challenges of finding something they enjoy gets harder but this was packed with fabulous memories.

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