Planning a road trip down I-5 with kids anytime soon? While iPads have eased the burden of road trips on parents — and probably destroyed potential magic moments along the way — long-distance drives with children are still challenging. For a state with so many wondrous features, Highway 5 down the center of California is a fairly joyless journey. My fellow native Southern Californians and I make this drive on a regular basis, so I thought I’d pull together some tips for enduring a day spent in the car.
Best places to stop on I5 with kids
Set the tone for fun: I’m willing to splurge on a stop at a trampoline park on our way out of town. Rockin’ Jump in Dublin is not very far into the mileage count toward Los Angeles, but it puts everyone in a good mood. The first batch of miles after a good session of jumping seem to fly by. Little ones might even fall asleep.
Pea Soup Andersen’s: When I was a kid, my stepmom always made a big deal of pointing out Pea Soup Andersen’s, with its iconic windmill and billboard mascots: Hap-pea and Pea-Wee. I still get a tiny bit excited when we pass by, but I’ve learned from my kids that a) it’s not really worth looking up from a screen for and b) a restaurant specializing in pea soup is not a treat.
Regardless, if you are a collector of kitschy experiences, you’ll enjoy the stop.
In a hurry? If your people like In N Out, make Kettleman City your lunch break. It’s exactly halfway between the Bay Area and LA and most kids like it better than pea soup. Go figure.
Pro tip: Can’t quite make it to the halfway point? The Coalinga/Avenal rest stop is equipped with extremely clean restrooms, vending machines, picnic tables, and an area to run your dog (or toddler).
Not in a hurry? Spend some time at Bravo Farms, located about three hours south of Oakland, and play. If you’re just killing time while your electric car charges, you can walk over to Bravo Farms from either of the Tesla supercharging areas in Kettleman City.
Bravo Farms is a vintage-western-themed complex of a large Tex-Mex restaurant, gift shops, including an ice cream parlor, a kid-friendly play area, and a miniature town to navigate. When we last stopped there, some kids were participating in the panning-for-gold setup at Bravo Farms. In the summer, it was really too hot for us to be outdoors for more than a few minutes.
Harris Ranch and Inn
Before Bravo Farms arrived in the middle of nowhere, Harris Ranch in Coalinga was the go-to pitstop for families. Note: Adjacent to a massive cattle ranching facility, the air outside can be pretty stinky.
The diner is family-friendly. Beef is, of course, the big thing, but picky ones can stick with pasta and veggies. The restaurant is very kid-friendly and the kids’ menu includes the standard American “kid fare” plus mazes and coloring. The bathrooms are delightfully clean, and the holiday decor offers 1980s charm that will remind you of childhood.
If you simply cannot press on, Harris Ranch is also a hotel with a giant heated pool and jacuzzis. Not bad at all.
Design your own pizza! Pieology, is a design-your-own-individual pizza place, a growing category of fast-ish food. Located in Tejon Ranch, CA, 2 hours North of Beverly Hills and 4 hours South of Rockridge, we discovered this spot by accident, having pulled over for a Starbucks run. Toppings are visible to the customer, salad bar-style, and you can choose from crusts, sauces, cheeses, meats, and veggies. (Make your own salad if you’re off the sauce. Pizza sauce, that is. But more likely, gluten.)
Shopping: Tejon Ranch Outlets
This location for an outlet center is a mystery to me, as not many people can live nearby. It’s right between nothing and nothing. My husband and I concluded that bored travelers must stop along the way for retail therapy. In recent years, the EV chargers may be the thing that makes families stop there. Or maybe, after getting in the car, they realize they didn’t pack swimsuits or pajamas. If you cannot drive another mile without sunglasses or a gift for your dad, you’re in luck.
Whether your end game is Disneyland, San Diego, or Auntie Hope’s house in Agoura Hills, may your road trip be quick and easy. Read the comments below for more tips.
[Photos by Whitney Moss except as noted]