When you drive north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1, you don’t need much of a plan.
You could spend days exploring less crowded beaches alone—from Fern Grotto to Año Nuevo and everywhere in between—but this iconic stretch of coast-hugging asphalt also leads the way to unique destinations beyond the beach and perfect for families.
Roadside U-pick farms, a nature and history center, and even seasonal train rides are all within a scenic 45-minute drive from the outskirts of town.
We’ve made planning a one-day road trip with the kids easy so all you have to do is pack a picnic, or better yet, bring an empty basket and fill it along the way.
Now choose the panoramic setting on your camera and go!
Wilder Ranch State Park
34 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails make Wilder Ranch a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, but it’s the grounds of the historic dairy ranch that will attract kids to run, climb, play hide ‘n’ go seek, and visit with farm animals.
Spread a blanket on the front lawn and enjoy a shady picnic with old farm buildings, heirloom gardens, and Victorians as the backdrop.
Wilder Ranch is great to visit anytime, but on weekends, at 1 p.m., you can join a 1-hour tour that includes the 1897 Victorian home, 1896 water-powered machine shop, and 1856 Gothic Revival farm house, plus barns and other historic buildings.
Living history demonstrations are also offered throughout the year, giving children a chance to go back in time and learn about early ranch living through Victorian games, hands-on activities like butter churning and roping, and wagon rides!
Road Trip Tip: Keep an eye out for Peanut the Goat…she even has her own Facebook page.
Fambrini’s Farm Fresh Produce Stand
Famous for its organic strawberries, Fambrini’s is a fun little stop to get out and stretch your legs.
Here you’ll find both organic and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables along with locally-made gift items.
Outside, a picnic table with a beautiful ocean view and fun wooden cutouts make for great photo opps with the kids. Added bonus: a convenient sink to wash your produce before you hit the road. You’ll be lucky if those strawberries last 10 minutes!
Road Trip Tip: Purchase a Fambrini’s bouquet of lavendar and add some calming aromatherapy to your car full of kids…hey, it’s worth a try!
The first thing you’ll notice as you approach Davenport are the speed limit signs officially welcoming you to a section of Highway 1 known as the Slow Coast. If you hadn’t already left the bustle of daily life behind, Operation Take Your Sweet Time begins now.
Davenport packs an impressive collection of wining, dining, and shopping experiences into a small, picturesque area.
Baked goods and coffee at Whale City Bakery are a win-win for kids and parents. Looking for a meal? Davenport Roadhouse has a kids menu.
Shop in a 1954 Airstream Trailer loaded with local artisan goods and award-winning goat cheese while your kids record their memories on the Slow Coast chalkboard.
And while we wouldn’t necessarily call wine tasting family friendly, it’s worth taking some well-behaved kids (and dogs) to visit the Bonny Doon Vineyard Tasting Room for the unexpected treat of playing dress up and taking pictures in a flying space ship shaped like a cigar.
You read that right—picture a dress up box, green screen, and camera set up to capture some hilarious moments that you can then email to yourself.
Mental note: Come back without the kids for a true wine tasting experience.
Road Trip Tip: Give the kids a quick history lesson and visit the Davenport Jail Museum, Santa Cruz’s first jail that was used only twice. The tiny museum is open to the public the first Sunday of every month.
Swanton Berry Farm U-Pick
The name Swanton is well known among berry and jam lovers. U-pick signs along the road and a bright yellow farm truck out front beckon you to stop and experience this Highway 1 gem.
Outdoors and in season, the kids can pick organic strawberries or visit the field when it’s transformed into a pumpkin patch. Indoors, nostalgia reigns supreme with an honor till, classic toys, vintage games, and shelves filled with books and old-fashioned knick knacks.
Let the kids settle into a game of checkers while you contemplate the variety of freshly baked goods—pies, scones, cobblers, bettys, shortcakes, cheesecakes.
A jam tasting station will wake up your taste buds with samples of tayberry, loganberry, ollalieberry, and good ole strawberry jam.
If you left your sweet tooth at home, not to worry. Swanton has a daily savory offering of hot soup or a personal quiche they will even warm up for you if you ask. Now that’s hospitality!
Road Trip Tip: Visit Swanton’s sister U-pick farm, Coastways Ranch, just 9 miles north on Highway 1. When the strawberry pickings are slim at Swanton, chances are they are great at Coastways which also offers ollalieberries, tayberries, blackberries, and the unexpected star of the winter U-pick scene: Kiwis! Coastways provides wagons for kids to pull along as they collect their fruity treasures.
Swanton Pacific Ranch & Railroad
Talk about best kept secrets!
Everyone with kids should know about Swanton Pacific Ranch, a working ranch that provides hands on learning, research, and professional experience to the students of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Unfortunate for the students, it’s located 178 miles from their campus. Lucky for us, an organic U-pick apple orchard is open to the public seasonally and offers 16 distinct varieties, progressively ripening throughout the fall.
That means early in the season you could be juicing Holsteins, baking with Newton Pippins mid-season, and making sauce with Golden Russets toward the end. Yum!
Also located on the 3200-acre property is the Swanton Pacific Railroad, a miniature railway built to one-third the size of a standard railroad with three miniature steam locamotives.
In addition to special occasions by appointment, steam train rides are available twice per year—Al Smith Day in April and Cal Poly Day in September—at events featuring ranch activities, live music, BBQ lunch, and tours of the facility.
In December, your family can ride a Diesel locamotive to a Christmas tree farm and cut down a tree!
Events are reservation-based, so be sure to call ahead.
Road Trip Tip: 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the miniature locamotives’ debut at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Watch this video with your kids and time travel back to 1915.
Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center
Rancho del Oso may be named after a grizzly mammal (“oso” is Spanish for bear), but it’s a great place to introduce your kids to the wonders of nature, especially the world of reptiles and amphibians.
Events throughout the year, like Snake Park Saturdays, Salamander Saturday, and Newt Night, give kids the opportunity to hold live animals and learn about their role in the diverse ecosystems surrounding the center.
Families can sit down to nature-themed craft activities, explore interactive exhibits highlighting the cultural and natural history of the area, and join guided walks featuring the rich plant and animal life of the Waddell Valley.
If you’re looking for a fun, educational weekend outing for the whole family, get to know Rancho del Oso. Family Days, a spring Wildflower Festival, and summer Grizzly Bear Festival will keep you coming back for more.
Road Trip Tip: Say hi to State Park Interpreter Jeremy Lin and ask him about Bandit. Chances are good he brought his pet snake to work and will introduce your kids to her.
This laid-back roadside farm stand will charm the pants off you, or at least motivate you to undo a button or two.
That’s because Pie Ranch is a pie slice-shaped farm that also happens to grow and raise organic ingredients for delicious, homemade pie—cows for milk and butter, chickens for eggs, wheat, and seasonal fillings of fruits and berries.
Hot coffee and a small children’s play area add to this perfect slice of heaven, but there’s much more beyond pie, baked goods, and fresh (sometimes pickled) organic produce at this rustic Highway 1 destination.
Pie Ranch is also a non-profit, educational farm that trains emerging farmers and works with high school youth to connect them to the land and teach them about where their food comes from.
This mission is at the forefront of the entire ranch operations and is extended to the public through opportunities to be involved, such as U-picks, community work days, tours, potlucks, old-fashioned barn dances, and cooking and gardening workshops.
Pie Ranch staff encourage you to ask questions, take a self-guided walk, explore the farm and animals, and buy pie, of course—every dollar helps fund the educational programs that connect our youth to the land.
Road Trip Tip: Roadtrips are for trying new things, so don’t shy away from unfamiliar pie flavors like Walnut or Lemon Buttermilk—just get a mini pie, perfect for sharing. And do not leave without some Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Cookies for the road…enjoy after the kids have fallen asleep on the way home!
Map Your Road Trip
Use the map below to chart your journey up the coast:
For more Highway 1 adventures within 45 minutes north of Santa Cruz, check out the following.
North County Beaches
- Old Cove Landing/Fern Grotto
- Four Mile
- Bonny Doon
- Scott Creek
- Greyhound Rock
- Rodoni Farms Pumpkin Patch – Go for the pumpkins, stay for the ocean view.
- Seaside Pumpkins – Rodoni’s second site with an even closer view of the ocean.
- Rancho Siempre Verde Christmas Tree Farm – Check out their many swings.
- Harley Farms Goat Dairy- Go in the spring to see all the baby goats!
- Costanoa Lodge
- Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel
- Butano State Park (Tent and RV Camping)
My sister and brother-in-law are visiting from Australia between Nov 30th and December 11th. Can you give me feedback on anything and everything family and adults activities we can do those weeks?