Need Suggestions for Long Car Trip down South

Updated on June 11, 2008
L.A. asks from San Francisco, CA
9 answers

I am planning on taking my 2, 4 and 5 year old on a long (12+ hours) car trip down south. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to keep them occupied in the car so they don't drive me crazy? Also does anyone know of any good places to stop along I-5 for where the kids would have an opportunity to expend some energy? This is my first long trip with them and I would appreciate any suggestions.

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answers from San Francisco on

If you need stops along the way, I wouldn't take I-5 there's not much between here and there :). Maybe you want to go down 101? yes, a bit longer but many places to stop.
For one of my friends Legos worked well, but since you have a small child choking might be a problem. Maybe some duplos??? They sell some trays that kinda fit over the car seat so the kids can use them to color and stuff. We used to have one when my kids were little.

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answers from San Francisco on

I don’t envy you. I’ve made that trip several times and it’s no fun. Places to stop along the way include:

Dorris ave exit (it might mention Lemoore or Hanford I can’t remember) has several places to eat including a fosters freeze and a restaurant call the apricot tree

Kettelman city: They have an In-n-Out that is always busy but the bathrooms are usually pretty clean (compared to other places along I-5) and if you need to top off your tank there are several gas stations (the furthest one from the freeway - on the left - is usually the cheapest)

Buttonwillow (Mc Kittric Hwy) has a large travel center. Great for gas, road snacks and bathrooms

After the 99 merge there is a little “town” called Grapevine (it’s just before you start going up “the grapevine” into the hills) If you’re tired, and you probably will be, there is a motel there (I think it’s a ramada) they have a good breakfast bar in the morning and give a AAA discount

Going through the hills the cheap gas is at Fraizer Mtn Prkwy. The lowest price goes back and forth between the Flying J and the ARCO.

The Castaic/Santa Clarita area has tons of places to stop and is your first chance to go to a real grocery store on your trip. Its in Castaic. You’ll take the Lake Huges Rd exit, go under the freeway and make a left at Castaic rd. The shopping center will be on your rt. There’s a starbucks a bank and an Albertsons in the back.

Once you come out of the hills you’ll be in the lovely San Fernando Valley (that was sarcasm) I lived there for a year and it is easily one of the top 5 hottest most miserable places on earth (or at least in CA). So crank up your AC going trough there. Since I don’t know where you’re going from there (I-5 toward Disneyland or 405 to Orange county and San Diego) I’ll stop with the directions. If you need any more info feel free to send me a personal message. I lived in LA and San Diego for several years after college. Oh and as for places to let the kids run and get out some energy I would probably stick with the freeway rest stops. They usually have some shade and area to run free (and some of them now have WiFi). When my parents took me to DisneyLand when I was 5 we stopped at the rest area just before Buttonwillow for a picnic it’s definitely one of the bigger/nicer rest areas.

You may also want to consider taking 99 down if your kids tend to need lots of stops. It will make you trip a bit longer but you will have more options for stopping.

Have a safe trip,


Oh and skip 101. Yes it's beutiful (I went to college in San Luis Obispo) but it takes forever and is not with out it's fare share of backups (Santa Barbara can be a real nightmare.)

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answers from San Francisco on

Do you have or could you get a portable DVD player? It's a great kid entertainer in the car. Bring lots of snacks, books, toys they can play with in the car.

There are a couple of rest stops along 5, but not too many.

Good luck! I hope you have a great trip and your kids prove to be great travelers.



answers from San Francisco on

I live in El Cerrito across the bay & regularly drive to SD w/my 2 boys & have been doing it alone now on & off for over 7 yrs. My parents live in Northern Escondido off 15. All the the other suggestions are great. My only comment is that while 101 is beautiful, which will probably go unnoticed by your kids: 1) it will add an extra 2 hours or so to your trip & 2) it's pretty curvy in some points so if any of your little ones get motion/car sick, you might want to avoid it. I have just always driven down 5 cuz it's a straight shot/no brainer for me. There are many grassy rest stops along the way for the kids to get out & run around. Most times we drive down, we leave about noonish. This way we don't hit much of the evening traffic once we get on 210 & closer to my folk's house. Have you made this drive yourself before? Once across the Grapevine, I take 210 to Pasadena, then head towards Corona via 71 then 91 to 15. There's a little freeway off 210, I think it's 57, that gets you to 71 to Corona/Chino Hills. Look on a map cuz I can't remember where on 210 it is. I've done this trip soooo....many times that I'm on auto pilot & go a lot by my own landmarks. Leaving later in the day, I not only avoid any LA traffic, (which I would anyway since I don't take 5 after the Grapevine & strongly suggest you avoid it, too!) but also San Bernadino traffic as well. Are you planning on doing it all in one day or maybe breaking it up into 2 days? Also, if any of the kids have special lovie's or blankets, make sure those are on hand. Both my boys go to sleep to music so I also bring along their tape player & will put that one to help w/napping. My biggest bit of knowledge: expect to stop frequently! One of my first trips alone, I thought I could make it in my usual 7-8 hours ( I have a bit of a lead foot!)w/quick stops only for potty, gas & food but our oldest son, 10m at the time, had other plans so I've finally learned (our youngest is 3,so it took me a while!) that I can't go on my time frame but have to go on their's! Both our boys are now great travelers in the car. We take big RV road trips every summer w/my parents & now that our youngest watches TV, my DVD player (highly recomnned) keeps them both occupied the whole drive. Hope this helps & good luck!



answers from San Francisco on

Okay, I was completely dismayed when dvd players started appearing in cars, but after borrowing a friend's for a road trip to the Tetonsn (6 hrs/day for 3 days each way, with 80+ yr old parents in tow), I am a FIRM believer in them. So run out & find one, either to borrow or buy. Depending on how new your laptop is, then you may be able to use it instead.

Audio books may be a helpful as well. Lot;s of kids music and of course books & coloring. Crayola makes a lapdesk ( for kids that we have found useful.

Plan on lot's of stops if you're driving during the day. Bring a port-a-potty ( & have even the oldest wear pull-ups, just in case there isn't a safe place to pull-over to use said port-a-potty. If you have a child that needs privacy, those infant sun/shade tents, similar to: has been invaluable.

Lots of snacks! Good luck!



answers from San Francisco on

A company called "Rabbit Ears" puts out fabulous audio books on CDs of beautifully performed children's stories that are read/performed by a wide variety of people whose names you will recognize. They have been around awhile and have a sizeable collection of fables, tall tales, classic stories, etc. Something for everyone. Search on Amazon for "Rabbit Ears" and read the reviews. A couple of these in your car kit will bring your kids pleasure while you get a few moments of calm.

For some toe-tapping fun, check out "Philadelphia Chickens" by Sandra Boynton... kids love it! Amazon has 137 5-start reviews for this music CD. Makes me smile just thinking about some of those songs.



answers from San Francisco on

I would suggest driving down Hwy 101 vs. I-5. Its a prettier drive and the traffic is not so nuts.
Portable DVD player is the way to go........they are very inexpensive now (Target or Walmart or a used on Craigslist)

I would also go to the Dollar tree and put together a "fun" bag for each of them. They have a great toy section and some snack items as well)
Also, Michaels and the container store have lap trays which are perfect for art, coloring etc.

Re: stopping along the will pass some beaches along the way if you go HWY 1 and that would be a perfect place to let them run around.

Tip! Coordinate bathroom breaks, one goes , they all go and have plenty of drinks/snacks handy. Your 5 year old can be your "official" helper on the trip too!

Happy Travels!



answers from San Francisco on

I usually drive at night so the kids can sleep - but it does make you tired the next day...

I make the kids a box full of things to do - I go to the dollar store and get them some new toys like cards, pads of paper and things to write with - I don't let them have or see any of the stuff until the trip starts then they get to open the box in the car. I also pack kleenex, chapstick, tic-tacs and granola bars in the box for them.

I-5 - there are rest stops along the way - Coalinga junction has several restaurants to choose from - or the Apricot Tree - - - the rest stops are really the only places with room to run though.

HAve a great trip! Good Luck! I have taken my 5 on that trip 3 times in the past couple of months looking at colleges for my oldest.



answers from San Francisco on

Wow are you brave! I've done many a road trip with my son when he was little, and planning is the smartest thing you can do. If you can get up really early in the morning, before they usually wake up, they may sleep in the car for a few hours. I'd also pack snacks and drinks for each child, so there isn't fights over what each has. Make up little goodie bags, or a travel desk for the car. Supply each child with new books, and toys, and something that is special to that child. A must is a book on tape, and music that you can all sing to (Raffi was our favorite). I would also make up stories about the places we were going, like there was a mermaid that lived in a swimming pool at the hotel. You might want to give them personal space in the car if they tend to fight a lot. I would always bring my son's favorite blanket and stuffed animal, so he could cuddle and go to sleep with (but be careful to never leave them behind!). If you can keep your cool, it will help them to keep theirs.

It's probably going to be hot if you're going down I5, so bring a mist bottle to spray the kids (they will think it's fun). I'd stop every 2 hours to let them stretch, go to the bathroom, and just get out of the car. There are plenty of rest stops along the way, I'll stop at all of them. One thing that I always did was not to do the trip in one long drive. I'd always drive as far as my son and myself could go. I'd see what hotel's were at the half way point and beyond and spend the night. There always had to be a pool (this is where the mermaid story comes in), the kids will look forward to this treat. When I go down I5 on my way to LA, I stop at Lost Hills (near Bakersfield) right off the highway. There is a motel 6 and it's cheap. I have always found it to be clean and quiet. There is a Denny's there too. Since it's the beginning for summer break you would want to make reservations in advance. You'd be surprised how fast hotels fill up, and since you are in the middle of no-where, you don't want to be forced to keep looking for a vacancy (not with 3 active kids):)

Good luck! Have a great trip.

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