California Road Trip

Warning: long post ahead

When my sister invited us on a coastal California drive with them, and then told me that her husband was willing to forgo the convertible to rent a minivan and even offered to drive the entire way (j.w didn’t want to drive while on vacation and I don’t like driving vans), we took them up on the offer! We’ve been back for over a month now, and it’s taken way to long to filter through everyone’s photos, but they serve as great visual reminders of our vacation. Bean has come back with a souvenir: tan lines from the California sun. Despite not having very many beach destinations or beach days, she managed to get the sandal tan line! ($10 parking at state beaches wasn’t uncommon, so we didn’t stop at too many as we weren’t going to spend very long there)


I had mixed feelings about California. I especially enjoyed sitting up front, peering out the windshield as we drove along the coast, and parts of it reminded me of Hawaii or even parts of the Rockies / Cabot Trail, NS, but it just happened that it was cloudy or cooler on many days we were outside – especially after leaving San Diego. The temperature hovered at or around 20C / 68F, which made me want to stay inside the vehicle even more (call me acclimatized to our weather, but my ideal comfort is 22-24C). 

The weather on my birthday – tad chilly.

What struck me was the contrast as we drove through the different parts so that if you blinked, you might miss small details, like not seeing cacti as regular occurrences on the side of the road anymore as you drove further north or seeing the vast differences between neighbouring places (i.e. Laguna Beach: Spanish-style architecture; Newport Beach: modern and wealthy as reflected by Mclaren, Maserati, and Ferrari dealerships within a short distance of each other;  Huntington Beach: industrial). The stark contrast between the idyllic coastal towns and the city were immediately felt once we hit traffic in the Bay area, which made me a bit sad as it indicated our vacation was soon coming to a close, and even though I wasn’t driving, it still triggered a feeling of stress in me.

True to my memory, Californian fruit is much more fragrant than US fruit we buy at our grocery stores. While we didn’t get to enjoy avocados much (due to the ongoing drought), we had plenty of strawberries, cherries, and nectarine / peach, as well as tree-ripened oranges and lemon near Santa Barbara.

The tree-ripened peach didn’t look harvest-ready at our AirBnB stay


Travelling with six in one vehicle – two families, two toddlers, one pregnant mom – is an adventure in itself and requires flexibility, creativity, and adaptability. I basically set little to no expectations in terms of meeting timelines or destination wishes and that actually worked out very well. The highlights that we did see I was really happy about, but some unplanned stops also turned out to pleasant surprises. I was initially a bit disappointed that we didn’t visit many of the food places on my list, but after eating out for at least two times a day, every day, eating out was just another meal – it was a strange feeling. Looking back, a Thai-style curry dinner, a bowl of ramen, and a Chinese-banquet style feast ended up being memorable along with two other meals, so maybe it’s the Asian in me missing Asian food (just visually looking at poke made me want a bowl!). McDonald’s has 20 nuggets for $5 though and jalapeño beef or chicken burgers for just $2! Here’s a summary of where we ended up:

  1. LAX: Roscoe’s House of Waffles. I read about this place, and I ended up being a bit disappointed as I’ve had better chicken and waffles. The plate of $9 gizzards though…it was seasoned similarly to yeem-sow-gai / karaage and was so big that it took us 3 days to finish it!


  • San Diego: Costco, Target, The Broken Yolk Cafe, Swami Cafe (for a delicious brunch – I enjoyed strawberry stuffed french toast and dragon fruit/pitaya pancakes), and the San Diego Safari Zoo. I was impressed at the size of the grounds as most zoos I’ve been often seem like they don’t give much as space to their animals. Coronado – Imperial Beach had a short pier board walk and a little play area for kids and the Mexican chip java mocha ice cream at Cowabunga microcreamery was worth it! We missed Old-Town though even though it was on our original itinerary. Because we were at a rental townhouse, almost everyone also had a good portion of ahi tuna from Costco seared on the BBQ. Speaking of which, Phil’s BBQ wasn’t the hype that I expected, but maybe because we have really good southern BBQ spots home in #kwawesome or maybe because it was just too much meat!

    San Diego Safarai Park Zoo
    One of the few rhinos of this kind remaining in the world! #endangered | San Diego Park Zoo



  •  On our way to Hope Ranch (near Santa Barbara) for the night, we needed dinner and stumbled across an unassuming fish and chips place in a random plaza. I didn’t exactly want greasy fish and chips as I wasn’t too hungry, but their fish tacos and clam chowder was surprisingly memorable (chunky clams, good soup to filling ratio!)  – who knew a $3.25 fish taco order would actually be enough for two small tacos and tasted so much better than any fish taco I’ve had so far for the value?



  • While we completely missed Point Dume State Beach in Malibu after leaving Santa Barbara area later than expected (but were rewarded with a gorgeous morning on the terrace and tree-ripened and freshly picked fruit from our AirBnB stay), we did manage an unplanned stop at Santa Monica’s boardwalk area/Pacific Park, where Bean had her first ride on a full-sized carousel, which she started in tears but suddenly loved once I stopped holding her (only $2 (!) as a child under 4 with an accompanying paying adult is free – only open on Mondays, Thursdays and weekends before 5pm), and her first ride on a Ferris wheel ($8 but free for child under 3) – she loved it as she thought it was a (giant) swing! We also happened upon some good iced coffee from the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf chain.



  • We eventually arrived at Morro Bay / Los Osos for the night; it was cloudy and chilly. It seemed like walking distance from one end of town to the other, and it seemed a little strange that an Asian-inspired restaurant would situate itself here – a little gem called Noi’s Little Thai Takeout. I enjoyed the pineapple curry a lot, and the vegetarian spring rolls were crispy too.

    Noi’s Little Thai Takeout | Los Osos


 The next part of the drive was probably my favourite, as we made it to a few of the must-see stops on my list: the Elephant Seal Rookery, where we saw elephant seals sun bathe – and while they’re not exactly the cleanest smelling or pretty animals to watch especially when they’re molting, flocks of people came to watch them in their natural habitat anyway; and McWay Falls at Julia Pfeffier Burns State Park where a short walk led to an amazing view (Yelp gave a good tip to park further south to avoid the parking fees). We even stopped through some small town before Big Sur to grab some take-out lunch and we were further rewarded with a nice view (and a surprisingly good veggie deli sandwich).

Elephant seals aren’t particularly attractive…especially when they are molting | Photo by R. Oh

We couldn’t venture beyond this point as the trail was closed
McWay Falls | Julia Pfeffier Burns State Park

  • We reached Carmel/Carmel-by-the-Sea by dinner time, and after walking around for at least 45 minutes trying to find a not too overly priced restaurant that could accommodate a toddler, we settled on Il Fornaio. Though, it seems that trying to find a spot for dinner at many restaurants in Carmel on a Sunday night without reservations is a challenge. Despite it being a chain, the food was surprisingly flavourful and the texture seemed right (self-advertised in-house made pasta better be!) and the menu offered Italian dishes with a twist, like butternut squash ravioli (it was good! but a bit on the heavy side – let’s say it’s from the olive oil). Oddly enough as we were restaurant hunting, j.w bumped into someone he knew that went to his church many years ago (he seems to bump into people at the oddest places, like at the Anchorage airport).
  • We spent my birthday in Monterey / Carmel area, starting the Sunday morning off at Monterey Church and ending with a value 3-course early-bird dinner for $26.5 at the Grill. I really enjoyed the Sunday service – especially knowing that Bean was happy at kid’s church and started to enjoy herself after their joint music time. The children’s program seemed pretty extensive at the downtown church, but it was surprising that they didn’t have a potty seat or a smaller toilet for the amount of kids that were there. The music part of the worship service reminded me of a Starfield concert (with the lights, volume, and lyric projection), but I liked how they upcycled palattes to decorate the stage backdrop. The lead pastor is from Altanta and seems like God is using him greatly, as he was invited to speak at a seemingly big worship conference (Spirit West Coast in Ontario, CA) too; I had the impression that he was often jumping back and forth between their churches though. The funny thing is that I stopped noticing his accent shortly into his sermon (side note: the worship pastor’s name inspired me to toy with the idea of naming our next son, Jedidiah, Jedi for short…but that is just going overboard), which covered a passage from a different perspective that I hadn’t considered (except it escapes me right now = mommy brain). I found I also missed times like these where I could focus on listening without the distraction of having to keep Bean entertained (though my mommy side needs to work on trusting strangers to care for her children without parental supervision). Spent the rest of the afternoon doing the 17-mile drive (including Pebble Beach, a paradise for golfers as the green is next to the beach and water!) – which I didn’t enjoy as much, possibly because it was cool and cloudy for the early part of the drive – and ended with making it to our dinner reservations (thankfully, we qualified for that promotion as they didn’t count the 2 girls in our party so we weren’t a party of 6. I chose the sand dabs as it touted to be from Monterey Bay, but was a bit disappointed at the dessert as it as just a scoop of ice cream) 
  • Our long-awaited visit to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium was the following day – I thought it was missing some of the views of a higher-end aquarium, like the fish/shark tunnel, but it was really neat to see the fish feeding shows (especially when schools of fish swam to eat) and the vast size of some of the aquariums. I’m still not convinced it was worth the price of admission, but j.w figured if you saw 4 shows and allocated $10 for each of them, that would make the admission worthwhile. I enjoyed our impromptu Surrey rental ride, where 6 adults rode with 2 toddlers up front.  Bean enjoyed it, but Sum Sum was upset after the adults  coordination meant a slight bump into a post. The passion fruit ice cream at Kai Lee Creamery was definitely a worthwhile stop too! We ended up at their Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner, with my parents (who changed their itinerary so they could spend time with us and celebrate my birthday) at Abalonetti, because the Grotto was outright not-kid-friendly. I was quite happy with my pizza even though originally I had a hankering for seafood (but nothing stood out to me on their menu) and thought the calamari was only okay (lightly battered but not rubbery at least), but I think my sister got the best deal (lobster tail dinner for $24, enough to split for two). I was a bit disappointed to have missed the buck-a-shuck oysters (though they are from Canada)!
  • In Santa Cruz, we spent the morning at Verve coffee, where it felt like a hipster coffee joint; walked along the beach boardwalk, where Bean loved the gondola ride as she thought it was a giant swing; and had a Hawaiian-themed lunch. Missed out on a poke meal that everyone else got, and settled for the loco moco burrito but found it too much on the protein side, so I ordered a rice wrapped spring roll, which seemed to balance it out. This was our last destination (though we did do a short drive through Half Moon Bay) before we hit the city.
  • San Francisco and beyond: First dinner at Yamadaya Ramen – service was a bit mixed-up but I was happy with my food- especially the thick noodles. We didn’t see much of SF actually due to the limited time we had; the Golden Gate bridge was covered in the famous San Francisco fog, even though Alcatraz could be seen in full site in the opposite direction. We did manage a lunch at Google – great  food for free! – followed by a play date at a nearby playground and another dinner – free buffet – at Twitter! I preferred the personality of the Twitter public spaces than Google’s, perhaps because Google reminded me of Microsoft’s corporate feel. Even the elevators at Twitter felt cooler: you tell it what floor you’d like to go to before you go in, and they send the appropriate elevator to you. We happened upon Chairman Bao’s food truck, but I thought it wasn’t as good this time around, and we lined up for an hour for the Powell-Hyde cable car ride (courtesy of our friends and hosts) which Bean loved, but Sum hated. On a rare rainy day, we spent it at the Children’s Discovery Museum in San José, where I learned that Vietnamese is quite prominent in that neighbourhood and where I loved watching Bean enjoy herself there – spending most of her time in the early years area – making the $12 admission for everyone over 1-year-old worthwhile, and then shopping at the Premium Outlets, where you see hoards of Chinese from bus groups go crazy over chocolates at the Ghirardelli Chocolate outlet shop, followed by dinner at the CPK chain.
    The posts of the Golden Gate Bridge peeks out from under the fog | San Francisco



  • Wedding! the point and main purpose of this trip. We made it to the rehearsal, albeit late, after hitting traffic out of SF to Mountain View, following a lunch at the Blue Mermaid and me forgetting to give keys to the guys to grab our belongings so they had to double-back (neat to have a trio of chowders but the waiter missed our appetizer order, which I thought he would have mixed up our chowder orders after he seemingly tried to memorize our 6-person order). Sum cried at the rehearsal but Bean cried at the wedding when being pulled down the aisle in a wagon as flower girls. Rehearsal dinner was a sumptuous and scrumptious Chinese banquet feast! Wedding was followed by a lovely Western-style dinner (with grilled not-overcooked glazed salmon!) with the venue at a community center.
    Cousin and cousin-in-Law :)


The flower girls


Bean has started talking in 4-5 word sentences since the trip, with some tenses thrown in here and there; I’d like to think the trip was a catalyst.

I had wondered how we would keep two toddlers, especially ours, entertained during the extended time spent awake in the car without resorting to our phones or tablets. The solution ended being a mixture of different things, with these standing out in particular:

  • snacks, especially used to bribe Bean to settle in her car seat
  • a handmade “quiet” book. I thought her favourite pages would be the belt buckle (as she loves playing with those) but it ended being the clothes line and a random pocket on page tacked on the end that just held loose pieces of felt shapes and felt odd and ends. Funny girl though – she especially enjoyed taking them out and tucking it under her chin or making me clip it on the clothes line. I also quickly discovered that hot glue isn’t good enough; I had needed to do some emergency sewing with a hotel sew kit to make sure pockets didn’t fall apart.
  • drawing with a dry-erase marker quickly ended when it marked up her leggings and the car seat
Pages in her quiet book

Although she has potty-trained herself for #2 for awhile now, this trip has evidently shown us that she doesn’t like going in public washrooms, even with a potty seat. I don’t blame her, as mommy tends to avoid public washrooms as well. That means she either held it in for the entire day; had many attempts but resulted in false positives; became very upset to the point of crying and holding your hand because she needs to go but can’t, which was made worse when she was in the car seat while the car was in motion; or, accidentally going in her diaper, becoming very upset at that, and then manage to finish up on a toilet.

Also, when you’re eating out every day, we ended up giving her normal adult food (and more junk food like chicken mcnuggets) instead of her usual bland diet. My body, especially my gums, also felt the effects of eating out every day, but soon recovered after we came home – thankfully!

{If you made it this far, thanks! To edit and troubleshoot alignment and bullet issues another day}

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