California National Parks Road Trip
Visiting the national parks is a favorite excuse for a road trip.

Q. Kiki N. of Farmington, Connecticut is planning a road trip with driving age teens to see California’s national parks, and wants advice on their itinerary, costs, hotels, and airfare.

A.  A California road trip that will include the destinations San Francisco, Yosemite, Sequoia National Park and Half Moon Bay sounds ideal with your family, as you have 9 days and 2 teens to enjoy it with (and maybe share some driving). We think you’ll be able to see quite a lot.

You might want to start thinking about your trip by reading Bethany Kandel’s story about her drive from San Francisco to Yosemite with teens. It’s inspirational.

You’ve asked about itinerary; costs; hotels; and airfare. Since you’re in Connecticut, you might find it cheapest to fly out of New Yorks’ JFK, which has low cost airlines such as JetBlue and Virgin America. While they may be a bit higher in August than other airlines (this is the height of the summer travel season), they offer great service and will be fun for the kids. Round trip fares as we go to press are in the $270-$400 range for August.

You can save money on your rental car by booking it with the airline tickets, as many of the online travel agencies offer special rates when both are booked together. Although an SUV or minivan would be more fun and roomy, a 4-door mid-size sedan will be much less expensive for you.

In terms of “extreme adventure” requested by the teens, they’d probably love to try some camping in Yosemite. One of our families suggests you make reservations early since it’s so popular, but there are great family camps with provisions for non-campers that operate in summer. You can rent bikes in Yosemite, too, and do daytrip hikes.

Both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park are near Yosemite but much less traveled, and have family camps that take place in the Sierras during the summer. They are really fun, have lodge rooms and fixed tents, meals, learning programs for all ages, and are well-priced.

Here are a few names – Skylake Yosemite Camp, San Jose Family Camp, Montecito Sequoia Lodge (our review details their great kids’ learning programs and supervised day camps).  Another popular one, Lair of the Golden Bear, is run by UC Berkeley in week-long segments, so that may not work for your needs.

As for a suggested itinerary, here are our thoughts:
Day 1 – arrive San Francisco (6 hour flight), pick up rental car, drive 90 miles, sleep Sacramento
Day 2 – Sightsee Sacramento Gold Country attractions, drive Yosemite – 200 miles
Day 3-6 – 3N Yosemite, camping, hiking, biking or drive through in one day at spend the nights in Kings Canyon or Sequoia National Park. It’s about 220 miles back to the coast around Santa Cruz.
Day 6-9 – Relax at Half Moon Bay, depart from SFO.

Sacramento family attractions information includes details about Gold Rush history out there. The Aerospace and Railroad Museums are especially fun for teens, and there are many hotels in all price ranges. After a good night’s sleep, you can drive on the slow back roads to Yosemite or Sequoia/Kings Canyon; it’s very beautiful countryside.

In Half Moon Bay, the top family resort in the luxury category is the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay, where double rooms run $350-$400/N. There are many smaller hotels along the coast as well.

You might want to consider another camping opportunity around Pescadero (near Half Moon Bay and also Santa Cruz, which has a great boardwalk and classic midway.) Costanoa takes advantage of recreational land to offer RV sites, isolated well-stocked cabins as well as horseback riding, at very reasonable rates.

We look forward to hearing which places you and your teens enjoyed the most.


This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.