3 ways to create a memorable road trip with your toddler

3 ways to create a memorable road trip with your toddler

With long lines, flight delays, cancellations, and increasing fares becoming the norm these days due to staffing shortages, opting for a road trip may be a great way to win summer vacation planning! 

In this post, we’ll walk through 3 ways to make your next road trip unforgettable. Our most recent adventure on the road was a 3-hour-drive north from San Francisco to Sea Ranch, located in the northernmost point of coastal Sonoma County. 

As an eco-minded community that began 50 years ago, Sea Ranch was created with the goal to “live lightly on the land” where its architectural design mostly consists of wood-framed structures and homes that blend seamlessly with the region’s spectacular topography. Sea Ranch has long been on our bucket list of places to stay, but we did not realize how incredibly family-friendly it’d be until we arrived. 

Tip #1: Pick your “wow” moment

A big part of traveling is witnessing the types of things you’ll never see back home. What’s a destination near you that offers a sight / attraction that your kids won’t forget? For us, it was being up close and personal with nature at Sea Ranch where there’s a huge emphasis on being the least disruptive to the natural surroundings as possible. And we didn’t have to wait long as we saw deer casually walking by our Airbnb first thing in the morning!  


We were also particularly fortunate to be visiting in April as the birthing season for harbor seals begins in March. It’s an especially vulnerable time for harbor seals as pregnant seals will rest on tidal sandbars, rocky reefs and pocket beaches. They’ll stay close to their pups until they are ready to go out on their own. There are two protected seal observation areas at Sea Ranch, with the ideal location being at Tidepool Beach where the majority of pups are born. Seal Docents are usually there every Friday to Sunday to answer any questions and share fun facts as you look on with your kids!

Harbor seals playing on the beach

Tip #2: Incorporate free play 

While traveling can sometimes be a series of things to do/see/eat, being mindful of the amount of free play in a given trip can make a huge difference. The great news is that road trips can easily incorporate that, whether it’s a new playground, trail, or any open space really along the way to your destination. Unstructured free play makes them feel like they’re in control when everything can feel out of their control – ultimately helping avoid complete meltdowns, so everyone’s in a much better mood! 

If you’re a guest at Sea Ranch, the place you’re staying at should ideally provide guest passes to the recreation centers in the area. Our favorite was the Ohlson Recreation Center where there’s a well-heated pool, tennis courts, a half-court basketball court – and views of the ocean! 

While you normally need to reserve a lane if you intend to swim laps in the pool, there is an area where children can freely play in the water – if you’re only going to be in that area of the pool, reservations are not needed! This became a favorite daily activity for our son. There’s also a family sauna to dry off in after the swim – we may have spent just as much time in there as in the pool! 

Tip #3: Treat yourself with the accommodations 

The best part about road trips is the cost you’re saving on the flights/luggage check-ins/taxis. And with those savings, you’ll never regret on splurging a little on where you’ll be staying. Depending on the age of your children, your accommodations may end up being were you spend most of your time (and in our case our newborn was just 2-months-old which made keeping him on his eat/play/nap schedule much easier at our Airbnb). 

Born out of a movement in the 1960s to save the environment through thoughtful architecture and planning, Sea Ranch developed its own unique and distinct style of housing, including a combination of the shed roof, window seats and ladders, and smart overhead spaces for outlooks and skylights. Having worked at multiple home decor companies (One Kings Lane / Chairish), it was a dream to stay at one of the homes at Sea Ranch where every feed, nap time, meal, play/reading time seemed so magical when surrounded by views of the ocean and nature. And of course, it doesn’t hurt if there’s a hot tub to pop into once the kids are asleep! 

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