Preparing for a California Road Trip with Babies and Toddlers

California is a state that’s made for road trips. Hundreds of miles of coastline showcase world-class attractions, small-town gems and wildlife that encourages all ages to reach for the binoculars. A California road trip with kids is guaranteed to excite even the youngest travelers. We’ve partnered with MetLife Auto & Home to offer a few tips to help your family get ready to hit the road.

Road Trip with Toddlers and Babies

Photo w/text add: flickr/scissorhands33

Toddler and Baby Road Trip Tips

Create the Itinerary

Regardless of age, having a plan for the road trip is the first step to a successful vacation. California’s a large state and it’s a six hour drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco via the freeway and double that if you take the coastal route. Why not consider concentrating on either southern or northern California?

Between Los Angeles and San Diego you’ll find sun, family beach resorts, Disneyland and the San Diego Zoo. If a shady stroll through the redwoods at Muir Woods and a peek at sea otters at the Monterey Aquarium or from a hiking path sounds more fun, head north to San Francisco and the Monterey Peninsula.

Ensure the Car is Road Trip Ready

The itinerary is set but what about the car? I used to hop in my car and go, no matter the distance. With kids in tow, that’s not safe or practical. Sage advice from my mechanic about my aging car have made me rethink road trip preparation. With a few easy steps, I now have peace of mind that the car is ready to travel the distance.

Road Trip Car Seat Safety

The added perk of a properly installed car seat. Photo: flickr/donnierayjones

Schedule oil changes and mechanic visits to coincide with road trips. Visit your mechanic a few weeks before the trip to allow for any needed repairs. Don’t hesitate to ask for a quick overview of the engine if you’re not sure where everything is or have questions.

With babies and toddlers, make sure the car seats are installed properly. This is particularly important if you’re renting a car seat from the car rental agency and it’s not the same brand as your normal seat.

Always carry an emergency roadside kit with a flashlight, jumper cables, a first aid kit and water. And don’t forget to check to make sure that everything is in working condition. There’s nothing worse when you need the first aid kit than finding only pinky-sized bandaids and dried up Neosporin and alcohol packets.

And if the car breaks down do you know who you’ll call? Is it AAA, a mechanic, or can you change that flat tire yourself? Have the phone numbers (and your AAA account number) ready, just in case.

Know Your Insurance Coverage

A recent change in insurance companies and a visit with our insurance agent was filled with good surprises. We had no idea that our auto insurance covered partial towing. Knowing your insurance coverage means you can make informed decisions when needed.

Review your policy before a road trip and keep a copy along with proof of insurance in your glove compartment. And after review, if it’s time for a change, check your employee benefits for discounted rates on auto and home insurance or get an instant quote from MetLife Auto & Home.

Road Trip Insurance Preparation

Keep a copy of important insurance documents in the glove compartment. Photo: Kristi

If you’re renting a car, review your personal insurance policy to see what it covers. You may also have additional coverage from specific credit cards but it’s good to know all of this before you accept or decline additional coverage at the counter.

Stress-free Travels

You’re finally on the road. Calm, entertained kids let the driver stay focused on driving without distractions. With that in mind, here are a few tips for stress-free travels.

Road Trip with a Toddler

Parks are perfect rest stops for all ages. Photo: flickr/donnierayjones

Bring a mix of electronics and non-battery toys. If the the iPad runs out of battery and there’s no back-up the peace vanishes quickly. Use a mix of toys to entertain and avoid anything with sharp edges that can double as a projectile missile from the back seat.

Find the parks for pit stops. Everyone needs room to run and stretch their legs on road trips. My family has our favorite stops up and down the coast and I’ve found that the kids never outgrow a playground.

Don’t forget the snacks and water. No one likes to be “hangry” as my kids call it. “Hangry” is that awful place where you’re so hungry you become grumpy and not-so-nice.

Add a California twist to the car sick kit. Years of road travels with a car sick prone child led to the perfect prep kit. We always carry three items: a sand bucket and a roll of paper towel and a liter of water for clean up. Outside the car, the sand bucket doubles as a sand castle builder, rock collector and stool. This kit is especially helpful if you’re traveling through the winding roads of Muir Woods or Big Sur.

Bring binoculars. There are sea lions, dolphins, whales and sea birds up and down the coast. You can’t begin to see all of California in one trip, even with binoculars, so relax, enjoy and plan to visit again.

Need Help Planning a California Road Trip with Kids?

We can help!  Ciao Bambino’s Family Vacation Consulting Team provides one-on-one trip planning services. Request assistance on My Trip Planner.

Editor’s Note: Kristi is currently a member of the MetLife Auto & Home Blogger Program and this post is part of our involvement. While MetLife has provided Kristi with materials and necessary resources to complete various activities, all thoughts and opinions are her own.

Relevant Links:

 A Grand California Family Road Trip

 Tips for a Trouble Free Road Trip with Teens

Planning a Disneyland Family Vacation


  1. Hi,
    We are coming to California for my brothers wedding in Sept and looking at hiring an RV for 2 weeks as wedding is in Yosemite. Our son will be 10 months old by then. He already weighs 9.5kg at 6 months. All the company’s wont let you hire with a baby under 1. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Hi Jess – I’m afraid we don’t know of a workaround for a situation like that … we don’t know all the RV companies but I wonder if they all have the same rule? -Amie

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