As a kid I traveled in our family Suburban quite a bit. My parents gave us a variety of travel experiences with the most frequent being a trip from South Carolina to our roots in the Midwest and back again. As one of three kids, we had a lot of fun times and annoyed the bejeezus (Is that a word? It feels right here) out of each other. One relatively consistent theme was the success of a trip was dependent on “making good time.” How long did we think it was going to take was always compared with how quickly we made it. Bladders were trained and speed was valued.
I imagine when I embark on our coast-to-coast adventure those years of training will come in handy, but for this trip I realized it was an addiction I had to break. Traveling alone with four kids under six meant that endurance was a skill not yet developed and if we were going to enjoy ourselves, we needed to lean into the adventure. We had to prioritize the fun over the speed. When did I become so old that fun had to be prioritized? Damn Adulthood! Overall, I think being intentional about being present and having fun made a huge difference in enjoying the ride (pun intended; aren’t they always?).
We plan to make this trip a few more times in the next couple years as I don’t think we have seen even a fraction of what there is to be seen. There are places we’ll see again and others we’ll omit, but here’s a quick break-down of our stops on day one. I’m happy to elaborate on any of this if you are planning to follow in our tire tracks. I realized as I went to share the details, the trip in one long post would be overwhelming; I am entirely too verbose for that. Instead, I hope you enjoy the day-by-day.
Tuesday, January 1: Left at 8AM. On New Year’s Day. Grateful for a low-key NYE celebration, as I can’t imagine the trip with a hangover. We started in San Diego and headed north towards Fresno.
William S. Hart Park: Santa Clarita, CA
We planned to stop at a park in Bakersfield but ended up at William S. Hart Park in Santa Clarita. I’m not sure what attracted me to this impulse stop, but it was a hidden gem. Originally a retirement home for a former silent actor and director, it was gifted to the community and is always free. There is a barnyard with a variety of animals to feed, a large roaming space with American bison, and a short hike up a hill to a museum. I mean, seriously, who gets to start off a road trip with a beautiful short hike and feeding a deer.
William S. Hart Park
24151 Newhall Avenue
Getting back in the van wasn’t an issue because it was cold, and the promise of heat drew the littles quickly back into their car seats. With bodies tired and the warmth of the van, we happily set off to our next location.
Bravo Farms: Traver, CA
A few hours down the road, we stopped at Bravo Farms. With its seven-story tree house, feisty llama, see-saw, slide into sandbox, and other fun club houses and animals, it was the break we needed. My animal-loving heart feels compelled to include that there is a feeling that the animals could benefit from some more space and higher quality care. We picked up several mementos that were over-priced but beloved. As a directionally challenged navigator, I hate when anyone says, “You can’t miss it,” but in this case there were a dozen billboards along Hwy 99 encouraging this spot as a must-stop for all weary travelers. They make their own cheese to taste, some wine to sip, and a plethora of homemade or cute knick-knacks to purchase. Keep your expectations low and you’ll enjoy yourself.
Bravo Farms: Traver
36005 Hwy 99
Traver, CA 93763
Leaving the adorable animals and clubhouse behind made the kids a bit more resistant to returning to the van. However, the anticipation of pizza and ice cream at the hotel got them moving. After one final quick 35-minute drive, we were pulling into our home away from home for the night.
Marriott’s TownePlace Suites: Fresno, CA
They saw us coming. I could see the front desk clerks eyeing us from the window as I unloaded my four amazing and wiggly children from the van onto the sidewalk. I was a little worried about how checking in would go as I’m sure we were not their ideal guests. My fears were quickly assuaged as one opened the door for us and the other handed each of the kids a special farm animal toy and coloring sheet. Their warmth and kindness brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t think it was possible, but it actually got better when five minutes after settling into the room I received a call asking if it would be helpful if they brought and set up a pack-n-play in the room for us. Their warmth, intuition, and generosity concluded our first day of traveling with smiles and comfort.
Fresno TownePlace Suites
7127 N. Fresno Street
Fresno, CA 93720
An extra treat at this leg of the travels was getting to meet up with my husband’s aunt and uncle. I could search the thesaurus for all the synonyms for kind and generous and it still wouldn’t touch on how truly amazing these two humans are. They brought us pizza, ice cream, and homemade cookies to enjoy on our first night away from home. Overall, we ended the day with confidence and excitement. So much excitement in fact that sleep was nearly impossible to come by. More on that later…