Riding With the Grom: A Skateboarding Road Trip Up the California Coast

Skaters in Venice Beach
 Marc Dozier/Getty Images

What’s better than a bonding trip with your son? One that hits up the luxe digs along California’s Highway 1—and every skate park on the way.

AT THIS POINT, a drive along California’s iconic Highway 1 is almost a road trip cliché. But I’m guessing that few people tackled the journey the way we did it in February—by skateboard. No, we didn’t kick, push, and coast the entire 350 miles from Los Angeles to Santa Cruz. But my travel companion was my 14-year-old son, Carlos, who was determined to experience the Golden State the way he believes it was meant to be experienced: By hopping from skate park to skate park to skate park.

I wouldn’t dare set foot on a board myself. But I decided to go along with the plan. I thought it might help me better understand my son. The places where he flourishes—behind a drum kit, away at camp, and especially at the skate park—are not places I can easily enter. Being on the road, I hoped, would make it easier to connect. The fact that we’d be driving a sleek Audi S5 Cabriolet convertible only sweetened the deal.

We started at the Venice Beach skate park— one of the best in the world, Carlos told me—set between the boardwalk and the sand. Carlos leaped right in. I took a seat off to the side and watched my son navigate the scene. At first, it looked like chaos. But as the hours passed, I noticed an unspoken code of conduct. Wait your turn. Don’t drop in while someone else is in the bowl. When someone lands a cool trick, bang the bottom of your board against the concrete in appreciation. I could see why skating was so appealing to Carlos, a boy who’d always felt a little bit adrift. Abide by the rules of the park, and you’re in.

Making our way north, we planned our days around skating. In Santa Barbara, we headed straight to Skater’s Point. The next day, en route to Hearst Castle, we took a winding detour inland through Los Padres National Forest to the tiny town of Orcutt—just to check out One Way Board Shop. After Carlos bought a hoodie and some stickers for his board, the owner sent us to a small park in nearby Santa Maria that was sandwiched between a Honda dealership and a storage facility.

What the road gave us, I realized, was time without distractions. Within the confines of our small car, we got to just hang out. After a brief stop to skate at El Estero skate park in Monterey, we ventured south to Big Sur. The kid was clearly bummed that there would be a single day of the trip that didn’t involve skating. But I held my ground, explaining that the wild beaches and epic views were going to blow his Brooklyn mind. We drove with the top down, and soon Carlos put his phone down (voluntarily!) and stared out the window. We arrived at the Ventana campground and checked into our glampsite beneath the redwoods before eating dinner and watching the sunset at Nepenthe.

On the way out of Big Sur we stopped at Pfeiffer Beach, where Carlos schooled me on how to climb the towering rock formations by placing my hands in the crags to get a grip. I knew he was dying to get to Santa Cruz—or more specifically, the Mike Fox skate park. But I also knew that in this moment, under a warm sun with the white caps of the Pacific crashing against the rock where we perched, my son was totally, fully, stoked. And so was I.