This past weekend we drove 5 hours up the coast to Monterey for Mother’s Day weekend.
We’re pretty lucky to have a child who oddly loves to take car rides, but we do keep a handful of healthy snacks in the car (fruit leather, berries, grapes, sliced cheese, granola bars) as well as a mini-magnetic drawing board.
We opted to leave LA on Friday night, getting into the Hyatt Regency Monterey in time for a movie, some Gilroy garlic fries, and a good night’s sleep. That way we could get a full day of activities in on Saturday.
Before I break down all of our stops, check out this video of our trip!
Here’s the nitty-gritty on what we did and how we did it.
Cannery Row is the perfect place to stroll with family. No matter what you’re into, you’ll find something your group will want to partake in. Ice cream shops, restaurants, wine and beer tasting, arcade games, mini-golf, even a mirror maze! You can also rent a surrey to hit the trails to take in the scenery a different way.
We followed the trail for awhile until we hit a fenced off area where we learned April and May are seal pupping season in Monterey! These beautiful animals stay protected from physical contact and noise during this period, since mothers will abandon their babies if they come into contact with humans.
I was very impressed with the community care I witnessed throughout the area. Check out the image of the meter below that puts an effort into ending homelessness. We spotted these several places and made sure to deposit our change.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
If you’ve heard of Monterey, you’ve heard of their aquarium!
One of my earliest memories is the sweatshirt my mom would wear around the house. It was teal with the logo for the Monterey Bay Aquarium across the front. The aquarium is at the base of Cannery Row and as soon as I saw the logo on the tower I knew we were in the right spot!
There are multiple parking lots in the area, but we chose to park on the street. It cost under $2 an hour and you could pay for an unlimited amount of time.
This was honestly the first place Fox has ever visited that he requested and we really hyped up. He talked about “ishies” or fish the entire car ride, even if he replied “EAT!” when I asked why he was excited to see them 😉
He was completely amazed and let out a few “wows” in the clear tunnel that water rushes over and he even grabbed my hand in one room and sat against the wall, asking me to sit too, so that he could marvel over a sea turtle without disruption.
His favorite part was the playground, which is next to the Splash Zone — a spot to touch sea creatures.
The food court has dozens of options: Tyler got a clam chowder, I got a Mediterranean salad (not your average salad, highly recommend), and Fox got a fruit and yogurt parfait which came in a Mason jar that we easily resealed and brought back to the hotel for a late-night snack.
We also left with a sea otter iron-on patch and a small, vibrating light-up toy. That toy saved us many times throughout the trip when Fox needed a distraction and he’s still playing with it as I type this 🙂 As for the patch, we have collected a patch in every location Fox has visited since he was first born. I’ll leave it up to him to decide what to do with them when he’s older, although I think they’d be pretty cool ironed onto a piece of fabric and framed!
Want to visit the aquarium yourself? Enter here to win free tickets to the Aquarium and MY Museum!
The Fisherman’s Wharf was a lot more tame than Cannery Row in term of population and we found parking easily in the lot ($2). There was a cute little market going on and, although Fox slept through most of this, he opened his eyes when he heard the commotion from a man blowing human-sized bubbles. He thought it was the coolest!
Most vendors have platters with their food out front so you can see what they have to offer, and some even sample their clam chowder. They’re all made a different way, so it’s worth a sample of each! Tyler grabbed a beer and I got a few oysters for $1.75/piece. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and we were wishing we had the foresight to come hungry to the wharf! I suggest being wiser than us and heading here for dinner.
This is also the spot to get your token souvenirs and loads of candy. The saltwater taffy is A+.
Dennis the Menace Park
Numerous people who live in Monterey said Dennis the Menace Park is a must-do. Parks are not usually my ideal activity to pencil in because, truth be told, children can “park” anywhere, but this park is on another level. There’s a steam train, hedge maze, and a plethora of playground equipment like you’ve never seen before. Perfect for wearing out the kids before heading back to the hotel.
I could not have prepared myself for how awesome this drive was going to be. I’ve road tripped through some pretty awesome countries, but this drive is definitely one of my favorites. The drive has a toll of $10 (you can get this back when spending $35 in shops or restaurants within the drive) and there’s has its own app! The app is free and allows you to continue playing music in your car which is automatically lowered in volume when you reach a point of interest on your GPS. The guide then explains a few tidbits about the area and you can stop in the lots for photos.
We thought this would be a quick trip, but we spent hours here!
We had a mini-picnic on the beach at one of the many tables, listened to the waves crash, and I took a few seconds to myself atop a rock. I read that there’s a market at the entrance where you can put together a picnic basket for your trip in, but we had already come prepared.
We arrived in the center of Carmel-by-the-Sea within 15 minutes of exiting 17-Mile Drive. Fox fell asleep as we were parking so Tyler jumped out to grab us a couple of wraps and coffees at Carmel Bakery and then we drove around window shopping from the comforts of our car. This is one area I’d love to dig deeper into on our next trip.
Don’t forget to check out the Carmel Mission Basilica on your way out of town. Only a 4-minute drive from the cafe, the vast open area is a sight to see in and of itself. The Carmel Mission Basilica was founded in 1770 and you can take a peek inside for a small fee.
Point Lobos State Natural Preserve
This was my personal favorite stop of the entire weekend. We opted to park inside in a lot for $10, picked up another patch for Fox, and got him snug as a bug into his hiking carrier. We walked the Cypress Grove Trail (which circled the Allan Memorial Grove) which was quick and easy, but the views were OUTRAGEOUS. They really deserve the caps lock. Trust me when I say this trail is a must if you visit.
Bixby Creek Bridge
If you’ve seen Big Little Lies, then you’ve seen the Bixby Creek Bridge. Remember it from the intro credits before each episode? There’s a small parking lot to sneak into for a quick photo and to marvel at the remarkable engineering of this structure. Tyler and I actually took turns hopping out of the car for this one since the drop is extremely steep/fast moving cars are nearby and my toddler is not the easiest to wrangle. He was happy about this particular one since he was able to take his drone out for a spin.
If you still have daylight left and don’t have to drive far to get home, head on over to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park for more hiking and sightseeing. Keep your eyes peeled for banana slugs!
Even after all we did on Sunday, we still got home by 10 pm — on Mother’s Day weekend nonetheless.
To wrap up, here’s our weekend itinerary:
- Cannery Row
- Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Optional: Surrey Ride
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- Dennis the Menace Park
- 17-Mile Drive
- Carmel Mission Basilica
- Point Lobos State Natural Preserve
- Bixby Creek Bridge
- Optional: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
For more itinerary ideas, visit See Monterey.