Having grown up in Southern California, where most of my family still lives, traveling to and from Los Angeles is something that has become routine. My oldest has made the cross country flight more times than I can count and my youngest thinks nothing of a five hour plane ride. That said, over the years, we have exhausted the number of things to do in the greater Los Angeles area and when I suggested taking a trip to Monterey over Spring Break, my husband jumped at the opportunity as he and our sons have never been.
How did we get there?
Monterey is located approximately two hours south of San Francisco International Airport and five and a half hours north of Los Angeles International Airport. When pricing flights, direct flights to and from Los Angeles were significantly cheaper than San Francisco and with four tickets to purchase, we elected to fly in and out of Los Angeles and take a mini road trip up and down the coast with the kids.
A few years ago, we started renting vehicles from Silvercar when flying in and out of Los Angeles. Not only is an Audi A4 a much nicer car to drive than your usual compact rental car, but one of the perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card is that I receive 30% off the cost of the rental car. Our nine day rental ended up costing approximately $500 out of pocket, which we were happy to pay considering it saved us from having to wait hours in the rental car line after a long day of travel. All vehicles are also equipped with WiFi and GPS, which was an extra bonus considering we intended to spend hours in the car with both boys, neither of whom are particularly fond of long car rides.
In order to break up the trip, we decided to stay in Santa Barbara on the day of arrival and in the Los Angeles area on the night prior to departure. This would not only give us time to do some sightseeing along the coast, but it would also give us an opportunity to visit family while also letting the kids stretch their legs.
Where did we stay?
Our first night was spent at the Hyatt Centric Santa Barbara. My husband used the free night certificate that comes with being a Hyatt cardmember and so our room was completely free. The room was right across the street from the ocean and although we were on the ground floor (which I usually do not prefer), our room also had a nice little private patio which was a nice place to sit and people watch.
For the seven days spent in Monterey, we rented a vacation home via Homeway. There are so many options in terms of vacation rentals, but the one we ultimately decided on seemed a bit off the beaten path and also had sufficient space to accommodate friends and family who would be coming to spend some portion of the week with us.
For the last and final night of our vacation, I redeemed Marriott points for a room at the Residence Inn in Pasadena/Old Town to help cut down on overall expenses from the trip. The hotel was newly remodeled and, as an extended stay location, came with a small kitchen and microwave. Although we were only there for one night, I wanted to check it out and see whether it would be a good location for future stays and visits (answer: yes, I would happily stay there next time I’m in Pasadena).
What did we do?
Although it was only 10AM when we landed in Los Angeles, we had been up since 2AM local time due to the time change and travel time. We stopped for a quick burger at In-N-Out before heading to our first stop of the day.
The Santa Monica Pier
Although largely believed to be a tourist destination, I happen to love the Santa Monica Pier. There’s a parking lot that makes it easily accessible, great ocean views, and lots of wonderful people watching. We actually had photos taken in our wedding attire after our ceremony/reception at the Pier, so it was great fun to return with both kids for some sightseeing.
As an added bonus, Santa Monica Pier is a known Pokemon Go hotspot and unless you’ve been living under a bridge for the last year, you can imagine how excited my seven-year-old was to do some Pokemon catching in a new location.
We spent about an hour at the Pier before climbing back into the car and heading up north to Santa Barbara for our next destination, the Santa Barbara Zoo.
Although I’ve been to Santa Barbara many times, I wasn’t even aware that there was a zoo until my husband suggested it as something to do to let our toddler run around. We had no idea what the zoo would be like, but the location of the zoo (less than one mile from the hotel) and the perfect weather convinced us that it was just the right thing to do before turning in for the night.
The zoo ended up being a perfect way to spend the afternoon! My toddler, who loves animals, was thrilled to run around and see animals after a long day of traveling and being cooped up and we loved being able to stretch our legs while breathing in the fresh ocean air. It’s a small zoo and thus had a more intimate feel than our usual zoo – the Smithsonian Zoo here in DC. If you happen to find yourself in Santa Barbara, perhaps doing some wine tasting, this would be a great place to spend a few hours in the afternoon, with or without children.
After a few hours at the zoo, we grabbed a quick bite to eat before turning in for the night.
The next morning, we woke up bright and early thanks to our jet lagged toddler and quickly packed up and headed up the coast towards Monterey. Our first stop, however, was Solvang, a Danish Village in the Santa Ynez Valley, less than an hour from where we were staying. My brother attended UC Berkeley and so I’ve been visiting Solvang for years with my family as it is an easy pit stop between Los Angeles and Berkeley. My kids were wowed by the pastries, but unfortunately, we could not visit and do any window shopping because it was still incredibly early (before 8am) and none of the shops were open.
Pinnacles National Park
After our stop in Solvang, we drove three hours north on the 101 (US-101 N) to Pinnacles National Park. Pinnacles National Park is worthy of a visit for its unique rock formations and in recent years, it has become a hatching location for captive California condor.
Although our hiking options were severely limited by our toddler, we did manage a short walk from the Visitor’s Center up to one of the hiking trails. Parking is extremely limited and although the website states that a “section of the Bench Trail between Peaks View and South Wilderness Trail may be accessible to visitors in wheelchairs,” the parking options would make it undesirable, for me, if I had a child in a stroller. Luckily, my toddler was able to walk and/or be carried through the hike and although my husband had to run back and forth (about 1/2 mile) from the main parking lot to the overflow lot, this was a nice off-the-beaten-path detour on our drive up the coast.
Continue reading for Part II – A Week in Monterey
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