Having grown up in Southern California, I have for years wanted to take my family to Monterey to explore the Monterey Bay Aquarium. For my son’s spring break earlier this year, we finally took the plunge and planned a week long trip to California with the goal of spending most of our week exploring the Aquarium.
In Part I of this series, I covered the logistics of our flight from DC to Los Angeles and our decision to spend the night in Santa Barbara and take our time driving up the Coast to Monterey. In Part II, I described the activities we packed into our seven day stay in Monterey (and there were many)! In this final post (Part III), I’ll cover our reverse road trip back down to Los Angeles and share some final thoughts and tips.
On the morning of our departure, my husband and I cleared out the fridge and enjoyed a hearty breakfast of french toast, hash browns, sausage, and fried eggs. After an activity filled week, both of my usually picky eaters happily devoured their breakfast before climbing into the car.
With nothing planned for the day except to make it down to Los Angeles in one piece, we enjoyed the leisurely 3.5 hour drive from Monterey to our major stop of the day: Carrizo Plain National Monument.
The Carrizo Plain National Monument is located in southwestern San Joaquin Valley, roughly halfway between San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield. It’s a vast, remote area where, at times, I’ve had the entire place to myself. What first drew me there was ephemeral Soda Lake, which draws rafts of sandhill cranes in wet years, and the primitive campsites.
Carrizo Plain is the largest single native grassland remaining in California. During our week in Monterey, our local twitter feeds had exploded with reports of the wildflower superbloom happening in Carrizo, and although we knew it was slightly out of our way and would likely add an extra 2 hours of driving time to our day, we decided to take the detour in the hopes of seeing the tail end of the superbloom.
Although we were definitely at the tail end of the superbloom (the purple flowers had all but disappeared, but we saw plenty of large patches of orange), it was a worthwhile stop as it gave us the opportunity to stop and stretch our legs and take a little walk along the San Andrea Fault. The Wallace Creek Interpretive Trail along the San Andreas Fault was an excellent flat walk for the four of us to take and my son enjoyed learning about the fault lines and seeing the fault lines with his own eyes. There was a small number of parking spots at the trail head which we happily parked at, before heading out into the California sunshine for our short hike.
After our walk, we continued to weave our way out of the National Monument. Unfortunately, the windy roads were less than pleasant for my motion sickness prone toddler, who ended up needing a quick stop on the side of the road. Luckily, I had packed a few Carebags, in anticipation of the hours we would be spending in the car, and they ended up very handy to have. I will definitely be carrying these with us whenever we have road trips planned as it was much nicer than scrambling to find a plastic bag to contain the mess.
From Carrizo, it was a three hour drive to our hotel, the Residence Inn Los Angeles Pasadena / Old Town. Having been open for less than a year, it was a nice treat to stay in a brand spanking new hotel! My husband and I particularly loved that the rooms were suites, thus giving us a bit more space to spread out. In fact, my husband and I were able to sleep together in the king bed, while the boys shared the pull out mattress.
The next morning, we had breakfast at one of our usual haunts, Julienne’s in San Marino. Julienne’s is a small neighborhood restaurant that my husband and I have been dining at since the winter of 2002, when he came to visit me in Los Angeles for the first time. Since then, we have dined at Julienne’s every single time that we have been in Los Angeles and we even hosted a family breakfast there on the morning of our wedding rehearsal. Although my kids have no comprehension of how much Julienne’s has been a part of our story, I love that we take them to Julienne’s and I hope that someday they can appreciate just what a local gem it is.
After breakfast, went to Garfield Park in South Pasadena to burn off some energy before heading to the airport for our flight home. Garfield Park is a great park for kids of all ages. There’s lots of grassland and small hills for running races and abundant playground equipment. My brother, who is basically a big kid, met us there and did some sprints with the boys before we said our goodbyes.
Our flight home to DC was uneventful but my toddler, who is a terrible napper on the go, was able to cobble together only about 30 minutes of sleep on the plane, despite my best efforts.
My toddler is wearing Kidz Gear Wired Headphones, which I purchased in 2010 just prior to my older son’s first plane ride. I cannot believe these are still going strong – definitely a value at $20!
The lack of sleep became quickly apparent as his smiles during deplaning turned into tears as we made our way to the taxi line.
What would I do differently?
Honestly, everything about this vacation was so enjoyable that I really can’t think of anything I would do differently. Sure, there are ways it could have been better – the weather certainly could have cooperated so that we could have spent more time outdoors and I would have liked to have been able to drive down Big Sur instead of being road blocked by the mudslides that had occurred as a result of the heavy rains this spring… but in terms of things that I could have controlled? I really can’t think of anything. Although the thought of taking a road trip with my motion sickness prone toddler seemed insane at the outset of the trip, the drives ended up being more pleasant than I imagined. Although we definitely added time in the car due to various detours we took on each end of the trip, the detours were a nice way to break up the trip AND provided more opportunities to run and stretch than a basic bathroom or McDonald’s stop. All in all, I enjoyed our week in California and highly recommend it to anyone with young kids.