Our family recently left the dreary winter weather for some sunshine and (slightly) warmer temps! We tried something new and ventured to the Monterey area of California, which includes Carmel, Big Sur and Monterey. This area is sometimes known for being romantic and great for couples, but we had a fantastic time taking our toddlers along with us! Plus, if you’ve watched the series Big Little Lies, you may recognize some of the scenery! Here are suggestions of what to do in this beautiful area!
Getting There and Staying There
We flew into Monterey airport and out of San Jose. Monterey is a smaller airport with rental cars available and a quick drive into town. For cheaper and more flight options, look into other airports nearby such as San Jose, San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland and Fresno. All of these airports are 1-2 hours away from the Monterey area and offer rental cars.
Each area we visited offers a variety of accommodations for all price ranges. Depending on where you want to stay, there are hotels, inns, cabins and some VRBO or Air BNB’s.
We ended up staying in Monterey on Cannery Row due to our hotel loyalty points. This is a busy, touristy area but it was nice to be in the heart of the action!
Monterey Bay Aquarium: One of our first stops on the trip! This is one of the best aquariums in the United States and the world, and it was so fun to see all the sea creatures!
There is so much to see from walking around the Cannery Row area! Lots of tourist shops, restaurants and sweet stores. It is right on the water so you can keep your eyes peeled for sea lions sunning themselves!
El Torito Restaurant: This Mexican restaurant is very family-friendly and in the heart of Cannery Row. The food was phenomenal (try the tableside guacamole) and the restaurant has breathtaking views of the ocean!
Even if you aren’t into golf, this infamous area is worth driving through! Note that there is a $11.25 charge to enter the area, but that can be reimbursed if you dine somewhere on property.
17 Mile Drive: This is a beautiful drive along the coast with several sights to stop and see. Thanks to the time change, we did this drive at sunrise and it was beautiful (and empty). Depending on the weather, some companies also offer rentals to bike the trail.
Golf: Pebble Beach houses 5 golf courses, several of which are public courses. Bring your clubs and golf on some of the highest rated golf courses in the country!
Dining: There are 3 lodging options within Pebble Beach, and two are resort-style with restaurants and shopping. We had breakfast at Stillwater Bar and Grill and enjoyed the beautiful views and food. All restaurants have a variety of cuisine, ambience and price points so there should be something to please everyone!
This was an adorable little town and one of our favorite areas of the trip! The buildings are so quaint and we enjoyed walking around and exploring the shops. We dined at Hogs Breath Inn (formerly owned by Clint Eastwood) and loved the cozy fireplaces they had around the patio! There are several wine tasting rooms around town if you want to experience some of California’s incredible wine selection. Carmel Beach is in town and provides beautiful scenes of Pebble Beach and more. This is also an off-leash dog beach, so we enjoyed walking on the sand and meeting some furry friends! We ended one day with drinks and appetizers at Mission Ranch. The location of this is absolutely gorgeous- it is so peaceful and fun to watch the sheep grazing in the field.
Further in the valley along the Carmel River are many wineries and restaurants. We stopped at Folktale Winery for drinks and their incredible wine. It has a beautiful courtyard outside with plenty of room for the little ones to play and run! We also dined at Running Iron for lunch. It’s a quirky old bar that is kid-friendly and has plenty of outdoor and indoor seating.
Big Sur Highway 1 Drive and Hiking
One of the “must do” things on your trip! Driving down highway 1 is absolutely beautiful and there are plenty of stops along the way for pictures and hikes. We chose to make a day of driving down Big Sur and stopped for three different hikes on our trip.
We started off with a quick hike in Point Lobos. Just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, they have a ton of different trails of different lengths. We opted for the quick .8 mile trek on the Cypress Grove Trail. This provided beautiful views both of the water and in the forest.
Further down the road we next took on the Soberanes Canyon Trail. This is a 2.8 mile hike and one of the best hikes we’ve done!
It is not extremely strenuous but does require some navigating over streams. It was a great variety of cactus and redwood trees along a winding river.
Further down, you get into the actual Big Sur “town.” There are several cabins, bed and breakfasts and some restaurants.
We ended our time hiking the Pfeiffer Falls trail. This was more strenuous of a hike with a lot of elevation, but it was still beautiful!
Check out our family travel articles for more fun ideas!