Family Adventures Around California's Monterey Bay
CALIFORNIA Road Trip
One Week in Monterey Bay
In early April, once the snow melted around our mountain home in Ashland, Oregon, we embarked on a family cross-continental road trip traveling all the way from the Pacific Northwest to New England.
The highlight of this trip was spending two weeks in California, with a whole week visiting Santa Cruz and the Monterey Bay area.
My husband Jahsah, 5 year old, and my 4 month old all did the big drive together.
I love to travel, road trip, and explore! We spent a whole month driving from Oregon to New Hampshire - the long way.
Before driving all the way across country, it was wonderful to spend an epic week relaxing around Monterey Bay, exploring my husband’s hometown and more.
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California: North to South
We began our trip first heading south from Ashland, Oregon, into California, past Mount Shasta in a snowstorm (where Jahsah and I first met and were married), to the Sacramento region to visit his parents for a few days. That was a lovely way to start our adventure, with home cooked meals from grandma, warm weather, and lots of attention and play for the little boys.
Then we drove westward to the coast, and begin our explorations along the Central California Coast from Santa Cruz, all along the Monterey Bay, from tip to tip, then across the Carmel Valley, through wine country, to Solvang, Santa Barbara and then Ventura.
Visiting California was wonderful! Being near the ocean was rejuvenating. We spent the first two weeks of our trip just in California and we’re already planning our next adventures when we return there this Fall and Winter.
The first time my 5 year old saw the ocean was in Santa Cruz, from the ocean wharf when he was just a few months old.
That was the first place we went the morning we woke up on California's coast on our trip, and where our baby also got to experience his first gaze at the salty waters of the Pacific.
Sea lions bellowed below posing through the viewing holes in the wharf, the rides of the boardwalk spun people around by the beach, and a dolphin leaped out of the water while swimming by.
This is where my husband Jahsah grew up, in nearby Soquel, a small town with the relaxed surfer vibe and local food culture of Santa Cruz, but way less traffic and tourists. We love to visit here on our travels and bring our little boys here to connect with the ocean and community.
In Santa Cruz county I fell in love with Capitola Village by the Sea. The colorful buildings of the Capitola Venetian Hotel were just so perfectly beachy and colorful, it can't help but boost your mood and brighten up your day.
My 5 year old loved the beach at Capitola, there were kids to play with, sandcastles to build, driftwood to roll around, and surfers to watch.
I enjoyed walking around the shops and galleries checking out the art and chatting with the locals.
The flowers were in full Spring bloom along the California coast, especially abundant this year due to the increased rainfall this winter. I am a wildflower lover, and it was soul enriching to see all the colorful blooms and gardens.
I loved stopping by all the sweet locally owned coffeeshops and restaurants along the way, talking to the people and enjoying the local beach culture.
The Windmill Cafe in Santa Cruz was surrounded by abundant permaculture gardens front and back, and food and drinks are served in adorable mis-matched vintage dishes and mugs that the owners collect. It makes me so happy to see historical buildings being cared for and thriving as cultural meeting spots.
The beach life feels so good! I love the mermaid vibes, artistic community, farm to table food, and laid-back creative culture.
We ate so much amazing food, there is an abundance of organic food, juice bars, natural grocery stores, and locally owned restaurants.
One of my favorites was Discretion Brewing in my husband's hometown of Soquel, where they have organic brews and a farm-to-table kitchen with a delicious menu. It's a kid and dog friendly solar-powered neighborhood brewery with indoor seating, an outdoor patio with huge tree stump tables, and a toy box to keep the 5 year old entertained. I will definitely go back!
I also loved visiting The Farm Bakery & Cafe in Aptos, which is where Jahsah had his first job as a teenager working in the kitchen. They have a wonderful menu prepared from scratch with fresh, local, organic and grass-fed ingredients. and I enjoyed a delicious and filling Cobb Salad and Iced Tea and chatted with sweet ladies about the baby and our travels. We admired the beautiful pastries and fruit tarts, browsed their cute gift shop, and found the perfect kids book for Guy with travel activities from California to Maine. How'd they know?
We visited several beaches and spent several days eating and exploring our way around Soquel, Aptos, and Capitola. I definitely enjoyed the smaller beach towns with a strong local vibe, and the fantastic food culture of Santa Cruz county.
Rio del Mar has another great beach to visit with free beach parking, a huge sandy beach, and a long shoreline walking path where you can see the large concrete ship SS Palo Alto beached in the water.
In addition to beach hopping, we also enjoyed a wilderness hike to admire the old-growth redwood trees in the Forest of Nisene Marks. We only had time for a short hike, but I hope to return to explore more of their 30 miles of trails from sea level up to the coastal mountains.
As we begin traveling down the Central Coast, I found the best and fastest way to compare and book hotels on the go is through Booking.com. It's been super convenient to use their website and app to look up the best deals and locations.
This is how I found good deals and booked our stays at beautiful and comfortable places including The Monterey Bay Inn at Cannery Row, The Carmel Wayfarer Inn, The Wine Valley Inn in Solvang, and the Pierpont Inn in Ventura.
I highly recommend it, as we've reserved all our wonderful hotels through Booking.com, most with no cancellation fees, no payment until you arrive, and the more places we've booked through them, the greater discounts we've unlocked.
I even called their customer service with a couple questions and was promptly cared for, which I always appreciate knowing that there is 24 hour customer service available in case of need.
Use my link to book your next hotel, motel, or vacation home and get a $25 refund on your stay, in addition to the best deals online.
At our hotel in Solvang we chatted with a lovely couple from Canada who asked us how we were finding places to stay along our route. When we told them Booking.com they enthusiastically shared how they used it to find rooms when they traveled across Europe. So seasoned global travelers confirmed - it's the way to go!
I love that we can travel in the flow, and when we know where we want to be, it takes me about 5 minutes to compare available rooms online and book a place, knowing it will then be ready when we arrive.
We traveled around the Monterey Bay from Santa Cruz to Monterey itself. We stayed at the beautiful Monterey Bay Inn right on the harbor where you could hear the sea lions bellowing and see the boats coming into the harbor. It was so relaxing and beautiful, and conveniently located within walking distance of Cannery Row and the Aquarium.
We spent an afternoon in Monterey enjoying the beautiful Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is truly the best aquarium I've been too. It's an immersive experience walking through the building, experiencing the different zones from the Kelp Forest to the Open Sea, and seeing all the amazing creatures from sting rays, sharks, and octopus, to the ethereal jellyfish and adorable otters. My absolute favorite thing about the aquarium is the beautiful sound healing music composed specially for each exhibit.
I got to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium when I was 11 years olds, and Jahsah grew up getting to visit often with his parents and on school fields trips, so it was a delight to get to take our children there and experience it anew.
One of our favorite meals of the whole California trip was at The Poke Lab in Monterey. It was amazing! I could eat there every day, it was incredibly delicious. I had the Poke Lab Bowl with spicy tuna, ahi tuna, salmon and avocado, and Jahsah had the build-your-own poke bowl with tuna, salmon, and octopus, and both of our bowls were topped with Masago eggs plus fresh pickled ginger on the side.
After eating at the Poke Lab, we had to walk around for a while so we could build up our appetite again to enjoy some of the best handcrafted ice cream ever at Revival Ice Cream Shop. Jahsah and I shared the Bee's Knees, their special flavor made with local honey and bee pollen, while Guy had the most decadently rich chocolate ice cream, he's still raving about it!
After our adventures around the Monterey Bay, we headed just a few more miles south to the beautiful village of Carmel where we stayed at the quaint Wayfarer Inn, which was built in 1929 as an apartment complex, and is now a family run inn on a quiet street with a beautiful garden and patio courtyard, just 3 blocks walking distance to all the galleries, shops, and restaurants.
Carmel is a fascinating combination of seaside gardens, hidden paths and courtyards, luxury lifestyle, European travelers, and fairy-tale architecture. We heard more different languages being spoken here than anywhere else on our travels.
There's much to see by walking and exploring the hidden paths through town, finding gardens and adorable little shops. I particularly appreciated The Pilgrim's Way bookstore (the last bookstore in Carmel) and their Secret Garden found through the alleyway behind their store which leads to fountains, a dome, abundant plants, wind chimes, and a gardening shop.
Then we were headed south and drove through Carmel Valley to stop at the Earthbound Farm's farm stand, organic cafe, and gardens. This was a perfect place to get lunch, pick up snacks for our drive, and stretch our legs.
Their picnic area had a huge redwood tree perfect for climbing in, that my 5 year old absolutely adored.
I loved their Aromatherapy Labyrinth, as it combined two of my favorite things. I have long been amazed at the truly calming and meditative effect of walking a labyrinth, plus their's is designed with chamomile growing throughout it, so as you walk you can breathe deeply in the scent of calming fragrant herbs.
My husband Jahsah created this Google 360 image of the Aromatherapy Labyrinth at Earthbound Farms, so you can look around and experience a virtual view. Take a look around and see if you can spot my 5 year old in the image!
We also enjoyed their abundant Herb Garden, and I loved smelling the abundant oregano, rosemary, roses and more.
Our adventures around the Monterey Bay and California's Central Coast was inspiring and beautiful. I feel grateful for being there at the time when so many flowers were blooming and to get to share this with my love and littlest children.
This trip inspired us of all the potential that travel can bring to our minds, hearts and lives. Plus it was great to create new connections and revisit old places from Jahsah's childhood, and from my own.
We're already planning to visit again soon, because there is so much more we want to explore.
Many blessings on all your adventures,