Getting Away in Monterey – Our California Trip, Part 1

The boys and I were able to accompany Ken out to California for a business trip. They had been talking about going across the country for a year, and we thought it would be a good opportunity. And because Ken keeps repeating “No More Vacations!” a la Gandalf, I really made it a point to cram in as much as possible into our 8 days out here. 

Sunday – Going to California

Sunday morning we woke up at 3:30 am to catch an early flight to San Jose. Although the boys were tired when we landed, we wanted to make sure we got down to Big Sur while Ken was still with us. We first drove to Monterey from San Jose to check into our hotel. The weather was beautiful and sunny in San Jose, and as we neared the coast, it got really foggy. I knew coming out that there would be colder temperatures and fog, but I was still surprised at how thick it was. The kids were blown away by the proximity of the mountains and the water. The concierge at our hotel had the chill Californian vibe and gave us some recommendations and a paper map of Highway 1 since you lose reception south of Garrapata State Park. 

Leaving Monterey and heading south on Highway 1 reminded me of the opening scenes of Big Little Lies. We were marveling at the ocean when we turned a corner and were blown away by the scenery. The steep mountains ahead were shrouded in fog, with enough clearing to see the turquoise ocean with waves crashing onto the rocky shore. Further out over the ocean, the clouds were below us. We continued back on the highway down a bit before stopping at Bixby Bridge and talking to a local about the squirrels who welcome visitors to the site. The bridge is shorter and less intimidating to drive over than I thought it would be. The turn off before the bridge was crowded, with plenty of standing room adjacent to steep declines. We were all in sandals, and quickly decided to stay away from the slippery sides. 

Continuing south, we passed a few spots I would have stopped into if we had had more time, but we were both exhausted and apprehensive to be driving on the coast after dark.The highway is windy, with lots of cars pulling off and back on from lookout points. Driving through big Sur campgrounds, we saw our first California Redwoods and I decided that next year we would return with Ken for his annual company meeting, but camp there for the week. We stopped at McWay Falls in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and walked out to the waterfall. It is a long, skinny waterfall that cascades down into a turquoise lagoon. I wish we could have gotten closer to it, but the path keeps you away, and ends abruptly for repairs.

Turning back north, we stopped at Nepenthe for dinner. The restaurant has been there since the 1970s, and it was very crowded. We sat at the bar waiting for a table, and I’m glad we did because the bartender was very cool. He engaged us and the kids in good conversation about Big Sur, the history of the restaurant and impressed the kids by throwing limes into a trash can behind his back not looking at it. The menu selection was sparse, but the food was really good. The kids had burgers and Ken and I split the scallops with polenta cakes. After dinner we were able to catch the sunsetting over the Pacific Ocean, and while the kids were exhausted, they were thankful that we had taken advantage of the day by venturing down to Big Sur. 

Monday – No Cookies at the Aquarium

Monday we felt the time change the most. It was the day that we were each the crankiest. We woke up very early for Pacific Time and got some breakfast. Ken had to leave in the afternoon for a few days, and before we flew out, we had made a list of things that Ken wanted to do in Monterey. The aquarium is world renown, and for good reason. We walked to the Old Fisherman’s Wharf and then northwest along the Fisherman’s Shoreline Park towards Cannery Row and the Aquarium. When we got there, the line looked very long, but it moved very quickly since all tickets need to be purchased in advanced. It was only about 15 minutes that we were waiting. The Aquarium is an indoor/outdoor experience with tons to do and see. My favorite part was the jellyfish with their bright, neon colors contrasting against the dark water background. James’s favorite part of the Aquarium was the otter exhibit and watching them play with a ball while floating on their backs. Ken’s favorite part was the deep water tank with sharks, sea turtles and giant deepwater fish. 

Trying to keep expenses down, we wanted to avoid eating or drinking in the aquarium, but both boys’ blood sugars dropped and we had to get them something. They wanted cookies, but we insisted on lemonades. The travel and time change fatigue was in full force and we sat with two grumpy tweens complaining that they couldn’t have any cookies. It is a fine balance between making sure kids are not too tired, but also that they have an outlet for their energy. They can be on the vacation of a lifetime but feel like they don’t get anything they want when they can’t have a cookie. Lunch on Monday was sushi at Crystal Fish. While I was washing my hands the boys decided to order the Dragon Ball Z appetizer for the name, which was amazing. We each ordered a specialty roll – and ate every last bite. Charlie liked the food so much that he added a review of it from my phone. 

After lunch it was time to say goodbye to Ken for a few days, and with him went the rental car. I thought it would be cool to go to In-N-Out Burger with the kids since they love both burgers and fastfood. We walked north along the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail. We had bought a soccer ball at Walgreens to kick around on the beach, and the boys were kicking it back and forth as we walked along. I noticed that as we got away from Monterey proper, there were fewer people, and I got a few strange looks from men. We spotted a homeless man who creeped me out and as we walked quickly past him, he started to follow us. A few times Charlie had to jog to catch up to James and I and we nervously watched as he got closer. At an intersection, I decided that we were going to get off the trail and order an Uber from the sidewalk. Luckily the man kept walking along the trail, flicking every person and car off, and we were picked up by an Uber driver who took us to In-N-Out. As my kids said, in their Gen-Z slang, the food was mid. I was expecting more flavor but the burgers just weren’t great.

Tuesday – Farewell Finances

Tuesday the boys and I shopped. We started back at Old Fisherman’s Wharf and again walked north towards Cannery Row. They asked to take an Uber a few times since the man had spooked us all. I felt perfectly safe though and knew that they were just still a little tired. Charlie is doing a trial study for a new diabetes system and it is terrible. His blood sugars have been terribly high and his pump has been alarming multiple times each night. Sleep has been intermittent. So we decided to take it a little easy on Tuesday. We walked down to Cannery Row to check out some local shops. I am a huge fan of John Steinbeck, and I knew that he grew up near Salinas. His works feature California’s backdrop almost as a second character. I didn’t realize that Cannery Row was named after he published his novella Cannery Row.

Monterey has a free trolley that runs in a circuit and picks up every 10-15 minutes. After walking and shopping we found ourselves opting to take the shuttle back towards Old Fisherman’s Wharf that afternoon. Not far from the Portola Hotel and Spa there’s an amazing Crepe restaurant. Crepes of Brittany offers savory and sweet crepes, as well as some other options such as sandwiches, salads and fruit. The food was very authentic to France. I had the brie and caramelized onion crepe. The boys split a ham and cheese sandwich on a baguette and then sweet crepes for dessert – lemon sugar and Nutella. Needless to say we all dialed up the insulin, but it was well worth it! For the rest of the day we swan, soaked in the hot tub and watched the Despicable Me movies to wrap up our low key Tuesday.


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