California North Coast Reunion - My Family Travels

With kids and grandparents, the quiet pleasures of Carmel and Monterey – hiking, shopping, dining – create a perfect multigenerational vacation.

Two or three times each year, my parents, my three children and I head out for a few days of sightseeing and family togetherness. It's a wonderful opportunity for my kids to spend time with their grandparents – and vice versa.

The trips are short – typically three or four days – and usually about two to four hours driving distance from our homes in California (Burbank for my parents and Valencia for us). Past destinations include San Diego, Palm Springs, Big Bear, Santa Barbara, Cambria and Mammoth Lakes. Last July, we decided to add Carmel and Monterey Bay, in Central California, to our travel repertoire.

For me, traveling with my parents and children is relaxing and even rewarding. It pleases me to see them interact and learn from each other. My parents say they enjoy watching their grandchildren's reactions to their surroundings. "We see things through the children's eyes we wouldn't otherwise see," my mom told me. The time spent together also gives them an opportunity to answer questions and share stories from their childhood days in Bulgaria, she said.

And so it's with anticipation that we plan these trips, sometimes spontaneously. As the primary trip planner, I do my best to choose a destination that offers a mix of activities to please everyone. We all enjoy the ocean and mountains, easy hiking trails, picnic areas and good family-friendly restaurants. With that in mind, Carmel and Monterey, neighboring coastal towns about 350 miles north of Los Angeles, seemed like an ideal destination.

Day One: Strolling Around Carmel Town, Meeting The Artists

We left at about 9am and reached Carmel by mid-afternoon, stopping just once for a lunch break. We settled into our room at the Dolphin Inn, located in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The one-bedroom unit was spacious, and with the extra cot the staff provided, had enough beds for the six of us. The unit was also equipped with a kitchenette, a fireplace and was cozily located at the end of the complex, but still near the swimming pool. A complimentary basket of fruit, pastry and juice was delivered each morning.

While my dad relaxed in the room, the rest of us decided to stretch our legs and explore the shops and sights of Carmel. The best way to tour the city – just one-square-mile in size – is on foot. The narrow streets make for difficult parking. While my son quickly scouted out sport stores, my 9-year-old daughter, Megan, a budding artist, was fascinated with the numerous art galleries. Since the early 1900's, Carmel has been a Mecca for artists, writers and musicians. Locals are friendly and happy to chat with tourists. Of which there are many.

As we strolled down the steep walk to the beach, we passed several groups of people speaking German, Russian and various other languages. When we reached the beach, we saw several people in the cold ocean water. What we at first thought was a dog in the ocean was actually a seal playing just a few feet away from the swimmers.

Walking back to the hotel, we scoped out restaurants for dinner that night. We decided on The Forge in the Forest, a popular dining establishment that also caters to dogs. We learned, to my children's delight, that Carmel is a very dog-friendly community. The restaurant even has a menu for canines – called the Dog Pound. Diners with dogs are seated in the outdoor patio.

Since we didn't have our dog with us – and my parents didn't want dogs as dining partners anyway – we sat inside, next to a warm fire. Evenings are chilly, even in summer. Tip: A dinner reservation is wise.


Day Two: Monterey Aquarium and 17-Mile-Drive

The next day, we visited the popular Monterey Bay Aquarium (831/648-4800), just 10 minutes from Carmel. While my parents toured the aquarium at a leisurely pace and enjoyed the ocean view from the observation deck, I followed my kids as they visited each exhibit. Among their favorites: jellyfish, sharks, the three-story kelp forest and the Life on the Bay, the oudoor exhibit featuring an abundance of marine mammals.

The aquarium also offers several adventure programs that allow visitors to learn about the ocean and its creatures. We had reservations for Science Under Sail and were deeply disappointed when the event was canceled for maintenance. But it sounded ideal. Usually offered twice daily on weekends, this program allows visitors to spend three hours working alongside marine biologists in a science expedition aboard a 65-foot sailboat.

After a morning of walking, my parents were ready to rest in our room, so we returned to Carmel. The kids and I bought souvenirs and looked for a place to eat lunch. The Visitor Information Center at the Carmel Chamber of Commerce (800/550-4333) is a good place to get advice and pick up a walking tour map. We learned that Bruno's Market & Delicatessen (831/624-3821) is popular with locals. That was a good tip, as the sandwiches are big and tasty as well as reasonably priced. We ate our lunch on a bench at a nearby park.

Next on the itinerary: Seventeen-mile drive, a scenic route that hugs the beautiful coastline and meanders through the 5,000-acre Del Monte Forest. To avoid the morning and late afternoon fog that can obscure the views, we timed the excursion for mid-afternoon. Following a map with designated stops, we parked briefly, but often, for pictures. It was a relaxing drive, during which we saw deer both in the forest and on the Pebble Beach Golf Course.

That night, my parents decided to spend the evening in Carmel while the kids and I returned to Monterey to shop in Cannery Row and eat dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company (949/366-6260) a lively restaurant with good food and friendly staff.


Day Three: Point Lobos And The Drive South Highway 1

On our final day of the trip we visited Point Lobos State Reserve (831/624-4909 ) three miles south of Carmel. It's a quiet, lovely area with trails and tide pools. We took pictures of harbor seals lounging on rocks and planned to hike, but while exploring the tide pools, I slipped on the rocks and injured my right wrist (a visit to the doctor the following day revealed I actually broke it in three places). At that point, we decided to pack up and head home.

There was a lot more to be seen in both Carmel and Monterey, but our short visit was over and we had a long drive ahead of us. I still planned to drive along the scenic route, Highway 1. About 15 miles north of San Simeon is Ragged Point, a great rest stop. There, we ate lunch and explored the grounds, situated atop a bluff overlooking the Big Sur coastline. Continuing our drive, we occasionally pulled the car over to admire ocean views.

You never know what you might see. We were thrilled to spot Elephant Seals at Pt. Piedras Blancas in San Simeon. My kids were both amazed and repulsed by the marine mammals lumbering across the sand.

There's never a dull moment on a road trip. Although my kids brought plenty of books and portable entertainment, they barely touched them. They didn't need to. As usual in my family, a long drive inspires silly behavior and I heard my kids and my mom making up lyrics to rap music. Soon my mom had the kids laughing hysterically with her made-up Bulgarian rap songs.

All in all, and despite a few mishaps, it was another successful trip.

An FTF Staffer Recommends Her Favorite Carmel-by-the-Sea Eateries

by Mary Kearl

The Cottage of Sweets
Ocean Avenue between Lincoln and Monte Verde
A place for the sweet-toothed visitor to stop while wandering or window shopping in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Assorted American favorites, foreign favorites and home-made treats are available in individual and bulk quantities for varying appetites.

Hog's Breath Inn
San Carlos between Fifth and Sixth
A place for the diner who seeks atmosphere in Carmel-by-the-Sea, this restaurant is probably better known for its owner than for its food, but a decent meal can be had at Clint Eastwood's colorful restaurant. With cozy fireside tables, movie posters and a variety of dishes, the place is a relaxing venue where travelers can unwind and replenish.

Details, Details

Some of the best resources for planning your own multigenerational weekend in northern California are the Carmel Chamber of Commerce (800/550-4333) and the website of the Monterey Country Convention & Visitors Bureau at We enjoyed our stay at the Dolphin Inn (800/433-4732).

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