We love San Francisco’s Bay Area and the Monterey Peninsula and return often with our family to sample new hotels, restaurants and the ever-changing scene. Fans who have been leery of attempting a vacation with the kids can rest assured that there are enough family-friendly hotels — and activities — to please even the pickiest young traveler or the moodiest teen.
Here are three of our favorite home-away-from-home hotels in central California and the weekend adventures we enjoyed there.
A San Francisco Family Weekend: Food, Drink & Sightseeing
Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf
555 North Point Street
San Francisco, California 94133
Hyatt Family-friendly features: The hotel boasts a good-sized fitness room and that perennial family favorite — an outdoor swimming pool. The hotel belongs to the Babies Travel Lite program, which allows guests to have diapers, formula and baby food delivered to the room. For older kids, an Explorer’s package bundles in two Muni passes (good for trolleys and cable cars) with overnight accommodations. The 313 guestrooms are comfortable and well stocked; rates start at $209 per night.
Hyatt Location: Yes, Fisherman’s Wharf is touristy, but let’s face it, it’s fun to walk along the lively attractions of Pier 39. Mingled among the shops that sell T-shirts and shot glasses are a few fun finds. We especially like the Candy Baron shop overflowing with salt water taffy in such interesting flavors as buttered popcorn and pomegranate, all overseen by a statue of Betty Boop. Plus, if you want to explore the city, the hotel is located across the street from a cable car.
Things to do nearby the Hyatt: Although we’re not big on group tours, we liked the two-hour Sunset Bay tour via Red and White Fleet cruise, which departs from the pier and serves up a better-than-expected buffet catered by the hotel and live, hippie-era music courtesy of an Arlo Guthrie sound-alike. Our favorites sights en route included Alcatraz Island, Angel Island, and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge.
Farther afield from the Hyatt: We spent an entire afternoon in San Francisco’s formerly sketchy Mission District, exploring the tiny shops and eateries. Highlights were the intensely delicious drinks and confections at Dandelion Chocolate, a small-batch, artisanal chocolatier. and Mission Cheese for such interesting high/low offerings as mac and cheese for the kids and duck liver mousse for the adults. Incredibly, we still had room for a first-rate vegan Mexican dinner at Gracias Madre.
A Pebble Beach Family Weekend: 17-Mile Drive on Monterey Peninsula, Beach & Tennis
The Lodge at Pebble Beach
1700 17 Mile Drive
Pebble Beach, California 93953
Pebble Beach Family-friendly features:
This is the kind of place that caters to visitors on an individual level. There aren’t kids’ menu items at the posh on-property restaurants, for example, because there don’t need to be. The chef will whip up something even your finicky eater will like. The resort features beautiful stretches of beach, plenty of wildlife – we woke to the sight of a deer lounging just feet from our back terrace – and free shuttle service to the sister property at Spanish Bay for spectacular ocean views. Best of all, guests receive membership access to the Pebble Beach & Tennis Club, where they can enjoy Stillwater Cove beach, frolic in the heated outdoor pool or practice their tennis swing.
Pebble Beach Location:
This toney property — rates start at $745 a night for the exclusive 161 guestrooms — is situated inside Pebble Beach, a private community on the Monterey Peninsula known primarily for the scenic splendor of its 17 Mile Drive – home of the famed Lone Cypress tree. Visitors pay about $10 to enter, but guests at the Lodge receive a pass that allows them to come and go for free. The overall ambience is posh, but families are made to feel welcome and are catered to in style.
Things to do nearby Pebble Beach:
Pebble Beach offers an Equestrian Center for kids 12 and older, where they can embark on an exploration of as much of the 26 miles of riding and hiking trails they wish.
Love the water? Try kayaking and paddle boarding at the on-property Stillwater Cove.
Farther afield from Pebble Beach:
There is nothing been-there, done-that about the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a state-of-the art facility on Cannery Row that features sea otters in their natural habitat, a rare permanent exhibition of jellyfish, a splash zone and, of course, big, scary sharks. This is a popular attraction on Cannery Row, so plan ahead. Small fry might also enjoy the indoor mini golf and mirror maze on Cannery Row.
A Weekend Adventure in Historic Monterey: Horseback Riding & Biking Cannery Row
Portola Hotel & Spa
2 Portola Plaza
Monterey, California 93940
Portola Family-friendly features:
Kids 3 to 10 are made to feel welcome via the Portola Pirates program, which starts at check-in with a treasure bag gift that contains pirate-themed toys and a treasure map designed to lead them on a treasure hunt around the property. Families can also take advantage of Monterey’s year-round warm weather at the newly renovated 6,000-square-foot Spa on the Plaza, which features an outdoor pool. There are 379 guestrooms starting in price from $239 night with seasonal discounts.
For a completely different Monterey experience, this hotel in historic Old Monterey overlooks the Monterey Bay. Adjacent to Fisherman’s Wharf and the Marina, the property is a short walk or bike ride along a waterfront trail from Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Things to do nearby the Portola: The downtown location makes getting around without a car a snap. We walked out the front door and along the shoreline path to Bay Bikes, at 585 Cannery Row, where the friendly staff fit our family to the perfect bikes. The path along Cannery Row is flat and easy to manage, and renters can head toward Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf for a look at the pelicans and sea lions in the wild, or do as we did and continue on toward Pacific Grove along an oceanfront lane.
Stuck with less than perfect weather? Head indoors to the Monterey Mirror Maze, where even Mom and Dad will be challenged to find their way out.
Farther afield from the Portola:
Join a leisurely guided horseback ride along the beach in Monterey with the Monterey Bay Equestrian Center, where the guides – and the horses – are friendly. No experience is required, but kids must be at least 7 to participate. Sharp-eyed riders should keep an eye out for pods of whales in the distance.
Photos of Pebble Beach by Joann Dost, courtesy of Lodge at Pebble Beach
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