After spending a week in LA at the start of the summer, we headed North to Carmel and Big Sur. This part of the coast looks very different to our last visit in 2015.
In case you missed the news, this part of California has been hit hard by fires and landslides. This means a huge stretch of the famous Highway One coastal road is closed – and is likely to remain so for another year.
Still there’s no reason not to visit. The only change is that you can’t drive directly along the coast to Big Sur, instead taking an inland route between San Simeon and Carmel.
We booked an Air BnB property in Pebble Beach. This is a ridiculously picturesque spot high above the coastline, between Carmel and Monterey. The property was actually bang in the middle of 17 Mile Road, a scenic drive along the coast that usually costs $10 to drive on. Because we were staying there it was free – and we got to enjoy the views over the coast all day.
Our favourite spot on 17 mile drive was easily Spanish Bay. This is the perfect spot for a beach picnic at sunset. But the entire coastal part of the drive is just spectacular and not to be missed.
While you’re in this part of the world, don’t forget that some of Big Sur at least, is still open for business. From Carmel heading South on Highway One, you can go as far as Pfeiffer State Park, where some of the walks are open.
Point Lobos, one of the most beautiful state parks in the US, is completely open. Please do go prepared if you’re spending the day here – there is absolutely nowhere on site to get food or drinks, barring a couple of water fountains. Also try to arrive early and get into the on-site parking lot. If you’re later, you will need to park on the road and there are a LOT of break-ins.
Many of the businesses here have struggled since the landslides, and so we made a point of trying to eat and shop locally. Certainly, you can still drive a good 50 mile stretch of Highway One and get as far South as Bixby Bridge. The Big Sur General Store does great sandwiches and baked goods, and Allegra Pizza on the road to Carmel is definitely worth a visit.
There are so many gorgeous spots on Highway One where you can park up and take in the view, so don’t be put off. Just south of Bixby, you’ll hit a point in the road where it’s closed, and you’ll need to U-Turn, but that just means you get to enjoy the views again on the road back North.
In Monterey there’s a lot of fun to be had visiting Cannery Row and the Old Fisherman’s Wharf. We loved wandering along the Wharf spotting the VERY cafe from Big Little Lies (you don’t want to know how excited I was to sit where Reese Witherspoon sat) and taking a boat trip from the end of the Wharf to see the sea otters and sea lions.
We also enjoyed lunch at the Fish Hopper, which has almost 360 degree views around the bay – make sure to ask for a window seat.
If you’re visiting Monterey with kids, then you’ll definitely want to see the world-famous Monterey Aquarium. I can’t stress enough that you want to visit at the start or end of the day – even during the week, the midday crowds are terrible.
I recommend starting out with the sea otter display, which is BEYOND adorable. You should also be sure to explore the touch pools and penguins.
My two other top tips – buy lunch in the cafeteria and eat it upstairs on one of the outside decks. And don’t dismiss the lectures. The sea otter, shark and deep sea presentations are all only 15-minutes long, and LOTS of fun for even younger audience members.
If you visit Monterey early in the day, the perfect antidote to the crowds and noise of the aquarium is Lovers Point Park. There are green lawns above two perfect, tiny beaches with waters so blue you could be in the Caribbean. To the left the beach is rockier and great for tide pooling, while the beach to the right is sandy and great for paddling.
Carmel is pretty and a lot of fun to walk around. But you’re more likely to want to come here for shopping and dining out – especially if you like boutiques, antiques and fairy lights.
Seriously, we think there might be a bylaw in Carmel that every building has to be decked out in layer upon layer of fairy lights. Our recommendation is La Bicyclette, where the staff are a teeny bit snooty but the pizza is the best in town.
We had a fab few days in Carmel and Monterey, and there’s plenty to do with kids in this part of the world. But for my money, the memories that will stick with us long after we get home won’t be the fancy stores in Carmel or the Aquarium’s displays.
It’ll be watching the sun set over Pebble Beach, listening to guitar music from a campfire further up the beach, and seeing Flea dip her toes in the water. As great as this whole area is, those beach sunsets? Are unmissable.
What are your favourite things to do with kids in Carmel and Monterey?