Family Fun Canada explores Monterey, CA as a quick getaway for Western Canadian parents.

Dramatic coastal scenery at Point Lobos State Park Natural Reserve

Sipping my lunchtime margarita (lime, rocks, salt – classic!), I had one of those ‘you know you’re on vacation when…’ moments. I think I let out a sigh, and I know I felt the tension in my shoulders relax another notch. Like most busy parents, I dearly love my children and thoroughly enjoy our day to day lives, but occasionally feel the need for a kid-free recharge and a change of scenery. With my husband needing to attend an autumn conference in San Francisco, grandparents graciously came into town to care for our kids so I could meet him (and another couple who are our dear friends) for a long weekend sans enfants.

In our humble opinions, a grown-up getaway should include the following elements: water (ocean, lake, pool, hot tub, something!), good food, access to wine and/or cocktails, maybe a few fun shops to wander, and (at some point along the way) a great view. Previously we ventured inland from San Francisco to enjoy the idyllic California wine country around Sonoma. We loved Sonoma both times, but decided to try somewhere new this year. Destination: Monterey, CA – on the Pacific coast, a little under two hours drive south of San Francisco.

Which brings me back to my margarita-fueled, seafood-enhanced lunch on Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf. We’d just arrived in town and we were famished. With lots of eateries to choose from, we were lured by Abolonetti Seafood’s large windows, rustic seaside atmosphere, and quite possibly by the giant wooden squid hanging from the ceiling. Why the squid? Calamari of course! The server claimed it was the restaurant’s specialty… and it was really, really good.

Lunch at Abolonetti, Monterey CA

Delicious calamari aside, my margarita was paired with clam chowder and a beautiful antipasti plate. This lunch made for a great first impression of Monterey!

Monterey has had a long and interesting history. Once the Spanish capitol of old California and the sardine-packing capital of the world (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs comes to mind!), Monterey boasts some intriguing architecture. One of its best known areas is Cannery Row, original location of the sardine canneries, and now home to hotels, restaurants, shops and other attractions. Literature buffs will be familiar with both Monterey and Cannery Row (which was actually named that after the fact) as the inspiration and setting for a number of John Steinbeck’s novels and stories. He was a resident of the area for most of his formative years.

Cannery Row, Monterey CA

One of Monterey’s original crossovers. These covered/enclosed bridges carried cans packed with sardines over the street, from the canneries to warehouses along the railroad tracks.

Monterey Harbour, CA

I grew up on the BC coast, so I love a view like this.

We’re never particularly extravagant travelers, but when the Canadian dollar is in the doldrums, we feel even more motivated to get better value for our money than a typical hotel room provides. Over the past few years, we’ve fallen in love with direct-by-owner vacation rentals, like those on and We’ve been very satisfied each time and our rental in Monterey was no exception. For about the cost of one mid-to-high end hotel room, we two couples got to share a beautiful 2-bedroom, 1.5 bath cottage with full kitchen and hot tub, in a quiet treed neighbourhood just outside downtown Monterey.

The decor in the cottage was like something out of a magazine and the secluded deck featured a lovely hot tub, comfortable seating areas and beautiful potted plants. The aforementioned kitchen was plentifully stocked with wine, snacks and treats, non-alcoholic beverages, coffee and all the culinary basics. In fact, we were so thrilled with the atmosphere that we immediately cancelled our dinner reservation for that evening and headed off to the nearby Trader Joe’s to pick up dinner and breakfast ingredients. And wine. Quite a bit of it, actually. Ahem. There was no more sightseeing that afternoon; we hung out on the deck, BBQ’d dinner and luxuriated in the hot tub beneath a clear and starry sky.

Why hotel when you can live like this??

Why squish into a cramped hotel room when you can live like this??

This is what I love about vacation rentals: all the delicious perks left by the owners!

This is what I love about vacation rentals: all the delicious perks provided by the owners!

Sea kayaking around Monterey Bay ( was the original plan for Saturday morning, but when the day dawned grey and a bit cool, and we discovered large swells crashing dramatically onto the beach, we decided instead to visit Point Lobos State Natural Reserve for a walk by the shore. And what a shore it is! In addition to storm-beaten trees and waves pummeling the craggy rocks, we were privy to the goings on of lots of sea birds, seals, scuba divers and even a few intrepid kayakers playing in the waves. The striking views changed with every curve in the path. We even learned a bit about the history of whaling in the area.

Whalers Cabin Museum at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

The Whalers Cabin Museum at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve was an interesting stop along our walk.

Whalers Cabin Museum at Point Lobos State Nature Reserve

Salt-weathered wood and whale bones adorn the museum.

As its delightful name implies, Carmel-by-the-Sea lies right on the shore, between Point Lobos and Monterey; we stopped in on our way ‘home’ for a well-deserved lunch and a little wander. Adorable is the first word that pops into my mind every time I think of Carmel. Charming is probably the second. This famous hamlet (Clint Eastwood used to be its Mayor) bustles on the weekend, but it’s still quaint and even a little bit quirky, an impression that was enhanced by the myriad of fancied-up standard poodles that we encountered during our visit. Just as we began to wonder if there was a bylaw concerning acceptable dog breeds in Carmel (this is California after all, where strange things have been known to happen!), someone explained that the poodles were all in town for a animal rescue fundraiser and canine fashion show. It was a fun addition to our experience.

Photo credit:

Carmel-by-the-Sea is full of fairytale architecture like this! Photo credit:

The beach at Carmel-by-the-Sea. Sand pervades the first couple of blocks of the town.

The beach at Carmel-by-the-Sea. Sand pervades the first couple of blocks of the seaside town.

I’d like to tell you we did something adventurous, energetic or perhaps cultural that afternoon. But we didn’t. We swung by Trader Joe’s for a couple more bottles of wine and engaged in some more R&R, on the deck, at the dining table and in the hot tub. It was perfect.

In only two days, we barely scratched the surface of what the Monterey Pensinula and Carmel-by-the-Sea area have to offer their visitors. Our accommodation even included use of two passes to the world-famed Monterey Bay Aquarium, which we decided to save for another trip when we can bring the kids! Yes, the kids because despite the beauty and relaxation, we can never wait to share the fun with our whole family!

Getting There: Westjet and Air Canada both fly direct to San Francisco. Monterey is less than 2 hours south by rental car.
We Stayed @ Monterey Retreat
We Ate Out @ Abalonetti Bar & Grill on Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf, Il Fornaio in Carmel
We Bought Groceries and Wine @ Trader Joe’s (#204, Monterey)

This was strictly a personal trip, not sponsored by any of the businesses mentioned. Naturally, all opinions are my own. And I really do think this would be a fun area to take the kids!