We took a two week vacation to northern California with the kids this summer! I know some of you may be getting jealous, but let me put your mind at ease. :-p If I had to give it a name it would be the Great California Restroom Adventure Tour. :-p We visited many of the restrooms on the Pacific coast. In the process, we did see some sea lions, sea otters, nice views, etc while running towards the restroom, of course. And we did get to meet many of the locals while running up to them and frantically asking if they know where the nearest restroom is then sprinting off.. :-p And got to know a few more intimately while they watched my little one pee herself while waiting in line for the restroom. Turns out there’s not a lot of potties in nature. Oh, but it was still fun (in a sleep-deprived/slap happy sort of way – you take what you can get as a parent) – luckily, we usually had a change of clothes or a swim suit – Bryon packed the whole house on his back and then hiked with it too – what a man. :-p
For the first part of the vacation – the first week – we visited family in Sacramento. We stayed at my sister’s house. She has two daughters that are around my daughter’s age and a swimming pool so they had an amazing time together! My mom came up and also my brother lives there so we were able to visit with everybody. And we all really enjoyed each other’s company so it was great. They threw my girls a surprise birthday party b/c they aren’t able to be there for their birthdays which the girls loved. This part of the trip was nice and relaxing. Then, we ventured out on our own for a tour of northern California. They say that the difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude, right? Well, let’s just say when we were all in the right frame of mind, it was an adventure and when anyone’s attitude was off, it was an ordeal. Well, with 5 people in the family, someone’s attitude was usually off. :-p I joke but it was fun and it’s fun to joke.
The first spot we hit was Yosemite National Park. It was only a few hours from Sacramento. We did the Yosemite Valley Floor Tour. We thought this would be a great way to see all the main sites because we only had a day to spend there – 5 hours to be exact before we headed out to our next destination. It was nice and relaxing- I highly recommend this. We felt like we got to see the main attractions of Yosemite. It was an open air tram so you kind of felt like you were in it. Case in point, I even got hit by a VERY large bug in the head while riding. Of course, I did a crazy dance in my seat and tried not to jump and roll out of the tram. Looked around for it – it seemed to be gone. Then, a few minutes later, I look down at my daughter Cara and the giant bug is on her neck wiggling it’s ginormous antennae. My eyes got huge but I tried not to clue her in to what was going on. I took my jacket sleeve and swatted that thing on to the floor of the tram and then I smooshed it. I know bug enthusiasts everywhere are probably going to jump down my throat about that but as long as it’s not the bug jumping down my throat I’m good.
With kids, this tour was great b/c our kids aren’t that athletic and so hiking usually doesn’t end well – Bryon ends up hiking with the kids on his shoulders. :-/ Which is kind of a shame because we do love to hike and love nature, but oh well, you learn to improvise with kids, right? We do alot of trails that allow strollers, etc b/c even my 7 and 9 year old take turns in the stroller. :-p Yes, I know, we have bred a new form of lazy. j/k Maybe it will be better as they get older.
Now, we did happen to get the worst seat on the tram because we barely made it there in time – do not sit in the seat where your back is up against someone else’s back – it was awkward and my hair bun kept rubbing against people’s backs – I had to sit hunched over. The reason we were running late even though we gave ourselves an hour to get to this place was because of the parking – there is no parking – you will have to wait forever for someone to leave their spot or park really far away and hike there. It’s bad – so that’s the one downfall – give yourself plenty of time to get to the lodge. I don’t like this picture of me but I want you guys to see the tram so I have to sacrifice. :-p
After that, we ate dinner at the Yosemite Valley lodge and headed out for our next destination – San Luis Obispo – this was as far South as we were going to go in California. I’m glad we left while the sun was still out b/c the roads were kind of windy. We arrived at our hotel in San Luis Obispo kind of late. When we got to our room, we found that the bed was not made and there was beer in the trash can and towels on the floor in the bathroom – almost as if someone had just left so we could have the room. It was weird and a little disconcerting. The hotel manager gave us a key to another room, but the other room didn’t have a bathroom and I was not willing to stay in a room with no bathroom – hello! the name I gave this vacation was the The California Restroom Adventure Tour! – I was not about to have an overnight restroom adventure too. So, we just took the clean bedding from the second room and remade the beds in our first room. We were on a budget so the hotel was not the most sought after. You get what you pay for, I guess. The hotel was Morro Shores Inn & Suites. At the same time, this hotel was not as bad as it could have been so I’m still thankful. Otherwise, it was pretty updated and relatively clean (like the carpet didn’t turn your feet black, etc). And it had working A/C which is apparently not always guaranteed at the less expensive hotels. Although it took us a bit of sweating it out to realize that the thermostat was working backwards..
We got to sleep VERY late because we all slept in the same room (2 queen beds). The girls slept in one bed and me and Bryon in the other. They had a hard time getting to sleep, of course, which is usually the case when they sleep together. So, lots of coffee was in order in the morning. We headed out to Montana de Oro State Park and boy was it beautiful! I highly recommend going there. Here’s some pictures:
We took the Bluff Trail because it was stroller friendly and we definitely used that stroller for all three kids! They were fighting over it. Eventually, we had one in the stroller and one on Bryon’s shoulders and the other one had to suck it up which of course “wasn’t fair”. I was kind of wishing we had at least a double stroller. I had been reading from my phone to Bryon on the way to this park and one of the sites mentioned to beware of rattle snakes. Well, when we were walking the trail, a huge lizard crossed our path and Bryon screamed like a muppet. It seriously sounded like a muppet screaming. We laughed so hard! I had never heard him scream before – now I know why – he keeps that under wraps. I guess telling snake stories on the way to the trail is a good way to freak people out. :-p
The views were so beautiful! We saw lots of birds and you can go down and explore the tide pools in places. We didn’t see much in the tide pools, but it was cool, nonetheless. I like to explore to see if I can see some sea life. Colette didn’t like that part because she was scared I was going to get swept away by the waves! So, she screamed mercilessly when I was near the water. I might have told them once or twice to be careful near the water because of the waves and might have freaked them out a bit. Learned my lesson there. We ended up on a beach where the girls played in the sand. We ate our Subway sandwiches that we had brought along. It was a nice day. We also saw alot of squirrels or chipmunks along the way.
After that, we began our drive up the coastline to Monterrey. We began that drive around 4pm which was perfect because we got to see the sunset and the roads are really windy so we had enough light to not drive that in the dark which is good. I realized that I couldn’t live anywhere along that drive because it’s too hilly. I like to be able to see for long distances (being from TX). We arrived in Salinas about 8 or 9pm. We passed by Big Sur – the views were incredible. This was the only time on the trip that we got to see the sunset. We kept chasing it everyday but it never panned out. This was beautiful though – it happened so fast – the sun just disappeared into the ocean.
We were pretty excited about our hotel in Salinas, CA. We decided to stay in Salinas because it was significantly less expensive and we were able to score a 1 bedroom hotel room! Woohoo! We had a bedroom with a door on it and the girls slept in the living room on a sofa bed. Privacy, at last! This is the way to go people. I will try to find this from here on out on our vacations. It was Residence Inn by Marriott Salinas Monterrey and I LOVED this hotel. It had a full breakfast buffet included in the price which had EGGS! – I love it when they have Eggs. It had eggs, fried potatoes, salsa, sour cream, waffles, pancakes, sausage, the works! I love breakfast buffets..
After stuffing our faces, we headed to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. This was my second favorite place we visited on the trip. I highly recommend going here. The views the most beautiful and the hike is kind of cool – along the rocky coastline. You also get to see sea lions and otters! Bring your binoculars, but they also have a guy with a telescope that you can zoom in on the animals and animal-watch. There are also tide pools along the trails to explore with crabs and other creatures in there. So fun! My daughter did scream at the top of her lungs again (b/c I was too close to the waves) but I was getting used to it.
Here’s some pictures:
Next, we headed over to Carmel beach which was beautiful – the white sand was gorgeous. And the bathrooms here were the best! :-p The girls made a sand castle – I called it the meatball castle because that’s what it looked like. The water is, of course, cold but they enjoyed just getting in up to their knees and watching the water pull away from them – they said it felt like they were moving. If you want to get in any further, you have to have a wet suit – too cold. We didn’t get wet suits, etc because our kids don’t really know how to swim that well and it would make me nervous anyway. They were happy just to play in it like that and build their sand castle. We also saw some dolphins playing which was neat.
Then, we headed out and did the 17 mile drive which was gorgeous. But I was kind of done by that point. It was alot in one day. And we were ready to eat. We headed to Cannery Row and tried to find food there, but we just walked around and headed back to the hotel – figured we’d save some money and get fast food to eat at the hotel. Everything is just so expensive when you try to eat out with kids. We ended up getting Hardee’s to go. The kids like the huge nachos and we got our burgers that were significantly less expensive than those at the burger joint on Cannery Row. But significantly more expensive than burgers in St Louis – $10 for the combo vs $7 in St Louis. The girls did spend a ton of time at the candy store picking out candy that we missed the hotel pool, but oh well, they had fun deciding on candy.
Next up, our Sea Otter adventure. This was my favorite activity of the trip. We went to Kayak Connection at Elkhorn Slough and did their Family Adventure Tour which was a two-hour kayak tour. I rode in the triple kayak with Colette and Cara and Bryon rode in the double kayak with Sydney. Turns out the triple kayak is a little harder to maneuver because it’s longer but I did ok with it – definitely got my exercise in for the day. They had to wait on me a little bit because we were paddling in circles at times. :-p
Our tour guide was great! We were the only ones on this tour so we got a one on one experience. We first paddled out next to the sea lions which were on the beach right next to us. Then, we headed out into the slough and there were sea otters everywhere – they would just pop up next to us while we were paddling. We even got to witness one eating a shellfish up close – cracking it open and sucking it out. So cool! I will never forget that experience and I hope the girls won’t either. It’s especially unique because the sea otters are endangered and they have just started to flourish in this area so we were witnessing an incredible thing and teaching the girls about endangered animals and the importance of protecting them. So awesome! I highly recommend this. We also got to see and touch a sea hare (it inked itself with purple ink and the girls thought that was so neat) that our tour guide found hidden in the sea lettuce as well as touch the sea lettuce. The girls loved this hands-on type of experience.
After this, we headed up to Santa Cruz which we were planning to hang out there but it was so crowded and we couldn’t find parking so we just moved along to San Francisco, which I’m glad we did because we were able to make it to our hotel before dark which was good. We had to get to the airport to drop off our car and then catch a cab to our hotel. It would not have been fun to do all that while being tired because it was a lot of work to clean out the car and we had so much stuff to lug around too. It was perfect timing. We got to our hotel (Kimpton Buchanan) around 6pm – a little bit after the happy hour social, but they gave us coupons for 2 free wines each at the restaurant. Then, we explored a little bit the area we were staying in – Japan Town.
I loved staying in Japan Town. It was so neat and they happened to have a Japanese Festival going on that same weekend we were there. There was also a Pride Festival going on in the rest of the city which we weren’t interested in attending with the kids so we attended this Japanese Festival and it was sooo cool! We also ate some Japanese food at a noodle place and the kids really liked it. We went to Golden Gate Park and let the kids play on the playground there.
Then, we headed to Baker Beach and wished we had brought a bottle of wine! We ate our peanut butter and honey sandwiches (trying to stick to the budget which was hard – I don’t really like peanut butter sandwiches) and lots of chips (because this was the splurge item). The kids enjoyed playing in the surf (up to their knees) and we enjoyed the view of the Golden Gate Bridge wishing we had wine. :-p We took the bus everywhere because we didn’t have a car. It was fine. Better than driving but it was a lot of walking for the kids. They held up though – jumping in and out of that stroller. We did see two naked old men walking around the city while waiting for the bus, but luckily the girls didn’t see them and I only caught the back side not the front. Whew! :-p
We did have a unique bus experience with one guy saying rather loudly, “The angels are on my side! Are they on yours? I don’t think so!”. He kept saying this over and over and over. Then, I heard a boom and thought (or hoped) he fell down when the bus stopped. I was thinking – the angels might not be on your side right now. I actually don’t think he fell, but it was still funny to think about that possibly happening. Then, when he got off the bus, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and looked gratefully at each other but then he pops his head back on the bus and says, “I heard that! The angels are on my side! Are they on yours? I don’t think so!”. Geez, guy, just get off the bus and quit trying to tell us that the angels aren’t on our side. How’s that for a Have a good day! :-p It would’ve been kind of comical to watch him walk into a street sign or something, but that didn’t happen.. Sorry, but he was annoying.
Next day, we explored the main tourist places of San Francisco in the city. We took the bus down to the Ferry building. We were planning to eat lunch there but by the time we arrived it was sooo crowded with the lunch crowd that we ended up just eating our dessert on a bench (blueberry cake – cake by the ocean, baby). See a theme here? If any place was too crowded, we made a beeline for a different place – we aren’t big fans of crowds. :-p Then, we took a water taxi to the Fisherman’s Wharf because the walk would have been too long for the kids and we just happened to run into a lady selling water taxi rides.
We had lunch at a seafood place on the wharf and then headed to Coit Tower which we decided not to go inside because the kids would’ve never made it up all those stairs. Then, we headed to China Town and explored a little there and had some Chinese food. The kids get a kick out of it now b/c there is a China Town in minecraft and there all like – we’ve been there! :-p And back to the hotel in Japan Town for dessert. We really liked this place across from the hotel called Moyo’s for frozen yogurt – we went there a couple of the nights. It was in a little mall place that had a bunch of stuff (KinoKuniya Mall).
The hotel was in a great location. We had no problem finding food and snacks – the hotel was called the Kimpton Buchanan Hotel in San Francisco, CA and I highly recommend it. It’s a good price for the city, great location, recently renovated so everything is very clean and nice. They don’t offer breakfast which was the only downside, but we were able to go to the nearby market and get things for breakfast so it was no problem. Love that place!
We called my littlest daughter Elf on this trip because she actually almost did the splits while getting on an escalator, she really wanted to push all the buttons when we got on the elevator and she thought a wild animal really looked like it needed a hug (though we told her not to).
By this time, we were so ready to get home – at least, I was. Maybe I’m a bit of a homebody I’m realizing. It’s a lot of work taking the kids on vacation and it can get stressful at times with the lack of sleep and the stress of keeping track of everyone and bleeding money but it’s so worth it! I don’t think we’ll be taking that long of a vacation again – one week might be our max but I’m so glad that the kids got to spend time with their cousins and make those memories/have that bonding time because they were at the perfect age for it and that’s something they’ll never forget and that’s the reason for so long of a trip. Next time, though it will have to be a one week max.. I highly recommend seeing Northern California with kids and this was a great, safe, itinerary for anyone looking to go there as a family. Have fun!