A California Road Trip
This was going to be the year when we explored more of California, and the year when I finally took my seven-year-old daughter to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. But halfway through the year I still hadn’t planned anything, and too many other destinations were starting to push California getaways down on our travel list. Perfect timing, then, for Wyndham Rewards to invite me to plan a California road trip to promote their summer deal (15-20% off stays of two or more nights across all participating Wyndham Rewards hotels). I knew what my daughter would choose when I asked her where she wanted to go, and sure enough the answer was Monterey! At the end of June we headed off.
Day One – Santa Monica
We chose to start in Santa Monica since we hadn’t spent a lot of time in the city, and summer evenings at the beach and pier are idyllic. Plus Wyndham has a hotel in a great location, right at the pier (the perfectly-named Wyndham Santa Monica At The Pier). My daughter and I left home and drove an hour or so to Santa Monica, parking at the Wyndham. After leaving our luggage in our room, we headed off towards Third Street Promenade and did some shopping. Then we walked down to Ocean Avenue, had sushi for dinner (my daughter has great taste for a seven-year-old), and headed to the beach.
It was a perfect night! We played at the beach for a while, walked under the pier and played some more, then walked up the stairs to the pier and went on the Ferris wheel. After getting some cotton candy for dessert, we walked back down to the beach and my daughter ran to the swings, swinging for a good half hour as the sun set and sky grew orange. With the constant stream of roller skaters, cyclists, runners and walkers passing by, the scene was California at its best!
We then played on some of the exercise equipment at the beach before walking the five minutes back to the Wyndham. And of course right outside of the hotel two girls asked my daughter if she wanted to play volleyball with them. Because California.
Day Two – Santa Monica to San Simeon
We slept great, had breakfast on Second Street near the hotel, wandered around Santa Monica a little more, and then packed up and officially started our road trip, driving north on PCH. Our first stop: Malibu. I went to college in Malibu and always love being back, especially now that Malibu Farm is open at the pier there – one of my favorite restaurants. After a great early lunch, we drove further north to the PCH Sandhill – a large sand dune – near Point Dume. It was a gorgeous day and we had fun running up and down the dune for 20 minutes or so. Then it was back into the car for Cambria.
Getting into Cambria, we walked around a little, stretching our legs and buying chocolates and taffy at the candy store, before driving a few minutes north to San Simeon and checking into the Days Inn San Simeon. We then drove north another fifteen minutes to the famous Elephant Seal Lookout, where my daughter got to see elephant seals in all of their (lethargic) glory. Coming back, we stopped several times to look for sea otters, but were sadly unsuccessful. We had dinner in Cambria, wandered around a little, ran around the beach some more near the hotel, and then went to sleep. A very full day, with maybe five hours in the car, but there were enough stops that the driving went by fairly quickly.
Day Three – San Simeon to Monterey
Normally this drive would have been a highlight, heading north on CR1 past Hearst Castle and Big Sur through some of the country’s prettiest scenery. But a landslide closed CR1 two months ago and it’s not close to reopening. So after having a quick breakfast at the Days Inn we headed south a little, cut over to the 101 and then drove north to meet up with CR1 again. Two and a half hours later we pulled into Carmel, parked, had an excellent lunch at La Bicyclette, walked through the farmer’s market and bought some sea otter souvenirs and candy before driving another 15 minutes or so to our hotel, the Ramada Monterey. We loved the Ramada! It has a great California seaside vibe and it’s only about five minutes to Fisherman’s Wharf Monterey and eight minutes to Cannery Row.
After some down time in the room, we headed over to Cannery Row. There was some requisite beach time and souvenir and candy shopping (are you seeing a pattern?) before we had dinner at an Indian restaurant near the aquarium. We also scanned the coast for sea otters, again unsuccessfully, and figured out where we wanted to park the next day for the aquarium and where Will Call was, so that we wouldn’t waste any time at all on the big day.
Day Four – Monterey
Our final day before heading home started at 8:30am. We had a very good breakfast at the Ramada (included with the room) and then drove back to Cannery Row, parked and walked to Will Call. Right at 9:30am we went into the aquarium and it was amazing! My daughter loved everything about our 4+ hours there. It helped that there weren’t many other people around at all for the first couple hours, so we had whole exhibits to ourselves. Tip: go mid-week, and show up when they open!
A highlight was an hour-long behind-the-scenes sea otter tour that we booked in advance. At 11:45am we met up with Larry the guide and a few other visitors, saw sea otters in the wild (finally), learned all about the aquarium’s rescue program, and walked through hidden corridors that most visitors don’t see. It was incredibly educational, with my daughter hanging on Larry’s every word. She’s now a sea otter expert.
We left the aquarium, wandered around Monterey some more, had another good dinner and went to sleep early, before driving home the next morning.
This was a great trip. Altogether we had roughly 13 hours of driving, but we stayed entertained with music, games and videos (my daughter, not me)! Highlights were our evening in Santa Monica, lunch in Malibu, the elephant seals of San Simeon, a fun afternoon in Carmel and, of course, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. And Cambria and Monterey are both enjoyable towns.
The drive would have been better if we had been able to take the coast all the way north, but not a big deal. We easily could have headed south on CR1 from Monterey to see some of the coastal route, and we could have done the famous 17-Mile Drive that passes through Pebble Beach, but after all of the driving to get to Monterey, we didn’t feel like any extra time in the car. Next time.
The Wyndham Rewards program is nice because of the sheer number of hotels in the program – pretty much anywhere you want to stay on a road trip you’ll find a Wyndham Rewards option. I also love that you can earn rewards points at all properties and then redeem them at higher-end properties – the redemption amount is consistent at 15,000 points/night across all participating brands.
Have you road-tripped up the California coast? What were your favorite stops?
Note: Wyndham Rewards provided 60,000 Wyndham Rewards points for our hotel stays. All content is mine.