Monday, September 26, 2011

California Car Trip 2011 - The Award Show Version

As I mentioned in my last post, we just got back from vacation. We spent ten days driving around California. It was a taster tour- we only sampled what every stop had to offer. But the girls aren't old enough to make an in depth stay easy. Too many of the things we'd want to do would bore them. So we hit the (kid-friendly) highlights in several places, driving between them at nap time (mostly).

Our itinerary was: Pasadena, Three Rivers (Sequoia National Park), Merced (a necessary stop over that turned out to be nicer than we expected), Sacramento (because Hubby "collects" state capitols), Monterey, down the coast road to Morro Bay (that took longer than nap time), Santa Barbara, and then home.

I plan to write several detailed posts about the trip. You can skip them if they bore you, but one of the functions of this blog is to help me remember things, so I'll write them. However, tonight, I'm just going to give you the award show rundown of the trip:

Best hotel: The Embassy Suites in Sacramento. We paid the extra $20 and had a view of the river- which meant a view of the cool bridge we drove across to get there. Pumpkin thought both of these things were awesome. Petunia enjoyed watching the birds on the river and the fountains in the lobby. Hubby and I enjoyed closing the door on our sleeping kids and relaxing in the living room portion of our suite. (Note to hotels: This is what a suite is. At least two rooms. With a door between them. The door is important. Our otherwise lovely suite in Monterey lacked a door and Hubby and I had to hang out in the bathroom after our kids went to bed. Luckily, it was quite large.)

Best meal: The Brewhouse, in Santa Barbara. We continued our tradition of taking the kids to brew pubs for as many meals as possible, and mostly this worked well. Our logic is that these places are noisy enough to hide some incidental kid noise, busy enough to distract the kids, always have kids menus, and provide good beer to mellow out all the adults- including us. The Brewhouse was perhaps a bit too noisy, but the food and beer were both excellent. And it was a short walk from our hotel.

Best breakfast: Frankie and Lola's in Morro Bay. The pancakes were delicious. So was the homemade sausage. And the skillet potatoes. Just an all around yummy breakfast. Mostly we ate breakfast at the hotel, since our kids need to eat pretty soon after waking up. But the place we stayed in Morro Bay didn't offer breakfast- they gave vouchers for a few local restaurants, and this was one of them. So we fed the girls their breakfast in the hotel and tried taking them out for morning snack. That didn't go so well, but the awesomeness of the pancakes makes up for that.

Best outing: A family bike ride in a surrey in Santa Barbara. A surrey, if you don't know, is what you call those ridiculous looking bench seat bikes you see in tourist spots. (Click here for a picture.) They are actually fairly fun to ride- on flat ground and with a good bike path. The kids had fun, we had fun, and really my only complaint was that the bell was too easy for Petunia to reach. We have actually promised the kids that we'll do this again here in San Diego.

Runner up, for the grown ups: the "hike" we did in Sequoia,  to see the General Sherman tree. This was really a stroll on a paved path (although there were 80 stairs- I know because Pumpkin and I counted on the way back up), but the trees were impressive.

Best wildlife moment: Seeing a bear on the hike in Sequoia. A real live bear! In the wild! From close enough to be cool but far enough away not to be scary.

Runner up: seeing seals up close in the water in Morro Bay. Pumpkin thought this was awesome. Clearly, we need to take her to our local seal sighting spots more often.

Best parenting moment (Mommy): Coming up with the idea to count stairs when Pumpkin started to whine that she was too tired to walk back to our car after seeing the General Sherman tree.

Best parenting moment (Daddy): Coming up with (and implementing) the three stage bedtime routine for Pumpkin for use in suites with a single king bed and a sleeper sofa in the living room. This involved getting her sleepy while I got Petunia down in the bed, moving her to the bed and getting her down, then moving her back to the sofa- without waking her up- when we were ready to go to bed. This gave us precious grown up time in the hotels we stayed in that had suites with doors, but only one bed.

Best museum: Kidspace, in Pasadena. The Monterey Aquarium is cool, but for pure kid happiness, I think the tricycles at Kidspace win.

Best unexpected cool thing: Petunia roaring at the bear statue outside the governor's office in the Capitol. Luckily, California capitol guards are allowed to laugh.

Runner up: Applegate Park, in Merced. Why did nothing I read about this mention the beautiful path by the river???? Also, Petunia enjoyed chasing squirrels.

Best unplanned stop: Lucia, on the coast road south from Monterey. We stopped because Pumpkin needed a potty. We stayed because it was snack time. And we had the best view for snack time ever- we sat on an outdoor deck looking straight out at the ocean.

Best playground: The Dennis the Menace playground in El Estero Park in Monterey. Don't miss this if you visit Monterey with kids. It is just a playground- but it is a great playground.

Best kid moment (Pumpkin): The reaction to seeing Cinderella's carriage at Fairytale Town, in Sacramento.

Best kid moment (Petunia): The reaction to the tricycles at Kidspace, in Pasadena.

Best chill out: Morro Bay.

Place we most want to go back and see properly: Hubby says Sacramento. I say San Luis Obispo (we just detoured through downtown on our way from Morro Bay to Santa Barbara, to prolong nap time).

Runner up: Big Sur. But only if I have time to do some hiking.

Best place to retire to: Carmel-by-the-Sea (after we win the lottery); Santa Barbara (only slightly more realistic).

Biggest bummer: For Hubby, it was missing the good sunset in Monterey- we saw it as we drove into town, but we didn't stop because we were running late and wanted to check into our hotel before dinner. For me, it was the fog that obscured a lot of the coastal drive. I've done the drive before and remember how spectacular it can be. It was still beautiful, but I was bummed that Hubby didn't get the full effect. And I don't really want to drive it again- I have to drive the whole time, and I still need a fizzy drink and a bag of salty snacks to make sure I don't get car sick.


  1. Anonymous4:06 AM

    DH didn't care for Kidspace, but I don't remember why. (I didn't go.)

    I didn't know Merced had anything nice in it!

    I sure wish we lived in California. We have friends out in the SF Bay area and their Buzz page always makes me wistful. There's an awful lot more in a reasonable drive's/train ride's distance in California.

  2. Nice! I liked Sacramento a lot more than I thought (a case of diminished expectations?) and wish we'd had more time to spend in Morro Bay.

    A bear and I surprised each other (from opposite sides of a fallen sequoia) last time I was at SNP. We were maybe 6 feet apart!

  3. the milliner6:51 PM

    Love the best parenting moments. :) These moments are worth their weight in gold.

    Also love Carmel-by-the-sea. Visited once years ago. Very calm and beautiful.

  4. Road trips are great with little kids. I'm finding even the boring stuff is interesting to her :)

    Also I love that you mentioned Pasadena. I spent 5 of the happiest years of my life there (college) and that's also where I met my hubby (but didn't know at the time that it would end up like that!)

  5. This sounds like a great vacation. We've driven that road to Monterey -- pretty cool.

  6. So Merced isn't so bad after all? I've never been there, but I have friends working there and they certainly don't like the city. But they have a 1-1 teaching load (I'm not kidding!) so I don't really pity them too much.

  7. Thanks, everyone!

    @SpanishProf, @nicoleandmaggie- I wouldn't say Merced is an awesome place. But it wasn't terrible, either, and Applegate Park is quite nice, with a nice path along the river. There are some very nice houses near the park.

    And we had an awesome Mexican food dinner.

    I'll probably have more to say about Merced in a later post, as I write up the details of the trip.

    Just about my only complaint with Kidspace was that it was more than we could see in the time we had. I thought it was a really nice kids museum. I suspect it gets ridiculously busy on weekends, though- we were there on a weekday and even then we had to wait for the bikes, etc.

    @SteveB- I think low expectations are the best way to go! That is probably why we loved our trip to Boise so much. It may also be why we enjoyed Sacramento so much. But I had high expectations for the beer (UC Davis has a brewmaster's program), and they were mostly met, even for two jaded San Diego beer drinkers (we really are spoiled here with so many good local brews).

  8. Sounds like a great trip! You hit up some great places (Carmel? To die for. If I ever win the lottery...well, no, I"m not sure I could afford it even then...)


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