An Economy-Friendly, One Tank Getaway to the Monterey Peninsula

by Carmel L. Mooney

Lots of places are becoming more affordable to visit with excellent travel deals and lower gas prices and the Monterey Peninsula is just one such place.

There are a lot of affordable and free, yes even free, activities to do in and around Monterey and Carmel and the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa offers just the property and just the specials to make it all possible. Nightly turndown service and 24-hour in-room service may make you feel like your clan is living the life of the rich and famous but your pocketbook will prove differently when you see the amenities, reasonable rates, and specials this hotel and spa offer.

child looking through telescope on the beachFrom one of the many private oceanfront balcony rooms, guests of all ages can enjoy watching (with or without binoculars) the resident sea life frolic and feast in the sea of fog. Sea otters, and harbor seals, as well as pelicans and cormorants, will all keep you amused and amazed as you stay at this magnificent oceanfront property. Sitting in front of a blazing fire in the lobby or taking a yoga or walking class, even renting a kayak from the private hotel beach below, all offer time passing options. And if sheer indulgence is your fancy, mom and dad may choose spa treatments overlooking the sea or even a jump on the treadmill or Stairmaster in the newly remodeled rooftop fitness center while watching the surf below. There’s plenty to do or not do while working up an appetite for one of the award-winning eateries on property that all cater to families.

The Duck Club Grill is the perfect place for families to start their day with sumptuous and satisfying breakfasts almost as delightful as the scenery. Fresh squeezed orange juice and melt-in-your-mouth pancakes along with beautifully presented egg dishes are only a few of the reasons to plan for a hearty breakfast.

Schooner’s Bistro on the Bay is a favorite of locals but guests of all ages will appreciate the friendly hospitality, fresh and delicious seafood and sandwiches, and the to-die-for-desserts. We even took desserts back to our room they were so good. Our children loved the big bucket of steamed clams. What fun! Both restaurants offer “The Kids Menu, Lunch, Dinner and other Yummies” with fantastic and healthful soups, salads, entrees, and desserts to please the most discriminating younger palates.

With tummies full, at night you’ll be lulled to sleep by the gentle sounds of the surf and the soothing aroma of fresh sea air. You’ll need the rest for all the fun that awaits close by and much of it is free.

The property’s location on Cannery Row makes it easy to enjoy the area’s endless attractions and activities including the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium just a few short blocks away. The nation’s number one family aquarium has interactive, hands-on, educational, and fascinating exhibits of magnificent proportions. Its newest and biggest inspiration will come when The Secret Lives of Seahorses opens. New behind-the-scenes tours will continue this year, giving visitors ages six and up an opportunity to participate in a guided 50-minute tour to learn what it takes to care for animals at the aquarium.

The range of other activities and attractions nearby is astounding. But to name a few that are frugal and won’t break the bank, families will want to visit Fisherman’s Wharf only a couple of minutes away with its quaint shops, theater, and restaurants. Old Town Monterey or the Maritime Museum is worth a peek, or you can take a scenic drive to Carmel, Pebble Beach, 17-Mile Drive, or Big Sur.

girl sitting outside Pacific Grove museumOne family favorite that’s free and continues to excite and inspire for generations is the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. With its amazing displays of native birds, fish, rocks, wildlife, and more, this is a magical place to spend an hour or two that won’t cost a cent.

Another nearly free gem is a hike or a drive-through Point Lobos State Reserve. With its private coves, beaches, trails, and awe-inspiring views this historical beauty is unparalleled. You will be captivated by flora and fauna at Point Lobos in a way that cannot be duplicated anywhere else on earth.

Point Sur Light Station is another place to visit that is beautiful and inexpensive to visit where families can take a tour of a piece of California history that sits 361 feet above the surf. It is the only 19th-century light station on the west coast open to the public.

Point Pinos Lighthouse is located at the most northern tip of the Monterey Peninsula and its beacon has shone since 1855; another great place to explore.

Renting paddle boats on Lake El Estero has been a family favorite for generations and while you are there, plan to spend an hour or take a picnic lunch at Dennis the Menace Park, another generational favorite of unique slides, bridges, and climbing walls sure to keep younger kids amused. Yep, free.

Why not play tennis at the beautiful and historic tennis courts in the Carmel Woods nestled amongst majestic pines. Again—free!

Family standing outside Fishermans grotto in MontereyTake a hike to the Indian grinding rocks or waterfalls at Garland Regional Park in Carmel Valley. Yes, free!

Or take in a play or musical at the Forest Theater in Carmel where the magic of theater comes alive outdoors while you sip apple cider and stay warm by gigantic bonfires as the mysterious fog envelops the cypress and pines around the stage. You can even bring your wine and cheese as the locals do.

Of course, there are always standard favorites such as sailing and fishing charters, diving, surfing, golfing, and other typical preferred past times of the Monterey Peninsula but if you’re looking to take a low key, relaxing one tank getaway without spending a fortune, the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa offers the perfect hub from which to start your quest for family fun that won’t break the bank.

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Carmel L. Mooney is a mom, travel columnist, and radio talk show host. You can hear her on KJAY 1430 AM on Sunday afternoons and you can take her travel writing seminars or purchase her books.

Photo courtesy of Agunthe., Monarch butterflies sanctuary