Family Weekend Getaway in Monterey and Carmel
1Stretch your legs with a stroll along the shops and stores of historic Cannery Row. Sardine canning factories once flourished in this former working-class neighborhood, which got its name from the title of John Steinbeck's 1945 novel. Tin-roofed factories have been renovated into a cheerful stretch of stores selling souvenirs and homemade candy and fudge, as well as some wine-tasting rooms and antique shops.
2Tuck into tasty pizzas at Gianni's Pizza, a longtime favorite among locals and just a three-block walk from Cannery Row. Little ones will love watching the pizza makers toss the dough and top the pies with ingredients at this casual, come-as-you-are spot.
3For post-dinner entertainment, the cozy Crown & Anchor pub is packed with nautical and UK-themed memorabilia sure to delight both seadogs and landlubbers of all ages (and there's a fenced patio to keep tiny pirates captive). For an adults-only nightcap, leave the kids with a babysitter — The Clement is one hotel that offers in-room babysitting services — and sip a well-crafted cocktail under 200-year-old oak trees on the magical patio of Restaurant 1833, which has earned rave reviews since opening in 2011.
1Fuel up for the day with a delectable, but casual, breakfast at the Crepes of Brittany in Fisherman's Wharf, which features both sweet crepes made with Nutella, fruit, and whipped cream, plus egg-topped breakfast versions. From there, it's on to the 8,500-square-foot MY Museum, where little ones can engage in a pint-sized game of Operation!, or don a hard hat to work on a tiny construction site, for an affordable $7 entry fee.
2Breathe in plenty of fresh sea air and the most majestic views of the northern California coast, plus wildlife sightings of harbor seals and sea otters, along the 18-mile Monterey Bay Coastal Trail. Stroll or roll via bike or a four-wheeled, canopy-topped surrey (keep in mind that the trail is very popular with recreational and serious cyclists, so stay to the far right if you're going at a slower pace.)
3Hop in the car for a quick drive to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, just three miles south of Carmel. Named for the sea lions that gather — they're called "lobos marinos," or sea wolves, in Spanish — this scenic park features easy hikes and spectacular views, as well as glimpses of sea otters and sea lions. Park outside the reserve for free, or pay $10 for quicker access to several hikes, some of which are less than a mile long.
4Spend the rest of the afternoon strolling the beautiful coastal town of Carmel, whose main drag, Ocean Drive, hums with cozy shops, restaurants, and B&Bs. Parents can trade off kid duty while indulging in the Wine Walk By-the-Sea Passport: $65 gets you tastings from ten participating in-town tasting rooms, from estate-grown wines to sparkling varieties, plus waived corkage fees at some restaurants. At The Cheese Shop, sample cheeses from all over the world, and grab a wedge or two for your next stop: the beach.
5Carmel Beach, a public access cove at the western end of Ocean Drive, buzzes with families and frolicking dogs. Wind down the afternoon by relaxing on the soft sand (but be sure to bring a jacket, as it can be windy and temperatures drop as the sun sets). Carmel Beach is not only dog-friendly, it's bonfire-friendly, too. A company called Romantic Room Designs also offers a "S'mores on the Shore" package in which they'll set up a beachside bonfire, complete with fixin's for s'mores and extra firewood, for the whole family to enjoy.
6Sink your teeth into a juicy burger at 400 Degrees, an upscale diner that opened in May 2012. A straightforward menu includes burgers, sandwiches, and salads with gourmet touches, such as duck-fat fries and Sea Salt Caramel milkshakes, plus a kids menu. The restaurant provides computer tablets at tables so you can order extra items, pay your bill, and — perfect for impatient young'uns — play games.
1Arrive early at the Monterey Bay Aquarium to beat the lines, which can stretch around the block by mid-morning (or, go after 2 pm). Once inside, a good strategy is to head straight for The Splash Zone, which features 45 exhibits and a touch pool for hands-on access to sea creatures like abalones, sea stars, and bat rays.
2Grab an easy lunch at nearby (and locally owned) Sea Harvest Market & Restaurant. Sit at red checker cloth-topped tables for favorites like clam chowder, barbecued oysters, and fish 'n' chips.
3The final stop before heading home: the Dennis the Menace Playground in El Estero Park, brainchild of the comic strip creator Hank Ketcham, who lived in Pebble Beach for nearly 20 years. No frou-frou, safety-centric stuff here: Think colossal slides, a suspension bridge and climbing structures sure to thrill kids (and adults, too!) while tiring them out before the trip home.