Our Epic West Coast Family Road Trip

We’ve done a cross-country family road trip or two (or three) in our time but this west coast road trip in 2013 is by far the most epic. We crossed several things off of our west coast bucket list.


An awesome west coast (ish) road trip.


A ridiculously awesome road trip


The full trip is mapped out below. More than two weeks on the road and only 1 night in a hotel! Read this post to find out how we did it. In this post I’m going to round up the highlights.


An awesome west coast (ish) road trip.


Camping in Northern California


Camping among these epic trees was … well, epic. If you ever get the chance to visit the redwoods, don’t miss it.


An awesome west coast (ish) road trip.


Visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium


And revisiting our old stomping grounds around the Monterey area. There are lots of free things to do in Monterey but we had the aquarium in our sights. We used to visit all the time when we lived in Monterey. In this post I share my insider tips.


An awesome west coast (ish) road trip.


Embracing our Inner Tourist at the Grand Canyon


YOLO and all that. :D Seriously, don’t come home with the same picture everyone else has. Make a memorable memory. The best road trips involve a balance of beautiful and silly pictures.


An awesome west coast (ish) road trip.


Discovering an Ancient Meteor Crater


Best accidental find ever. With all my research looking for road trip ideas you’d think I’d have come across this sooner. This whole section of Arizona is amazing. Painted deserts, giant canyons, petrified forests, ancient craters. Trust me, not all deserts are created equally and Arizona is where it’s at (we once lived in Tucson for a year).


An awesome west coast (ish) road trip.



Good Old Fashioned Graffiti


Turns out, it takes some actual skill to make Cadillac Ranch look good. This iconic road side attraction is neat but doesn’t quite live up to the hype. But, hey, great family road trips are made up of the good and the bad, amirite?


An awesome west coast (ish) road trip.


It takes a lot of planning to pull off an epic road trip on a budget but it’s worth every minute.

Have you visited any of these places? What’s your favorite road trip memory?

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What to do and what NOT to do at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

If you ever get the opportunity to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, take it! Several years ago we were lucky enough to spend a year in the Monterey Bay area and we frequented the aquarium.


Monterey Bay Aquarium – What to do (and not do)


Monterey Bay Aquarium - What to do and what NOT to do.


If you live in Monterey, buy the family pass. Just do it. You get unlimited “free” admission for a year plus other benefits like special hours, gift shop discount, and access to other events through out the year.


And here’s the real kicker – for a family of six like us – buying the family pass costs only $10 more than if we bought 6 individual tickets! So it’s definitely worth it. We visited the aquarium countless times during our year in Monterey and our membership paid for itself many times over.


Hotel Packages


If you’re just passing through consider some of the hotel packages offered. Booking your tickets through these hotels will give you 2 days of tickets for the price of one. And hey, check Groupon and Booking.com while you’re at it. If you can get a deal at one of the hotels that participates in aquarium packages, even better!


When we were planning our big road trip of 2013, I knew I wanted to stay a couple of days in Monterey. It’s such a beautiful place and I really wanted to visit the aquarium. Even though we went often in 2006/7, only our oldest remembered it.


Monterey Bay Aquarium

Our first ever visit to the aquarium. That baby is almost 10 now.


Our youngest was born after we left Monterey, and our other two boys were itty when we lived there so all those visits were lost on them. It was fun to recreate some old photos of the kids.


Monterey Bay Aquarium



Monterey Bay Aquarium



Monterey Bay Aquarium


Monterey Bay Aquarium


Monterey Bay Aquarium


The Monterey Bay Aquarium was the first big aquarium we ever visited and it forever spoiled us to other aquariums. We visited the National Aquarium in Baltimore after leaving California and were pretty disappointed.


It’s such a fantastic place for kids.


It has lots of places where they’re allowed to get hands-on.


Monterey Bay Aquarium


Don’t miss the feeding in the Open Sea exhibit.


Make sure and get there early, as it can get crowded. Seeing giant tuna feed is crazy. They are lightening fast.


Do not eat at the cafe!


Unless you have a spare arm and leg to pay for the bill. It’s absolutely ridiculous, as many of these places are. Pack a picnic or get your hand stamped, grab some lunch on Cannery Row, and then come back. Again, it never hurts to check Groupon for deals on local eats.


Monterey Bay Aquarium


I recommend going open to close to really absorb all the awesomeness that the Monterey Bay Aquarium has to offer. There are several places to just sit and chill if you get tired. The Open Sea exhibit and the Kelp Forest are peaceful and mesmerizing.


There are several live cams throughout the aquarium that you can check out before visiting.


So, if you have some time to kill and some money to drop in Monterey, the aquarium is the place to do it. If you’re looking for free things to do in Monterey check out this post.


Have you ever been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium? Or other aquariums? What’s your favorite?




Visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium? Here's a short list of what to do and what NOT to do.


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Top Free Things To Do in Monterey with Kids

There are so many fun things to do in Monterey. We absolutely love the Monterey Bay area and we were lucky enough to spend a year in this little slice of American heaven. And with three kids under five at the time, you can bet we curated a list of free things to do in Monterey.


Our favorite free things to do in Monterey with kids.

Free Things to do in Monterey with Kids


Monterey really is a perfect place for families. Here is our list of top free things to do in Monterey with kids.


1. Dennis the Menace Playground


Our favorite free things to do in Monterey with kids.


Dennis the Menace is is a really fantastic playground in the heart of Monterey. It’s huge and a really fun adventure for the kiddos, especially older ones. It has a climbing wall, suspension bridge, hedge maze, many large slides, and more.


Our favorite free things to do in Monterey with kids.

photo credit: https://playgroundology.wordpress.com/category/dennis-the-menace-park/

It also has a real-life steam train for your little train lovers. Kids used to be able to climb on the train but recently that was banned.


TIP: If you have smaller kids, you’re going to be chasing them a lot as there are a lot of blind spots. It’s not a place where you can just sit on a bench and observe them. Also, it’s surrounded by a chain-link fence, but there is a pond on the other side so if you have climbers, keep an eye on them.


For more pictures of Dennis the Menace Playground check out this blog.



2. Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf


Fisherman's Wharf and other free things to do in Monterey with kids.


Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey is a great place to spend a few hours with kids. Yes, it is lined with restaurants and touristy knick knack shops but if you breeze past these establishments and head right to the end of the wharf, there’s always sea life waiting to entertain you.


Our favorite free things to do in Monterey with kids.

Seals and sea lions sit lazily under the wharf, giving off the occasional bark. A playful sea otter is almost always swimming around looking for something to snack on. And pesky pelicans don’t stray far from the restaurants.


TIP: The restaurant at the far end of the wharf has a wrap around observation deck that’s free to climb.


You never know what you’ll find on the wharf. We once moseyed down to find a pirate ship used in The Pirate of the Caribbean movie. (Funny story, several years later we found, and boarded, the same pirate ship in British Columbia!)

Our favorite free things to do in Monterey with kids.

On this day we found a free photo op with parrots!

If you’re looking for a places to eat in Monterey, look no further. The best clam chowder in Monterey can be found on Fisherman’s Wharf and several restaurants claim they have it. :)


TIP: Many restaurants on Fisherman’s Wharf give out free samples of clam chowder and some offer kids eat free deals.


If you can find parking on the street then you can visit Fisherman’s Wharf for free with a short walk across a long parking lot. If not then there are many paid parking options as well.

TIP: Dogs are allowed on Fisherman’s Wharf and some restaurants even offer doggy menus!


Read more about Fisherman’s wharf.


3. Beaches in Monterey


Our favorite free things to do in Monterey with kids.


There are a lot of beaches in the Monterey area and we sampled quite a few of them. Growing up on the east coast, adapting to a west coast beach culture was a little strange for me. I’m used to blistering heat and warm beaches. You can still flirt with the surf of course, and kids don’t feel the cold (or so it always seems to me).


TIP: The beaches in Monterey are beautiful and spacious but they’re also cold. Very cold.

Our favorite free things to do in Monterey with kids.


The beaches in Monterey have something for everyone. Carmel River State Beach is known for its birdwatching. McAbee Beach is popular with divers because of the nearby kelp forests that Monterey is famous for. Or if you’re looking for places to surf in Monterey try Marina State Beach and Moss Landing State Beach.


TIP: Many Monterey beaches also allow bonfires including Carmel Beach and Del Monte Beach.


4. Parks In Monterey


Our favorite free things to do in Monterey with kids.  - El Estero Park.

photo credit: http://mapio.net/s/2416553/


There are many dog-friendly and kid-friendly parks in Monterey. In fact several of the best parks in Monterey are all found in one park – El Estero Park.


El Estero Park  is built around Lake Estero, a lovely body of water where you can always find ducks and Canada geese to feed. Within El Estero Park you’ll find the Monterey Skate Park, the El Estero Exercise course, and the above mentioned Dennis the Menace playground. It’s also right across the street from Monterey State Beach.


Lover’s Point Park is also particularly lovely beach and picnic area with lots of parking and green places to sit, don’t miss it.


Find more parks in Monterey.



There are really so much stuff to do in Monterey, CA you could never curate a full list. But this is certainly enough to get your started.


The free stuff to do  can keep you busy for ages, but if you’re willing to drop some money, the absolute best attraction in Monterey is the aquarium. You can read my tips about what to do and what not to do at the Monterey Bay Aquarium here.


What is your favorite free thing to do in Monterey?




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A list of fun, free things to do in Monterey, CA with kids. A list of fun, free things to do in Monterey, CA with kids. A list of fun, free things to do in Monterey, CA with kids.


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Packing my Suitcase


Family Camping in Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park

Camping in the redwoods of California is not something I ever thought I would have the opportunity to do. I had always wanted to see the famous redwood forests but never imagined it would become a reality. So I jumped at the chance to get up close and personal with them when we planned our big road trip in 2013.


Highways Vs Interstates


We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see more of beautiful northern California so we left the interstate and spent a good portion of our trip on the scenic California Coastal Highway 101. There’s a time and place for interstate travel and believe me, we’ve spent our fair share of time on them during our previous cross-country road trips but there’s nothing like a state highway for gorgeous scenery.


Camping in the majestic California redwoods at Jedediah Smith State Park


In an effort to save money on our road trip, we decided camping along the redwood highway sounded like something to check off of our bucket list. After researching the best camping in the redwood forest we settled on Jedediah Smith State Park in northern California.


Best Tent Camping in the Redwoods


The park itself was amazing. We had giant trees literally right outside of our tent. I know there are a lot of camping sites in the redwoods but this has to be some of the best family camping in California. We’ve camped in fairy-tale settings before but nothing compares to the majesty of the redwoods.  My only regret is that we didn’t take any high quality photos and that we weren’t able to stay longer.


Family Camping in Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park

photo credit: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=413


Unfortunately, my nice camera was out of commission during this road trip and all I had was a really crappy phone camera. But I’ll share my crappy pictures of the redwoods anyway. Because even crappy redwood pictures are impressive.


Family Camping in Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park


But don’t you know I wish I had a high quality photo of this! The kids loved camping at Jedediah Smith State Park. The whole park is a bit mystical and magical, perfect for little imaginations.


Family Camping in the California Redwoods at Jedediah Smith State Park

Family Hiking at Jedediah Smith State Park


There were various family friendly hiking trails within the campgrounds. One that went right beside our campsite led to the beautiful Smith river. When our kids get a bit older I would love to try family kayaking but for now we’re happy skipping rocks.


Family Camping in Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park


Bear Safety When Camping


The many signs giving advice for bear safety tips at this park had us a little on edge. We’ve never camped in a place where such serious bear awareness is stressed. There was a big, metal box for locking away any food or things with a strong scent. And signs imploring you not to leave such things in your car overnight.


We were so nervous that when a deer snuck up on us on a trail, my daughter screamed and scared us all to death. All survived the deer encounter. And we never saw any sign of a bear.


Drive Through Redwoods


When we packed up the next day and headed further south, we stopped several times to explore more of the redwood forests along Highway 101. We really wanted to drive through a redwood and there are several drive-through redwoods to choose from in Northern California. Unfortunately you need a small or mid-sized car to pull this off. Our big SUV with luggage on top was way too big to fit in the trees. Oh well.


Family Camping in Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park


The Redwood Highway


What I really loved about the redwood highway is that it wasn’t crowded and didn’t feel commercial at all. There were so many places where you could simply pull off the side the road and explore. Maybe one day we can go back and I can take good photos!


Family Camping in Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park


Have you ever visited the California redwoods?





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Camping in Squamish, British Columbia

Camping in British Columbia is amazing. It’s never too hot, there aren’t a lot of bugs bothering you, and it’s impossible to not be surrounded by gorgeous scenery.


Camping in beautiul British Columbia.


Paradise Valley Campground in Squamish, British Columbia is an amazing place. We went there two years in a row to camp with a big group.


Camping in British Columbia


Camping in British Columbia


British Columbia is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I’ve said it before, but it really feels like traipsing through an enchanted, fairy tale forest.


Camping in British Columbia.


There are a lot of amazing trails in the area, many accessible by foot from Paradise Valley.


Camping in British Columbia.


We basically hiked up and over a mountain to get to a cold, clear lake. I wasn’t brave enough to dip my toes in but little boys are impervious to cold. :)


Camping in British Columbia


One of the fun things about camping at Paradise Valley Campgrounds is the rock painting.  The front office provides free paint and brushes and encourages you to paint any rock small enough to fit in your hand.


Camping in British Columbia


The campground is covered with painted rocks which gives it a fun, whimsical atmosphere. They’re stuck into trees, sitting on stumps, surrounding the fire pits of each campsite – it’s really neat.


Camping in British Columbia


My daughter painted quite a few with some friends.  I thought they were pretty cute.  Except I thought the marshmallow was a tropical fish and Husband thought it was a turkey. Art is open to interpretation, right? Of course, in typical little girl fashion, she couldn’t part with her artwork and we ended up sneaking some painted rocks home in our bags.


Camping in British Columbia

A barn owl, paw print, and marshmallow roasting.



I definitely recommend camping in the Squamish area of British Columbia and checking out Paradise Valley Campground.


Do you love to camp? Hate to camp?