Our final stop on our May roadtrip was Monterey. In fact, the impetus for the week of driving up the California coast was to bridge two professional meetings for Aron: one in San Diego and one in Monterey. This one, however, was special: Aron became a partner at Kaiser and had been invited to bring his family to celebrate.
So we bid adieu to Big Sur and continued up the coast toward the bay, with just a short detour in the Point Lobos marine reserve along the way.
First, I’d been told we should really make a point to stop at the Tide Pools in Point Lobos, so I’d checked the tide charts and tried to time a visit.
Actually, when I was asking around for tips, Jenna Francisco, who often writes about traveling in California, immediately mentioned the reserve as a favorite destination: “Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is one of my favorite places to be outdoors with my kids. It contains marine protected areas just offshore and beautiful headlands with many hiking trails. Some hikes are more kid-friendly, like the flat trails along the water or through the cypress grove, while others are more challenging, with steps to climb up and down steep hills. If the weather is nice, bring a picnic lunch and spend half a day hiking and spotting wildlife, including sea otters, birds and deer. In winter, look for migrating whales offshore, and in spring, seals give birth at Point Lobos, so baby seals can be seen on many of the beaches.”
Apparently, there are a lot of people who feel this way: the parking lot was completely full and they were turning people away when we pulled up. Still, undeterred, we parked a long ways down the highway and walked back into the park. It was a long walk to the shore, so we didn’t explore much beyond the cove where we emerged, but we immediately spotted a pod of Orcas just off the coast! We couldn’t believe it!
From there we spent some time in the tidepools, spotting crabs and sea stars, and a huge chitin. But from what I gather, we just barely saw the reserve so we’ll have to come back (and a good 50% of it is underwater, so a return as divers is in the future, too).
And I should note that we always put the shells and animals back where we found them. If you’re visiting: Be careful of slippery footing, and don’t turn your back on the ocean, especially if conditions are rough. Finally, be sure to watch your step for delicate habitats.
Here’s a Google Street view of the area.
Once we left, we continued on via the legendary 17-mile drive through lovely Carmel. Skyler had fallen asleep, so we didn’t stop as often as we were tempted to, but if it’s your first time be prepared to pull out often. You could easily pack a picnic and spend an entire day along this stretch of coastline.
At one point I let Hudson and Aron out of the car and they ran along a beach to the next stop, Seal Rock, to meet me. I went ahead and waited with Skyler. Hudson told us it was the best part of his afternoon. Ha!
I suppose when beautiful coastline is everywhere you look, a little beach-side sprinting really stands out.
In the end, we pulled into Monterey pretty late in the day and had to quickly change clothes before the dinner.
Kaiser had organized childcare on one of the hotel floors for attendees who’d brought their children, so we got the kids set up for the evening and then sat down with a few hundred of his colleagues. I felt really proud of all he’s done and his years of hard work (and long hours). Getting to this point of senior physician has taken a lot of dedication, skill, and sacrifice—and it was nice to see that him feeling that it’s all been worth it.
The childcare was organized as an option for the next day as well so that the new partners could attend some more meetings about the company. I was invited to attend—which I think is a really nice sign of Kaiser’s attitudes about work/life balance—but opted instead to sneak away with just Hudson. We checked Skyler in with the sitters and I took Hudson in a taxi down to Cannery Row to find Adventures by the Sea.
Last year, when I took that trip to Big Sur with Bota Box, they’d organized a kayak tour out of the Pebble Beach resort and it was a highlight. The water was teeming with life. Hudson is a good swimmer and I thought he could handle some gentle ocean kayaking in the bay, so Aron and I did a little research and found that Adventures by the Sea would let you go out with a 4-year-old.
It was fantastic! They set you up with dry bags and offer water pants and jackets, floatation vests, and give you a quick paddling lesson and then the water is yours. Funny sidenote: I actually ran into the guide who’d taken us out last year!
We did our best to get an early start (in my experience, the best marine life sightings happen in the morning, the water is calmest, and you’re likely to have less company), and it paid off: as soon as we got off the beach we found ourselves approaching about 8 or 9 sea otters, wrapped up in the kelp.
Hudson was probably a bit more excited about sea birds and kelp, so we moved along, but I could have sat there and watched them for a lot longer. I thought about how both Aron and I did some of our certification dives in the water here, in terrible visibility, and wished I could get in on a day like this. It was so clear and calm. It looked amazing out there.
Some notes on going out with a preschooler: I do think if you’re planning on doing this with a young child I would advise going out after a visit to the aquarium so that they have a better sense of what they’re looking for and what they’re seeing. You are supposed to keep a respectful distance from the otters on the water, so it might have been helpful to have seen the exhibit first. I found myself referencing the Kratt brothers now and then. Also, they didn’t offer Hudson a paddle so about an hour on the water was sufficient for his interest. I didn’t think about this until later and offered him to try paddling with mine now and then, but I think we could have stayed out even longer if he’d gotten to try paddling a bit more.
Overall, however, it was really wonderful to get to do this with him. I kept thinking how it’s just the beginning of all the adventures we’ll get to have together.
When we got back to the hotel, we met up with Aron and Skyler and the three of them went swimming in the hotel pool while I enjoyed a short break. But soon after, we all took a shuttle over to the Aquarium. Every year, Kaiser holds an event there for this occasion: the Aquarium opens up just for them after it closes to the public and stays open very late.
There are tables and food stations (much of it, yes, sushi) set up throughout and you can pick up drinks and bites as you move through each exhibit.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is incredible no matter when you visit, but this was particularly special.
It was the perfect end to a week of exploring California—and a celebration worthy of all of Aron’s accomplishments! We’re so proud of him!