Yosemite and Monterey
July 25, 2016 3:18 PM   Subscribe

We (me, wife, kids 5 and 10) are traveling from Salt Lake City to Yosemite for 3 days of camping, and then to Monterey for 3 days. Help us plan the rest of a great trip.

I love the travel insight I get from AskMefi. Has anyone had any experience getting no reservation campsites in Yosemite? We have a motel room in Lee Vining on Saturday night and I've got a reservation at a campground in the park for Sunday night as a backup, but, I'm hoping if I drive into the park early on Sunday morning, so I can score a no reservation campsite for all 3 days of our stay. I was thinking Yosemite Creek or Tuolome Meadows. I guess if I don't get one on Sunday morning I can try to get a no reservation site on Monday morning too.

What are the best hikes to do with kids in Yosemite? They are decent hikers.

Are there anythings we should stop, see, do, or eat between Yosemite and Monterey?

When in Monterey, we obviously are going to do the aquarium. But, I'd also just like to spend a day chilling on the beach? What are the best ones? I was thinking down by Big Sur. What else should we see, do, and eat when in Monterey and surrounding environs? Thanks for your insight.
posted by trbrts to Travel & Transportation around California (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Carmel has a nice beach, Seaside has a nice beach, Asilomar is too windy for me although there's a good chance that any or all of these can be fogged in at this time of year. Make non-beach backup plans. Santa Cruz is less likely to get fogged in and although Santa Cruz itself is really busy I find the beach to be more reliable/nicer in terms of weather.
posted by GuyZero at 3:29 PM on July 25, 2016

Point Lobos is great for watching seals, sea lions and sea otters.

In my experience, the beaches around Big Sur are spectacular, but aren't really hang out on the beach all day beaches, more like walk on the beach and admire the landscape beaches. That being said, the hiking around there is also phenomenal, especially in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 3:45 PM on July 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

When are you coming?
The south end of Monterey Bay does often get fogged in this time of year so it's not naturally beachy in the traditional sense. Rio Del Mar/Seacliff/Sunset are good for day beach trips of the kind you might be thinking of and are well-serviced. They're much more likely to have the fog lifted by mid-day.

There's currently a wildfire in the Carmel highlands so parks in Monterey may be closed and there may be smoke in that area. So far nothing visible here in Santa Cruz. Depending on when your trip is it may be worth keeping an eye on it. I doubt it'll affect Monterey proper but if the wind is offshore you could be sitting on a smokey beach.

If your kids didn't get enough wildlife in Yosemite there's also a family kayak tour out of Moss Landing (halfway between Monterey and Santa Cruz). Otter sightings are likely!
posted by marylynn at 3:54 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oops. Should have mentioned. This is going down next week.
posted by trbrts at 4:14 PM on July 25, 2016

In Lee Vining, absolutely the best restaurant is at the Mobil Station (at the junction of 120 and 395). Its restaurant is seriously like a 4 star restaurant (in taste/quality) - especially compared to the other Lee Vining options. I plan my trips around eating there.

In Tuolumne Meadows, the kids would like climbing Lembert Dome. A fun easy scramble up a slickrock dome.
posted by bluesky78987 at 4:20 PM on July 25, 2016

The bay is roiling with humpback whales right now. If you have time, take a whale watching cruise some morning from Moss Landing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:20 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a Monterey resident.

Seconding Point Lobos and the whale watching. PL is so beautiful I'm not quite sure it's actually of this Earth and this time of year is great for seeing whales.

If you're sick of hiking, Carmel village is pretty charming, and there's a cheese shop which stocks a lot of fun local delicacies. I also recommend the MY museum for being super kid-friendly.
posted by Tamanna at 4:28 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

A little north of Monterey proper is Elkhorn Slough - great bird / wildlife watching. When I have folks come in from out of town, I usually take them on this tour: http://www.whispercharters.com/

It's an electric open air boat that goes into the Slough - very quiet so there's less impact to the wildlife. My 8 year old nephew loved it - otters, seals, tons of birds.

For the kids, there's also Dennis the Menace park - really big playground.
posted by macfly at 5:04 PM on July 25, 2016

You can buy aquarium tickets from the front desk of one of the big hotels in Monterey that are good for two consecutive days, same price as buying them at the aquarium. You can hit the aquarium early, before the crowds really grow, then do the same thing the next morning to cover what you missed.

In my experience, the fog usually tends to stay north of Asilomar. It usually burns off once you hit Carmel, and down on to Point Lobos. Usually.

If you don't want to do the kayak tour that marylynn mentioned, you can go hang out at the south end of the road to Moss Landing State Beach and see plenty of otters and sea lions in the harbor.

And yeah, keep an eye on that fire near Carmel. If it's not contained by then, you way want to stay north of there just to avoid the smoke.
posted by mudpuppie at 5:04 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Take the Ceadar Grove trail at Point Lobos - it's breathtaking.
posted by Pressed Rat at 5:29 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cedar, that is
posted by Pressed Rat at 5:30 PM on July 25, 2016

Are there anything we should stop, see, do, or eat between Yosemite and Monterey?

I grew up here and have driven this route many times, and the sad answer is... not really, and there's a long boring stretch in the middle. Make sure your car has gas, water, and a good air conditioner. I just searched for directions, and I can't imagine this drive only taking 3 or 4 hours - but maybe it's been awhile? Directions to/from Yosemite are calculated from the park entrance rather than the valley floor, and there's really a fair bit of driving between the two. It also depends on how comfortable (fast) you are driving in mountains. It reliably takes us 3-4 hrs to drive from Fresno to Santa Cruz; I'd definitely pad the driving time with a couple extra hours.

The highway disappears and follows streets in Los Banos (straight shot = easy) and Gilroy, where I still get lost every. single. time. GPS! Also, as you come down out of the coastal hills pay attention to the speed signs - they aren't kidding about the hairpin turns. Beautiful though!

Stop at Casa de Fruta, about half an hour or so out of Los Banos toward the end of Pacheco Pass. There's a huge fruit/nut stand, diner, ice cream, a little train ride for the kids, bathrooms... everything you could want in a rest stop, really!

Santa Cruz is half an hour north and has a cute boardwalk - beach area with a ferris wheel and stuff; would be great for a day or half day.

Nth Dennis the Menace Park - I have really distinct childhood memories of this, and it is awesome.

Salt water taffy is a must.
Have fun, I can't wait to do this trip with my own kid!
posted by jrobin276 at 6:27 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

We saw humpback spouts, watching from a restaurant on Cannery Row (basically from the Aquarium) last week. Hope you're as lucky.
And, nthing Point Lobos.
posted by artdrectr at 11:05 PM on July 25, 2016

Nthing Elkhorn slough. You might want to check if there are any Elephant seals around And Nuevo state park (January's the best time, but who knows). Check out Pescadero - Duarte's Tavern and the Harley Goat Farm make for a good pit stop, and there are plenty of beaches nearby.
posted by benzenedream at 11:21 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hunt for the label tiles in the sidewalk on CAnnery Row.
posted by brujita at 11:34 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

We took this Cannery Row walking tour a couple years ago and it was fabulous.
posted by notyou at 7:19 AM on July 26, 2016

I can't tell if you are looking for Yosemite idea as well since most of the (GREAT) suggestions are for the coast. I just saw this article though and it seems it was written for you and your Yosemite portion of the trip: http://www.outdoorproject.com/blog-news/3-day-itinerary-yosemite-national-park
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 7:29 AM on July 26, 2016

I'm gonna second hiking at Point Lobo and eating at the gas station in Lee Vining.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:54 AM on July 26, 2016

And I'm assuming Mono Lake is on your list of things to see? It should be.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:56 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

kayaking in elkhorn slough and pie at duarte's tavern!!
posted by burgerrr at 9:13 AM on July 26, 2016

I just got back from a couple of days in Yosemite. My question with lots of great answers.

To reiterate most of the answers, Yosemite is crowded and kind of shuts down at 9pm.
posted by Classic Diner at 10:47 AM on July 26, 2016

Tuolomne has half of its sites reservable in loops A-G and the other half first-come first-served. You *should* be able to get a site fairly easily. Note that it can get pretty chilly up there-
especially if you get rain/thunderstorms during the day (chilly = upper 30s / low 40s F).

I love hiking the Lyell Fork - flat, beautiful (pretty safe) river nearby. We've made a loop by driving to Tuolomne Meadows lodge behind (northeast of) Puppy Dome and taking the PCT down to the Lyell Fork, head back towards camp, and then if you want off-road it, cross over the Dana Fork back to your car. If you're camping, you certainly don't need to drive to the lodge, you can just begin and end your hike in the campground. It's not long but we certainly enjoyed it. The Lyell fork is great in the late afternoon as you head towards sunset - it really empties out.

If you wanted you could also backtrack a few miles from Tuolomne and head up to Saddlebag lakes. Take the boat across and hike up to Cascade lake which is a gorgeous highsierra granite lake. It's pretty easy (though you're at 10,000') and there will be plenty of other people around but it's still spectacular. Also it's neat to change from the metamorphic lakes to the big granite lake at Cascade. Note that there's really no shade up there. And the store at the boat launch has ice cream for when you're all done.

I've never camped at Yosemite creek camp so can't help you out.
posted by mrzz at 12:45 PM on July 26, 2016

Not sure if you have three FULL days in Monterey or if there's some travel time in there as well...

Day 1
Arrive in Monterey.
Drive to Fisherman's Wharf, walk around and be a tourist, perhaps go on a whale watching trip or glass bottom boat, get some food.
A lot of historical stuff is in this area, you'll see a lot of plaques on buildings, if you're interested there's the Museum of Monterey.
You can also walk from there down Alvarado street which has a variety of restaurants.
Dennis the Menace park is less than a mile from the Wharf as well.

Day 2
After spending a few hours at the aquarium go outside and find some lunch on Cannery Row.
You could rent a surry (4 person bike) and ride around. (This can also be done in the Fishermans Wharf area).
Or drive along the ocean and stop for some tidepooling and beautiful views (Drive along Ocean View Blvd which turns into Sunset Drive, this is also where Asilomar beach is.)

Day 3
Drive on over to downtown Carmel, walk around for a bit and buy lunch from a deli, pack it up , then go south on Ocean Ave. until you hit Carmel Beach, it's beautiful. If it seems to crowded the beach just south of that (Carmel River Beach) is also great.

There are so many things you can still do, here are a few:
Point Lobos hiking
Jacks Peak park offers some nice views between the trees
Carmel Valley Village is pretty, good restaurants and wine tasting, if you want to hike in the valley try Garland Park.
posted by shucksitsjeremy at 1:39 PM on July 26, 2016

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