I think sometimes the best way to travel is to make few plans and have even fewer expectations. Such was our impromptu trip to Monterey this January. We were amazingly fortunate with the weather, warm blue skies and a three day holiday. So last minute, we piled up the buggy and headed north. The only things on the agenda – a stop for lunch and quick hug for my daughter in San Luis Obispo, and a visit to the world famous Monterey Aquarium.
Now, I may sound carefree, but I do like to know where I’m going to put my head at night, especially during a long holiday weekend, so we did our due diligence. After weighing our preferences and our budget, we settled on the Hotel Casa Munras, a boutique hotel about a 10 minute walk to the pier. Nothing is perfect and the reviews on the hotel had included some negative comments, so I made sure when we got our room to ask for one that was quieter. Research does pay off, and we got a sweet little room just over the pool and rose garden. And though the room did smell a little bit musty (you get used to it), the bed was very comfortable and the bathroom had just been remodeled, and I quite loved our little L’Occitane bath soaps.
The surprise bonus was the restaurant next door, Estebans, a cozy Spanish style bar and eatery that encouraged a welcoming buzz with its fireplace, tasty tapas and excellent service.
The other delightful eatery was a little café on Alvarado called Café Trieste. It is the sister café to the original one in San Francisco, and I have to say it was one of the most delicious breakfasts I’d had in ages. The food was simple, but really nicely seasoned, and surprisingly well priced. And the coffee was dark, rich and intense – a great way to start the day.
After a great night’s sleep, we were up and ready to roll. We discovered the hotel had bikes we could rent, and given the topography and easy access to everything we decided it would be a great way to explore Monterey. It was perfect – there is a great bike path right along the water, and you can stop at a moment’s notice, pull over, and go again without having to fuss about traffic, parking or anyone else’s schedule but your own.
I don’t know what it was about riding the bike that afternoon that made me feel so lighthearted and happy. Maybe it was the cool wind on my face, or how dorky I looked with my helmet on and one pant leg rolled up. Or maybe it was being able to shout out like a 5 year old “Hey Mike, look at that,” as we pedaled past a beach covered with dozing harbor seals.
The aquarium is definitely worth the visit. It is beautifully designed with great exhibits and all kinds of interactive elements. In more of my 5-year old moments, I stroked the starfish and hermit crabs, stood squished in the crowd to watch the otters feed, and shrieked like such a girl when we viewed the presentation on great white sharks. An interesting fact, the top three white shark habitats are Australia, the oceans south of Africa and off the coast of California.
As the day drew to a close and the weather cooled, we pedaled our way back to the hotel. Tired but happy, we stumbled back up to the room and sank into our welcoming bed, grateful to have shared this lovely day together. My 5-year old then yawned twice, and drifted off to sleep.