My brood just spent a lovely three-day weekend in Moss Landing with extended family and I thought it might inspire some of you who are seeking Bay Area road trip vacation ideas.
A group of 120 rental houses sit along a stretch of coast about two hours from the Bay Bridge. Each home has a patio facing the coast with easy access to the beach, plus the development includes a rec center with a pool (closed in the Winter), jacuzzi (open), well-maintained tennis courts, basketball court, and putting green. Kids will enjoy having their bikes, too. Moss Landing is not Moss Beach, so if you are thinking of a place called Moss-something near Half Moon Bay, this is a different destination, much closer to Monterey.
The sandy beach is secluded enough that we had it nearly to ourselves, and it's about a 100-step walk out of the door from the rental houses to the sand. (Ask my third grader if that's a good estimate.)
Littered with sand dollars and tiny crab carcasses, this beach is a wonderland for children who like to collect things in buckets. At certain times of day, the tide is such that children can wade out a ways, but the waves are too rough for young ones to swim around. No matter, it's the type of beach you can enjoy fully clothed, building sand castles or making piles with driftwood.
My parents have been customers of the low-tech rental house company Monterey Dunes Co. for twenty or more years. The house in which we stayed was perfect and extremely clean, though last remodeled in the late 80s, I'd guess. Two of the bedrooms in the 4 BR house we rented boasted ocean views. The TV worked great and the wifi was terrible, which I think was good for all of us. Mid-week rates are better than weekends, so consider this your Spring Break tip.
A narrow body of water called the Elkhorn Slough (say slew) runs through the town and it offers a few activity options for families. We rented kayaks and went with a guide who told us all about the wildlife we were seeing as we paddled. The kids were impressed (though freaked out by the jellyfish that kept swimming by our kayaks) and we were able to get pretty close to sea lions, seals, and even a river otter. Kids as young as three years-old may ride in a kayak with a parent. Make reservations in advance with Kayak Connection. For those who don't want to paddle, there's also a boat tour run by the same company.
Renowned seafood restaurant Phil's Fish Market looked quite kid-friendly when my sister and I stopped by to purchase shrimp for our dinner. They have a lively outdoor area, high chairs, and serve basics like pasta and grilled cheese in addition to fish and chips.
We had one meal out in Moss Landing, at The Whole Enchilada, where our food was delicious, but the service was terrible. We suspect they were missing some key personnel that day and will give them a pass. The atmosphere was certainly ideal for families and large groups.
Moss Landing is about 20 minutes north of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a worthwhile destination for all ages.
If you want me to plan your vacation for you, I accept that challenge. Pack your sand toys and follow my instructions:
Day One: Drive down to Santa Cruz. Spend the morning at the Boardwalk — open weekends and holidays in the winter; everyday beginning March 29, 2014 — and stop at Trader Joe's for groceries before proceeding to Moss Landing rental house. Play at the beach outside your door til dark.
Day Two: Visit Monterey Aquarium. Hit Dennis the Menace Park for some fresh air. Back to Moss Landing via Phil's Fish Market if you don't want to cook dinner.
Day Three: Kayak in the Elkhorn Slough. If someone in your party is under three, schedule the kayak ride during that person's naptime. Afterward, everyone can go to the beach or play in the jacuzzi for the rest of the day.
Day Four: Pack up the house for check out. Head over — by car — to a different section of “The Slough”, where you can walk along a boardwalk and peek into the shallow water at slimy waterlife. There is a parking lot in front of a destination called Elkhorn Slough National Research Reserve. When you're done exploring, make your way back to Hwy 1 to head home. Stop for a meal in Capitola or Santa Cruz if you can't make it all the way back to San Jose or Oakland without a break.