4. Nature adventures: Kids love the Monterey Peninsula
California's Monterey Peninsula easily lures kids away from the hotel room's cable cartoons. Not to diss SpongeBob SquarePants, but even the denizens of Bikini Bottom can't compete with sharks, jellyfish, and penguins at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Take a boat to view gray whales, paddle close to sea otters and egrets in Elkhorn Slough, take a drive down the beautiful Big Sur coast, or walk moody Point Lobos, just south of Carmel, which helped inspire Treasure Island. Enjoy insanely good pancakes at First Awakenings and the peanut butter and other cakes at Rosine's ― cakes so good, so vast, they'll become lodged as a childhood memory right alongside the penguins. ― Peter Fish
INFO: Monterey is 70 miles south of San Jose.
Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau. 888/221-1010.
Big Sur. Follow State 1 south to the world's most beautiful coastline. Don't miss Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and McWay Falls. Big Sur Chamber of Commerce, 831/667-2100.
Cycling. Ride the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail. Rent bicycles ($6 per hour) and 4-wheel surreys (from $18 per hour) at Adventures by the Sea (four locations; 831/372-1807).
Kayaking. Monterey Bay Kayaks leads beginner-friendly guided tours. From $40, from $20 ages 3-6, reservations required; 800/ 649-5357.
Monterey Bay Aquarium. The best in the nation. 10-6 daily; $22, $13 ages 3-12. 886 Cannery Row, Monterey; www.montereybayaquarium.org or 831/648-4888.
Whale watching. Spring trips from $20. For outfitters, visit www.montereyinfo.org or call 888/221-1010.
LODGING & DINING
First Awakenings. Great breakfast joint. $; open daily. 125 Ocean View Blvd., Pacific Grove; 831/372-1125.
Hotel Pacific. Suites near downtown; big continental breakfast. From $189. 300 Pacific St., Monterey; www.hotelpacific.com, 800/554-5542, or 831/373-5700.
Hula's Island Grill and Tiki Room. Fresh seafood and pupus. $$; lunch Tue-Fri, dinner daily. 622 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey; 831/655-4852.
Monterey Bay Lodge. Family suites and pool near Dennis the Menace Park. From $84. 55 Camino Aguajito, Monterey; www.montereybaylodge.com, 800/558-1900, or 831/372-8057.
Rosine's. Good salads, burgers, and wonderful cakes. $$; open daily. 434 Alvarado St., Monterey; 831/375-1400.
Travel tip: Be sure to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium right at its opening (10 a.m.) to beat spring break crowds.
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