March 7, 2019

Taking Kids On The 17-Mile Drive

If you’ve been planning a trip to Monterey or Carmel-by-the-Sea, chances are good you’ve heard about the 17-Mile Drive and Pebble Beach. While I was planning for our visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea, the questions that I had about 17-Mile Drive loomed:

  1. Should we pay to drive this road when surely every turn in Monterey County must be scenic?
  2. Is this something kids would like?

Well, we did the trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea and we navigated (most of) 17-Mile Drive. So, let’s look into things how that worked out for our family, which included two kids under the age of 10.

Wondering what's the 17-Mile Drive and will kids like it? Read this post to find out about stops on the route that kids may like and if it's really worth playing the admission fee. #California #familytravel

What’s the 17-Mile Drive

The 17-Mile Drive is exactly what it sounds like: A drive that’s 17 miles long. It also happens to be a beautiful drive, and so beautiful, tourists flock to drive it. Each year, more than 1.5 million people drive the route.

There is a $10.25 fee to drive it, and there are various entrances along the route. If you spend at least $35 at any of the Pebble Beach restaurants, they’ll reimburse you.

When to go on the 17-Mile Drive

I was saving this drive for a sunny day on our trip. Rain was in the forecast every day of our trip, though, so I had all but decided not to do the drive. And then I changed my mind. It spit rain through most of the drive and it was cold, being winter and all. Once the rain picked up, we decided to cut the drive short.

Trees at Huckleberry Hill, one of the stops on the 17-Mile Drive in California
The view at Huckleberry Hill, one of the stops on the 17-Mile Drive. This was taken in early February, so thanks to rain, it’s pretty green there. The story behind Huckleberry Hill is that the writers  writers Robert Louis Stevenson and John Steinbeck were said to frequent it.

So, late January/early February isn’t exactly ideal to go, but it was not very crowded, at least.

What is there for kids to see and do?

The good thing is that along with your entry fee, you’re given a guide with a map. They gave us two so our kids could follow along. You can download the app, too.

There are 17 of stops on the route. Some how places for picnics or walking paths.

Huckleberry Hill trail on the 17-Mile Drive in California
Our first stop on our 17-Mile Drive route was Huckleberry Hill. The kids found some interesting mushrooms, but other than that, the trail didn’t lead them too far.

We started from the Highway 1 Gate and drove north first to start at No. 1 on the map. That meant we could drive counter-clockwise and have our car be on the lane closest to the water.

Being the water babies that they are, my kids’ favorite stop was Spanish Bay Beach. They played in the cold waves, looked for rocks and shells, and chased after birds. The sand is soft there (and wet, because, remember, it was spitting rain). The large boulders by the parking lot invited lots of people to stack them. There were surfers to watch, and plenty of waterfowl.

Rainy day at Spanish Bay Beach found along the 17-Mile Drive in California
My daughter loves the water, even in the winter, so she enjoyed our rainy stop along the 17-Mile Drive at Spanish Bay Beach. The beach got its name from the Spanish explorers who stayed at the beach in 1769 while trying to find Monterey Bay. It took them a year to find the right bay.

Incidentally, Spanish Bay is the home to a daily Scottish bagpipe performance. The bagpiper plays rain or shine starting at the first tee at The Links at Spanish Bay in front of STICKS, and finishes 45 minutes later at the Spanish Bay fire pits by the second green. During Daylight Saving Time, this performance starts at around 5:45 p.m; otherwise it starts a half hour before sunset.

While at Seal Rock Creek, you can explore tide pools and take a walk the boardwalk to the interesting looking, and aptly named, Gingerbread House.

By the time we made it to the Lone Cypress (Stop 12), the kids were bored. They didn’t even get out of the car. From all that I’ve read, the Lone Cypress is the most iconic and most photographed place in the area (and only midpoint in our journey). There were definitely more people at this stop than any other.

Lone Cypress, a 250-year-old Monterey Cypress Tree found on the 17-Mile Drive in California
We found the biggest crowd of all the stops at the Lone Cypress. It’s an iconic spot in California, which means a lot of selfies to be taken.

The Lone Cypress is believed to be at least 250 years old. It’s one of the most photographed trees in the world. Would I drive this whole route just to see it? No.

Is it worth paying to drive it?

Well, sure. It’s beautiful. You’ll pass eight golf courses during your drive, including the storied Pebble Beach Golf Links. You might also see some animals. And the Lone Cypress is kinda cool to see. All in all, it’s nice.

But truthfully, don’t go on a rainy day. It doesn’t have to be warm, but the rain is a drag. If you’re wanting to take pictures and walk around, it’s just not going to be enjoyable in the rain.

And if you’re not into paying for something “nice,” then skip it and just drive around the rest of Monterey County. The whole region is gorgeous.

Can you bike it?

Yes. There is a bike lane. I wouldn’t bike it with my kids, as it is narrow, or at least, looks narrow. I’d bike it if it were just me and my husband. If you bike, you don’t have to pay the entry fee. But you have to bike 17 miles. And it can be a little hilly in some areas.

What about dining with kids on the 17-Mile Drive?

There are a few picnic areas in pretty scenic spots, which is what I’d recommend. The hotels have several dining options but I couldn’t ascertain if any were kid-friendly or not. Online menus were no help – none listed kid’s meals, at least.

Here are some family-friendly restaurants that are nearby, located either in Monterey or Carmel-By-The-Sea.

What to expect on the 17-Mile Drive in California | Find out if it's worth the admission fee and what stops kids will like the most. #California #PebbleBeach #familytravel

Plan your Carmel trip!

Want to plan a Carmel-by-the-Sea getaway? Start with this Carmel Bucket List, and then read through these posts for more ideas:

Taking Kids To Carmel, California

Hofsas House Hotel: A Family-Friendly Hotel in Carmel

Dining with kids in Carmel

Rainy day activities in Carmel

5 Amazing Things To See At Point Lobos State Park – March 25


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