January 13, 2020

Ultimate Universal Studios Hollywood Food Guide

I plan trips around food and restaurants, even when going to a place like Universal Studios Hollywood in California where rides steal the show. Between roller coasters and character sightings, I wanted to make sure my family had some unique dining experiences. Here’s how we enjoyed the food at Universal Studios Hollywood!

Disclosure: I received complimentary passes to Universal Studios Hollywood in order to write about our experiences. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Don't skip planning your meals at Universal Studios Hollywood! Here's a guide to food & drink at the theme park, including what kids like, what food is great to split, and how much one of those tiki drinks cost. #UniversalStudiosHollywood #California #themepark #foodie

Where is Universal Studios Hollywood?

Universal Studios Hollywood is in Burbank, Calif. It’s a little more than 400 acres and split up between the Upper Lot and Lower Lot. You’ll find most of the eateries are located on the Upper Lot.

I’m including Universal CityWalk™ restaurants in this guide, even though you do not need a park ticket to go to them. CityWalk™ is located just outside the theme park.

Restaurant Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood & CityWalk

I discovered that whatever you are craving, you’ll find it inside and outside Universal Studios Hollywood. My plan was to visit restaurants that you could only visit at Universal, but as you’ll see below, there are a lot more restaurant chains in the area that you could visit if you’re looking for familiar and predictable.

Let’s start first with the restaurants inside the theme park.

Food at Wizarding World Of Harry Potter

This was one of my favorite ares in Universal Studios Hollywood, as I suspect is the case for most visitors. Even if you aren’t a die-hard Potterhead, you can appreciate the detail of the area.

Buildings at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood

And if you are a big fan? You’re going to love dining here. The following are the eateries you’ll find in this fantastic little space.

  • • Hog’s Head
  • • Magic Neep™ Cart (this is simply a snack cart)
  • • Three Broomsticks™

Raising young Harry Potter fans, you’d think we’d get some butterbeer™ inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but I knew from past experience, my kids would take a sip and then realize they still don’t like butterbeer.

Butterbeer truck

So we didn’t get any butterbeer™. Maybe when we’re a little older, we’ll try again.

Tip: Word is, the butterbeer™ ice cream is a must-try.

My son fought hard to get us to have lunch at Three Broomsticks™, too. But, on a warm winter day, shepherd’s pie or fish and chips just didn’t appeal to the rest of us. We’ll save that for another visit.

Candy at Honeydukes at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Whether you’re a Harry Potter fan or not (but especially if you are), head to Honeydukes to find the best selection of candies and treats.

Of course, there are Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans and chocolate frogs inside the store. But you’ll also find a dizzying assortment of unique treats, as well as more standard fare like saltwater taffy and suckers.

Candy jars at Honeydukes inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Springfield restaurants

Everyone in my family is a big “The Simpsons™” fan, so of course, we spent a lot of time in Springfield™ at Universal Studios Hollywood. Because we only had one day planned for the park, we decided to split food so we could try more things.

Families dining inside Moe's at Springfield™ at Universal Studios Hollywood

Want to dine in the world of the Simpsons characters? Here are all the eateries and bars in the part of the theme park:

  • • Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck
  • • Duff Brewery Beer Garden
  • • Krusty Burger
  • • Lard Lad Donuts
  • • Moe’s Tavern
  • • Suds McDuff’s Hot Dog House

Springfield is located in the Upper Lot of Universal Studios Hollywood.

Ordering lines at Krusty Burger at Universal Studios Hollywood in California

Despicable Me restaurants

The area at Universal Studios Hollywood dedicated to “Despicable Me” is located in the Upper Lot.

  • • Despicable Delights
  • • Gru’s Lab Café

We didn’t spend a lot of time in this part of the park, other than to ride Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. I think, had it been warmer, we would’ve visited the water area at Super Silly Fun Land, and then, we’d probably would’ve bought a snack.

Lower Lot restaurants

You won’t find a lot of dining options in the Lower Lot of Universal Studios Hollywood.

  • • Jurassic Café
  • • Panda Express
  • • Studio Café
  • • Nu-Isla Bar (tropical drinks for the 21+ crowd)

The food at Jurassic Café was the most unique (in my opinion) in the park. Dishes were inspired by Costa Rican cuisine. Caveat: If you’ve been to Costa Rica, you may be a little disappointed. Gallo Pinto is not one of the items on the menu, even if it says “rice and beans” as a side.

Tip: Tropical Twist cone at Studio Café is an instagrammable treat.

Upper Lot restaurants

I think you’re really going to enjoy the setting of some of these restaurants. If there’s one thing Universal Studios Hollywood does well, it’s transporting you to another time and place.

French Street Bistro, for instance, is found on this charming stretch that’s, well, reminiscent of France. Photo opps, by the way, are plentiful (with and without characters).

Lucille Ball look-alike spotted along the French street at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Here are the eateries you’ll find in the Upper Lot, outside of the other themed areas I mentioned earlier:

  • • Cinnabon
  • • Cocina Mexicana
  • • French Street Bistro
  • • Mel’s Diner
  • • Mulligan’s Irish Pub
  • • Palace Theatre Café
  • • Plaza Grill

Universal CityWalk restaurants

Brace yourselves. Universal CityWalk™ is an entertainment, shopping and dining complex. It is full of eye-catching neon signs, smells, and familiar brands. It’s pretty hard to walk through it without feeling hungry.

Nighttime at Universal CityWalk near Universal Studios Hollywood in California

Here are all the restaurants (as of this post going live) that are open on the CityWalk™:

  • • Antojitos (Mexican)
  • • Ben & Jerry’s
  • • Blaze Pizza
  • • Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
  • • Buca di Beppo – Italian
  • • Cinnabon
  • • Dongpo Kitchen – Sichuanese cuisine
  • • Jamba Juice
  • • Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville
  • • Johnny Rockets
  • • Karl Strauss Brewing Co.
  • • KFC Express/Pizza Hutt
  • • LudoBird
  • • Menchies (frozen yogurt)
  • • Mini Monster (tea and boba)
  • • Panda Express
  • • Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs
  • • Poke Bar
  • • Popcornopolis
  • • Samba Brazilian Steakhouse & Lounge
  • • Smashburger
  • • Sparky’s Mini Donuts
  • • Subway
  • • Taco Bell
  • • The Crepe Café
  • • Tony Roma’s
  • • VIVO Italian Kitchen
  • • VooDoo Doughnut
  • • Wasabi at CityWalk – Sushi
  • • Wetzel’s Pretzels

To get to and from our car to Universal Studios Hollywood, we had to walk along the CityWalk. On the way back, we did not manage to avoid the siren call of good food.

So we stopped at Ben and Jerry’s and bought some ice cream. You know how I am with ice cream.

Budgeting for food at Universal Studios Hollywood

Part of the fun of going to a theme park like Universal Studios Hollywood is enjoying the treats you can only find there. But, if you’re on a budget, you can’t really enjoy ALL the treats, right?

A mixed drink at Universal Studios Hollywood is a splurge.

For a family of four, assuming you aren’t bringing in a lot of your own food (more on that in a second), expect to spend about $75 on food (on the low end). Below are averages I’d estimate we spent on different items. We ended up splitting items so that we could try more things.

  • • Snacks – $5 per person per snack
  • • Pop/bottled water – $5 per person or FREE if you bring a water bottle
  • • Alcohol – $14-$20
  • • Kid’s meal – $10
  • • Adult entrée – $15-$25

We ate breakfast before entering the park and dinner after we left the park, so most of our food expenditures were for lunch and snacks.

The biggest purchase? A mixed drink at Isla-Nu Bar. It came with a souvenir tiki glass, at least.

What would be recommended splurges? That depends on what you’re a bigger fan of. We spent a lot of time browsing the food throughout the Simpsons part of the park, though, we also lingered for quite a while at Honeydukes.

Can you bring food into Universal Studios Hollywood?

The short answer is: Yes.

Browse Universal’s FAQs for more details.

However, there are restrictions. The following are allowed to come into the theme park:

  • • Bottled water (maximum 2 liters) 
  • • Small snacks 
  • • Any food required for special dietary needs 
  • • Any food required for medical purposes and medically-indicated nutritional supplements 
  • • Baby food/baby formula 
  • • Soft-sided insulated bags no larger than 8.5″ wide x 6″ high x 6″ deep

How I saved money on food at Universal Studios Hollywood

I didn’t bring snacks into the park with us on our visit (mainly because I wanted to eat all.the.food there).

Since there was a lot we wanted to try, we decided we’d do a lot of splitting of foods. First place we headed to for a snack? Springfield™. Like I said, we love the “Simpsons” show.

For a snack, the four of us split a pink donut from Lard Lad Donuts. It was really good and plenty for the four of us. It’s definitely too much for one person. At about $8, I thought it was absolutely worth it for this sugary treat.

For lunch, we ordered two chicken finger meals at Cletus’ Chicken Shack. This was a great meal to split since each came with six chicken fingers and a large portion of fries.

A few other items we split, just to try included:

  • • A Krusty Burger served at…where else? Krusty Burger. This was a good burger, and a good portion for one person. I wouldn’t recommend this one for sharing.
  • • A pork entrée at Jurassic Café. The pork was tasty, and the plantains on the side were good, but the rice and beans were a disappointment. My kids wouldn’t touch it. The café is touted as a Costa Rican café, so I was hoping for some gallo pinto as a side. These were definitely not gallo pinto rice and beans. The entree was $15.
Krusty Burger at, where else?, Krusty Burger

The best way to save money at Universal Studios Hollywood is to bring a refillable water bottle with you. Then, use those saved money from beverages to eat all the good food.

What about dietary restrictions and eating at Universal Studios Hollywood?

Turns out, Universal Studios Hollywood is on it. They have a dietary food guide that’s super helpful.

While I’m no longer a strict vegetarian, I remember the stress of trying to find substantial food. There’s a lot of it at this theme park. Here’s some of the food options I found at Universal Studios Hollywood for vegetarians (note that menus can change):

Universal Studios Hollywood Vegetarian/vegan options

Hollywood & Dine

  • • California Cheese Pizza
  • • Cheeseless Pizza (by request only – VEGAN)
  • • Sautéed Vegetables and Rice (by request only – VEGAN)
  • • Roasted Portobello Mushroom Burger served with French fries and coleslaw (VEGAN)

Mel’s Diner

  • • Veggie Burger with Hummus, served with French fries and coleslaw (skip the coleslaw to have a VEGAN meal)

Gru’s Lab Café

  • • Grilled Cheese Sandwich served with French fries and coleslaw

Cinnabon

  • • Cinnabon Roll

French Street Bistro, Studio Café and Palace Theatre Café

  • • Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwich
  • • Thai Udon Noodle Salad (VEGAN)

Three Broomsticks™

  • • Fresh Fruit Plate (breakfast only; VEGAN)
  • • Sautéed Jumbo Asparagus Platter (request VEGAN)
  • • Continental Breakfast served with croissant and scone
  • • Potato Leek Soup and Salad Plate

Luigi’s Pizza

  • • Penne Pasta with Marinara Sauce
  • • Penne Pasta with Alfredo Sauce (contains dairy)
  • • Cheese Pizza (contains cheese)
  • • Meat Hater’s Pizza (contains cheese)

Krusty Burger

  • • Mother Nature Burger served with French fries and coleslaw

Cletus’ Chicken Shack

  • • Waffle Sandwich with Veggie Burger, served with French fries and coleslaw

Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck

  • • Bumblebee Man’s Mucho Mucho Nachos served plain with cheese and vegetables

Jurassic Café

  • • Cheese Pizza (contains cheese)
  • • Caesar Salad (contains cheese and anchovies)
  • • Veggie Burger with Hummus, served with French fries and coleslaw
  • • Fresh Fruit Cup
Everything you need to know about the food at Universal Studios Hollywood in California | Guide to restaurants and how to budget for a family trip to Universal Studios Hollywood | Helpful guide answers questions about budgeting and what foods are vegetarian and vegan. #California #USA #UniversalStudiosHollywood #foodie #food #guide #familytravel

Read more about Universal Studios Hollywood

Planning a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood? There are more posts to come, including the not-to-miss experiences I recommend at the park.

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March 25, 2019

Things To Do At Point Lobos With Kids

There are a lot of things to like about Carmel-by-the-Sea – the food, the quaint architecture, the beach – but the highlight of my family’s trip to the area was Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (it’s more commonly referred to as Point Lobos State Park, and considered the “crown jewel” of the California State Park System). We wanted a place to hike that was beautiful and kid-friendly. And, bonus, it was not far from our hotel. Here are a few of the things we did the morning we went to Point Lobos:

Guide to taking kids to Point Lobos, the crown jewel of the California state park system - Kid-friendly trails, exploring the tide pools and more helpful information to plan a visit #familytravel #hiking #outdoors

Kid-friendly hiking at Point Lobos

Weather on our trip was not the greatest, so we needed to choose a short hike in case we got caught in a rainstorm. We decided to hike Cypress Grove Trail because we’d read it was picturesque and short. Perfect for our needs, right?

Things to do at Point Lobos with kids - Hike the Cypress Grove Trail
Trails are well-marked at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in California.

Most of the trail was flat, though there were some steps and boulders to climb. Nothing was too difficult for the kids, who were 7 and 9 when we did this hike.

The trail is .8 miles long and takes you through one of the two naturally growing stands of Monterey cypress trees remaining on Earth. 

If you only have an hour for the park, this is a great trail to take! If you have more time, or have other needs, review this page with suggested routes at Point Lobos.

Things to do at Point Lobos State Natural Park with kids - Hike the Cypress Grove Trail and enjoy the view
We did a little bouldering at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. This is found along the Cypress Grove Trail.

We also hiked a bit of the North Shore Trail on accident after taking a wrong turn. It’s more challenging than Cypress Grove Trail (and longer – it’s 1.4 miles). We turned around before we were too far into it.

Things to do at Point Lobos - See Old Veteran Cypress, a much-photographed old cypress tree
A view of the gnarled Old Veteran Cypress clinging to a cliff at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve near Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.

While we were on the North Shore Trail, we took the short Old Veteran Trail to get a good view of the Old Veteran Cypress, a well-known tree in the park. We also got views of sea lions, I think. I wish we’d brought binoculars to get a better visual.

Hiking tip: Dogs are not allowed on the trails, nor are bicycles.

Tide pools at Point Lobos

We nearly drove past the tide pools on our way out of the park, but I’m glad we spotted some families walking on the rocks. They caught our attention, and we wanted to go see what they were looking at.

Things to do at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve - Explore the tide pools #California
My daughter loves animals and water, so she was in absolute heaven at Point Lobos.

It was exhilarating to explore the terrain. There was an element of danger, being near the edge, but it was also a thrill for us.

Things to do at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve - Explore the tide pools
It’s a little nerve-wracking standing even a few feet from the edge.

We stayed further back than it looks, I promise!

Tip about exploring the tide pools: It’s against the law to collect shells, rocks, wood, plants, or animals at the park.

Educational opportunities at Point Lobos

When we visited on the weekend, we encountered volunteers at the Information Station near the parking lot with a display of animal pelts. The kids were able to compare the difference between an otter pelt and a sea lion.

Things to do at Point Lobos - Learn about the wildlife found at the park
My kids liked touching the animal pelts on display at Point Lobos. My daughter may have been snuggling the otter fur.

The volunteers also answered a few of our questions, like, what was the orange stuff covering the trees (answer: an algae called Trentepohlia aurea).

Things to do at Point Lobos - Learn about the trees in the park
The algae growing on the trees at Point Lobos are harmless.

There’s a Junior Rangers program for kids ages 7 to 12 that runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day Weekend. Get more details here.

The park also provides educational information online, as well as Marine Protected coloring book you can download.

Would you want to visit Point Lobos on a rainy day?

We visited Point Lobos in the winter. If you couldn’t tell from the pictures in this post, it was a dreary day when we went to Point Lobos State Park. All morning, the clouds threatened to spit rain. We ended up cutting our visit short because we knew a full-on shower was imminent.

This is what you get when you have a first-year parkour student in your family.

I wouldn’t recommend the tide pools in the wet weather, and hikes, well, they’re doable if you’re a hearty family. Check out the other things we did in the area when its as rainy, though, and you can find some good alternatives.

I read that the climate at the park remains pretty moderate year-round, with temperatures in the mid-50s to mid-60s. You’re most likely to encounter fog in the summer.

Important information about visiting Point Lobos

To plan your day at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, keep these things in mind:

Things to do at Point Lobos State Natural Park in California - Explore tide pools
The kids liked exploring the tide pools at Point Lobos.

Point Lobos hours: The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. They will not admit anybody after 6:30 p.m. There is no camping allowed.

Point Lobos costs: You will need to pay a vehicle entry fee to enter the park. It’s $10 for most. If you want a brochure, it’s $2. If you want to dive or snorkel, there are additional fees (reservation or walkup).

You can also also rent a kayak or standup paddle board for $10.

Point Lobos’ location: This California state park is pretty convenient for travelers since it is right off of Highway 1, plus it’s just about 3 miles from Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Things to do with kids at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in California - Guide to kid-friendly trails and tide pools, plus important information to know if you want to visit #California #Carmel #familytravel #outdoors

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

Taking Kids On The 17-Mile Drive

Things To Do On A Rainy Day In Monterey & Carmel-by-the-Sea

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March 11, 2019

Things To Do On A Rainy Day In Monterey & Carmel-By-The-Sea

As an outdoorsy family, the itinerary we planned for our Carmel-by-the-Sea getaway involved hikes and maybe a stroll by the ocean. We were so ready for California! And then it rained for the majority of our days there! Luckily, I had planned backup destinations for each day in case there was a downpour. If you’re planning a getaway to Carmel-by-the-Sea, or nearby Monterey, here are some indoor things you can do with kids on rainy days:

List of things to do on a rainy day in Monterey or Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. If you're planning a trip to the area, keep these indoor activities in mind!

Indoor activities near Carmel-by-the-Sea & Monterey

Carmel-by-the-Sea itself is a very attractive place for outdoor activities for families. There are beautiful parks, the beach, and strolling around the charming downtown area. When it’s rainy, though, you may want to venture to nearby towns for indoor activities.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium touch tank, located at the large aquarium in California. Visiting the aquarium is a good rainy activity if you're in Monterey.
Touching kelp and other sea creatures in a touch tank at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

While you could explore tidepools and possibly spot otters out in the wild while you’re in northern California, it’s not an enjoyable thing to do in the pouring rain. So, head indoors and find an abundance of aquatic creatures, hands-on exhibits, and play areas at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There’s one play area that explores flight using sea birds, and head to the Splash Zone for play areas for toddlers and older children.

Don’t skip the touch tanks.

Where: Monterey, Calif.

How much time there: Plan on at least 4 to 5 hours, but you could easily spend the whole day.

Cost: $$$$ (a family of four would spend about $160)


Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

Inside a room at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History in Pacific Grove, California. Visiting the museum is a good rainy activity if you're in Monterey.

The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History is a small but kid-friendly natural history museum full of displays of animals and artifacts from the region. Be sure to do the scavenger hunts – they’re a great way to explore all the exhibits, and the kids who complete one get a surprise at the end.

Where: Pacific Grove, Calif.

How much time there: About an hour, depending on if you do the scavenger hunt or not. My youngest did all three scavenger hunts so we were there perhaps longer than most families would be.

Cost: $$  (a family of four would spend about $30)


San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission

Inside the historic Basilica at San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission (commonly known as Carmel Mission) in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Visiting the mission may be a good rainy day activity if you're in Monterey.
The Carmel Mission is an important historic site in California that tourists visit, but it’s still an active parish. Keep that in mind when timing your visit. The Basilica may be occupied for a wedding or mass.

Most of the Carmel Mission and the museums connected to it are indoors (though the courtyard is the loveliest place to explore). It’s one of the state’s most important historical sites and it’s well-preserved. It was founded by Saint Junipero Serrai in the 18th century, and is the location of where he’s buried.

As far as kid-approval levels go, this one was the least favorite of all our stops and part of your visit will be spent outdoors as you go from building to building.

Where: Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.

How much time there: It’ll take you about an hour, or less

Cost: $$ (a family of four would spend about $30)


Additional rainy day activities near in Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea

I overplan things, so I had a list of additional places we could go should the weather be unbearable. Luckily, we had a few dry hours which we spent outdoors. For the places below, I included where they’re located and if there was an admission. Since I didn’t get to visit each, I can’t estimate how long you might spend there, so that was left out. However, here are the other places on my list for indoor activities:

Visit a family-friendly winery

California is famous for great wine, so how could I resist planning at least one stop to try it? While researching Carmel-by-the-Sea, I checked out winery websites and travel blogs to find places that might welcome well-behaved kids. I had two on my list that were close to Carmel-by-the-Sea: Folktale Winery & Vineyards or Cowgirl Winery. Folktale Winery was in a building that looked like a castle, so I figured that would be a nice setting to step out of the rain for a moment. We didn’t make it to either, unfortunately.

Where: Folktale Winery & Vineyards is in Carmel, Calif., and Cowgirl Winery is in Carmel Valley, Calif.

Cost: FREE to visit but tastings will likely cost you


Monterey Museum of Art

We nearly went to this art museum in Monterey because there was a day of family activities planned on the Saturday of our visit. It sounded fun and admission would’ve been FREE that day! Check the museum’s calendar to see if anything is planned during your visit. Typically, there is an admission fee for adults, but kids are FREE.

Where: Monterey, Calif.

Cost: $ (kids admitted FREE)


Highway 1 Golf, Games & Grub

Mitsubishi Outlander parked on Cannery Row in Monterey, California
You can see a sign for the Mirror Maze across the street from my car. I unwittingly took a picture of Highway 1 Golf, Games & Grub. We didn’t really go to it, I was just getting a picture of me in the Mitsubishi Outlander we drove while in California.

Cannery Row is a touristy spot right next to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and on that street, you’ll find Highway 1 Golf, Games & Grub. I was considering a visit for my family (against my better judgement…because I really don’t enjoy putt putt golf). In addition to mini golf featuring murals of the Pacific Coast, the entertainment center has arcade games, and additional activities called Lazer Challenge and Mirror Maze.

Where: Monterey, Calif.

Cost: $$$ (9 holes will cost a family of four about $36; a combo pass to do it all will cost about $96)

Monterey Youth Museum

The Monterey Youth Museum, or MY Museum, is a children’s museum in Monterey. We love visiting children’s museums, especially since we can get discounted admission, but this one looked like it skewed a little more on the younger side than what would’ve been perfect for the kids. Still, I had it on the list, just in case. If you belong to a museum that’s a part of the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM), you may be able to get half-price admission here. The Patron level membership for Omaha Children’s Museum qualifies! Find out about reciprocal membership benefits here.

Where: Monterey, Calif.

Cost: $$ (a family of four would spend about $32)

Planning a trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea or Monterey Bay? Keep these places in mind if it's a rainy day! This is a list of indoor activities that are great for all ages. #California #USA #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

Taking Kids On The 17-Mile Drive

Things To Do At Point Lobos State Park With Kids

Get Travel Inspiration Directly In Your Inbox

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

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

Things To See At Point Lobos State Park With Kids


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February 26, 2019

Dining With Kids In Carmel-by-the-Sea & Monterey

Carmel-by-the-Sea has a reputation for a charming couple’s getaway or a chic girlfriends’ escape. And it is. Oh, the wine there is ah-mazing. But, if you’re like me, you might find yourself in Carmel with a kid or two along for the ride. And you’re wondering if any restaurant in Carmel caters to families or is it all just candle-lit settings for two. I know I was a little worried about finding great places to eat that wouldn’t frown upon bringing a 7- and 9-year-old in with us. So let’s talk about dining with kids in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Heading to Carmel-by-the-Sea and nearby Monterey? Here are a selection of restaurants that were kid-friendly (and some not-so-much), plus a wine tasting room that accommodated families! #familytravel #California

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, if you make a purchase from an affiliate link, I receive a referral payment. I received gift certificates to purchase food at Lugano’s Swiss Bistro and Fifth Avenue Deli. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Things to know about dining with kids in Carmel-by-the-Sea -by-the-Sea

When planning this trip, I found only a few restaurants with kid’s menus mentioned online, and I found even fewer blog posts about family-friendly dining. So, I assumed the place was just not that accommodating to families. I was wrong.

So, one thing to note: Just because the restaurant’s website doesn’t mention a kid’s menu, they likely have one. Ask for it when you arrive.

One big thing that I was not quite ready for were the prices. I mean, I knew everything was going to be more expensive in California, of course. But even with the forethought, we didn’t have the food budget set high enough for this trip.

For the most part, expect a family of four to spend about $70 for breakfast (especially if you order coffee or juice), up to $100 for lunch, and about $150 for dinner (if you order wine).

Breakfast in Carmel-by-the-Sea

While our hotel offered a complimentary, light breakfast, I had to venture out because breakfast is my favorite meal ever (and because my kids get up at around 6 a.m., a full two hours before breakfast is served there). Carmel-by-the-Sea restaurants did not disappoint when it came to breakfast.

Tuck Box: I was pretty excited to eat at the Tuck Box because it’s so iconic in the city. How cute is that building?

Exterior of the Tuck Box in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Tuck Box was a restaurant in the most charming cottage I’ve ever seen.

The interior matches the exterior, with quaint teapots and wood paneling for décor. There was also a fireplace. We sat at the table in the storybook window. If you’re going to dine here, it’s important to know they only accept cash.

Tuck Box interior photo
We arrived shortly after Tuck Box opened for the day, and enjoyed breakfast in a dining room all to ourselves.

This was one place without a kid’s menu, but being breakfast, it wasn’t a big issue. Both kids had a waffle and they split a side of bacon.

Before our plates came out, my husband and my fresh scones were brought to the table. Try the fresh whipped cream marmalade, including lalaberry which is only grown in California.

Tuck Box scones
The scones were served with fresh preserves and marmalade.

From Scratch Restaurant: Another great breakfast spot was From Scratch Restaurant, which was featured in an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.” Expect a wait here. They were pretty accommodating for our family. My daughter had a bit of a meltdown and one waiter stopped by our table to give her a cute keychain toy (plus one for her brother).

The kid’s menu is decent, and the full menu is ample. I tried the biscuits and gravy that Guy Fieri had – it was delicious. The kids had a ginormous chocolate chip pancake with fresh fruit, plus a side of eggs. From Scratch’s menu was for breakfast and lunch, and kid’s meals ranged from $7.45 to $8.95.

The kid’s pancake is huge at From Scratch in Carmel.

A third place that I can’t vouch for the food, but can say the coffee was the best is called Carmel Belle. Even just plain, black coffee was oh-so-good.

Lunch & Dinner in Carmel-by-the-Sea & Monterey

We had a lot of plans for picnics on hikes and, well, the rainy weather put an end to that dream. There wasn’t much dining al fresco during this trip.

Fifth Avenue Deli: The plan was to grab food from Fifth Avenue Deli in Carmel-by-the-Sea, and then head out for a picnic. It was a short walk from our hotel. We did get our picnic food, but ended up just eating it back at the hotel, since as I said, it rained. A lot. The deli also has a selection of wine, in case you needed a bottle or two for your picnic (at the hotel).

Deli counter at Fifth Avenue Deli in Carmel-by-the-Sea
You can order sandwiches, deli salads, a a few prepared dishes to warm up at Fifth Avenue Deli in Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s a good choice for stocking a picnic basket.

Baja Cantina Grill & Filling Station: I really wanted to like Baja Cantina Grill more than I did. It was a fun looking place, with quirky décor. However, the food was only so-so.

The décor is a lot of fun here, though, so it proves a lot to look at while you wait for your food. It’s all race cars, motorcycles and related movie memorabilia here. There is a kid’s menu.

Interior of Baja Cantina Grill & Filling Station in Carmel-by-the-Sea
The decor at Baja Cantina Grill & Filling Station was all-things-cars.

Lalla Grill: This restaurant on Cannery Row in Monterey had the best view of the trip. The kid’s menu had a nice variety, and I enjoyed my salad. Kid’s entrees included grilled salmon, steak, a Kobe kid’s burger, as well as the usual stuff like macaroni and cheese and chicken tenders. Prices ranged from $3 to $9 for kids.

Ocean view at Lalla Grill in Monterey Bay, California
How’s this for a view? We had lunch at Lalla Grill the afternoon we went to Monterey Bay Aquarium. It was a fairly long walk between the aquarium and restaurant, but worth it.

Ghirardelli: And a little tip for those with a sweet tooth, Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop is located between Lalla Grill and Monterey Bay Aquarium in Cannery Row. We spent the morning at the aquarium, walked to Lalla Grill for lunch, returned to the aquarium for another two hours, and then for a late-afternoon snack, we walked back to Ghirardelli. Heads up: You get a free square of chocolate just entering Ghirardelli.

Ghirardelli Ice Cream in Monterey, California located in Cannery Row
Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop has a small patio in the rear of the restaurant where you can sit and watch people walk the beach.

Abalonetti Bar and Grill: This Old Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant came recommended to us by the guy pouring the wine at a wine tasting room. (He pronounced it Abolonetti as “Apple and Eddies”). We all had fish and chips (or shrimp and chips) for lunch. It was fine, but not outstanding. Kid’s meals were all $7.95, with the usual fried seafood options (fish, calamari or popcorn shrimp), plus a few non-seafood choices like linguine and marinara, corn dog, and hamburger.

Antipasto bar at Abalonetti Bar & Grill in Monterey, California
Abalonetti Bar & Grill at Old Fisherman’s Wharf had an antipasto bar, which we didn’t actually dine from because my kids wouldn’t go near it.

Tip: As you walk the wharf, you can sample several chowders for free. It’s almost a meal itself.

La Biciclette Restaurant: This Carmel bistro came highly recommended to us. La Biciclette is super charming, and what I’d picture as an ideal date spot. Think like a small, French bistro (and when you walk in, you briefly think, “Maybe I shouldn’t bring my kids here.”). There’s no kid’s options, but there are pizzas on the menu, so you’re not totally out of luck if you bring kids with you. Still, this one I wouldn’t necessarily say is the best choice. 

Squash and Speck pizza at La Biciclette in Carmel-by-the-Sea
The Squash & Speck pizza I ordered with my husband was delicious and topped with arugula, squash and prosciutto to ensure no kid would ask for a slice.

Lugano’s Swiss Bistro: Fondue makes for a fun night out with the kids, don’t you think? Lugano’s Swiss Bistro is decked out like a Swiss chalet, and the menu is features Swiss food in addition to the fondue.

Dining room at Lugano's Swiss Bistro in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Lugano’s Swiss Bistro is resembles a chalet in Europe.

The night we went, I wasn’t feeling up for fondue, though, so I had the schnitzel – it was superb. If you do think you’ll want to order fondue, note that there didn’t appear to be kid’s prices for fondue.

Ask for a kid’s menu when you arrive. I’m not sure why they didn’t just offer us the kid’s menu to begin with. If you were hoping for “Swiss” kid’s food options, you will be disappointed. It’s pretty standard kid’s menu fare – pepperoni pizza, chicken nuggets and hamburgers. My son order the frankfurter, which looked like a hot dog to me. Prices were the most reasonable for kid’s meals, between $5.95 and $6.95.

Sur Restaurant: We weren’t planning on going to Sur, but we ended up there when most of Carmel-by-the-Sea was without power and our first choice had a two-plus hour wait. Our waiter didn’t seem pleased to have us, for some reason. Anyway, at least there was a kid’s menu there. The kid’s entrees were pretty standard with grilled cheese, chicken tenders and a cheeseburger, plus a few more unique options like calamari strips and flatbread cheese pizza. Prices for kids ranged from $8.50 to $12.50.

Wish we left room for dessert – they serve arctic bonbons, these chocolate dipped vanilla ice cream balls served over a basket of dry ice.

From Scratch, Lugano’s Swiss Bistro, and Sur Restaurant are located in a shopping center called The Barnyard. It’s a nice place to walk around, with small fountains and a ton of plants. The Barnyard is not in the area of Carmel-by-the-Sea where all the famous architecture is, so it’s not a walkable distance from most hotels.

Wine tasting on a family trip

If you’re curious about wineries and wine tasting rooms (because there are several in town, and the wineries are nearby), I’m sorry to say we didn’t go to many. I had two wineries in mind that I’d read were welcoming to families (I included them on My Carmel-by-the-Sea Bucket List).

Wine tasting room at Dawn's Dream in Carmel-by-the-Sea
My kids happily colored in the coloring books provided (and played on their iPad) at the Dawn’s Dream’s tasting room.

Carrie, the owner at Hofsas House, said most wine tasting rooms are kid-friendly as they’re not technically bars. We stopped at the tasting room or Dawn’s Dream Winery in Carmel-by-the-Sea. There were couches in a corner with a stack of coloring books, so we felt fine letting the kids entertain themselves why we tried the Chardonnay and Pinor Noir.

Restaurants that are family-friendly in Carmel-by-the-Sea & Monterey #California #USA #familytravel

Plan your Carmel-by-the-Sea trip!

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

Taking Kids To Carmel-by-the-Sea

Hofsas House Hotel: A Family-Friendly Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Taking kids on the 17-Mile Drive 

Rainy day activities in Carmel

Things To Do At Point Lobos State Park With Kids

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Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

February 18, 2019

Hofsas House Hotel: A Family-Friendly Hotel in Carmel

Dreaming of a California getaway away from a big city? How about a storybook of a town by a beach? My family took a winter getaway to Carmel-by-the-Sea (Carmel for short) – you’ll have to read about all the things we did! This post is about where we stayed in Carmel-by-the-Sea: The Hofsas House Hotel.

Looking for a hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea that's good for kids? Check out this review of the family-friendly Hofsas House Hotel. #California #Carmel #familytravel

Disclosure: Our stay was hosted by Hofsas House Hotel. Some of our expenses were comped and some were not.

About Hofsas House Hotel

This Bavarian themed inn is one of the oldest in Carmel. What started as a few cottages in the 1940s, expanded in the 1950s to an additional 25 rooms and a pool. The hotel has been a family-run hotel since the beginning. If you visit now, you’ll likely to meet Carrie Theis, granddaughter of the hotel’s founder.

Entrance to the Hofsas House
The Hofsas House, with its distinct Bavarian style, is one of the oldest inns in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.

No two rooms are decorated alike (as Carrie told me, “We like color.). Some are suites, and great for families. Our suite had a private balcony with a sliver of a view of the ocean and fireplace (request room 40 if that sounds good to you).

A wine and cheese package at the Hofsas House Hotel. The wine was from Scheid Vineyard, not too far from Carmel-by-the-Sea.

The hotel offers some packages that can get you golfing or relaxing in a spa, as well as in-room packages like wine and cheese pairing (which I believe I had in our room upon our arrival thanks to our gracious host). You can bet I enjoyed a glass out on our balcony that first night!

What kids will like at Hofsas House

There aren’t many hotels in Carmel with pools, so right away, this one is put above others. It’s a heated pool, so you can swim most any time of the year. Which my kids did. We arrived at the end of January and they went to the pool straight away.

Heated outdoor pool at Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
The pool at Hofsas House Hotel is heated, so you can swim in it year-round.

And in case you were wonder, it was a balmy 60-ish degrees there. If you’re expecting Southern California winters, you would be mistaken.

There’s also a dry sauna at the hotel. I guess that one’s more for us parents.

If your child is actually a fur-baby, you’ll be happy to know they are welcomed.

The welcome mural at Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
The mural by artist Maxine Albro is one of the first things you see when you arrive at Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The artist painted three pictures in the lobby, and the headboard found in the hotel’s Room 47.

What parents will like at Hofsas House Hotel

Let’s be real: The suites are made for families like mine. The hotel has several two-bedroom suites providing ample space for a family to spread out and relax. The kids could watch one TV in their sleeping area, while we could go to our room and watch too.

Our suite included two rooms and two bathrooms. This space here included two day beds, which were great for the kids; a fireplace; and a small kitchenette you can’t see pictured. The second room in the suite had a king-size bed and one of the bathrooms.

Our suite had a small kitchenette, two bathrooms, a separate room with a king-size bed, and a private balcony. Nice, right?

Regrettably, we had terrible weather, so we could only sit on the balcony one evening. You could see a patch of the ocean from our balcony.

Here’s the view from our Room 40 balcony at Hofsas House. Off in the distance, you can see the Pacific Ocean.

There is a fridge in the room, making it convenient to bring some of your own food (if budgeting is important).

Hofsas House serves a complimentary breakfast each morning with fresh pastries, fruit, and yogurt. You can dine by the fireplace in the little lobby or take it back to your room (or balcony, right?).

I’ve got a big appetite at breakfast, so it was not a substantial by my standards (I mean, I ate the Triple D breakfast at From Scratch).

Other freebies parents will like:

  • The hotel also offers free, off-the-street parking. We lucked out and had a covered spot, which was great since it rained a lot while we were there.
  • Free Wi-Fi

What’s near the hotel?

Hofsas House is within walking distance to all of the cute shops and galleries in Carmel-by-the-Sea, as well as restaurants. You’ll want to just walk around one afternoon while you’re there to take it all in.

A block of shops in cottage-like buildings near the hotel. Most streets near the Hofsas House Hotel were lined with charming buildings like this and a lot of trees.

To give you a sample of things that are just one block away, there’s a Dr. Seuss art gallery, the restaurant Hog’s Breath Inn, and a book store called The Pilgrim’s Way Books & Gifts (which is right next to the most enchanting-looking walkway leading to the Secret Garden).

Fountain in a courtyard in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
A courtyard garden we found just walking around Carmel-by-the-Sea.

And a dozen more clothing shops and galleries and restaurants in that same block.

A little further, like three or four blocks away, you’ll more kid-friendly things places to visit. Some of the ones that appealed to my kids included Thinker Toys, a toy shop, and the Cottage of Sweets, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Exterior of the Cottage of Candy in Carmel-by-the-Sea California
If this isn’t the cutest candy shop, I don’t know what is. This is the Cottage of Candy on Ocean Avenue, between Lincoln and Monte Verde streets.

Carmel Beach is about an 8-block walk. The owner of the hotel warned us about the “healthy hill” on the way back. It is indeed quite the hill to trek back up! Keep that in mind if you have young ones.

Carmel Beach California at sunset
If the sunset promises to be beautiful, you’ll find quite a few people waiting at the Carmel Beach to witness it. The beach, and this view, is within walking distance from Hofsas House Hotel.

If you’ve got a car, there’s a whole lot more within a few minute’s drive. Skip down to the “Plan your Carmel trip” section to read about a few of them.

Pastry display at Carmel Coffee House & Roasting Co.
There was something about the window display at Carmel Coffee House & Roasting Co. that caught the attention of my kids on one of our walks.

If you go

Hofsas House Hotel

Where: San Carlos Street, north of Fourth Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. (the quirky thing about the town is that there are no addresses, just street coordinates)

Website

Kid-friendly hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California | Review of the rooms, the pool & what's near the Hofsas House Hotel. #California #Carmel #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:

Guide to Carmel-by-the-Sea With Kids

Dining with kids in Carmel

Taking kids on the 17-Mile Drive 

Rainy day activities in Carmel

Things To Do At Point Lobos State Park With Kids


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