Monterey 1Lots of beautiful and famous travel destinations have frugal family activities if you just know where to look and the Monterey Peninsula is just one such place. My family settled in the Carmel and Monterey Peninsula area four generations back and I was raised there, so I’d like to think I know the area’s hidden treasures better than most. Just under three hours from Sacramento, a day jaunt to the Monterey Peninsula won’t break the bank.

Frugal Family Activities in California
One frugal favorite that’s free and continues to excite and inspire is a hike or drive through Point Lobos State Reserve. With its private coves, beaches, trails, and awe inspiring views, this historical beauty is unparalleled. You will be captivated by flora and fauna at Point Lobos in a way that cannot be duplicated anywhere else on earth. When I was a teenager, I loved riding my bike through this gem and now my kids love the same.

Laura142Point Sur Lightstation is another place to visit that is beautiful and inexpensive to visit. You can take a tour of a piece of California history that sits 361 feet above the surf. It is the only 19th century light station on the west coast open to the public. Point Pinos Lighthouse is located at the most northern tip of the Monterey Peninsula and its beacon has shone since 1855; another great place to explore.

Free or Almost Free Things to Do
There are plenty of free or almost free things to do in the area. Renting paddle boats on Lake El Estero has been a favorite for generations and while you are there, plan to spend an hour or take a picnic lunch to Dennis the Menace Park, another generational favorite of unique slides, bridges and climbing walls. And yep, free.

Why not play tennis at the beautiful and historic tennis courts in the Carmel Woods nestled amongst majestic pines. Again—free! But I’d be a wealthy woman if I had a dollar for every game I played there during my childhood. It’s truly a gorgeous hidden gem so you rarely have to wait for a court and you’ll likely never play tennis on such a beautiful tennis court again.


Laura257Take a hike to the Indian grinding rocks or majestic waterfalls at Garland Regional Park in Carmel Valley. Yes, again free! Or take in a play or musical performance at the Forest Theater in Carmel where the magic of theater comes alive outdoors while you sip apple cider, staying warm by gigantic bonfires as the mysterious fog envelops the cypress and pines around the stage. You can even bring your own wine and cheese like the locals do. (for mom and dad of course) I remember acting on that unique stage when I was 12. It hasn’t changed a bit.

Of course there are always standard favorites such as sailing and fishing charters, diving, surfing, golfing and other typical, more expensive, pastimes of the Monterey Peninsula. But if you’re looking to take a low key, relaxing, one tank day getaway without spending a fortune, the Monterey Peninsula actually has lots of free and frugal family fun that won’t break the bank.

Carmel L. Mooney is the editor of, an online travel magazine. Carmel co-hosts a travel radio show every Sunday at noon on KJAY 1430 AM in Sacramento. Her family travel column can be read in California Kids Magazine at: You can follow her on Twitter: @roadtriplover or Facebook. Carmel is also the Executive Director of Pawsitive Service Dog Solutions, a non-profit that trains and places Autism Service Dogs. You can read her service dog blog at: