The quaint fishing village of Moss Landing caught my attention a few years ago as I was driving along California's Central Coast between Santa Cruz and Monterey. My wife, our two kids and I finally got to explore the area in the fall. Moss Landing, founded in the 1800s as a seaport, is at the mouth of Elkhorn Slough, one of the state's largest estuaries and home to seals, sea otters and migrating sea birds. Although the diverse wildlife stands out, so does the skyline: The Moss Landing power plant's large stacks are visible throughout the Monterey Bay area. The tab: $187 for a night at the nearby Beach Dunes Inn, $55 for a double kayak rental and $70 for dinner at Phil's Fish Market.
Accommodations are limited within Moss Landing. I wanted to stay at the Captain's Inn at Moss Landing; however, it allows only two people per room. Although that sounds romantic, it's not practical for a family of four. Our search for a hotel room with two queen beds took us on a 10-minute drive south on Highway 1 to the Beach Dunes Inn, a Best Western hotel in Marina. The hotel was basic — not a charming bed-and-breakfast inn — but it did provide the weekend's unexpected highlight: a long, sandy trail leading to a sand dune preserve overlooking the bay.
Moss Landing was quiet on a late Saturday afternoon in mid-October because seemingly everyone was at Phil's Fish Market & Eatery. Eating at Phil's is more than just about the food; it's an experience. Don't show up starving because the line can be out the door. We waited about 30 minutes before ordering, which gave us plenty of time to check out the menu. Phil's serves not only fresh seafood but also has vegetarian options and a kids' menu. I got a salmon burger with fries and coleslaw — washed down with a beer from Marina-based English Ales Brewery. From our table outside we could hear the waves crash, adding to the fun atmosphere.
Sheltered Elkhorn Slough is an ideal kayaking spot. We wanted to go on a family kayak tour, but our 2-year-old son, Gus, was too young so we rented a double kayak from Kayak Connection for my wife, Amber, and our 11-year-old daughter, Ediza, for a couple of hours. After watching a safety video and putting on their gear, Amber and Ediza paddled with jellyfish, playful sea otters and sea lions as pelicans and seagulls flew overhead. Meanwhile, I took Gus across the waterway to Moss Landing State Beach where we hung out with surfers, photographers, fishermen and kids playing in the sand. Thanks to modern technology (i.e. FaceTime), we were able to talk with Amber and Ediza and share their kayak experience.
THE LESSON LEARNED
I'm constantly reminded to be flexible and willing to adjust plans when planning a trip or traveling with kids. You might not get the hotel room or kayak trip you're seeking, but the trip can still be an adventure and a memory-making weekend escape.
Beach Dunes Inn, 3290 Dunes Drive, Marina; (831) 883-0300. Wheelchair-accessible rooms.
Phil's Fish Market & Eatery, 7600 Sandholdt Road, Moss Landing; (831) 633-2152. Wheelchair accessible.