PCS to Monterey

By Dawn Smith

montereyIf your orders to PCS have you traveling to Monterey for a short NPS school cycle or a longer duty station assignment, its best to have an understanding of the peninsula and how to navigate the cities where military typically reside, as well as the airports and lodging that are most utilized. Primarily due to proximity to military facilities and worthwhile public schools, the cities of Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel, and Pebble Beach are the most popular with PCS movers. 

The Monterey Peninsula is a heavily traveled tourist destination. The climate is so pleasant all year round that the off season isn’t really off, it’s just slightly less traveled. Be mindful of major events in the area, as they will raise airline and hotel fees substantially. 

In addition, due to the lack of adequate roadways, you’ll spend a lot of time in traffic trying to reach your destination if you arrive during events such as the annual AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am golf tournament, usually held in February. Other events to avoid are the Pebble Beach Food and Wine event and the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance.  

In addition, as you are planning your West Coast travel, I would heavily consider using a credit card with the best rates and rewards for travel. We were able to afford several of our trips because we earned free flights and hotel rooms through our airline and hotel affiliated credit cards. If you’re making the trips, you might as well get rewarded for it, right?

Lodging Suggestions in Monterey

There is not a shortage of hotels, resorts, or vacation homes in the Monterey area, but most are pricey. You will find the standard hotel and motel chains in addition to privately rented homes and luxury resorts featured in travel magazines such as Travel and Leisure. If staying in town extendedly, and particularly if you are traveling with your family, I would consider using the Navy Lodge on the military housing site of La Mesa in Monterey.

Financially, it makes the most sense and geographically it is very close to potential work site commutes. Many people ride their bikes from the lodge as well as from the neighborhood in which it is found. Some rooms have recently been renovated, but all offer stocked kitchenettes and for a fee, a few rooms accommodate pets. We stayed at the Navy Lodge for 10 days while my daughter finished school and we awaited our departure day from NPS. While it is far from luxurious and was definitely due for an upgrade, the facilities were clean, convenient, and cheap. 

An alternative lodging option can be found at the former Del Monte Hotel, now known as Herrmann Hall on NPS. The hotel is higher end and more historic than the Navy Lodge, but lacks the opportunity to bring your pet and does not offer kitchenette facilities. They do, however, have a resident peacock wandering the premises that has become the unofficial mascot of the area. We took a few trips to campus just find him and let our daughter say hello.

We were recommended a great hotel perk for military members in San Francisco. Serving all branches, the Marine’s Memorial Club and Hotel was a perfect destination for our family.  The club offers very reasonable room rates, an almost perfect location in Union Square, and a top-floor view that accentuates the friendly meals and happy hours served in the restaurant. After a nominal $35.00 fee for a year for active duty members, you are eligible not only to use the club in San Francisco, but 200 others across the country. 

Airport Options

Monterey Airport (MRY) is by far the closest and most accessible to the peninsular cities. It’s a small regional airport that is served by five airlines: Alaska Airlines, American, Allegiant, United Airlines, and US Airways. We used it several times and the convenience cannot be beat.  There are easy drop-offs and pick-ups, little traffic, simple long term parking, and minimal security line wait time. Surprisingly, there is a charming and delicious restaurant, The Fly Away Café, past the security point. Give yourself plenty of time and enjoy a piece of chocolate cake or a celebratory cocktail while awaiting your flight. 

As you probably can guess, there is a price to pay for this ease of travel. You can expect to pay at least $200.00 more than the next closest airports. We found one exception if booked far enough in advance. A trip to Phoenix as a final destination or transfer point was very reasonable and not worth the drive San José or San Francisco.  Do your best to convince your family and friends to fly into this airport, otherwise plan at least a 1.5 hour trek one way, and pray for no traffic.

Mineta San José International Airport (SJC) is the next closest airport to Monterey. We also used this airport quite a bit and I really have only positive things to say about our experiences there. A majority of the time your flights from SJC are far less expensive than from MRY, and is worth the drive. It is impressively clean, very updated or new, and easy to navigate to include all parking options. 

Many military families use their time in Monterey to make the trip to Hawaii. SJC provided consistent flights with fair market prices to several of the islands. If making a long trip such as this, I recommend finding a hotel near SJC and spending the night to start the next day fresh awaiting your long Pacific Ocean voyage.

We used the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) minimally while living in Monterey. For us, it seemed the prices in and out of SFO were not inexpensive enough to drive further north past SJC and endure even more traffic and worsening weather due to regular fog delays. However, many people we knew did use this airport, particularly to pick up East Coasters, as it tended to be the cheapest way into Monterey, but you can’t forget that drive back as it can get as bad as three hours in traffic. I will suggest this airport if you are making San Francisco a vacation point for several days while taking a day or two to house hunt in Monterey.

A final tip for transportation: A useful way to remove the drive aggravation to SJC and SFO is to employ a service out of Monterey called the Monterey Air Bus. The service provides regular routes to and from its station in Monterey to SJC and SFO. The rates range from $20.00 to $40.00 per person per one way. This service could prove very beneficial if you would incur hefty long term parking fees at either SJC or SFO. 

USO Lounges

We have just recently sought the refuge of an airport USO lounge within the last year or so, and I was glad for the experience and opportunity. As a family, we really didn’t entertain the idea of taking advantage of these outlets because we felt like they are designed for actively traveling military members and their comfort, but with a long delay looming and a small child to distract, we were glad to have the option.

We were wrong about utilizing the lounges. They are designed for families, too, and the volunteers were genuinely happy to have us each time. The snacks, toys, entertainment, and general relief from airport craziness was appreciated and we keep an eye out for them when we travel now. 

Keep these issues in mind, however: Some lounges are before security and some are after; it varies at each participating airport. At times, they aren’t worth seeking if you have to manage the security lines. Also, if you see a line of soldiers checking in, and you and your family are traveling for fun, this might be the time to pass the lounge up and let these folks use the space to rest.  

If you’re soon PCS’ing to Monterey, I wish you a safe move and hope you enjoy the area as much as my family and I did!