It’s been difficult for me to keep this series of travel posts local as traveling tends to take us away from home, right? Well, this time I’m getting down to business and doing my best to bring a little Salinas to the conversation.
Salinas does, in fact, have its own airport. Although it hosts a pretty awesome airshow at the end of September each year, it does not host commercial flights. So, unless you have a private jet, there is a slim chance you’ll ever be able to experience the convenience of catching a flight out of your backyard-a sad fact for those of us traveling with children and desiring the least amount of travel time possible.
Our reasonable airport options tend to narrow down to four nearby locations, each with their own pros and cons. Here’s my own quick ranking:
1. Monterey Regional Airport
- It’s close! Only a thirty-ish minute drive, although it is highway 68, so be sure to account for traffic at rush hours and during events at Laguna Seca!
- It’s less crowded! Less people means shorter lines to check-in and at security, which in turn means less time waiting with antsy kids. Added bonus: Security agents and employees are less overwhelmed, making them more accommodating (in my experience), especially for parents with cute babies and all the gear that accompanies them.
- They have some tasty eats for while you wait! The Fly Away Cafe offers sandwiches, snacks and coffee on the secured side of the airport. There is also a gift shop with reasonably priced packaged snacks and other goods- this also doubles as a somewhat interesting place to kill some time before your flight. If you’re looking for something more substantial and maybe a little fancier, The Golden Tee is the airport restaurant that, according to their website, is well-known for their Sandabs, Prime Rib and Calamari.
- It’s small! Less of an airport to navigate means more time to get to your gate and relax, and perhaps even more comforting, a more manageable area to keep track of roaming children.
- Flights are limited. Like any regional airport, there are only so many flights available to only so many places. So, unfortunately, it is not always a viable or budget-friendly option.
- As mentioned above, it is a short drive, but it is on highway 68, which can be a pain on those few busy times of the weekday and when events are occurring at the Laguna Seca Racetrack. Some decent planning usually makes up for this.
2. San Jose Airport
- Kind of a middle-of-the road pick. Not humongous, but also not so small that you can’t usually find the flight you need.
- Southwest flies out of here, so you can usually find some good deals when they have their sales.
- Relatively easy to navigate. Their terminal gates are situated in one big line, so you don’t need a shuttle or a PhD in Cartography to get around. Basically, once you get through security, you just walk either left or right to get where you’re going.
- Good eats/gift shops. They have several good places to get food while you wait, even a Pizza My Heart! And several of the usual gift shops/news stands which always offer at least a few minutes of distraction for little ones.
- There are several hotels in the surrounding area that offer shuttle services to the airport. So, if you decide to drive up the night before, you can usually leave your car at the hotel for a fee and get a shuttle to the airport. No need to worry about driving or parking the day of your trip- a good option for morning flights and may make it easier for planning around nap time. Here’s a whole list of hotels that offer shuttles.
- The drive. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to get to the San Jose airport from Salinas- and that’s without traffic. Unfortunately, there’s usually traffic. And, if you have a baby that screams in his car seat for the entirety of a traffic jam, it may be worth an extra few bucks to fly out of Monterey if you can.
- Security can be busy at times. As with any airport, if you happen to be flying out at a busier time, you may end up standing in line for a little while. In my experience, the lines are still manageable, but you always want to give yourself some extra time just in case.
3. San Francisco Airport
- Lots of flights, lots of availability means lots of flexibility. You have a greater chance of finding a flight at a time that works best for your family, whether that be a flight in the morning when everyone is in a good mood, or a red-eye that ensures that everyone will be asleep. Not to mention, you can usually find a non-stop flight to wherever you’re going, which was essential for us. We didn’t want to be stuck sitting in a mid-west airport for two hours with a cranky baby.
- Crazy awesome resources! I was not aware of all they had to offer for people traveling with babies and children until I did a little research. The list includes private nursing rooms, nap rooms, family security lines, stores with baby items, restaurants with kid’s menus, play areas and yoga/reflection rooms for stressed out parents (haha!). There are even self-guided tours, museums and libraries about the airport for your older children to enjoy. The Airtrain would also be a fun “ride” for kids in addition to transport around the terminals. Check it all out here.
- Busy and crowded. The moment we stepped through the door of that airport with our stroller, my blood pressure went through the roof. We could barely make it over the threshold of the door without being run over by people trying to make their flights on time. I’m sure this varies based on the time of day and airline and whatnot, but I’d say expect and plan for a crowded terminal and maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find otherwise. Get there 2-3 hours ahead of time (maybe even longer for international flights), especially if you have to check baggage or car seats. Lines are often long for check-in and security. (Maybe take advantage of those yoga and nap rooms once you get through security to decompress!)
- The drive. Ugh… this commute can be painful. It’s probably about an hour to an hour and a half without traffic. Tack on the extra 2-3 hours of time in the airport before your flight and you’ve just potentially added the time it takes for a cross-country flight to your travel day. Not fun with grumpy kids and especially not fun with a baby that requires several naps throughout the day. My suggestion is to stay at a hotel the night before, especially if you have an early morning flight! Similar to the San Jose Airport, catch a shuttle to the airport to take some of the stress off your travel day. Also check out the Monterey Airbus for both SJO and SFO. They pick up at several locations around the county. It can get a little pricey at $37-$52 per person and make timing a little difficult, but may be worth it to take the stress of driving out of the picture.
4. Oakland Airport
Unfortunately, I’ll have to update this post once we actually travel through this airport. I’ve only ever arrived at this airport once and that was many a year ago. The fact that I don’t remember it much may be a good thing as there was nothing particularly bad about it. In terms of resources, according to their website, they have those Mamava private nursing pods throughout the airport. I appreciate them taking nursing mothers into some consideration! Other than that, I’ll have to get back to you!
Feel free to comment below and share any experiences or suggestions you may have had traveling to and out of these airports!