Road trips are fun. We recently returned from a 500-mile route in the EV and a great time was had by all.

We spent 5-days / 4-nights on the road, visited an aquarium, an amusement park, and a few beaches, and had some delicious sushi and greek cuisine.

Travel hacking was involved, naturally. All 4 hotel nights were “free” and we spent ~$0 on fuel.

Let’s explore.

A Coastal Road Trip

2 nights in Santa Cruz and another 2 nights in Monterey is just what the doctor ordered for a bit of relaxation.

Jr was excited to hit up the boardwalk amusement park and we had heard good things about the Monterey aquarium.

It’s a bit of a drive from the Sacramento area so we stopped for a bite at Din Tai Fung in Santa Clara, which is delicious in its own right but doubly so when you are missing a bit of Taiwanese food. The great thing about this particular DTF is there is a bank of EV chargers just outside so you can charge the car and the body at the same time.

In Santa Cruz we stayed at the Hotel Paradox using two Marriott Bonvoy free night certificates. It was interesting. Marriott lists it as a Category 6 hotel but it is a Cat 4 at best imho. It feels like one of those roadside motels from old horror films, but they hired a fancy designer to spiff it up a bit so they could charge 3x the price (seems to be ~$250-$300/night most days.) The designer did nice work – the front desk was beautiful and the features carried throughout the hotel.

Hotel Paradox Lobby – super cool front desk from an old tree (photo from hotel website)

Normally a Cat 6 hotel cannot be booked with a 35k-point free night certificate, but for the month of June it was available for off-peak pricing. (Although they do charge $10/night for parking which is weird as they have a massive mostly-empty parking lot.)

We opted for the breakfast benefit as our Platinum amenity but only ate in the hotel the first day because it was terrible – bad watery coffee, things served cold, soft things were crunchy and vice versa…. just bad. All of the hotel staff was super friendly though and the kids loved the check-in experience – they have a pirate treasure chest kids get to pull a gift from. Jr got one of those sticky rubber hands which is now hanging from the ceiling in our family room.

We spent most of our 2 days near the water. Grandma and cousins joined us at the boardwalk for a day. Jr is now tall enough to go on nearly all the rides and did so nonstop until closing time.

The Boardwalk amusement park is actually really nice – parents and non-riders can enjoy the coast and weather at no cost, with payment required only for the riders.

A favorite restaurant in the area: The Buttery (for those with a sweet tooth)

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Capitola beach

Skate park with a full pipe!

Roaming the Boardwalk

Next we continued south to Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Here we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Cannery Row using 2 IHG free night certificates. This hotel was great! I’m a big fan of Holiday Inn Express in general because of the free coffee that actually tastes good but the whole hotel was really nicely done. First they have free parking which seemed unique for the area. This was super convenient because we were able to walk to the aquarium, nearby restaurants, and the water front. (Retail pricing during our stay was ~$300/night.)

A favorite restaurant in:

Holiday Inn Express Monterey-Cannery Row (photo from hotel website)

In Monterey we spent a whole day at the aquarium. It was nice and the kids enjoyed seeing the numerous creatures. Personally, having been to some pretty epic aquariums in Japan, this place seemed over-hyped and overpriced… it was still a nice day but it will probably be our only visit. (The jellyfish were nice.)

It’s a Jelly

The next day we walked around Carmel-by-the-sea and played at the beach. The city zoning board seems to wield some super powers which makes the place feel a bit touristy… which creates a good business for a wide variety of restaurants and markets.

Carmel by the sea

The beach area is very nice and may be my favorite beach south of San Francisco. The sand is very fine and the views are spectacular. I think we have become accustomed to warmer weather so light jackets and sweaters were in order, but we weren’t the only beachgoers dressed in warmer garb.

Nice trees

Beach Time

The Drive in an EV

In total we drove a bit less than 500 miles. Our EV gets about 3 miles per kWH. With at-home charging rates of ~$0.10/kWH, that is roughly the same as paying $1.00 for a gallon of gas (at 30 mpg.)

However… since we got 3 years of free charging with our vehicle purchase we actually paid nothing for fuel for the entire trip.

One of the more common critiques about EV road tripping that I see is that charging is inconvenient and time consuming. It takes roughly 30 minutes to charge the battery from 20% to 80% at a high-speed public charger, which is significantly longer than it takes to pump some gas. Nobody wants to hang out at some random charging station for 30 minutes. Or do they?

Another critique is that there aren’t a bunch of high-speed public chargers at every major intersection so charging actually requires some forethought. Planning is hard. (Although there is an app for that.)

Personally I haven’t noticed any inconvenience or significant use of time to charge whilst road tripping.

Our 1st charging session of this trip was at the Westfield Mall in Santa Clara, just outside the Din Tai Fung restaurant. When we were done eating the car was fully charged and ready to go – basically a valet refueling situation. Super lux, I know. Making a plan to re-charge was no more difficult than planning where to have lunch (reservations required at popular DTF.)

I charged 2 other times on this trip – once briefly (and optionally) at a Safeway grocery store in Monterey when I went inside to get some milk for our toddler, and then again outside a restaurant before staring the trip home.

Once we arrived at home I plugged in my iPhone and my car and they were both full in the morning (cost ~$6 worth of electricity, 60 kWH * $0.10 or so.)

Some Costs

We had some real costs related to this trip.

Hotels: $0 (thanks to free night certificates)
Credit card annual fees: $320
Fuel for EV: $0
Hotel parking: $20 (2 nights in Santa Cruz)
Boardwalk day pass: $52.45 + $40 for adult stuff
Monterey Aquarium: $134.85 for 2 adults 2 kids
Lunch at Din Tai Fung: $87.50
Breakfast at The Buttery: $51.47
Dinner at Crystal Fish: $108.29
Lunch at Dametra: $82.24
Milk at Safeway: ~$2.50
(Money NOT spent on AC since we were at the coast: -$50)

Total food cost: ~$750
Total trip cost: ~$1,000 (~$200/day)
Trip cost with annual fees: ~$1,300

Had we not been on this trip we would have eaten at home for a fraction of the price, but still with some real cost (about $50/day according to our budget.) My math says we spent an extra $500 over this trip to eat well.

The credit cards that provide “free” night certificates do have annual fees (~$320/year for 4 cards vs ~$1200 for the retail price of the hotels.) There are benefits beyond just the “free” nights, but I included the full costs here for simplicity and it is how I personally value them. (If I happen to score a $3k/night suite upgrade, that is just a nice bonus.)

For reference, we each have a Marriott Bonvoy Boundless(R) credit card ($95 annual fee) and an IHG(R) Rewards Traveler Credit Card ($99 annual fee, although we have grandfathered cards with lower fees.)

To learn more about either card, click here (affiliate link) or review this post: Award Travel Series: Hotel Credit Cards with Free Night Certificates.


We did a 5-day / 4-night 500-mile road trip in our EV along the coast south of San Francisco. We did some touristy things (aquarium, amusement park, beaches), visited with some family, and ate some nice food.

The hotel nights and vehicle fuel were “free” (minus annual fees), which is nice. Free night certificates are great. Total cost for the trip was ~$1,300, mostly for food.

EV road tripping is pretty easy.

We had a lot of fun and will probably spend more time in the Carmel-by-the-sea area in the future.

* All photos by Winnie unless otherwise mentioned.

* Child models compensated for their services.

Have you road tripped lately? Any recommendations?