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.
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.
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)
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:
- Monterey: Crystal Fish (sushi)
- Carmel-by-the-sea: Dametra Cafe (Mediterranean)
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Thanks for sharing this timely EV post. I’m wondering if the 3 year free charging had to be negotiated with the dealer and if you had secured any deals/discounts at dealership given the rise in demand with EV cars? How does it affect your travel plans with the 3 year free charging plan?
The 3 years of free charging was something Volkswagen included on all EV sales in 2021. I think 2022 vehicles got one year only. Other mfgrs also offered something similar… Hyundai was 1 year, etc…
Without the free charging we would have paid maybe $30 for all charging for the trip. That is about 4x the rate of charging at home but still way cheaper than gasoline.
edit: I forgot to respond, re: affecting travel plans – I don’t think free charging impacts our travel plans really. While we could do some epic 3000+ mile adventures, nobody really wants to. For the types of trips we are interested in doing, it only saved us $30 or so which is a fraction of our total cost.
I live near Sacramento and Northern California is blessed with not only natural beauty but also a bounty of car charging stations, many of them coveted parking spots as well.
Nice work on the free hotels! What’s the best one you’ve stayed in using your free night or otherwise?
Our Hawaii vacation was a great redemption – got upgraded to a $3k/night suite and we only had to pay the resort fee ($30 per day or something in that range.) The Royal Hawaiian is a great hotel.
We took a 2K road trip this summer with our Tesla. Tesla nav system will plan your charges along with the route. Even without the need to charge I want/need to get out of the car every 2 – 2.5 hours. The superchargers were all around shopping and/or restaurants. So get out, find a restroom, get a drink or meal and your half hour is over.
Same – while I could technically sit in a car for 5 or 6 hours without stopping, my kids couldn’t. And I wouldn’t really want to anyway.
Love reading your stuff! Question about your EV — perhaps I missed it somewhere — but what did you buy? And are you happy with it? Any regrets? Thanks.
I got a VW ID.4. No regrets. If you read stuff from the EV bloggers they whine about the car a little bit over minor software things (and to be fair, VW has been verrrrrrryyyy slow with updates.) But the car does what it is supposed to do – bring us places in comfort and style, with a bit of acceleration for fun. And the fuel costs are great.
More in this post: Millionaires Don’t Buy New Cars
Being from Sacramento area too, we took a trip through Monterey to Pismo Beach in the beginning of July. It was a good break from the hot weather in Sacramento. We loved the beach area from our hotel that was about 1/4 mile from the main pier area. Nice and quiet. Granted, we are empty nesters now. Ha ha.
A high of 65 is a nice day vacation day
Gotta love the free charging!
It is a nice perk.
We’ve been road tripping in our ev for a couple years now (picked up a 2021 model y in November 2020). All over the colorado mountains and kansas plains. Zero complaints, charging usually provides a welcome break from driving.
I agree re: Monterey aquarium. It was more expensive and less enjoyable compared to the Long Beach aquarium. We live in Japan now (hour south of Tokyo) and haven’t been to any aquariums yet. Any you can recommend? I’ve heard Osaka and Okinawa are the best.
For charging the EV when we make it back stateside, have you found charging points to only be located around costlier food options? For example, can I find a quick charger nearby to budget eateries? $80+ meals aren’t ideal for us.
The charger I use on the regular is within a 2 minute walk of a McDonald’s, Burger King, Chili’s, taco/burrito place, teriyaki, a crepe place, a coffee shop, and more… I sometimes grab a $1 diet coke at McD’s and read a book while charging. Lots of options (and more everyday.)
The Osaka aquarium is great, world class. The one I was thinking of when I mentioned it in this post is the one in Toba (I think.)
That’s great news! Is this mainly a CA thing or chargers can be found nationwide near cheap food spots?
The Toba aquarium isn’t so far form Osaka which would make for a great side trip along with Nara, Kyoto and Kobe. Thanks!
Carmel by the sea – up over:
2 bed ~ $A300 / d. Kitchen for home cooked meals.
Handy for road trips: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1005003130933533.html
both look great! :)
I love that you and fam pulled this off with an EV!
We replaced our trusty Honda Fit with a Toyota 4Runner last year, mainly to get a rig able to haul a family of four with bikes and other luggage over to Michigan for summer family visits. I’m not looking forward to that gas bill…
We ended up with a Toyota Highlander as a rental on a trip to Minnesota. It was surprisingly fuel efficient but that might just be because I had low expectations.
Valley Fair mall or Westfield Valley Fair mall
I dunno, the one with the DTF
Thanks for sharing the details of your great trip, Jeremy! So nice to see the possibilities in saving greatly on a trip in this day and age! So glad the four of you had a very enjoyable trip!
Tom y Patricia
Hola Tom! I saw you moved to Colorado. Hope all is well! Give Patricia a hug from us.