Updated: Oct 24, 2022
When my husband told me he wanted to join the Army I wasn't really sure what to think. I wanted to support him in anything he wanted to pursue though. Military life would be a completely new world to me - I knew nothing!
In 2020 we found out that we would be headed to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California for 18 months. We were excited for a new adventure! This is a little bit of our story as well as some things you can expect as a new military spouse headed DLI.
Moving was also a whole new world for me. I had hardly moved in my life! I did my best to get everything in order while my husband was at Basic Training (not an easy task). We would be moving ourselves - driving about 16 hours. The hardest part of that was that I had no idea if my husband was coming back to help me move or if he would be sent straight to California. Normally, he would've been sent straight there. Long story short, a miracle happened and he was able to come home from Basic Training for Christmas, and then help me move all of our stuff to Monterey. Luckily for us, we had a cousin and his family already there. They let us store our things in their garage and let me stay with them for the 3 weeks that my husband had to live on base (many people end up in a hotel or wait until their spouse has found a place for them to live).
My hope is that this blog will help you if you are in a similar situation and are lost on what to do.
You will want to look into housing as early as possible (we applied before he went to basic training). We decided to apply for the "base housing". There isn't really on-base housing, but there is contracted military housing in two locations. This housing is called "The Parks at Monterey Bay". We sent in an application with total guesses on the dates, just to make sure we would not have to stay in a hotel for a month (or months). I kept an eye on our spot on the waitlist (meaning I emailed or called frequently) and got a POA to sign for the house as well. It worked out great! While my husband was still in phase 4 (I'll explain later) I was able to sign for our house and start moving in.
If you would like to live "off-base" it is possible. I wouldn't recommend it if you have more than one child because housing is VERY expensive in the area. You will have a hard time finding something within the BAH allowance that is 3 or more bedrooms. Look early though!
I would recommend joining the military spouse Facebook groups early to get info on everything as well! They are full of great info and I wished I had known about them earlier.
When your spouse first gets to DLI (IF they are coming from Basic Training and are new in the military), they will be in "Phase 4". This means they will have to live in the barracks with a roommate and with a battle buddy at all times while doing a bunch of paperwork. This is 3 weeks but could be longer if they fail any inspections. If your spouse is lucky, they will not start class during this time. My husband was not so lucky... he was told he would not start class and then got in trouble for not being in class. So the military goes haha.
It is usually recommended that families don't come until after this, but you could have a situation like mine, or you could be put into a hotel until your spouse joins you or you get a house.
You can visit your spouse during this time! As a newbie to military life, I was intimidated by everything. Was I actually allowed on base? Could I see my husband? Yep! Just show your ID at the gate and you can go in. The tricky part is making sure your spouse has a little time to see you and a battle buddy to go with him. On Sundays, I would go see my husband and bless his battle buddies for coming along so I could!
Living in Monterey
Monterey is beautiful and there is so much to do! I've definitely heard from some of the spouses that they don't love it here, but I personally do. There are so many state and national parks, places to camp and hike, sites to see, and so many fun events. Take advantage of all that you can.
My Favorite Things to Do in the Area
The Aquarium and Cannery Row are probably the biggest tourist attractions in Monterey. It's great to be there when it isn't full of tourists. If you have kids or plan on going to the aquarium more than once, definitely get a membership! It will pay for itself after the second visit.
Highway 1 is another favorite. My husband and I got two opportunities to drive down highway 1 to Cayucos and Morro Bay and it is so beautiful! There are elephant seals, Hearst Castle, and the cutest little towns. Go if you have the chance! If you aren't able to make it that far, there is so much to do in Carmel and Big Sur! China Cove, Carmel highlands, Garapata, and Pfeiffer and some of the most amazing places I've seen. If you are wanting to enjoy some warmer weather you will want to head to Carmel River or Big Sur.
There are also some great places North of Monterey. San Fransisco and Santa Cruz have a ton of fun things to do. The Boardwalk in Santa Cruz would definitely be worth it for kids. I love visiting the warfs in each town and observing the sea life while eating excellent sea food.
Garlic World. Okay, Garlic World is one of my husband and I's favorite places to go now. I don't want to talk it up and get your hopes up, but we love it. Gilroy is about 40 minutes north and is the Garlic Capital of the world. Yes, it smells like garlic most of the time there. You have to try their famous garlic ice cream too! Garlic World is just a small little shop of goodies, but it is wonderful!
I could mention so many other places! There is a reservoir to swim in, Palo Alto, Gilroy Gardens, Artichoke festivals, the Monterey Car show, Whale Watching, and so much more! Make a list of "Must-Do's" while you are here and do them when you have the chance!!
We did not take advantage of our time at all to enjoy these things. Luckily for us, my husband got recycled and we got a second chance! Another year to do everything we didn't do before!
The community is pretty fun and active, so if you are wanting to get out there is almost always something to do.
There are farmers' markets nearly every day in different locations. Monterey has an amazing artisan market as well. If you look up the Monterey Fairgrounds they are always hosting a variety of events. If you are interested in buying fresh produce from a produce stand, there are plenty around! Our favorite is called Barns Fresh Product. Depending on the season you can get 5-9 avocados for $1 or 7 lemons for $1 (my husband loved making lemonade).
As far as the military community, there is also a ton to do. The ACS hosts playgroups, parent support groups, baby classes, and more. There are stroller mom walking groups, pick-up sports, community parks, and pools.
It's fairly easy to get resources and help for what you need. Monterey has a food pantry, Giving Markets, flea markets, and second-hand stores. I would follow "All-In Monterey County" for some of those. There was a Military Attic in the neighborhood, but as of mid-2022, they do not have a physical location.
If you like to eat out... you are in luck. Monterey and the surrounding areas are known for their seafood, international cuisine, and other unique restaurants. I've heard that Carmel has a policy of "No chain restaurants" to give you a clue about that! Obviously, you will be able to find amazing seafood. You can't go wrong with the Warf and Cannery row for that. However, if you are a seafood fan, you better head over to Monterey Fish house! It is a local seafood gem!
If you love brunch and bakeries... you are also in luck! There are countless brunch restaurants and bakeries in the area. My personal favorites are The Butter House, First Awakenings, and PAVELS BAKEREI. Yes, I capitalize that on purpose. Best. Bakery. Ever. I could eat their chocolate croissants forever.
Overall, Monterey is just a great place to be. If your spouse is attending DLI, they will be stressed and it will be a lot of hard work. Try to make a list of things you want to do and take it one thing at a time. Make sure they take some small breaks to enjoy what the area has to offer. We tried to do something bigger every other weekend.
Good Luck! More pos
ts on military spouse life coming soon!