I’m a beach person. Born and raised on an island, there is something about being close to the water that keeps me sane. It doesn’t even have to be warm. Walking on the beach, or even chasing two kids down the beach can pretty much guarantee a great day.
I guess that’s one of the reasons I enjoy Monterey so much. Miles and miles of beautiful beaches, a world famous aquarium, entertaining wildlife, and great food. There’s something for everyone in the family.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Seahorses, jellies and sea otters, oh my! More than 35,000 animals and plants call the Monterey Bay Aquarium home. Consistently rated one of the best in the country, a visit to Monterey isn’t complete without a trip to the aquarium. Everybody goes, so avoid lines and buy your tickets online. Mornings tend to be busy, but crowds typically thin out a bit during the afternoon. If an air mattress doesn’t make you run for the nearest hotel, considering sleeping with the fishes—see my post on overnights at the aquarium. Seeing the aquarium after dark has many perks, most notably, no crowds! Whenever you go, don’t forget the touch pools or your camera.
The aquarium is essentially the end of Monterey’s Cannery Row. Once home to a booming canning industry, that included salmon and sardines, the historic stretch now serves as a waterfront play area for residents and visitors. It’s a great place to wander in the sun. The main drag is lined with hotels, restaurants, shops … you get the idea. I don’t typically do movies when I’m on vacation, but the IMAX theatre on Cannery Row is a nice bonus, especially on a rainy day. There is also a paved path that goes through Cannery Row and into Pacific Grove—a great place to take a family bike ride (a variety of bike rentals are available including kids bikes and surreys.
Dennis the Menace Playground
Pack a picnic and spend a few hours (more if you’ve got the time) at the fabulous Dennis the Menace Playground. But be warned, at some point, you will lose sight of your kids. There’s just too much for them to do, and so many places for them to hide. Slides, climbing walls, and tunnels top the list. Kids have the run of a real locomotive parked at the entrance to the playground. A suspension bridge stretches across the park between two hills. Though most of the attractions are cushioned by sand, there’s plenty of grass to lay out a blanket and relax. The park was created with the help of Hank Ketcham, creator of the Dennis the Menace comic strip.
This is where you go if you want to smell fish. Once sardine shipping central, the wharf is now a tourist attraction. Located in downtown Monterey, it’s a little off the beaten path, but a great place to walk. Chase seagulls or grab a cup of clam chowder and just stroll. Touristy gift shops line the wharf, along with plenty of places that can easily provide a “sugar rush” if need be. Chances are you’ll spot some sea otters and sea lions hanging out in the waves off the pier. If getting wet sounds like fun, various bay cruises and fishing boats operate from the wharf.
If you’re visiting during the winter months, check out the Monarch Sanctuary in Pacific Grove. Monarchs migrate 2-thousand miles from Canada to Mexico. The Sanctuary is a popular stopping point in between. Clusters of the delicate creatures take refuge in the wooded areas of the sanctuary. Monarchs can typically be seen from October through February, when they continue their migration south. It’s an easy walk for little ones, and with all those trees, many of the trails are shady, so be sure to bring an extra layer.
Put Your Toes in the Sand
Before you pack up for home, be sure to hit the beach. With miles to choose from you can’t go wrong. We spent last Easter in Monterey. My girls spent almost an hour playing in the ocean break and climbing on the rocks before they realized the Easter bunny had left plenty of shining chocolate-filled eggs in the sand. Don’t forget a towel to dry all those toes.
Ciao Bambino recommended Monterey family hotels
Monterey Bay activities