Have you heard? There’s some sort of world-famous aquarium in Monterey, California. You’re probably also familiar with Cannery Row, with its touristy shops and restaurants. Downtown Monterey is fun for families, but after you’ve crossed the Monterey Bay Aquarium off your to-do list, the natural beauty of the bay awaits. Here’s how to spend your next 24 hours in Monterey…outside!
Upon entering town, stop to burn off road trip energy at the Dennis the Menace Playground in Lake El Estero Park. Funded by the creator of Dennis the Menace and featuring wiggly slides, silly play structures, and creative toys, this park may be the best you’ve seen. Even preteens will get a kick out of it.
While the sun still shines, head to Adventures by the Sea, with locations throughout the bay. We stopped in at the one adjacent to our hotel, the beautiful Portola Hotel and Spa (located just outside the busy tourist zone). Rent bikes for the family, then follow one of the many bike paths running along the shore. From the Portola Hotel and Spa, located near Fisherman’s Wharf, we were able to follow the street to the Cannery Row path, which took us on a nice tour of the busy downtown area without having to hassle a car (or navigating by foot). We pedaled past the aquarium and Cannery Row toward Lover’s Point, where the kids wanted to stop and play on one of the protected coves. Families can continue riding out the Pacific Grove Lighthouse, and Great Tide Pool, or do as we did, and double back to the Coast Guard Pier, where hundreds (no exaggeration!) of seals perch at the end of the dock. Kids can ride all the way out to greet them, then watch the fishermen try their luck for a while. Before heading back to return the bikes at the Portola, check out the historic custom house, the oldest building in California.
Check into the Portola Hotel and Spa, and let the kids try their hand at their Pirate Program Treasure Hunt, which will have them chasing clues around the resort, learning about the area’s history (and local shops and restaurants) along the way. It only takes about 25 minutes, and is a great introduction to the hotel. Then take a dip in the outdoor heated pool before walking across the street to the historic Fisherman’s Wharf for a dinner of clam chowder or fish and chips.
The next morning, drive the few miles out of town toward Pebble Beach and Carmel. Drive the famous 17-Mile Drive (unless you have squirmy toddlers, then I’d skip it), stopping often to climb in the ancient Cypress trees hugging the coastline. Picnic along your route at one of the many scenic overlooks.
Continue on to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, three miles outside of Carmel on Highway 1, where you’ll want to spend the entire afternoon. Start at Whaler’s Cove to see the seal pupping grounds (shhh…you have to stay quiet for the expectant mothers), then take the steep staircase to start the North Shore Trail, which will take you 1.5 miles along the ridge for great views of the bay, Cypress trees, and more frolicking seals in the water. (Note: be careful to stay on the trail…there is abundant poison oak in this area.) Families can either cut off the trail early, back toward the parking lot via the historic Whaler’s Cabin, or continue on the short path to Sea Lion Point, where you can take the Cypress Grove Loop or the easy Sea Lion Loop (which ends in a pebbly beach and some tide pools for the kids).
Tip: if you have more time in Monterey, consider purchasing three-day state park pass, which will give you entry to any Monterey state park.
Disclosure statement: Amy Whitley was a guest of the Portola Hotel and Spa and Adventures by the Sea. While she appreciates their hospitality, all opinions are her own.