Located 2 hours south of San Francisco and just north of the infamous Big Sur Mountains of the Central Coast, is beautiful Monterey, California. With farms to the north and the mountains to the south, it’s like a world of its own. The Monterey Peninsula is a great place to hike, bike, sight see, explore world class beaches, and dine at incredible restaurants. With a seemingly endless array of things to see and do, Monterey makes for a terrific family vacation destination and a great place to call home.
Here are my top 5 picks for tourists and local families alike: the best of Monterey for families.
BEST PARK – El Estero Park
El Estero Park is the largest playground for young and old in the Monterey County. It encompasses 45 acres of fun, fun, fun. In the middle of Lake El Estero you will find the impressive Dennis the Menace Park. It houses 3 play structures, a suspension bridge, climbing wall, hedge maze, bumpy slides and tunnels, as well as a Southern Pacific steam engine. There are also grass areas for picnics and a few picnic benches. Bring along some sand toys because the majority of the park is one giant sand pit, perfect to keep little ones entertained while their older siblings are off playing. You can also enjoy paddle boating on the lake, fishing, and barbecues. For the fitness enthusiast there is a 1.2 mile parcourse around Lake Estero with three exercise station clusters. The older kids will enjoy the youth center, ballpark, and a skate park. There is also a snack bar and rest rooms.
BEST HIKE – Garland Ranch Regional Park
Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley is a 4,462-acre park with about 50 miles of trails. It is extremely popular for hiking, biking, horse-back riding, dog walking, bird-watching, painting, and photography, and is home to a wide variety of plants, birds, animals, and insects. Some of the beautiful sites to be seen include the Carmel River, a waterfall, and reminders of Carmel Valley’s past – Rumsen Indian Habititation Sites. There is a visitor center on- site with maps of the area and the hikes are marked according to intensity.
BEST INDOOR ACTIVITY – The Monterey Bay Aquarium
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of our favorite outings. There is something so serene about watching ocean creatures moving majestically through the water. The exhibits are absolutely amazing. There are feedings throughout the day, touch tanks, educational activities, and many interactive exhibits that will keep children and adults wanting to come back time and again. My favorite exhibits, and the ones I highly recommend, are the Kelp Forest Feeding, The Secret Lives of Seahorses, and the Outer Bay. For parents who need a little break, there is a Splash Zone for little ones with water activities, dress-up, and many areas for kids to explore. Children will especially love the walk-through wave crash experience. If you don’t want to eat in the Café, then bring a picnic lunch and sit outside at the on-site picnic area overlooking the bay, where you will most likely see sea lions and otters playing in the water or get a stamp on your hand for re-entry and head out to one of the many restaurants on Cannery Row.
BEST BEACH – Lovers Point Park and Beach
When you drive along Ocean View Boulevard through Pacific Grove, you will initially see 4.4 acres of parkland overlooking Monterey Bay. Pull over and head to the north side of the park where you will come across a staircase leading down to Lovers Point Beach. Although small, it is perfect for tidepooling, surfing, kayaking or just enjoying a good book while the kids build sandcastles. In the park above the surf, you will regularly find families enjoying picnics, flying kites, and biking or walking along the Coastal Recreation Trail. This is also a popular spot for photographers and you will often find visitors climbing out onto the rocks to get a better view of the bay or playing beach volleyball. A rest room and a snack bar are located within the park.
BEST FOR EATING: Cannery Row & Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row are connected by the Coastal Recreation Trail and it is only a short walk between the two. Both have some amazing restaurants and seafood is abundant. Walk out onto Fisherman’s Wharf where you can see taffy being made in a store window or enjoy a cup of clam chowder. Be sure to stop and look out at the boats, sea lions, and otters floating around the bay. Further south on Cannery Row, families will find many restaurants (our favorite being The Fish Hopper for it’s child friendly environment), boutique stores, and magnificent views over the bay as the sun is setting. There is also the Ghirardelli Café for those with a sweet tooth, the IMAX theatre, a small beach, the Mirror Maze, and of course, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. However, please check that the restaurants you go to are participating in the Seafood Watch, which means they are making environmentally responsible seafood choices. Not all seafood is farmed or purchased in ways that protect the ocean that helps shape Monterey into the incredible community that it is.
- Activities for Kids Around Monterey and Carmel
- Kid-friendly Hotels Around Monterey and Carmel
- Perfectly Divine Weekend in Monterey and Carmel with Young Kids
Tonya Staab is a mother to adorable twin toddlers and one handsome teenage son. She was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia and moved to California in 2003, when she married into the military. She is a crafter, photographer, party planner and explorer. She makes my attempts at decoupage and party throwing look absolutely pathetic because let’s face it, she is the master. Mud puddles and glitter don’t scare her and she will tell you how to handle both like a pro on her website, This and That.