Fishing for Fun
Monterey is one of those wonderful reasons to live in the Bay Area. Hardly two hours away, it works as a day trip. But once you’ve arrived, there’s plenty to entice you to stay awhile.
It’s home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, pristine golf courses and breathtaking natural resources. Plus, it’s all set in a temperate climate that can remind even the most frazzled parent that it’s time to stop and smell the intoxicating sea breeze rolling in from the bay that drew Spanish explorers as early as 1542.
For those traveling with kids, rest assured. Monterey is more than up to the challenge of entertaining every member of the family. My husband and I braved an overnight trip with our two girls, ages 1 and 2. There are nooks and crannies all over town that will give them ample opportunity to burn off steam (and throw temper tantrums).
There’s no one way to “do” Monterey, but here are our recommendations, depending on how much time you have to spend.
Wake early and hightail it down U.S. Highway 101. Although not as picturesque as State Highway 1, it’ll save you 30 to 40 minutes.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a natural first stop, and it’s best to and come early to beat the crowds. Located on the west end of Cannery Row, the aquarium has been entertaining millions of visitors since 1984 with more than 35,000 different marine animals and plants representing 550 species. montereybayaquarium.org.
It can take two to three hours to fully explore the aquarium’s nearly 200 exhibits. One of the biggest draws is the million-gallon Outer Bay exhibit, which houses an array of open-ocean animals, such as tunas, sharks and stingrays.
We happened upon it just before feeding time, which draws a large crowd of people morbidly curious about the fate of the unsuspecting feeder fish casually tossed into the tank of eager prey.
What makes the aquarium particularly family-friendly is its Splash Zone, which brings welcome relief to antsy infants, toddlers and parents longing for a well-deserved time out. A waterbed play area and play structures easily entertain, while a 40-foot-long touch pool satisfies a child’s need for hands-on experiences.
After the aquarium, you might be ready for lunch, and there are plenty of nautical/pirate-themed restaurants ready to ply you with their own “award-winning” version of clam chowder, often with free samples provided on the street.
If you simply need to decompress before tackling such a big decision, check out the “jellyfish lamp” over the staircase off the main lobby of the Clement Monterey, the new Intercontinental Hotel located just steps away from the aquarium on Cannery Row. Created by San Francisco-based Effect Design, the soothing music and projected images of multi-colored water reflections encourage families to sprawl and enjoy.
Since you’re in the heart of Cannery Row, you may be curious to explore the area’s sardine canning factories, which served as the setting for some of local boy John Steinbeck’s novels. Today’s Cannery Row, however, serves as little more than a venue for businesses seeking to cater to tourists hungry for food and useless trinkets.
Through its Aquarium Adventures program, the aquarium does offer a 1.5-mile walking tour of the former sardine capital of the world for a group of six or more. It’s offered by appointment only and costs $20 per person. It ends at Fisherman’s Wharf in front of the Monterey Maritime and History Museum, which co-sponsors the tour. The museum’s seven exhibit areas highlight the history of the Ohlone Indians, Spanish explorers, World War II and, of course, Monterey’s fishing business. montereyhistory.org.
Before the sun dips below the horizon and it’s time to head back home, an excursion down 17-Mile Drive is well worth the $9.50 it costs to enter the road’s exclusive gates. (The fee is refunded if visitors spend at least $25 at any of the restaurants along the way.) A map is available by visiting pebblebeach.com.
This scenic road through Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach will have your head whipping back and forth between breathtaking views of the Pacific and breathtaking views of the area’s impressive mansions just a paperboy’s throw away.
In addition to world-famous golf courses, there are lots of places to picnic and take inspirational pictures. Plus, it’s home to the Lone Cypress Tree. This legally protected symbol of the Pebble Beach community clings to an outcropping of rocks and is held in place with a series of cables and screws. It couldn’t fall into the sea if it wanted to, much to the delight of tourists busily angling for the best shot.
If you are visiting between November and February, fans of butterflies may want to check out the nearby Monarch Grove Sanctuary, located near 17-Mile Drive on Ridge Road in Pacific Grove. Each year, thousands of monarch butterflies winter in the grove’s wind-protected canopy. Docents (decked out in a variety of butterfly-themed clothing) are on hand to answer questions and set up telescopes for close-up viewing.
If you’re heading for a hotel instead of the highway, Monterey has a number of options, many with spa facilities to soothe cramped muscles. We decided to stay at Casa Munras, located at 700 Munras Ave. Built around the original hacienda of Spain’s last diplomat to California, we enjoyed a comfy, modern suite-style room that allowed our kids their own area to sleep and space for us to savor a bottle of wine from Monterey’s nearby wine region.
If only we had known about VIP Babysitting Service, we could’ve been checking out a tasting room to really check out Monterey’s finest!
Part of Corporate Kids Events, Inc., which provides childcare for weddings, conventions and other large-scale events, VIP Babysitting provides in-room services with sitters who’ve been fingerprinted and pre-screened. It serves mainly major hotels and local resorts. VIP Babysitting also operates a Kids Club at The Clement, complete with a climbing wall, games and other activities. vipbabysitting.com.
The following morning beckons with the promise of more activities. As you plan your day, make sure to visit the Dennis the Menace Playground, located at Camino El Estero and Pearl Street.
First opened in 1956 through donations by Hank Ketcham, creator of the famous comic strip, it includes a large suspension bridge, numerous slides, a maze made of hedges, an adventure ship and a full-size steam engine. Plus, there’s a nearby lake with paddle boats, snack bar, picnic area and youth center.
If your kids need more play time (or if it’s raining,) visit the 8,500-square-foot MY Museum, at 425 Washington St. It features educational exhibits on beach exploration, golfing, farm life, tree house inhabitants and how a hospital works. mymuseum.org.
If time permits, you may want to board a boat at Fisherman’s Wharf for a bay tour, fishing trip or whale-watching expedition, especially during the winter and spring seasons when grey whales pass by Monterey. A list of boat companies offering tours lasting around three hours is available by visiting montereywharf.com.
If your return home takes you through Salinas on your way to Highway 101, you may want to stop by the National Steinbeck Center. Born in Salinas in 1902, John Steinbeck is best known for his novel The Grapes of Wrath, a tale of sharecroppers during the Great Depression. The center brings Steinbeck’s works to life with stage sets, films, vintage photographs and other items. steinbeck.org.
One of the best reasons to visit Monterey is its proximity to the Bay Area. If pounding the pavement with your tourist hat on isn’t your thing, there’s nothing wrong with packing a picnic and parking it on one of Monterey’s beautiful beaches. If you simply can’t get to everything, it’s only a quick trip away.
Millicent Skiles is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.
Down in Monterey: Calendar of Events
Cannery Row Block Party: Enjoy a day of family fun and seaside entertainment, including live bands, magicians, balloon artists and live animal shows. June 6. FREE. Cannery Row. canneryrow.com.
California Rodeo Salinas: The 99th-annual rodeo for saddle bronco riding and other events, along with barbeques, cowboy poetry, fireworks and a carnival. July 16-19. Check Web site for ticket information. Salinas. 831-775-3100. carodeo.com.
Monterey Jazz Festival: More than 500 artists are scheduled to appear during this 52nd-annual event. Sept. 18-20. Check Web site for ticket information. Monterey Fair Grounds. 831-373-3366. montereyjazzfestival.org.
Holiday Parade of Lights: This parade features marching bands, floats, dance teams, equestrian groups and Santa Claus. Dec. 3. FREE. Pacific Grove. pacificgrove.org.