Travel Tips for Monterey

Old Fisherman's Wharf offers seafood restaurants, shops, fishing and whale-watching  tours. 

Warm weather and the reopening of California’s economy makes this summer a great time to take a trip to Monterey Bay, a favorite quick getaway for Bay Area residents. Once there, it offers marine life, California history and the setting for author John Steinbeck’s stories.

Now that the Monterey Bay Aquarium reopened in May, there are even more reasons to make the trip. The aquarium is now open at a limited capacity with safety measures in place. Visitors can enjoy the aquarium’s penguins, sea otters, jellies, sharks, kelp forest and more.

Whale watching is a must in Monterey. The area has some of the best year-round whale sightings. Visitors might see gray, blue, humpback, minke or killer whales, as well as being treated to a show by dolphins and porpoises. Many of the whale watching tour companies are located at Old Fisherman’s Wharf.

This area also offers seafood restaurants, shops, and fishing and sailing tours. For the whale watching trip, make sure to take sea-sickness precautions if you are prone to motion sickness. Taking medication an hour before the trip can do wonders. Also, dress in layers and rubber-soled shoes, wear sunscreen and be sure to securely strap cameras and binoculars so they don’t end up in the bay.

Monterey is the center of much California history. At one time, it was the state capital. A self-guided tour of Monterey’s “Path of History” includes two miles of historic sites. Download a map that points out important adobes and structures, such as Colton Hall, Custom House Plaza, Pacific House and Golden State Plaza.

Monterey’s Cannery Row also holds interest for history buffs. It is the backdrop of one of Steinbeck’s novels in which he describes the colorful past set in the cannery culture of the time. While Monterey Bay Aquarium is the biggest attraction along Cannery Row, there are also many shops and restaurants. If you enjoy antiques and vintage rarities, don’t miss the Cannery Row Antique Mall. Once a canning company in the 1927 Steinbeck era, it is now filled with more than 100 antique dealers. It’s easy to spend hours in this mall.

The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail is a great way to see the area by bike or by foot. There are venders in the area that rent bikes and in-line skates.

Adjacent to Monterey at the southern tip of Monterey Bay, sits Pacific Grove, a charming town known for its Victorian homes and monarch butterflies.

If you visit between November and February, head to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary  to see clusters of thousands of the black-and-orange butterflies at one of the country’s largest monarch overwintering sites. The town typically celebrates the butterflies’ return with its homespun Butterfly Parade and Bazaar the first Saturday of October.

There’s plenty to do all year with a gorgeous stretch of beaches and other outdoor activities. Lovers Point Park  is a perfect place to picnic and climb rocks. You can also rent kayaks or take bikes or a surrey to explore the paved Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, which connects Pacific Grove with popular spots in Monterey and beyond. Nearby is Point Pinos Lighthouse, the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast.

The mile-long Asilomar State Beach is a great place to enjoy surf and sand and the neighboring conference grounds are a fun destination for a family getaway. Designed by Julia Morgan and opened in 1913 as a YWCA camp, Asilomar is now a 100-acre-plus state park that encompasses boardwalk paths through sand dunes, deer-filled Monterey pine and coast live oak forest. You can enjoy historic Arts and Crafts architecture.

While some of the lodging is basic, the location can’t be beat. Some rooms sleep five, which is perfect for families. There are also a dining hall and a pool.

Older children may enjoy the self-guided driving tour along 17-mile Drive, which passes through Pebble Beach, famous for its golf courses and jaw-dropping mansions. The drive is a window into incredible coastal scenery including seals and sea lions, tide pools and the iconic Lone Cypress. Admission is $10.75 per car.

If you plan to stay at lodging in the area, be aware that there may be changes to services offered because of COVID. For example, some hotels may not offer a complimentary breakfast or have changes in how it is served.

Teresa Mills-Faraudo and Janine DeFao are associate editors at Bay Area Parent.