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Family Fun in Monterey

by Felicity Long

Jan 8, 2018

© Andrei Gabriel Stanescu | Dreamstime.com

Destinations / North America

For year-round fun, it’s hard to beat California, with its temperate climate, stunning scenery and seaside attractions. Families looking to spend their vacation in the northern part of the state will find all this and more on the Monterey Peninsula, which encompasses the attractions in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach and old town Monterey.


A top attraction on Monterey Row’s Cannery Row — famous as the scene of John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name — is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a next-generation venue that houses sea otters who frolic in their natural habitat. Highlights include a massive shark tank — try to time your visit for shark feeding times — as well as a rare permanent exhibition of jellyfish, a fun splash zone and interactive, climb-through exhibits. Be aware the aquarium is massively popular and attracts long lines, so plan ahead.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo: Bill Kennedy | Dreamstime.com


Cannery Row also boasts a vintage carousel, wacky shops and eateries and the Spirit of Monterey Wax Museum, which features more than 100 wax and animatronic figures.


The American Tin Cannery nearby offers shops, restaurants and recreational activities, such as Segway tours and miniature golf. Or rent bikes for a trek along the ocean boardwalk via Bay Bike, where guides will fit the right bike to the kids and offer maps for suggested routes. E-bikes and surrey-rentals also are available.


In downtown Monterey, carve out time to explore Fisherman’s Wharf, where activities include whale watching and fishing cruises; shopping for souvenirs and old-fashioned candy, like pulled taffy, cotton candy and caramel apples; sampling local seafood at pop-up stands; and taking in live theater. There are several spots along the wharf where visitors can enjoy up-close-and-personal views of sea lions lazily sunning themselves on the pier, sea otters playing in the water and pelicans swooping into the waves to fill their mouths with fish.


In Monterey, kids and parents alike will be challenged by the Monterey Mirror Maze, with laser challenges and an underwater theme.


In downtown Monterey, the kids can let off steam at El Estero Park — known as Dennis the Menace Park by locals — which offers paddle boating, rock climbing and a maze.


There is a $10.25 per-car entry fee to drive into posh Pebble Beach, but it’s worth it just to navigate the famous 17-Mile Drive. Popular sites include the Lone Cypress, Bird Rock and Spanish Bay, where you can park and stroll along the boardwalk and where kids can play on the sand, while teens and up can surf or paddleboard. The Equestrian Center in Pebble Beach offers riding on groomed trails for kids 12 and older, family forest rides with children ages 7 and up and pony rides for tiny equestrians 3 to 6 years old.


Another option for horseback riding for children ages 7 and up is via the Monterey Bay Equestrian Center, where guided excursions wend along the beach and where staff will point out sights of interest — like whales in season — along the way.


Lover's Point, Pacific Cove, Monterey Bay, California

Lover’s Point, Pacific Cove, Monterey Bay. Photo: Hasan Can Balcioglu | Dreamstime.com


In Pacific Grove, enjoy a relaxing picnic at Lover’s Point Park and Beach, which offers some of the prettiest views of Monterey Bay, and where you can enjoy fishing, swimming and Scuba diving.


Also in Pacific Grove, families can borrow binoculars and gaze at the colorful butterflies in the Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary and stop for a bite at Tilly Gort’s Cafe, a local institution that serves three meals a day including vegetarian and vegan fare.


Finally, in scenic Carmel by the Sea you’ll find one of the prettiest beaches on the peninsula. The Pacific Ocean is chilly, but that doesn’t stop surfers from hanging 10, local artists from creating beautiful sand sculptures and beachgoers of all ages from enjoying bonfires at night, complete with s’mores. Be aware the walk from the beach along Ocean Avenue to Carmel’s quaint and charming downtown involves a short but steep walk uphill, but parking is available in several town lots and, with a little perseverance, even on the street. Bakeries, unique shops, art galleries, restaurants and cafes line both sides of Ocean Avenue, and there are plenty of places to stop for ice cream or a drink along the way.


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