A Day in Monterey, California

Travel just two hours south of San Francisco on Highway 101 and you’ll leave the jam-packed Silicon Valley behind. Soon you will pass through Gilroy, the “Garlic Capital of the World,” and cruise through the strawberry fields of Salinas before finding your view of the ocean blocked by the dunes of Sand City. But that’s ok, because the salty smell of the sea air will tell you that you’ve arrived at the Monterey Peninsula.

We arrived in Monterey after a whirlwind two days in San Francisco with one main goal in mind…to see otters in the wild. After reading about my blogger buddy Esther’s adventures kayaking with otters in Monterey Bay, I thought that might be the way to go. Unfortunately we got a late start and it was a chilly day to get wet, so we scratched that off our itinerary. I was worried we might be out of luck for finding otters, but instead, we found a secret surprise.

A Day in Monterey with Kids -- including a secret gem where we found the cutest otters!
Exploring Cannery Row in Monterey, CA

The waterfront in Monterey is a smaller version of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Cannery Row’s old canning factories, made famous by John Steinbeck, are now filled with t-shirt shops and chain restaurants. We arrived hungry and eager to enjoy an oceanview with our meal, but wanted something more local than Bubba Gump’s. Luckily I remembered Jenna from This is My Happiness writing about a restaurant she recommended, A Taste of Monterey.

Where to Eat in Monterey, CA

Tucked away on the second floor of an old cannery, just a couple minutes away from the aquarium, A Taste of Monterey is a wine shop / restaurant with stunning views of the bay. It may not be great for really young kids or picky eaters, but the bistro offers a wide variety of small plates, flatbreads, salads and sandwiches that will satisfy many appetites.

When we arrived at mid-day, we were lucky to walk past the crowds lined up next door to find the place empty. Maybe because you can’t see it from the street and you need to go upstairs and through the wine shop to find it, but A Taste of Monterey is definitely a hidden gem. We were able to sit right by the floor to ceiling windows and pull out our binoculars for a closer look at the seals sunning themselves on the rocks below. But the real payoff came watching a couple of playfully frolicking in the bay below. We were incredibly lucky to see these two adorable critters swimming and eating just outside the restaurant windows.

A Day in Monterey, CA with family -- we found a surprise gem for lunch with amazing views.



With such an exciting display just below our noses, it was hard to draw our attention back to the food and the wine, but when we did, we were not disappointed. We started off by sharing a wine flight (well, us grown ups at least, the little one was too busy watching the otters), baked brie, and Monterey crab dip with artichokes, followed by a flatbread with roasted cauliflower.

A Day in Monterey, CA with family -- we found a surprise gem for lunch with amazing views.
A Taste of Monterey

It was hard to pull ourselves away from the free show outside, but I’d been looking forward to showing our daughter one of our favorite aquarium for months, so it was time to take a stroll through Cannery Row and head over to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium

A day in Monterey, CA is not complete without a visit to the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The back deck of the Monterey Bay Aquarium

What impressed me most during my previous visit over 15 years ago was the underwater kelp forest. While it wasn’t as large or captivating as I recalled, it is still a beautiful sight and so fun to watch all the different fish swim by.

A Day in Monterey with Kids -- including a secret gem where we found the cutest otters!
The Monterey Bay Aquarium kelp forest

We were impressed by the number of hands-on exhibits offered for little kids, along with multiple touch tanks and even a fish-cam that shows what the view is like underwater. And don’t worry, if you didn’t see any otters outside, you can still find them at the aquarium. You’ll want to set aside at least three hours to explore the aquarium and all its wonders — from cuttlefish to octopi to penguins to sea birds and plenty of fish of course. Along the way, the aquarium seeks to educate visitors about sustainable fishing and environmental issues.

A day in Monterey, CA is not complete without a visit to the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Of all the birds, crustaceans, fish and wildlife we saw on exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, by far the most fascinating were the jellyfish. In addition to the aquarium’s large permanent exhibit of jellyfish, when we visited there was a special exhibit “The Jellies Experience” downstairs. With a groovy, 70s-like disco vibe, the exhibit made us feel like we were under the sea (and may have just inspired a future bat mitzvah theme), introducing us to so many of the thousands of varieties of jellyfish out there in that big blue ocean.

A day in Monterey, CA with kids is not complete without a stop at the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium for a look at all the fascinating jellyfish.

You will want to spend at least three hours exploring the aquarium, which is open 10 am – 5pm. The aquarium is easy to find at 886 Cannery Row in downtown Monterey, CA. There are several pay parking garages nearby, making it an easy walk through town, even with a stroller. Tickets are $39.95 for adults, $24.95 for youth 3-12 and under 3 is free. If you are also visiting San Francisco, you might want to invest in a CityPass, which includes admission to the Monterey Bay Aquarium (see my review and savings break down here.)

A Glimpse Inside

We finished off our day in Monterey with a drive along the 17-mile drive through Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach. You’ll have to pay a $10 entrance fee, but the cost is worth it because the views are priceless.

A Day on Monterey: be sure to leave time for a drive along 17 mile drive for beautiful views, seal sightings, and the famous Lone Cypress.
The famous Lone Cypress along 17-mile Drive

If you are staying in Monterey, you can easily loop back around, or, like us, you can continue out of the south gate into downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea.


A day in Monterey, CA with kids -- I'll tell you where to eat, what to do, and where we found the cutest sea otters ever!

Note: Monterey Bay Aquarium provided me with a free media pass to facilitate a review. All opinions are my own.


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Publish Date: May 10, 2015

13 thoughts on “A Day in Monterey, California”

  1. Katja - globetotting

    I LOVE Monterey! We went a few years ago with our kids, including my animal-mad son, and I honestly thought that the aquarium was one of the best we have been to. I’d love to try kayaking with otters next time – although I might have to wait until the kids are a bit older!

  2. Esther of Local Adventurer

    i’m sad the weather wasn’t great for kayaking for you guys. It looks like you got a pretty cool intimate experience with the sea otters though. 🙂 now I’ll have to check out a taste of monterey. also, thanks for sharing our post! 🙂

  3. Victoria from globetotting.com

    Sounds a beautiful spot! I enjoyed the video too – those jelly fish are mesmerising, I could just watch them on loop!

  4. My hubby and I get to Monterey quite often, we love this area. There is SO much to do for adults as well!

  5. I visited Monterey on a family vacation as a kid so this brings back great memories. I’m hoping to do a California road trip in the near future and will definitely have to include Monterey especially for the otters.

    1. I hope if you do you get lucky like we did! Or try the kayaking, you guys would like that.

  6. Wow, you really did get a great view of those otters! I have only seen otters from a distance despite being in Monterey and that area many times. I’m so glad you enjoyed Taste of Monterey. 🙂 Gorgeous photo of the Lone Cypress, by the way.

  7. Katie @ The World on my Necklace

    I love that stretch of coastline and that is so cool that you got to see wild sea otters – one of my favourite animals. I didn’t visit the aquarium when I was in Monterey but the jellyfish experience looks very similar to the one in the Vancovuer Aquarium – I love the electric blue. We also did the 17-mile drive and it was definitely worth the entry fee 🙂

    1. I’ll have to get to the Vancouver aquarium sometime. Seeing the otters was definitely a highlight.

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