The historic city of Monterey lies at the south end of Monterey Bay in central California. Its spectacularly beautiful landscape, moderate climate, and abundance of fascinating attractions make it a popular destination for families with children. In town, you can explore shops, restaurants, museums, and other attractions within walking distance of your vacation rental. In the surrounding area, enjoy cycling, kayaking, wildlife observation, and sightseeing at unique and lovely locations. Book a stay at a vacation rental in Monterey today. Check out the most unforgettable family-friendly things to do in Monterey.
1. Explore Cannery Row
Monterey’s unique iconic street runs along the waterfront. It used to be called Ocean View Avenue, but the city renamed it Cannery Row in honor of Nobel Prize-winner John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name. Within the renovated canneries lining Cannery Row are numerous specialty shops and art galleries. Attractions for children include mini-golf, a mirror maze, a laser obstacle course, arcade games, and live music. When you get hungry after all the fun, choose between more than 25 restaurant options. Be sure to grab dessert before heading back to your vacation rental; try the Candy Factory or Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop.
2. Admire the Aquarium
In the midst of Cannery Row sits one of North America’s largest aquariums. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s 34 galleries and almost 200 exhibits hold over 35,000 specimens of around 600 species of sea creatures. The centerpiece Kelp Forest exhibit, which features leopard sharks, stingrays, and other fish, is in a 28-foot-high tank, one of the tallest fish tanks in the world. The enormous Open Sea exhibit, with its 90-foot-wide window, focuses on Monterey Bay inhabitants such as green sea turtles, tufted puffins, Pacific bonitoes, sardines, and jellyfish. Other popular displays focus on giant Pacific octopuses, penguins, and sea otters.
3. Visit the Museums
Monterey has a number of fascinating and entertaining museums. The Monterey History and Maritime Museum houses collections of paintings, photography, costumes, furniture, and other objects that focus on local history. The Monterey Museum of Art highlights regional artwork from the late 19th century to the present. The Monterey Art Walk takes you on a tour of these and other historical attractions. If you have young children, don’t miss a visit to the MY, or Monterey Youth, Museum. It’s full of fun activities and interactive exhibits for toddlers and school-age kids in categories such as Creation Station, Day at the Beach, Healthy Farm, Town Hall, and Theater.
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4. Go Cycling
Cycling the numerous bike lanes and trails is a great way for the family to get out of your vacation rental and discover Monterey. The relaxing 18-mile paved Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail begins north of the city of Monterey in Castroville, follows the seacoast, passes through Cannery Row, and ends up in beautiful Pacific Grove. If you have small children and want to cycle together, you can rent a four-wheel canopy-covered surrey, a cycle with two sets of pedals that can hold from two to six people. If you enjoy mountain biking, try the Cooper Ranch Loop at nearby Garland Ranch Regional Park.
5. Paddle the Bay
For a terrific family friendly adventure, rent kayaks and explore nearby waters. Monterey Bay and Elkhorn Slough both have calm, sheltered surfaces that are perfect for beginning paddlers. Local companies can outfit you and provide instruction so you can strike out and explore on your own. Alternatively, you can join a tour for additional guidance, safety, and companionship.
6. Observe Wildlife
The Monterey area is rich in diverse wildlife. One of the most popular family activities is whale-watching. You can often spot whales from shore, but for a close-up look, join a whale-watching tour. Experienced personnel know just where to take you to view blue whales, gray whales, humpback whales, Pacific right whales, and sperm whales. Other marine mammals you can view along the coast include sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, and elephant seals. Offshore is the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest marine sanctuary in the United States, which hosts an enormous kelp forest and marine animals such as whales, dolphins, turtles, fish, and seabirds. You can explore it by sailing, kayaking, or scuba diving.
7. Take the 17-Mile Drive
One of the world’s most scenic drives is just west of Monterey. It begins in Pacific Grove and follows the coast to Pebble Beach. Along the way, it passes spectacular scenery and iconic landmarks such as the Lone Cypress, Stillwater Cove, Spanish Bay, and the Del Monte Forest. Pack up a picnic lunch at your vacation rental so you can linger and admire the view, or treat the family to a meal at one of the renowned seafood restaurants.
8. Marvel at the Butterfly Sanctuary
Pacific Grove, which adjoins Monterey on the west, hosts the world-famous Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary. Thousands of lovely monarch butterflies arrive from northern locations in October and remain until February. They hang in large clusters from the branches of cypress, pine, and eucalyptus trees. The grove is free for visitors to observe, photograph, and video its vibrantly colored denizens as long as you don’t touch them.
9. Tour the Steinbeck Center
A trip to Monterey is not complete without a visit to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. Just a few minutes’ drive east in the lovely Salinas Valley, this fascinating museum houses artifacts, artwork, manuscripts, video interviews, and other exhibits relevant to the Nobel-Prize-winning author’s life and contributions to literature. Many of Steinbeck’s books are set in Monterey and the Salinas Valley, and a tour of the Steinbeck Center allows you to link descriptions in the famous novels with the sights you see in Monterey County.
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