Exploring the touch pool at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Kid-Friendly Monterey – Exploring Monterey Bay and Carmel Peninsula with Kids

Spring is the perfect time to introduce young ones to the wonders of the Monterey Bay and the surrounding coast. Along with the usual sea lions, pelicans, and otters, the gray whales’ migration is in full swing, so with the help of some binoculars, littlies can get a glimpse of some blowholes and flipping tails out amongst the waves.

Of course, weather can be a bit unpredictable in the spring, so if you find your beach plans socked in by fog or your hike plans bumped by rain, there are far worse places to find yourself than the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. In fact, we think a perfect day would be spent waiting out the fog and getting acquainted with the creatures at the aquarium, then spending the afternoon outside in the sun and sea air.

WHERE TO STAY:

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As one of northern California’s biggest tourist destinations, the Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row areas of Monterey boast plenty of family-friendly accommodations. However, while some have gotten a bit shabby over the years, a pair of centrally-located ones have been renovated and are worthy of your attention. First, there’s the Monterey Bay Inn, which boasts private balconies in all of its guest rooms, as well as a rooftop hot tub with view of the bay. Complimentary breakfast delivered to your room is another plus (rates start at around $180/night) .

Our other downtown pick is the Clement.

Kids on the climbing wall at the Clement

With its modern decor and oceanfront patio (as well as many rooms with balconies and fireplaces), it’s quickly becoming the go-to spot for those in the know (rates start at around $170/night). TIP: the onsite VIP Kids Club provides childcare options and babysitting, so that you can steal some private time with your spouse. Kids can scramble on a climbing wall, play video games, or learn more about Monterey while you enjoy grown-up time.

If you’d rather stay away from Cannery Row, the Julia Morgan-designed Asilomar Conference Center, in nearby Pacific Grove, offers more of a resort feel. From its perch among the dunes, you can wander the surrounding boardwalks on foot or bicycle, and they offer aquarium packages—an awesome way to save money for some stuffed sea otter souvenirs (rates start at around $120/night, aquarium package for $191/night)

GET OUT AND PLAY:

First stop: the Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you haven’t been in awhile, you’ll want to check out the blackfoot penguins, which are always a major hit with kids. And the Secret Life of Seahorses, a special exhibit featuring several different species of these ethereal, captivating creatures, is another surefire crowd-pleaser. The Rocky Shore touch pool (is your tot brave enough to stroke a sea cucumber?) and the outer bay exhibit (complete with glowing, drifting jellyfish) are also must-sees for the little ones.

Located near Fisherman’s Wharf, MY Museum is another rainy day attraction for families. The 100% hand-on exhibit is ideal for the under 5 set, with miniature sandy beaches, vegetable fields and golf courses that replicate the world just outside the museum doors.   It has reciprocal family memberships with children’s museums all over the country, including the San Jose Children’s Discovery Museum, the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito and Habitot in Berkeley.

Teeming with kids on the weekends, Dennis the Menace playground is located just steps from the Monterey Pier and  Del Monte beach in Monterey’s Estero Park. Built with a donation from cartoonist and Monterey local Hank Ketcham, the park’s been around since 1956, and several renovations over the decades have improved it. Standout features include a life-sized train engine that kids can climb all over, a suspension bridge, a hedge maze, several massive climbing structures and, of course, a bronze statue of Dennis that your little menaces will love posing next to.

If it’s sun, sand, and sea you’re after, head a few miles south. Carmel Beach always finds a special place in the hearts of visitors. Maybe it’s the supersoft sand, the frolicking fams and pooches, the tidepools ripe for exploring or the great views of Pebble Beach (earth to dad…earth to dad…). Either way, it’s one of our favorite beaches in all of California. TIP: the parking lot is usually full, so look for parking first on a nearby side street.

For some full-on coastal drama, the views of the water and of Carmel from Point Lobos make for some of the best photos around. Organize the group for a family snapshot, then take a short hike, checking out sea otters, sea lions and harbor seals along the way. TIP: Beware of poison oak, it’s rampant around here, and the brambly bushes sprout only tiny (but still potent and itch-inducing) leaves as warning. Wear long sleeves and pants, stay on the path, and you’ll be rewarded with a quintessential Cali experience, minus the itchies.

GET THEM TO EAT:

It’s easy to overspend on oversized plates of mediocre seafood, but if you keep things simple, everyone will stay happy. Grabbing a bowl of chowder from Old Fisherman’s Grotto on the Monterey Pier or some fish tacos from The Fishwife’s Turtle Bay Taqueria are great options for lunch, and for dinner, Taste Café or Red House Café, both in Pacific Grove, offer elegant fare for adults along with kid-friendly fare in tasteful settings.

Do you have a favorite kid-friendly restaurant or activity in Monterey? Let us know!

—Sarah Bossenbroek