Once the capital of Alta California (under Mexican rule), and the former home of writer John Steinbeck, California’s Monterey is a city full of history. While adults will appreciate Monterey’s charming small-town feel, excellent restaurants, and in-town tasting rooms, there’s plenty for kids to be excited about as well. Here are five family-friendly things to do in Monterey.
Consistently recognized as one of the best aquariums in the country -- and the world -- the Monterey Bay Aquarium displays more than 35,000 creatures representing 600 species of sealife, including jellyfish, stingrays, sea otters, sea horse, penguin, tuna, turtles, and sharks. It covers a whopping 175,000 square feet of exhibits, tanks, habitats, and displays, which makes it easy to spend several hours exploring (which, in turn, helps make the high cost of admission worth the price). Don’t miss the educational presentations like sea otter feedings that help kids learn more about the ocean’s ecosystem. Tickets are $49.95 for adults and $29.95 for kids ages 3-12; those under 3 are free.
Old Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row teem with tourists, but with good reason; in both spots you’ll find dozens of great restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops. Old Fisherman’s Wharf is the place to go to enjoy a cup of hot clam chowder, spy sea lions playing in the water, or watch the fishing-industry action at nearby Wharf 2. Waterfront Cannery Row is the site of former sardine canning factories and was named for the John Steinbeck novel of the same name. The Monterey Bay Aquarium sits at one end and the block is lined with art galleries, artisan shops, souvenir stores, ice cream shops, restaurants, and hotels.
The best ways to get around in compact Monterey are on foot or by bike. Several shops rent bikes by the hour or day, so you can park the car and pedal your way around town for the duration of your trip. Flat, paved bike trails run along the coast making it easy for even younger kids to safely bike around town.
Part of the 45-acre El Estero Park, Dennis the Menace Park is a playground on an epic scale. Named for the famous comic book character, whose creator donated money to build the park, it’s been enchanting kids and grown ups since 1956. There’s a statue of Dennis the Menace, of course, and some of the many features include a hedge maze, lookout tower, climbing wall, suspension bridge, old steam engine, swings, slides, climbing nets, and even a zip line.
Monterey offers plenty of ways to get out on the water, including kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and guided whale-watching tours that bring you face-to-face with some of the ocean’s inhabitants. The Monterey Peninsula is home to the largest population of sea otters on the California coast; along with sea lions and harbor seals, they are visible in the waters year round. Whales migrate through the area in fall and spring, but you don’t have to leave land to have a close encounter with some of the area’s incredible sea creatures. Whales, otters, and sea lions can often be spotted from the shore, and you’ll see plenty of seals lounging on the sand right off Cannery Row, especially in the spring when the seal pups arrive.