Monterey Bay Aquarium
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is probably the most well-known attraction on the peninsula, and for good reason! It’s waterfront location provides a perfect place to spot marine life in the wild. During whale migration season in August, it is not uncommon to spot whales in the bay from the aquarium’s viewing platforms. The aquarium has wonderful exhibits that are very engaging and interactive for children. There are touch pools, an interactive create your own fish activity, great kids’ play areas, and various feedings and talks you can see throughout the day. Our favorite to try and attend was the feeding at the Open Sea Exhibit. We would go a little early to find a spot near the glass to sit (it can get pretty packed), have a snack, and watch the fish get their snacks! The aquarium also has a nice, albeit a little pricey, cafe with beautiful bay views. You can also bring in snacks and water and find a bench outside to eat at too. Many locals buy year long memberships because the ticket price is steep and if you think you will visit more than a few times, it is completely worth it!
We lived walking distance from Caledonia Park, so we were there quite often. This is a wonderful park for little kids. It has a fence around it, so no running away. It also has a bathroom and drinking fountain. It’s just off of Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove, which is the main shopping and restaurant spot in town. So it makes for a good place to let kids burn off some energy. I prefer this park over the more well known “Dennis the Menace” park. Dennis the Menace park is also very fun, but it is much bigger, the playscape are bigger and I felt like I had to be very “on” there because of the size of things and the amount of kids. Caledonia is more manageable and better for small children. Also a short walk from the park is Lovers Point which is a scenic outlook, beach, and start of the Coastal Recreation trail. The park also hosts different little fairs and events throughout the year that bring in petting zoos, bounce houses, and some rides.
Walk on the Coastal Trail
This is probably the place our family spent the most time, besides our house. We could also walk here and we loved to either walk, run, or bike the trail. I think it is a must do activity in Monterey. It’s very stroller friendly from Lovers Point toward the wharf (inland). If you go from Lovers Point toward Asilomar it is not paved and you may have to deal with some narrow parts, and uneven terrain. You can rent regular bikes or surrey bikes from bike shops near Cannery Row and cruise up and down the trail to the aquarium, Coast Guard pier (where the sealions hang out), the wharf, and all the way around the bay if you really wanted to! Keep an eye out for seabirds, otters, whales, sea lions, and harbor seals from the path. I guarantee you spot at least a couple animals. It is so scenic and beautiful, especially if you are there in April when the “magic carpet” is blooming and the coastline is bright pink!
Carmel Beach is my favorite beach of the area. The weather always seemed to be better here (less windy than Asilomar), the water is gorgeous, and it is dog-friendly. Not to mention Carmel-by-the-Sea is just behind it with numerous restaurants, shops, and tasting rooms. It is also fun just to drive around Carmel and look at the thatched roof cottages and premiere real estate! If you are here in October, look for the sand castle contest. It is a local favorite event with everything from very amateur constructions to elaborate and impressive sculptures.
Pizza & Gelato at Cafe Ariana
Our favorite place for pizza and gelato was Cafe Ariana on Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove. There is another ice cream shop down the road known for its kitschy Beatles decor, but I preferred the always changing flavors at Cafe Ariana. It’s a family owned business serving up salads, paninis, pizza, beer and wine. Sometimes we would walk over after dinner just to get some gelato. The atmosphere is calm and there is some nice outdoor seating on Lighthouse Avenue for people watching. Everyone who travels with kids knows you always need a good ice cream bribe, and this is the place to do it!
Earthbound Farm Stand
A short drive into Carmel Valley is the Earthbound Farm Stand. We loved coming here for outdoor play time. There is a giant tipi, children’s garden, cut your own herb garden, and of course a place to buy all organic lunches, groceries, and ice cream. Throughout the year the also host fun family events, like a bug walk where you are led through the gardens with one of the farmers to learn about the plants and pollination. At the end, each child is given a handful of ladybugs to release on the plants! This is also a great place for pumpkins in the fall. Look for pumpkin painting and fall festivals through the season. Also next to it is a feed store that you can walk to that has several different farm animals to look at.
The Wharf Marketplace sits along the Coastal Trail nearby the wharf. It carries specialty groceries and serves salads, sandwiches, ice cream, beer, and wine. There is outdoor seating where you can relax. Kids can climb on the big stationary tractor, adults can play bags/corn hole. Our favorite thing to do on a nice day was bike on the trail from Lovers Point to Wharf Marketplace, have lunch and a beer, then bike home. Also look for wine tasting events and specialty food being cooked up on the weekends!
Drive Highway 1
This is also a must of visiting the area. It isn’t technically Monterey Bay, but Monterey is the perfect jump off point for a drive to Big Sur. Try to aim for a day where it is clear so your view won’t be spoiled by fog. Drive south on Highway 1 AKA the Pacific Coast Highway. Stop at as many or as few lookout points as you want. Once again, if visiting in peak whale migration season (either January or August), bring your binoculars and look for whales! You don’t even need the binoculars though, you can see whale spouts with your naked eye. Bixby Bridge is along this route, a great photo spot but just hold tight to your little ones and head the warning signs about where to walk. Other great stops are Garapata State Park, McWay Falls, and Pfeiffer Beach. The views are unbeatable! We had a great lunch at Cafe Kevah which is the same location at Nepenthe. Both are great and have stunning views!