Favorite Things To Do With Toddlers in Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay

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!


Caledonia Park

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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


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!

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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.

Wharf Marketplace


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!


Lunch at Cafe Kevah


Roaring Camp Railroads


If you live within an hour of Felton, CA and have little ones that like trains, this is the place for you! Just about 45 min-1 hour away from where we live is Roaring Camp Railroads. It is a popular place to go for a steam train ride. We’ve heard about it since we arrived in Monterey, but just recently made it up there. We hemmed and hawed about whether to do it or not (the tickets aren’t exactly cheap) and we weren’t sure if our daughter would get much out of it. Recently we had a group of friends that wanted to do it, so we jumped on the bandwagon and decided to do it too.

There are different options of train rides. The one we did was a 90 minute round trip ride through the redwood forest. There is also an option that takes you out to the Santa Cruz boardwalk and back. They do various other special rides throughout the year too like holiday rides and Thomas the Train rides.

When we arrived at the station, I was surprised to see how many buildings were there. There was a ticket booth, a general store, and several little play houses and photo cut outs for kids to play with. Plenty to entertain the littles while you wait for the train.

The train itself was open air, meaning no roof over your head. It makes for a great view, but a chilly ride, so bundle up! We boarded the train and off we went! We chose the first car, right behind the engine. The kids were all very excited and loved riding the train and hearing the whistle. We rode 45 minutes through the woods up to a little stop where we got off with just enough time for a potty break and some pictures before heading back down to the main station. There was also some entertaining narration, giving us the history of the area and pointing out special things along the ride.

Everyone really had a fun time and we were glad we forked out the money to do it (about $75 for 3 tickets). The kids all loved it and talked about it for days afterward. After our ride was over, we hung out near the station. Our friend bought some duck food and we went over to the pond to feed the ducks. Some kids like ducks, and then there are kids like my daughter who think it’s normal to try to pick the ducks up to hold them, as if they were her pets. Yikes, don’t forget the hand sanitizer!

After we had exhausted our duck feed supplies, we stopped into the nearby town of Felton for lunch. We ate at The Cremer House. I would happily eat there again anytime! The food was great, and they also brew their own beers and artisanal sodas. The one I had was Grapefruit Mint-yum! We sat on the patio and munched on burgers, sandwiches, pretzels and fries.

Check out the website for Roaring Camp Railroads HERE. And if you’re looking for a good place to eat when you’re up there, stop by The Cremer House.


How to Spend a Day in Palo Alto with Kids

At the tail end of summer, after bringing our son home from the NICU in Austin, I had to take him to a follow up medical appointment at Stanford University. Stanford is in Palo Alto, California about a 2 hour drive from where we live. So instead of hauling my babies up there for a 30 minute appointment and then just jumping in the car to come back, I decided to try and make a fun day trip out of it! At first it was a little hard to decide what to do, but here’s how we spent our time.

After sitting in the car for 2 hours, we were ready to get out and stretch our legs. So our first stop was to the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo. This small zoo and interactive children’s museum is free,  and just asks a suggested donation of $5. The indoor museum had some animals on display as well as insect costumes for dramatic play, and a few machines that moved balls around and spat them out in interesting ways. Outside is a small zoo, we’re talking really small. But for my 2 year old, there was just enough to be entertained without having to walk long distances.


Observing the cockroaches.


Oh look, a tarantula!


Snuggling up to the bobcat statue outside.


And here’s the real bobcat!


We saw the rats with their hairless babies.


The snake decided to give an up-close hello.

I was expecting there to be a little more to see at the zoo, but for the price and for my daughter’s age it was enough. There were many other toddlers there, but I think older children might be in and out of this place in 15 minutes. The zoo had a couple shady spots to sit and have a snack, and a nice big pond in the middle with fish, birds, and turtles.

After about an hour at the zoo, it was time to head to the doctor’s office. Once we were all good to go there, my daughter and I were starving so we headed to University Avenue. There you can find plenty of restaurants, anything from casual grab-and-go food, to upscale dining. Based purely on parking location and immediate need to eat, we ended up at the Cheesecake Factory! Honestly we were both very satisfied with our food, but here are some other restaurants on University I was interested in trying:

*Oren’s Hummus Shop




Kids’ meal at the Cheesecake Factory-chicken “muggets” and fruit!

And since we were already there, I couldn’t help but make a stop by CREAM, a shop known for their ice cream cookie sandwiches. You can choose your flavor of freshly baked cookies as well as choosing the type of ice cream that goes inside. For my first time I stuck with the classic chocolate chip cookies and vanilla ice cream. It was as delicious as you would imagine it to be! But it was also so big that I had a hard time finishing it, and I normally don’t have that problem with desserts! I saw people who came in after me order a half a sandwich. If I were to go back I would order that instead of the full size one, or split the full one with a friend. This place is known to have a line out the door, but luckily for us there wasn’t one when we got there…but there was when we left!


Ice cream sandwich for Mom, and chocolate ice cream for baby girl-though we easily could’ve shared!


Sweet treat for a well-behaved little girl!

By the time we finished our frozen treats, it was time to get in the car to head home. It doesn’t seem like we did that much, but I assure you the day was full! When you’re getting 2 kids in and out of the car, changing 2 diapers, feeding a toddler and a baby, and pumping in the car…your day goes by pretty fast! Forgive my iPhone photography for this post. I was wearing a baby in the ergo, carrying a diaper bag, and holding a toddler’s hand. Carrying the full size camera was just a little more than I could handle that day!

Check out this list for more things to do in Palo Alto! I’m still hoping to go back just to explore Stanford’s campus, hopefully we will find the time soon!

Takeoffs & Toddlers at the Monterey Airport

As a mom of a 2 year old, I find myself constantly looking for ways to entertain my little one that are fun for me too. Sometimes you need a change from the usual park you always go to. Or to do something fun in the middle of the week to break up days of running errands. One place we’ve discovered as genius place to take little kids is to the local airport!IMG_3436 The Monterey airport has a large observation deck with a restaurant connected to it. We sometimes go and let the kids watch the airplanes take off and land and then sit down for an outdoor lunch. The airport mostly has small private planes flying in and out, so the noise isn’t too loud. Sometimes the commercial planes pull right up to the observation window, so close the pilot starts waving to the kids!IMG_3440


Big observation deck with a lot of space to move around.

It has the magic combination of open space for kids to walk around, while still being contained. I love that I can sit on a nearby bench, change the baby’s diaper and still see my toddler the whole time. IMG_3445 IMG_3446 The Golden Tee is the restaurant that connects to the observation deck. It has tables outside or you could go inside and sit in the dining room. Then menu is mostly various sandwiches and burgers. They’re known for their sand dab (type of fish) sandwich. They also have a kids’ menu with various selections.


Bye-Bye Airplanes! Time to eat lunch!

When you go, park in the short term parking lot and bring your parking ticket with you. If you eat at the restaurant, they will validate your parking. It’s a great way to spend a sunny morning.  Watch the planes, eat a little lunch, and be home in time for a nap!

Carmel Sandcastle Contest

Over the weekend we attended a fun, family-friendly event in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The annual sandcastle contest took place on the beach Sunday. We almost didn’t make it, sometimes Sunday mornings can be slow going and make you just want to nap all day. But thanks to some encouragement from our friends, we pulled it together and made our way to the beach.

From what I read, the contest is open to anyone who wants to partake. No professional sculpting experience needed. Rumor has it that the judges welcome and expect bribery as a form of bolstering scores. And we did see tables set out with champagne and cookies that were for judges only! So the real trick here is to find out how to become a judge!

The theme was “post cards from the sea” and while you don’t have to adhere to it, most people did.  We were very impressed with the sand sculptures we saw!  Take a look at some of them below.

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My favorite, “Sea Selfie”


If you didn’t make it out this year, put this event on your calendar for next year! You could come early and take part in the competition by building your best sand sculpture, or just come play on the beach and take a look at everyone else’s hard work! It was a fun atmosphere, we saw several people walking with mimosas and tables set up with breakfast foods. It’s not a bad way to spend a fall day!

Favorite Coffe Shop in Monterey Bay

After living in the Monterey Bay area for several months, I feel like I’ve gotten to know the area pretty well. I have found some of my favorite places and things to do. So I thought I’d share some of these places for anyone who is new to the area or will be visiting!IMG_2998

Since it was National (or International, not sure which one) Coffee Day earlier this week, I’ll start with my favorite local coffee shop!  Bookworks is located in the quaint town of Pacific Grove on the main drag Lighthouse Avenue.  Lighthouse Avenue is full of small businesses, eclectic shops, and Victorian architecture.  We were introduced to Bookworks by our favorite book loving, coffee drinking friends T & L (who I’m sure will be excited about this post).

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So why do we love Bookworks?  First of all, and most importantly, for the yummy coffee drinks they serve up!  Last weekend I had a delicious chai latte, and I also am a fan of their frappes.  They also have a variety of baked goods displayed on pretty cake plates, and other kid friendly snacks like those fruit pouches that it seems all kids love.  It’s easy to get a stroller in here, it is on the ground level (no stairs) and has plenty of seating including tables outside to sip your java al fresco and comfortable couches inside.  The coffee shop is also attached to a bookstore.  The bookstore has a nice selection of children’s books and puppets that can entertain your little ones after they get restless.


Just catching up on the news at Bookworks!


Lovingly cradling a fawn stuffed animal from the bookstore.

So if you find yourself in the area, stop in for your favorite coffee or tea and take a spin through the bookstore!  What other coffee shops in the Monterey area are your favorites?

Hearst Castle

Our weekend in Paso Robles/San Luis Obispo ended with a drive home on the iconic Pacific Coast Highway or Highway 1, with a stop at Hearst Castle. We were not exactly on our travel game for Hearst Castle and could’ve improved our experience by planning ahead.

#1 sightseeing tip: Always make reservations in advance for popular sites!

#2 sightseeing tip: Arrive as close to the opening time as possible!

We neglected to do these things, and by the time we arrived at the castle around 11:30 A.M. we weren’t able to get into a tour until 2:00. Doesn’t seem like that big of a deal but when you’re traveling with kids, timing is everything.  2:00 happens to be right at the time of day our daughter normally naps. So we were faced with the dilemma of keeping her up vs. try to squeeze in a short nap and having to wake her mid-snooze. Oh, and we also needed to fit lunch in somewhere.

We decided to drive a few miles down the road to find a restaurant to eat at. By the time we got there, our daughter was asleep. We thought it best to let her sleep as long as possible so we got in the car and drove a few miles north of the castle to an elephant seal viewing area. We took turns getting out of the car to look at the seals who were sunbathing close to the viewing platform. I was able to snap a couple pictures before our next travel mistake…full memory card.

#3 sightseeing tip: Always make sure your memory card and battery are squared away before you leave!

We should’ve had an extra memory card with us, but we didn’t. So we had to resort to scanning through pictures and deleting unnecessary ones in the car on the way back to the castle for our tour. Therefore, we really didn’t have any great pictures of the seals on the beach. Fail.


Here’s the one photo I was able to snap.

We made it back to the visitor center of the castle and had just enough time to grab lunch at the cafe inside. Nothing much to write home about here. Burgers, hotdogs, chicken fingers, and $8.00 slices of pizza…ouch! Eating before your tour is important though because there is absolutely no food or drinks at the top of the hill where the castle is. We also made sure to allow enough time to view the movie Hearst Castle: Building the Dream in the 5 story theater at the visitor center.  Viewing the movie before your tour will help you build an understanding of William Randolph Hearst, the man who built the castle.

Then it was time to board our bus to take us up the hill to the estate.  The bus has a narration by Alex Trebeck letting you know what you’re seeing on the way up.  Watch for animals as there are still a special type of deer and zebras roaming the hills below the property.  Once atop the hill, which is more than a hill but less than a mountain, you are greeted with the gorgeous spanish style mansion and gardens.  You will meet a tour guide on the stairs immediately after disembarking the bus.  The whole bus full of people is your tour group, so if you’re looking for a small, intimate tour-think again.

This was our first tour in a while, most of the tours we did in Europe were when our daughter was at an age where she was happy to sit quietly in her stroller.  I will never forget the tour guide at the Houses of Parliament in London praising her at 5 months old for being “the most well-behaved child on a tour EVER.”  Well gone are those days.  Now she is an active and mobile 2 year old who has her own opinions on what to do.

If you plan to bring young children to Hearst Castle I will just warn you not to let them touch the pond!  There are handlers placed in the courtyard for the sole purpose of making sure no one touches the marble pond.  Challenging when the pond is ground height and has fish swimming around in it,  tempting even the most well-behaved children to lean in and take a look.


Do not touch or lean on the surrounding marble in any way! You will be called out if you do (or if your child does)!


Here I am struggling to keep our daughter off the marble while my hubby sets up the camera for a family shot. I’m sure I was yelled at 0.5 seconds after this was taken.

The tour of the home itself was about 45 minutes long.  It was informative and often invited you to imagine yourself as a guest of Mr. Hearst and what it might be like.  Hearing the stories, seeing the film, and visiting the property made me think of The Great Gatsby.  It seemed to be a real life version.  My husband didn’t get as much enjoyment out of the tour because he was busy occupying our restless tot.  But they had fun looking at the “scary guys” on walls and finding other fun things to look at.  The tour ends in the home’s theater where you can see some short reels of William Hearst and his famous friends at the house in it’s heyday.  When the tour ends you’re free to roam the gardens and the exterior for as long as you like before boarding a bus to go back down to the visitor center.  Sadly, the exterior pool was drained for maintenance during our visit.  From pictures and what I saw, it would truly be the jewel of the property when it is full and in working order.  HearstCastle1


The indoor Roman pool, just about the most fabulous pool I think I’ve ever seen.


All in all it was a fun visit! Hearst Castle is one of the highlights of the Central California Coast.  I would say though not super “kid-friendly” don’t let having kids stop you from making a visit.  Just know your own children and plan accordingly!  We drove home on the Pacific Coast Highway and saw why you hear so much about it.  The views are stunning, and that is an understatement!  So ended our long weekend away.  Our next getaway will be up to Sonoma Valley, and we’re really looking forward to it!  Feel free to leave any Sonoma recommendations in the comments!