14 years ago, in the age before iPhones and bitchin’ digital cameras, my parents came back to London from Monterey with packets full of fuzzy 6 x 4 photo prints and tales of the bay’s beauty. It looked stunning even in the worst of photos and I became determined to see it for myself ever since. This week, at 34, I finally ticked it off my list.
With American annual leave being on the absolute pathetic side of dire, we only had a four day window total. Two of those days were to be taken up with road travel, so we only had 48 hrs in Monterey….actually I think it was more like 43hrs , arriving Tuesday night direct from San Diego and leaving late Thursday afternoon to Ventura for a pit stop. Here’s what we crammed in:
Day 1: OUTDOOR FUN!
After spending pretty much a full day sitting and snacking in the car on the way up, we were all itching to stretch our legs. So we set our sights on Point Lobos State Reserve in Carmel, just 20 minutes out of central Monterey. We were lured by promises of breath-taking cliff side views, crashing waves, sea lions, otters, elephant seals, plus a handful of easy and accessible trails for kids / strollers (four in total). We certainly weren’t disappointed.
It costs $10 to enter the reserve itself, or you can find street parking at the entrance and walk through to the cove area. With kids in tow we thought it best to pay, though be warned, parking is limited so it’s best to get there early – we arrived at 8.30am and by the time we left at 1pm, the ‘FULL’ sign was on permanent display.
We had a supermarket breakfast courtesy of Walmart in Whalers Cove, where I realised just how much I had been missing the deep, rich green colour of my rainy homeland.
We followed the cove around and clambered over marble like rocks, explored tide pools, spotted sea otters at play and sleepy sea lions, and also took the short (0.5m) hike around the gorgeous China Cove to see Gibson Beach and Bird Island, which is covered in cormorants.
While the kids loved it, for the parents there are a good few nerve wracking areas on some of the trails where you will find just a small piece of rope marking the cliffs edge, so much to the kids’ annoyance, we had a strict hand holding / in stroller policy in a lot of the hiking areas.
On our way to back to downtown Monterey for lunch, we decided to take a scenic route. We were on the fence about doing the famous 17 mile drive, but after reading that we could drive around equally beautiful scenery for free, we decided against it. So no Pebble Beach for us. Instead we headed to Asilomar State Beach and followed Sunset Drive and Ocean View Blvd, hugging the coast edge the whole way around. We ogled at all the fancy houses, saw all the romantics at Lovers Point Park (I wondered how many proposals had taken place there that year already…?) and then ended up going through the bustling Cannery Row past the Aquarium to Fisherman’s Wharf.
We headed to Lou Lou Griddle in the Middle for lunch on Municipal Wharf 2 (
next to Fisherman’s Wharf). It’s one of Guy Fieri’s hotspots on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. Cute décor, very kid friendly, a lot of fun, but VERY tiny (just a counter top, 4-5 small booths inside and a handful of tables outside) so be prepared to wait for a table. It was worth the wait though! I had champagne and crab cakes, JJ had calamari and beer and the kids halved fish and chips – all a grand total of $50.
Post lunch, we blew off some steam -and calories- at the Dennis the Menace Playground – probably the cleanest park I’ve ever been to. A lot of fun for pre-schoolers (Maia sobbed when we left), but a lot of frustration for Harry who is still working on his steps and climbing.
We freshened up back at the hotel and then headed Downtown once again for dinner and a stroll through Fisherman’s Wharf, which was a lot smaller than I imagined. Underwhelming. We did meet a guy playing a guitar and singing with rabbits on his head though. He let us play with the baby bunny, the size of a tennis ball, for a few sweet minutes. That made Maia and Harry’s evening.
Dinner was supposed to be at the Monterey Fish House, but we couldn’t get a table, so we headed to Sea Harvest Fish Market and Restaurant. A great find. This tiny, simple restaurant only holds 36 and has a fish shop counter on one side, and tables on the other, so you can buy it fresh and cook at home, or sit down and dine. The salmon I had was the melt in your mouth kind of stuff. In fact I’m still thinking about it. It more than compensated for the fact that the side vegetables were a bit school dinner-style bland. JJ ordered the seafood pasta (creamy heaven!) and the kids had grilled chicken and rice. The four of us dined for $60 including wine (the kids halved a child meal). We’d definitely recommend Sea Harvest – a lot of locals were eating there alongside tourists. The staff were fantastic with the kids, completely overlooking a full scale Harry meltdown (I cut his food the wrong way this time). It was great value and really delicious. The only negative was that Maia fell in love with one of the crabs in the tank by our table, only to see it be plucked out and then served to the family next to us a few minutes later…. Oh dear.
Day 2: INSIDE FUN!
Aquarium Day. I don’t know who was more excited, me or the kids.
We had breakfast in First Awakenings which is just around the corner from the aquarium. Its prices reflect the convenient location, it was not cheap. But it was jam-packed and the food was really really great. And huge! Omelette for me, chicken fried steak for JJ and pancakes for the kids. Breakfast for four in this old converted factory cost $60 (again M&H shared one meal).
The Monterey Aquarium also isn’t cheap, but it was on another level to any other aquarium I have ever been to. I’m almost embarrassed for London Aquarium now, Monterey makes it look like a goldfish paddling pool. Adults were $50, kids were $30. We spent from 9.30am – 2.30pm with our jaws wide open. It’s huge. Absolutely stunning, being nestled right on the ocean’s edge.You could just tell everybody there really really loved their job- and that always makes me insanely happy / envious. We loved the sea otter feeding, the jellies, the octopus playing football, the touch pools (daddy impressed the kids by patting a bat ray), the kelp forest, but by far the best bit for me was the SARDINES! In the gigantic Open Sea exhibit (holding 1.2 million gallons of water), there were over 20,000 sardines swimming around hammerhead sharks and giant tuna fish in what can only be described as a sardine cyclone. It was utterly hypnotising.
I also learned that Mahi Mahi is actually dolphin fish, but the name puts people off the menu… Did you know that?
Once all the exhibits have been hit, there is a huge café for lunch (tourist prices apply!) plus a fun play area for the kids – made up of water play, tunnels and climbing frames. There’s a separate play area for the littler guys too. It is in this kid zone that you will also find Nemo and Dory. Expect huge levels of squeals and excitement here!
Being summer, it was CRAZY busy, but we happily let Maia wear herself out before another big drive down to Ventura that evening. Harry had already admitted defeat by this point. Too much fun in a little under 48 hrs.
And so that was our time in Monterey. Short but very very sweet. Many happy memories to bank. And build on. I want to take another trip with the kids a little older, so they can have solid memories of this coastal magic with Mummy and Daddy – and then perhaps dream of taking their own little ones there one day.