Families looking for a great travel destination will find it in Monterey, California! Between breathtaking coastal scenery, amazing wildlife, and a plethora of fun activities, there is something for everyone in Monterey! We absolutely LOVED our time in the Monterey, California area! I fell in love with the area during our #FindingDoryEvent and couldn’t wait to bring the family. So, we partnered with Visit Monterey for a fabulous long-weekend trip to the area. The trip was extra easy for us as there are direct flights from Phoenix to the Monterey Regional Airport – so nice! We kept VERY busy during our 3 days and now have a solid list of our 10 best family activities in the area! 1. Monterey Bay Aquarium –
As I shared in our Finding Dory Aquarium post, the aquarium ALONE is worth a visit to the area. There is a reason this aquarium is consistently ranked as 1 of the top 3 in the world! We spent the better part of an entire day there and the kids loved it! There are SO many awesome exhibits and things to do with the kids (so much so that I’ll be sharing more details in a separate post). But, if you are in the area, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is an absolute MUST-SEE! The otters alone are worth the price of admission! 🙂
2. Elkhorn Slough Safari –
For those wanting to see some of the amazing California wildlife actually in the wild, I cannot recommend a trip to the Elkhorn Slough highly enough! The Elkhorn Slough Safari is a fantastic tour (about 2 hours long) that leaves out of Moss Landing (about a 25-35 minute drive north of Monterey). The water on the slough is very calm (so no worries of getting sea sick) and the whole thing is fabulously educational! We were VERY impressed with the crew – the knowledge, their ability to spot wildlife, how great they were with the kids. We saw more birds than I even remember, no less than FORTY (40) sea otters – two with babies, at least 20 seals (many with pups), and hundreds of sea lions!
This is just a *little* sampling of all the amazing animal photos I took on the tour! It was SO amazing to see all these animals in one spot! So, I HIGHLY recommend this safari for anyone that wants guaranteed otter and wildlife spotting. It’s really really fabulous – the perfect way to spend a few hours in the Monterey area!
3. Tidepooling –
Tidepooling is SUCH an educational experience and GREAT for exploring. My boys were SO excited about finding creatures and talking about them all. My boys had never seen tide pools like this, so it was such a great experience! And we saw SO many different creatures– sea anemones, purple sea urchins, crabs, hermit crabs, snails, barnacles, little fish, even a bat star. We loved it!!! The best places we found for tidepooling were at the Asilomar Beach area in Pacific Grove and Point Lobos State Reserve. Pro-tip: Make sure you everyone has water shoes for this activity as it makes it SO much easier (and safer)! We all have pairs of Speedo water shoes (affiliate) and love them!
4. Point Lobos State Reserve –
You probably could spend almost a whole day here, there is so much to do. But, I’d for sure allot a solid 2-3 hours! We spent over 3 hours there and found plenty to do (and didn’t even see huge chunks of the park). There are a plethora of trails (many with completely different ecology and looks) – from coastal walks, rocky tide pool beaches, cliff overlooks, cypress groves – the whole area is very cool! We found this area a great spot for seeing wildlife too! We saw our first otter of the trip here, countless sea lions in the distance, fun creatures in the tide pools, and quite a few harbor seals! It was amazing to see the seals (and especially the new babies) so close in the wild! If you get lucky, theis can also be a good spot for whale watching! So, if don’t have time to make it to any of the other State Parks in the area, this Point Lobos tops our list!
5. Big Sur/Pacific Coast Highway Day Trip – If you do have a bit more time and really want to explore, I cannot recommend a trip to Big Sur along the down the Pacific Coast Highway enough. We LOVED our day exploring from Monterey down to Big Sur (stopping at 3 different State Parks). You can read in detail about the day and our complete Big Sur day trip itinerary example here.
6. Carmel Beach–
If you have time for NO other beach time, this is the one you HAVE to go to. It is AMAZING!!! The views are great and the kids of course LOVED playing on the beach (even if the water was frigid)! The fact that you have to go down a rather substantial hill to get down to the beach just makes it all the more unique.
The beach cliffs of the famed Pebble Beach are what you’ll see when you look right and when you look left, you’ll see the the tip of Point Lobos. So pretty! Carmel Beach really is a must-do and I highly HIGHLY recommend it for sunset! There were SO many photographers there – It really is an incredible view!
7. 17 Mile Drive –
While certainly not as exciting for the kids as some of the other ideas here, it’s worth the $10 bucks to do the drive! Not only do you get to see the famed Pebble Beach (where you’re welcome to park at the hotel, go through the lobby, and even hang out on some of the green space), but there are fun sight-seeing landmarks all along the way that make it interesting enough for the kids. We even stopped for a picnic dinner and ended up watching a gray whale mom & calf! Was SO cool! The views all along the drive are breathtaking – as are some of the insanely crazy houses that we saw, like the one for sale that we grabbed a paper on. We could have bough it for a cool $19.9 million! Hahahahah! 8. Dennis the Menace Park –
Normally a park would NOT be high on our travel priority list (even with the kids). But we had heard SO much about this park from friends and other family travel bloggers, that we had to check it out. And, it is indeed a FUN park. So SO much to do. Our boys were THRILLED that we took them there for an hour to play! If you’re short on time (or your kids are older), skip it. But, if you have little ones and a bit of extra time, this is fun to check out. 9. Cannery Row – This is fun to walk around on your way to or from the aquarium. There are some fun shops, places for treats, and great views of the bay. If your kids are older, there is some fascinating history about the area (when it used to be basically all sardine canning factories)! We enjoyed lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp (which was super family friendly and the boys really enjoyed). Then, to end our day, we also enjoyed an ice cream sundae on the beach at Ghirardelli. Hello yum!
10. Fisherman’s Wharf – the vibe, the smells, – it’s a whole experience in itself. If you’re from a beach/coastal area and are used to boats, wharfs, etc., then this is something that you could easily skip. But for us desert-dwellers, it was a fun experience for our kids. Plus, you can’t beat a delicious clam chowder bread bowl for dinner!We managed to do all of those experiences above in 3 very full days! And we LOVED it!!! There is SO much to see in the area, we easily could have enjoyed a full week here!
To make things easy in the area, we made Monterey our home base and we stayed at the Hotel Pacific – right near Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a boutique hotel that doesn’t have any overly family-friendly amenities (like a fun pool, playground, kid’s things, etc), but we didn’t need those things on this trip. Our room there was quite spacious (plenty for a family of 5), which was great! And, there was a decent free breakfast included (which is something we always appreciate). The location was pretty convenient as well. The biggest downside here though is parking. If you arrive late, getting a spot can be hard and the spaces are TIGHT! Though, given the coastal city area, parking can be an issue at many places. So, that’s something to keep in mind when looking at hotels in the area!
Have you been to the Monterey area? What is your favorite family friendly activity?
For more Monterey ideas, be sure to check out See Monterey!
Disclosure: We partnered with See Monterey for to bring you this coverage. Some activities and experiences were provided as part of this press coverage.
This is one part of California we’ve never visited. After reading this post it has quickly climbed to the top of our bucket list. The aquarium, otters!, and checkout those views.
This place looks amazing! Love all your info and photos!