There are so many things to do in Monterey, CA with kids, it’s hard to know where to begin. Families can enjoy beaches, biking, nature walks, shopping, world-class educational attractions, nature, and fine (or fun) dining, all in a few square miles of stunning coastline. I can’t guarantee you won’t need a sweater at times (average summer temperatures are in the 60s), but the typical California coastline fog can be just as pretty as the sunshine.
Monterey is within a day’s drive of anywhere in California, but you’ll want to stay for at least a weekend, and as much as a week if you’re planning a day trip to the Salinas Valley or explore Big Sur beaches. A popular tourist destination, Monterey boasts over 250 lodging options, but you’ll still want to get reservations far in advance for the summer months.
Where to play:
Families will want to start on famed Cannery Row to take in the general atmosphere, and to visit the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. We recommend touring the former via bike, which can be rented downtown at Adventures by the Sea. Once on wheels, families can connect with the town’s easy-accessable bike paths, and avoid the crushing crowds on the street. Even young kids can cover more miles this way on the flat, paved trails, giving families a great overview of the area. While biking, be sure to stop at Lover’s Point to play on the protected beaches perfect for toddlers and babies, climb a tree or two overlooking the Pacific, and explore the lengths of a pier or two. (Tip: Our favorite is the Coast Guard Pier south of Cannery Row, where the seals congregate.)
Once kids have experienced the town proper, be sure to reserve time to visit Monterey Bay’s best hikes. Our pick: Point Lobos State Reserve. Comprised of miles of hiking trails (most in a loop or connecting from trailhead to trailhead) overlooking the bluffs and beaches of this particularly wild and scenic section of the Pacific, Point Lobos gives kids plenty of opportunity to view wildlife. While we visited, the harbor seals were ‘pupping’, so we could check out the babies with their mothers, and the tide pools offered glimpses into life in the shallower waters.
Older kids will appreciate 17 Mile Drive, just outside of Monterey on Highway 1, but little ones might get restless. Better to take them to the Dennis the Menace Playground, located in Monterey (any local can give you directions) where they’ll play for hours on the inventive play structures. Everyone can enjoy the Historic Walking Tour, which starts at the Custom House by the historic pier (see link below) and weaves in a self-guided tour across the city.
Where to eat:
The Historic Fisherman’s Wharf pier offers a dozen or more clam chowder vendors (no exaggeration…the samples handed out alone could feed a family), traditional fish and chips, and the like. On Cannery Row, families will find the larger chain restaurants like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, but beware: these get crowded! For a quieter option just a few blocks off the main drag, consider Peter B’s Brew Pub, with a cozy outdoor fire pit overlooking the harbor and a nice menu of fresh California cuisine that’s still kid-friendly.
Where to stay:
We loved our stay at the Portola Hotel and Spa, located just off the Historic Fisherman’s Wharf Pier. The Portola offers families several dining options, a heated outdoor pool, spacious rooms, and warm chocolate chip cookies upon arrival. Kids will enjoy their fun Portola Pirate Program, which leads them on a scavenger hunt of the hotel when they check in.
Other options range from the super spendy in Carmel and Pebble Beach to the bare bones at one of the many state parks and beaches in Los Padres National Forest. Every price range is represented, making Monterey a good fit for anyone.