California Dreamin’ in Monterey, Part One

Monterey Bay Coastline

The Monterey Bay Coastline shimmers in the sun. Photo courtesy of Monterey County CVB

Monterey is the California dream, before it got tarnished. It’s San Francisco, without the hype, frenetic pace, and hordes of gaping tourists in Hawaiian shirts.

And, once you arrive, you’ll immediately feel that deep connection with the sea in Monterey. Just about anywhere you look, you can’t get away from its impact.

The streets of downtown Monterey are fun to wander anytime. Mingle with the natives on Alvarado Street (between Del Monte and Pearl) at the Old Monterey Marketplace every Tuesday from 4-8 p.m., rain or shine. It’s a Farmers Market (with produce from vendors all over California) but so much more–arts and crafts, flowers, and handmade jewelry. It’s a real treat that most tourists only stumble upon by accident, so make sure that you stay in Monterey at least one Tuesday.

Kayakers

Kayaking in the Monterey Bay. Courtesy of Cannery Row

You could spend hours visiting the funky, eclectic little shops, restaurants and bars. If you’re in the mood for a movie, duck into the Osio Cinemas (an Art House theatre). If you’d like a hearty, cooked-to-order breakfast, head to Old Monterey Cafe, where the helpful staff are happy to customize any menu item for you. (Their artichoke omelets are divine.)

At The Fishwife’s Turtle Bay Taqueria (home of Mexican Coastal Cuisine), you’ll be greeted with a taco bar. (Another Mexican place, where the food is crazy good, is Papa Chano’s, a local favorite. Try the green salsa.)

Monterey’s main drawing point, of course, is its drop-dead technicolor views of the Pacific Ocean with its myriad variety of sea creatures. Expect to see playful little furry-faced sea otters (as cute as teddy bears) floating on their backs in the bay, as well as proud, bellowing sea lions “hamming it up” for the tourists on Old Fisherman’s Wharf.

But the highlight of your trip to Monterey might well be the place where you can get up-close-and-personal with all the wonders of the sea, without getting wet–the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In the Outer Bay Galleries, you can view many different varieties of hauntingly-beautiful and mysterious jellyfish.

Seahorse

courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium

Two of the newest exhibits at the Aquarium are well worth the trip back to the attraction, even if you’ve been there before. “The Secret Life of Seahorses” exhibit opened in April 2009, and just this past spring the exhibit “Hot Pink Flamingos: Stories of Hope in a Changing Sea” opened to highlight “success stories” of people and communities fighting climate change and making a difference. Galleries in the 7,000-square-foot exhibition (containing live animals, such as the five-foot-tall Chilean flamingo and lively Magellanic penguins) profile countries and cities that are cutting their carbon footprint in creative ways.

And did I mention that your kids will be absorbing life-enhancing (and possibly life-changing) lessons the entire time that they’re in this very special place? And that none of you will ever want to leave? (You may have to arm-wrestle some family members out the door.)

Before you do go, make sure not to miss the Sea Otter Feeding and Training Session. (Believe me, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen one of these adorable little critters retrieving a Frisbee in the water or playing with one of their other “fun” toys.)

Educational shows are also presented on a regular basis in the auditorium. It’s a great idea to watch the “Jellies” presentation before going to view the real live jellyfish in the Outer Bay.

Walking out of the Aquarium, you’ll find yourself at the end of historic Cannery Row, another interesting area to explore in Monterey. Read all about it in California Dreamin’ in Monterey, Part Two. And then check out Old Fisherman’s Wharf in California Dreamin’ in Monterey, Part Three. Places to stay near Fisherman’s Wharf are covered in California Dreamin’ in Monterey, Part Four.

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