A Day in Monterey, CA

If you’re heading to Monterey you’re probably planning on visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  This massive magical  mecca for marine life lovers if a main draw for people coming to the area. While you could easily spend your entire day in Monterey at the aquarium, there are a few other things to do and see that are within walking distance of the aquarium and the Cannery Row Parking Garage. Listed below are tips for visiting the aquarium and a few nearby things to do afterwards.

Planning a day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

  1. Get there early. It opens at 10am and if you did want to see every exhibit you’re going to need at least 3 or 4 hours to see it all.
  2. Avoid weekends. Weekends are the most crowded so if possible plan a weekday trip for the fewest crowds.

    the empty sidewalk in front of the Monterey Bay Aquarium
    No lines to get into the aquarium on a winter weekday morning
  3. Buying your tickets online ahead of time can save time. Adults: $49.95 Child 3-12 years old: $29.95 Senior/Student: $39.95
  4. Pick up a map. When you arrive grab an aquarium map. Try to only take one and recycle it when you leave to minimize waste.
  5. Plan you’re time in the aquarium around the “Feedings & Programs” schedule. Feeding times are listed on the back of the map and are a great opportunity to see the animals being active.
  6. The Kelp Forest feeding is especially interesting. Young children will be mesmerized watching  the scuba diver feed the leopard sharks, giant sea bass, and various fish.

    scuba diver in kelp forest at the monterey bay aquarium
    The kelp forest becomes a fish frenzy during feeding time
  7. Have a snack outside on the benches overlooking the ocean. Keep your food close because the seagulls and pigeons will do their best to steal a bite but it’s a gorgeous spot to get some fresh air and refuel.

    tidepool at Monterey Bay Aquarium
    Have a snack and get some sun on the aquarium’s many decks
  8. Borrow some binoculars. Outside near the restaurant there are binoculars for kids and adults to use to spot seals lounging on the rocks or sea otters floating in the kelp beds.
  9. Wear short sleeves or a shirt with sleeves that can be easily rolled up. There are several hands on exhibits/ touch tanks that will get your arms wet.

    bay ray in a tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
    Roll up your sleeves and try to touch one of the elusive bay rays
  10. Get a hand stamp if you plan on leaving the aquarium and want to come back. This is a good option if you want to take a little break midday for lunch at a nearby restaurant and return for a late afternoon feeding or auditorium program.
  11. Be respectful to the creatures and keep your camera flash turned off/ don’t bang on the glass.

    shadowed child watching fish in a large aquarium tank
    Watching turtles and hammerhead sharks in the Deep Sea exhibit

Sample of Aquarium Itinerary

  1. Octopus
  2. Monterey Bay Habitats
  3. Aviary
  4. Touch pools/ fun waterfall area photo spot
  5. 11:30 Kelp Forest Feeding Program
  6. Jellies
  7. The Open Sea
  8. Snack/Lunch outside on the steps overlooking the great tide pool/wildlife viewing
  9. Penguins
  10. Splash Zone Play Area
  11. 1:30 Sea Otter Feeding (get there early to get a good viewing space)

    monterey bay aquarium map
    What I was able to do and see in four hours with two young boys

*You’ll notice that we zig-zagged across the aquarium. This was because we wanted to see both the Kelp Forest and the Sea Otter feedings, and the boys enjoyed the elevators/escalator.

What is the best age for taking a child to the aquarium?

In a nutshell 3 1/2-4 years old is when kids start to appreciate learning about the different organisms and are able to have the walking stamina to make it through most of the aquarium sans stroller. Ironically  admittance to the aquarium is free for children under the age of three, which can make it tempting to visit when they’re toddlers but expect to need to use a stroller/ carry your tired child. Furthermore you will likely end the day considerably more mentally exhausted than taking a child over the age of four.

After Aquarium Activities

The $10 you paid for parking at the Cannery Row Parking Garage is for the entire day so you might as well keep your car parked and explore the surrounding area by foot. If you’re planning on spending a few days in the Monterey area definitely take a day trip down to Big Sur!

Take a Bike Ride: There are several spots within a few blocks of the aquarium that rent bikes. Adventures by the Sea offers  surrey bikes which are a unique alternative to your typical bike. A half day rental is $75 and includes many great Christmas card photo opportunities. The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail follows the coast for eighteen miles and has ample spots to have a picnic or dip your toes into the chilly ocean.  The one mile section from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove is particularly stunning and is bustling with bikers, joggers, and parents pushing strollers. (When you’re leaving the aquarium take a right around the corner and you will see the trail)RQk7NTGJQNeXmzfhoodOfQ

Wander Cannery RowAs you walk around the streets between the aquarium and the parking garage you will notice that there are endless shops to buy souvenirs but there are also informational signs that describe the history of the region. Stop and read a few to learn more about what life was like during the Steinbeck era.

Santa hats on statues n the fountain in Steinbeck Plaza
In December fountain gets festive in Steinbeck Plaza

Find a Little Spot to Get Sandy: One of my favorite ways to unwind after the bustle of the aquarium is to let the kids run around on the little stretch of beach a few blocks north of the aquarium. There are stairs that lead down to McAbee Beach from Steinbeck Plaza, although if the tide is high there isn’t much sand to play on. If that’s the case continue to walk along Cannery Row for another block or so and you will see a spot to access a larger section of sand. Otherwise from Steinbeck Plaza it’s about a five block walk to San Carlos Beach which is a beach park with grass, tables, and the occasional scuba diver emerging from the sea. This isn’t the most scenic beach in the area but it does the trick when your kids need a place to stretch their legs.

child jumping into sand at McAbee beach in Monterey, CA
An old building foundation and a pair of undies is all you need for some sandy afternoon fun


What to Bring

  • Comfy shoes
  • Short sleeve shirt for touch pool exhibits
  • Stroller for toddlers
  • Snacks
  • Sunscreen/change of clothes if planning on playing at beach

    McAbee beach in is a nice spot to stop at when you're spending the day in Monterey
    The aqua blue waters and proximity to the aquarium make McAbee Beach an easy spot to get sandy post-aquarium

Bottom Line: You can easily spend your entire day in Monterey at the aquarium but a little time spent riding a bike or playing in the sand is the perfect way to fully  experience the natural beauty of the Monterey Bay. kYlECJAHTLOqp17vEdOsLw

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