From the Monterey Bay Aquarium to Point Lobos State Reserve, this is the best of Monterey Bay, California!
As you may have noticed on Instagram, I recently returned from a trip to Napa Valley and Monterey, California. I have so much to share with you because I experienced so much in the nine days that we were there, but today I’m sharing with you the best of the Monterey Bay area.
We stayed for 2.5 days in the Monterey Bay area. While I wished we stayed longer, it was just enough time to enjoy some of the best that Monterey has to offer. The following list includes five of the best things in the Monterey Bay area. These are in no particular order and this is not a complete list of all of the places that we visited. I’m sharing the places that you MUST visit on your trip to Monterey Bay. Warning – this post is full of pictures!
(1) Point Lobos State Reserve, Carmel, CA
I can’t even put into words how jaw droppingly beautiful this park is when you see it in person. Skip 17-mile drive and drive a few miles south to this park. We spent almost all day here and it was well worth it. In fact, if you do nothing else while in the Monterey Bay area, go to this park! It is not actually on the bay, but a few miles south of Monterey in Carmel. The park overlooks the Pacific Ocean and has beautiful views. It was slightly overcast when we arrived, but the sun came out and it was beautiful.
From the vantage point you see in the image below, you could see the town of Carmel and the famous Pebble Beach golf course.
Before this trip, I’ve never had the opportunity to see whales, sea lions, harbor deals, sea otters, pelicans and other birds all from the same vantage point in their natural habitat. It is truly amazing and I am jealous of people who get to enjoy this on a regular basis.
With miles of hiking, beautiful vistas and plenty of sea creatures, you could easily spend a full day or even two days here. I wish that we had time to go back the next day and hike the remaining trails that we missed. I never wanted to leave.
We saw about a half dozen harbor seals sunning themselves and swimming around the park. I highly recommend bringing binoculars with you for a better view, especially for the whales.
It is hard to tell in the picture below, but this island and a few others were packed with California sea lions. You could hear them all barking and it was really neat to see so many in their natural habitat. We obviously don’t have sea lions here in Florida, so it was a really unique experience.
But my absolute favorite animals we saw on our trip were these cute little sea otters. I had never seen otters in the wild before and a whole group of them was swimming right off-shore. Apparently over 70 sea otters and their pups were recently spotted in the park. They love frolicking and playing in the kelp.
My biggest advice for this park is to GO EARLY! They only let so many cars into the park at a time and parking is very limited. We arrived right when then opened and by the time we left in the afternoon, there were many people waiting to get into the park. Pack a lunch, plenty of water and your hiking shoes and enjoy the best that the Monterey Bay area has to offer!
(2) Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, CA
Our original reason for visiting the Monterey Bay area was to visit the aquarium. We visited some of the best aquariums in the country previously, including the New England Aquarium (Boston), The Florida Aquarium (Tampa), The Georgia Aquarium (Atlanta) and the Mystic Aquarium (Mystic, CT). While we like each of them for different reasons, the Monterey Bay Aquarium was by far our favorite aquarium that we have visited so far. The entire experience was excellent and we really enjoyed the Kelp Forest, Jelly Fish exhibit and The Open Sea, featuring the rare ocean sunfish.
We visited on a Friday in September. I highly recommend purchasing your tickets ahead of time (we bought ours at our hotel) and arriving early. If you purchase your tickets ahead of time, you don’t have to wait at the ticket window and can walk right in. The aquarium does get busy but we were able to see and enjoy everything with few crowds.
There is a beautiful viewing deck over looking the bay. While we were visiting, people spotted whales, sea lions, otters, dolphins and birds right in the bay.
(3) Cindy’s Waterfront Bistro at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, CA
We dined at Cindy Pawlcyn’s restaurant, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, in Napa and loved it so we figured we would try her restaurant at the aquarium. The bistro has beautiful bay front views and they provide binoculars for you to spot the sea otters, whales and other creatures swimming in the bay. I love how all of the food was fresh, seasonal, organic and sustainable. It is a huge step up from the cafeteria food they usually have at aquariums.
(4) Pacific Grove, Ocean View Boulevard and Sunset Drive
The first day we arrived in Monterey Bay, we drove up to the Pacific Grove area because I wanted to see the Pacific Ocean. It is free to drive the coast in this area and it was a fun way to spend the afternoon. We drove down Ocean View Boulevard and looked at the beautiful homes and little inns in Pacific Grove. Sunset Drive is located along the Pacific Ocean with beautiful views. If you don’t get a chance to head to Point Lobos State Reserve or other places on the coast, I highly recommend spending an afternoon in this beautiful area.
(5) Earthbound Farm Organic Farm Stand, 7250 Carmel Valley Road., Carmel, CA
The Earthbound Farm Organic Farm Stand was a last minute discovery that I am so glad to have found. I was looking for a place to grab a late lunch after our day at Point Lobos State Reserve and discovered the farm stand. I love Earthbound Farm Organic products, purchase them regularly and was so happy to discover that they also have an organic cafe at the farm stand. We enjoyed lunch overlooking their gorgeous grounds. The day we visited, there was also a children’s event going on where we could hear live music by local children. I was so impressed. It was a wonderful atmosphere and great food.
You are free to walk around and explore their gardens. You can also cut your own herbs from their herb garden. The market is filled with fresh organic produce, flowers and homemade food. The cafe offered sandwiches, smoothies, bakery treats and the freshest looking salad bar.
Grab a picnic table and a delicious meal from the cafe and enjoy live music, beautiful views and the best organic produce!
Disclosure: I was not compensated in any way for this post. I paid for all travel expenses on my own and researched all of these places myself.