Too often I hear of friends planning just a one night stay in the Monterey Bay area as they road trip down the West Coast of California. There are three small towns in the area that all warrant a visit (Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea & Pacific Grove), not to mention a plethora of wonderful wildlife spotting opportunities.
I have cheated slightly with this post, as it covers two visits to Monterey Bay rather than just one weekend. That goes to show how much there is to do in this area and why it deserves a little more time than a one-night stand!
The highlight of my both trips to this area was experiencing incredible wildlife close up. I blogged about some of this back in April and have since been on a whale watching trip which turned out to be genuinely one of the best experiences I’ve had, not just since moving to the West Coast but in many years of traveling.
We booked a trip with Monterey Bay Whale Watch, who I learned were consulted by the BBC for Big Blue, quite an accolade to them and their knowledge of these magnificent creatures.
The months of April and May offer the best chance of seeing Orcas in the Monterey Bay area. There is an even better chance of seeing them on a full day cruise, however, we went on the half day cruise which meant seeing the Orcas was less likely.
We still saw more than we could have hoped, with humpback whales lunge-feeding and breaching alongside our boat. In total, we saw 18 Humpback Whales, 600 Pacific White-sided Dolphins, 40 Risso’s Dolphins, 100 Nothern Right-whale Dolphins and 4 Harbour Porpoise.
Cannery Row, Monterey & Pacific Grove
Cannery Row, perhaps most well known as the setting for the John Steinbeck novel of the same name, has a slightly unfinished vibe in places which came as a bit of a surprise in up-market Monterey. Although I had expected it to be more polished, I quite liked that the history of its industrial past shows through.
Along Cannery Row, Ghirardelli ice cream sundaes are to die for, but finding a decent bite to eat (especially in busy Summer months) can be a challenge. My recommendation for anyone who has a car is to head over to nearby Pacific Grove, which is far less busy but offers some great places to eat, specifically the Red House Cafe.
At the Southern end of Cannery Row sits the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. We visited the Aquarium after our whale watching expedition, so it’s impossible for me to wax lyrical about the aquarium after being out on the open sea! That said, it’s a wonderful place for kids, with lots interesting and informational exhibits.
Around the corner from the Aquarium, at Rookery Beach, we saw seal pups being born which was an emotional and stunning experience. I still follow their progress on their Facebook page and I will be back next year to see the new pups (from a respectful distance). The time of year to see them at this location is in late March and throughout April.
A trip to the Monterey Bay area isn’t complete without a visit to Carmel. It’s a beautiful town and to call it affluent is an understatement. Although pitched as being set in Monterey, the majority of the hit TV show Big Little Lies is filmed in and around charming Carmel. From fancy houses to stunning beaches and its ludicrously expensive but splendid little shops, it’s not difficult to see why Hollywood royalty Clint Eastwood made this area his home.
One final treat on both of my visits to Monterey Bay was to stop off at Moss Landing. If driving from or back up to San Francisco, this is a great little detour for lunch and to meet the resident sea otters (again, it’s important to meet them from a respectable distance!). The Elkhorn Slough at Moss Landing is home to the largest concentration of southern sea otters on the California coast.
For lunch, I recommend The Whole Enchilada for hearty portions and great service!
Visiting the Monterey Bay area of the California coast reaffirmed that I much prefer seeing animals in the wild. Although aquariums and zoos are great for kids and do valuable conservation work, I personally prefer to see creatures in their natural habitat, even if means they aren’t so exotic or close up.