Monterey and Carmel with Kids

October 9, 2013 by

Family & Kids, North America, Places to Go, Things to Do

A good family vacation offers something for everyone, even parents. Plenty of places claim to be family-friendly, but it takes more than just a kids menu for a spot to earn bragging rights. If you could create the perfect family getaway what would be on the wish list? Sunshine? Beaches? Some learning perfectly disguised as fun? Good food and wine? The good news is it’s all waiting for you in Monterey and Carmel.

Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium

If you’ve never been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it should be the first thing you do when you get into town. It’s a must-see attraction. Arguably the world’s best known aquarium, even if you’re not the sea loving type, the exhibits here will find a way to wow you. Avoid the lines and buy tickets before you arrive at the door. Take time to check the Aquarium’s calendar for special events and activities. They’ll cost a little more, but often offer the opportunity to get behind the scenes or experience the Aquarium without the crowds. If you’re open to some unique waterfront, with a roof over your head camping, the Aquarium’s Seashore Sleepovers are the type of vacation activities kids (and parents) brag about to their friends. Not quite glowing jellyfish make for memorizing nightlights of sorts when the aquarium goes dark.

Search for some sand

There are plenty of beaches to explore

There are plenty of beaches to explore

One of many things that makes the Aquarium an amazing place is the Monterey Bay and its beach neighbors. With 100 miles of coastline, Monterey County has seemingly endless coast side nooks and crannies filled with sand. If you want to keep the wild life theme swimming full speed, Hopkins State Marine Reserve is conveniently located right next to the Aquarium. A popular spot with resident harbor seals, a very tall fence sees to it your feet never touch the sand, but without blocking fabulous slumbering seal views. Keep heading down the path to Lovers Point Park and Beach to lay your claim to some sand, watch surfers, or test your luck on the small pier, sometimes splash zone. It’s a smaller beach, but grassy areas just off the sand make for nice picnic locales.

Jaw-dropping views earn Carmel Beach its status as one of the best known beaches in the area. Foggy or sunny, the scenery makes you smile, along with the steady stream of dogs running through the waves. There’s a small parking lot just off the beach, but if you’ve got some time, take the scenic route. Park in downtown Carmel and walk straight down Ocean Avenue. For a few blocks in town, it’s all about shopping, then it quickly becomes a residential area. In Carmel-By-The-Sea houses don’t have numbers they have names, some of them funnier than others.

Carmel Beach is a must visit, but save time to head down the coast to less-known, but equally fun Carmel River State Beach. There’s plenty of parking in a gated lot right at the beach, making the inevitable multiple trips with arms full of beach toys and gear a little less daunting. This stretch of coastline includes the Carmel River Lagoon and Wetlands Natural Reserve, and on most days has more birds on the beach than people. If the kids throw sand, worst case scenario is probably an angry seagull makes a sneak attack on the family’s snacks.

Shake off the sand and get your hands dirty

Visit an organic farm in Monterey County

Visit an organic farm in Monterey County

There aren’t many places where you can go from ocean view to farm view in a matter of minutes. Monterey County is home to some of the most sought after farm land in the United States. Life on the farm isn’t the most sought after vacation experience, but your family might see and taste the food on their plate a little differently after a visit to Earthbound Farm Organic. Regardless of the season the Farm always seems to boast an explosion of colors. Try to avoid the urge to go straight into the Farm Stand. Save that for later. Wander out back, through raspberry patches, the u-snip herb garden or the Walking Labyrinth. If you lose sight of the kids, check inside the teepee in the kids alphabet inspired garden.

All the wandering is bound to make someone in the family hungry. This is when you step inside the Farm Stand, where good-for-you-food never looked and tasted so good. I’m talking about more than just your average steamed broccoli here. The certified organic kitchen serves up fresh soups, bakery goodies, an all-organic salad bar and frozen yogurt.

Make it look like you’re putting up a good fight, before caving to the numerous requests for fro-yo. Consider it credit in the bank (not that you’ll need it) for your visit to one of Monterey County’s many wineries.  Yeah, yeah, I know parents drink wine, while kids don’t want anything to do with it or the waiting they have to do while mom and dad are sipping. But Paraiso Vineyards offers some distractions to keep the kids entertained while you taste. The tasting room overlooks a great porch and backyard-like area with vines and fountains. Chances are the kids will find at least one of the Paraiso’s Winery Dogs. When the kids come into the tasting room to check on you, don’t be surprised if they get distracted by the assortment of chocolate samples up for grabs.

Dennis the Menace Playground

Dennis the Menace Playground

Dennis the Menace Playground

If you’re traveling with elementary school aged kids, finding great, new playgrounds can turn even the average trip into a slam-dunk success. There are two very simple but great reasons to take you kids to the Dennis the Menace Playground. First, there’s a good chance your kids have no idea who Dennis is. A trip here will change that and put you on the hunt for comics and the old television episodes when you get home. Second, it’s a one-of-a-kind playground.

The park was created in the 1950’s with the help of Hank Ketcham, creator of the Dennis the Menace comic strip, thus the name. If there is a downfall, it’s that the playground is so big with so much to choose from, unless you stick to the kids like glue, at some point you will probably lose sight of them. With slides, climbing walls, tunnels and a real locomotive, this is not a quick stop kind of place. Be prepared to spend some time here. Bring snacks and plenty of energy.

Secret wild side

Tiger at Wild Things

Tiger at Wild Things

Monterey County is home to some of Hollywood’s wildest stars, and they would love to have you and the kids stop by for a visit. Wild Things is a family of over 150 animals that used to earn their keep on the silver screen. They were pretty good at it. One of their most famous residents, Josef the lion, was the living, breathing and roaring model for the illustrators that brought The Lion King to life.

But now instead of focusing on film, Wild Things is focusing on animal education and preservation. Every day at 1pm they unlock their gates for visitors who’d like to meet and learn more about lions, tiger and bears and long list of other animals that include an elephant named Butch and a pelican named Gertrude. The tour only lasts about an hour, but the image of a lion seemingly smiling sticks around.

Butch the elephant

Butch the elephant

It’d be great if you and the family stuck around too and spent the night in one of the eight animal themed, authentic and nicely equipped African bungalows. A variety of animals, like baby tigers for example, and their trainers are known to go for evening strolls. When you put your head on your pillow, the roar of lions and tigers will lull you to sleep, and most likely wake you up in the morning, just in time for Butch the African elephant to deliver your breakfast. The best room service ever!

                                                                                                                                                                –Dana Rebmann

Dana’s trip was organized by the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own.

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