The Monterey Bay is one of the most gorgeous coastlines on the West Coast, made famous by the HBO show Big Little Lies (season two coming soon). I grew up coming to Pacific Grove and Monterey every year as a kid, so I’ve spend many a windy beach day on the rocky shores and visiting the world-renown aquarium.
This April, I visited on a rare sunny and clear day. It was beautiful—and yes, spring does have better weather than summer, when it’s often overcast and cloudy from the coast.
Although the Monterey Bay Aquarium is rather expensive—$50 for an adult—it is worth it to support the environmental and rehabilitation institution, and treat yourself to a fun day of seeing the local wildlife. The aquarium has a touch pool for kids, otter feedings, educational documentaries, and a giant open ocean area. My favorite exhibit is always the jellies, though they used to have a great seahorse exhibit, too.
No, these eels aren’t fake. Creepy, right?
To get to the aquarium, you can walk along the coast from Pacific Grove through a bike path along the ocean, by Cannery Row to the aquarium. Go in the morning before it’s crazy crowded and finish your afternoon by walking around the Cannery Row area, an old sardine canning factory street now lined with touristy shops and candy stores.
On the walk back toward Pacific Grove, you’ll also pass by the Stanford research center and a marine protected area where seals always find refuge. Watch from afar.
Another recommendation is to go on the 17 Mile Drive down to Pebble Beach. Yes, there is an entrance fee to drive through, but you get to pass by the Inn at Spanish Bay (grab a cocktail by their outside fire pits and hear the bagpiper play outside at dusk). You’ll also pass the Lone Cypress and other iconic viewpoints made all the more impressive on a clear day.
If you want to take a detour, you can break off and drive through Carmel as well. The main shopping street is home to Flaherty’s Seafood Grill and Oyster Bar, which has the absolute best lobster bisque and a fabulous clam chowder. Other highlights include Coach, Lush and a gingerbread-esque candy shop with Turkish Delight. At the end of the road is the parking for the packed Carmel Beach, where I’d see squirrels frolicking on the sand as a kid. It’s crowded, but the beach is huge and covered with gorgeous white sand.
Again, my beach experiences near Monterey are always windy and pretty chilly, but the sights are beautiful as you can appreciate the distinguishable coastal climate with acacia and eucalyptus trees.
Third spot on my list is Fisherman’s Wharf, which doesn’t compare to San Francisco I’m sure, but is still a great spot to get fresh seafood and homemade pasta, like Cafe Fina, where I’ve had delicious clam linguini. They also have candy shops and souvenir joints, all on the water as you spot otters splashing.
The best things to do in Monterey and Pacific Grove, however, are more low-key. Walk along Lighthouse Avenue and browse local garden and beach-themed decor shops. Head to the beach for an afternoon and wade in the kelpy cold water. Have a picnic at sunset on the huge rocks. It’s relaxing with the coastal vibes.