10 family friendly adventures in Monterey and Pacific Grove California
Monterey, CA Photo by amerune/CC Flickr

Pacific Grove, CA is known as Butterfly Town USA; October to February each year thousands of Monarchs migrate to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary to winter.  Neighboring town, Monterey, CA (only an eight-mile drive) is the setting for John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat. In these towns, where science meets literature, are 10 adventures for family fun.


  1. Older kids will enjoy a whale watching excursion to see Gray Whales in the Winter, and Humpbacks and Blue Whales Spring, Summer and Fall. Also watch sea otters, seals, pelicans and more.  Because these ventures can be long, they might not be suitable for younger children.  The little ones will find a trip on a glass bottom boat much more enjoyable.
  2. Dennis the Menace Park is a playground of fun for the kids.  There is a Southern Pacific railroad engine at the entrance to the park that kids are free to climb on.  There are unusual slides, rock walls, swaying bridge and obstacles du jour.  Hank Ketcham, a resident of Monterey, designed the park; he is famed for creating the Dennis the Menace cartoon.  You and the kids will want to relax here an hour or so every day, but be aware that it closes on Tuesdays and is only open from 10am to dusk.
  3. Adjacent to the playground is Lake El Estero.  This is a popular picnicking location. After enjoying a basket of plenty from the local farmers’ market, you can head out onto the lake itself.  Paddle boats are available for rent; 4 people can paddle for half an hour for less than $20.
  4. If paddle boating is too tame for you, consider a sea kayak tour with Adventures By The Sea.  The most popular route is along Cannery Row, the kelp forest of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where otters play, seals lounge on the rocks and pelicans dive for food among them.  You can take a guided tour or rent the kayak for the day. Rentals include all necessary equipment and an orientation to the wildlife.
  5. Tour Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel.  Kids can make a bead necklace, ride a surrey, pet starfish and collect a souvenir of the trip. Take lunch at the kid-friendly Schooners Coastal Kitchen with a view of the Bay, and top off the afternoon with an ice cream sundae at Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop.
  6. Also at Cannery Row is Monterey Bay Aquarium in the old sardine cannery, one of the country’s most esteemed aquariums.  Plan to spend at least 2-3 hours taking in the exhibits, but marine lovers can easily fill an entire day with activities here. Check the front desk for feeding times; older kids will enjoy the informative auditorium talks.  Summer gets crowded so save time by getting your tickets on line.
  7. Younger kids will appreciate a break from the sun at My Museum, the local children’s museum.  Kiddos can pretend to operate as they learn about the human body or sink a hole in one at the mini golf course.  There is also a small town hall, water play area and other tot-loving exhibits.
  8. Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, which manages the off-site Monarch overwintering location, explores the flora and fauna of the bay area.  This charming little museum will take about an hour to tour, with friendly and helpful docents available to answer any questions.
  9. The oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast, Point Pinos Lighthouse, is at Pacific Grove. For a small donation you can tour the lighthouse and the keeper’s quarters, and get a glimpse of what it is like for the single woman who runs the beacon.  The view alone is worth the stop. In the basement is a small museum, as well. There are both scientific and historical displays to take in. Plan to spend about an hour.
  10. Finally, relax at the beach at Lover’s Point.  This is the best beach for children, as the others are either rocky or have powerful waves that can pull in even the strongest of swimmers.  The water is chilly year-round, but kids will still enjoy getting their feet wet and playing in the sand.

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