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  • Writer's pictureWanderlust Mike

Discovering the Best Activities to Do in Pacific Grove and Monterey Bay

sea otter mother and pup

We enjoy spending time in Pacific Grove, California, and the surrounding Monterey Bay area. The deep blue and turquoise waters, emerald green forests, abundant wildlife, and quaint small towns draw us there.

If you're willing to pay for an ocean view room, I found a great place to stay right along the waters edge at Green Gables Inn. Otherwise, I'd recommend finding lodging in town. Lighthouse Avenue is the main shopping and restaurant street, between 15th and 19th, so I'd recommend lodging close by. It's only a few blocks to the ocean.

During our early morning and late afternoon walks to Lovers Point we'd spot sea otters in the water, including mothers with their pups in February! Amongst the cypress trees and calla lilies along the peninsula we also discovered a beach full of harbor seals at the Hopkins Marine Station near the aquarium. And you may occasionally spot black-tailed deer in the yards around Pacific Grove as well. Also around the peninsula we spotted racoons in the neighborhood, sea lions at the end of Coast Guard Pier in Monterey, brown pelicans, cormorants, white egrets, blue heron, and many species of sea gulls as well.

We enjoyed the Monterey Bay Aquarium with all of its local California aquatic species. The kelp forest, giant Pacific octopus, seven-gilled sharks and sea otters are personal favorites. You can also experience a pool full of bat rays, tidepools full of colorful wildlife, and even stand inside an ocean wave! Approximately 6 miles to the South is the quaint, coastal shopping district at Carmel-by-the-sea. Carmel's large, crescent-shaped white sand beach is impressive as well. And Cannery Row in nearby Monterey, made famous by novelist John Steinbeck, is full of tourist shops, art galleries and restaurants.

Cannery row began with the Pacific Fish Company in 1908. Cannery Row’s production grew from 75,000 cases in 1915 to 1.4 million by 1918! After World War II, the sardines disappeared from Monterey Bay and brought economic disaster to Cannery Row. 1976 saw a revival of Cannery Row that transformed it from a street of burned and decrepit canneries to a top destination along California’s Central Coast!

Monterey Bay aquarium
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Christmas shopping in Carmel-by-the-sea
cannery row
Cannery Row, Monterey

Relish the relaxed, small town feel of Pacific Grove with its main street shops and cafes. We enjoyed a few good movies at the historic Lighthouse Cinema. Point Pinos Lighthouse was beautifully situated along the coast and is open for tours on the weekend, and 17 Mile Drive was definitely worth the price of admission. We spotted black-tailed deer all along this route of immaculate coastal California homes and scenic vistas.

We were also in awe of the tall, majestic redwood trees as we hiked through one of the southernmost redwood groves at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park just outside of Santa Cruz in Northern Monterey Bay. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a beautifully scenic cliffside area blanketed by cypress trees and turquoise waters. We also enjoyed the Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary as well, where these butterflies spend their Winter months. You may be fortunate enough to witness a butterfly shower, or alighting of clusters of butterflies, if you're there on a sunny morning! We were there one year in late February and the butterflies had already left. Another year we were there around Thanksgiving and saw thousands of butterflies!

monarch butterflies
Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary

Asilomar State Beach, along the peninsula's Western edge, is a great place to search for life among the tidepools, and you're likely to spot green sea anemones, hermit crabs, and limpets in the water. And sunsets here can be spectacular!

The Old Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey is a fun place to spend the morning or afternoon. Along with shops and restaurants, you can go on a whale watching tour, glass bottom boat ride, or even try your hand at sport fishing.

If you're a wine connoisseur, Carmel Valley is known for its cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Located approximately 15 miles Southeast of Pacific Grove, popular wineries there include Bernardus Winery, Holman Ranch, and Joullian Vineyards.

On the North of Monterey Bay, approximately 40 miles from Pacific Grove, is the city of Santa Cruz. A fun activity to do here is the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk! Here you can enjoy an amusement park by riding a rollercoaster, dropping 125 feet from a tower, or perhaps just glide over the park in a ski lift-like cable ride. There's also miniature golf, game arcades, and even a bowling alley! Plenty to keep a family or group entertained.

Kayaking and whale watching tours are additional popular activities in Monterey Bay. You can kayak through the bird estuaries, or out into the kelp forests along the bay. And depending on the month you may spot gray, humpback, or blue whales, along with dolphin and orca in the the bay's deep blue waters.

We enjoy local farmer's markets when we travel. Pacific Grove has theirs every Monday from 3 to 6 pm at Central and Grand. Monterey is on Tuesdays from 4 to 7 pm on Alvarado Street between Del Monte and Pearl. And the city of Marina has theirs on Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm.

Pacific Grove Farmers Market

The Central Coast of California is one of the most scenic and tranquil places in the state. If you haven't experienced it, we encourage you to plan a visit! We promise you too will fall in love with Monterey Bay.


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