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Monterey: Sea Otters, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Bubba Gump!

by Tammie Thompson

Sea OttersI just couldn’t take my eyes off the little ball of fluff floating on its back in the bay. Even the kids were quiet for a time. Of course they were fighting over the binoculars, but we were riveted to the family of sea otters playing in the kelp.

Just another day in Monterey. But to our senses, the allure of marine life, incredibly blue sky, not to mention the luxury of our bayside room, this was a definite ten on the vacation scale.

The Monterey Plaza Hotel is not just any hotel. It rates high on the luxury side and required quite a few warnings to the kids to settle down, but oh what a location! Our room had a balcony looking right out over the otter family. It was hard to tear the kids away from the binoculars (provided by the hotel), but Monterey’s mecca of activities awaited us.

Both Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row are just a short walk from the hotel. Fisherman’s Wharf, quite touristy, is best visited early in the morning or early evening. We grabbed some fresh sourdough bread and visited the sea lions lounging by the pier. Had to indulge in some fresh crab and shrimp cocktail and take in the sites of the wharf. You could spend a day with boat rides, shopping, and dining, but we escaped rather unscathed.

Not so when exploring Cannery Row. Had to rent a surrey with fringe on top to explore the other end of town. The bike path is like a thoroughfare, with lanes for pedestrians, bikes and even inline skaters. The kids loved the surrey – we took it out to the point for a picnic and another glimpse at the otters and sea lions.

The big attraction in Monterey is the aquarium. The thought of spending such a beautiful day indoors didn’t Giant Goldfishintrigue me, but what a surprise. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has integrated indoor exhibits with outdoor education. It is not unusual to have a couple of groups gathered on the many decks for an interactive discussion on marine life. Even so, my toddler was antsy so we headed to the new Splash Zone to check it out.

The Splash Zone is designed just for kids. And it really is. They put a lot of research into how kids learn (dynamics of family learning) and what keeps them interested and focused. And it works. My daughter loved the penguins (I did too) and touch tanks. I couldn’t get her off the crawl-on-waterbed in Coral Cove and she talked about the costumes and show at the Coral Reef Play Area for weeks. There were so many things to do, we didn’t have much time to explore the rest of the aquarium – but Splash Zone was such a quality experience, it really didn’t matter.

On the way out we purchased a Splash Zone CD. Have to recommend that for toddlers and preschools who love to sing. It reinforces their aquarium experience and has some great tunes too.

You could spend a week exploring Monterey. Another favorite excursion is the Dennis the Menace Playground. It’s huge, with an old train engine that kids can climb around on. The M.Y. Museum (children’s interactive museum) gets high marks as does a ride on the historic carousel at Cannery Row (actually this was Mom’s favorite). For a truly awesome experience take the older kids for an adventure at sea – kayaking. You can paddle among the sea otters – very cool. Several operations offer rentals and tours.

Dining is simple with plenty of family friendly restaurants to choose from. We hit Fisherman’s Wharf and found a delightful seafood restaurant right on there wharf (there are several). The favorite had to be Bubba Gump’s on Cannery Row. The kids loved the Forrest Gump paraphernalia and the food was pretty good too!

There’s plenty to do in the surrounding area as well. A day at the races at Laguna Seca, Pebble Beach, 17 Mile Drive, Carmel, it’s hard to get it all in. Don’t even try. One of our favorite days we spent hanging out on the beach with a picnic. Fun stuff.

Lodging: We loved the Monterey Plaza Hotel. They provide a kid’s amenity pack (coloring book, plastic mug, etc.) and offer many packages and specials. Ask about the Aquarium Package and the Friends and Family Special. They also have a wonderful spa if you can find the time to escape. 800-631-1339 or see their website.

More lodging here.

More on Monterey here.





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