Monterey, California is a cute coastal town in central California that is perfect for a family vacation. It has a beautiful coastline, lots of shopping and restaurants, and even some cute sea otters! If you’re dreaming of a California coastal weekend getaway, here are some fun things to do in Monterey with kids and teens!
Hang at the Beach
Since Monterey is on the coast, it’s no surprise that hanging out at the beach is one of the more popular family activities. There are a few sandy beach areas in the heart of Monterey. McAbee Beach is near Cannery Row but it is quite small. San Carlos Beach is also near Cannery Row and is a bit bigger.
On the north side of Monterey, past Old Fishermans’ Wharf, is where you’ll find the real beach region of the city. Del Monte Beach stretches into Monterey State Beach, which then stretches into Sand City Beach. This area is where you’ll find the most room to spread out and stake a spot in the sun for the day.
If you’re heading to the beach, be sure to print my Beach Packing List!
Go for a Bike Ride
One of my favorite things to do in Monterey is walking and biking along the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. The trail is 18 miles long and winds through the heart of Monterey and over to Pacific Grove, too.
You can walk on the path or rent a bike. For families, I recommend you rent e-bikes or book an e-bike tour. We did an e-bike tour with Mad Dogs and Englishmen from their Cannery Row shop and loved it!
They’ll lead you past many of the popular coastal sights (including the famous purple carpet of Pacific Grove) and they’ll even snap some family photos along the way! Plus, since they’re e-bikes you don’t have to worry about the “I can’t pedal anymore” moments with younger kids.
You’ll see many families renting a four-person surrey bike for the trail – but beware that they do require quite a bit of pedaling power to get along! I did this with a friend once and we were shocked at how hard it is to pedal them.
Kayak with Otters
Another extremely popular activity in Monterey is kayaking in the bay. Monterey Bay is home to a large number of sea animals, including adorable sea otters! And kayaking is one of the best ways to see them.
We did a kayak rental tour at Cannery Row. They had us suit up with cold water protection and gave us instructions before heading to the bay. The tour lasted for just over an hour. We started right at Cannery Row which is where all the cute sea otters hang out in the kelp forest. Then we made our way towards the Coast Guard Pier where we saw (and heard!) a lot of sea lions and harbor seals.
I will mention that this area has a lot of strong tides, and I did have an issue with motion sickness. If anyone in your group is prone to motion sickness, talk to the tour provider as many will do the tour further north where there is less of the strong tide pull motion.
Take a Hike
The area around Monterey has beautiful natural areas that are perfect for hiking. One of our favorite finds on this recent trip was the Calla Lily Valley hike. It’s in Garrapata State Park, which is about 20 minutes south of Monterey.
Garrapata State Park actually is quite large, so I recommend using an app like AllTrails to find the perfect trail for your family. We did the Calla Lily Valley Trail that led to a small valley of wild Calla Lilies just steps from a gorgeous sandy beach.
The hike was easy and could be great for all ages, the hardest part was the small scramble down to the valley as most of the trail is up on a cliff overlook — so that is another word of caution for families of young kids. The area is popular, so expect parking to be limited.
Tour the Aquarium
Probably one of the most famous things to do with kids in Monterey is visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We love this aquarium as it’s fairly large and has a few different exhibit areas with different themes. I also love that they have a section just for Monterey Bay sea creatures, which is a great learning opportunity for kids (and adults!).
The aquarium also has an amazing jellyfish wall that will tempt you to take photo after photo! And for kids, the touch pool areas will surely elicit a bunch of oohs and a few yucks, too. :)
Monarch Butterfly Migration
Another unique animal experience in Monterey is the Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary. This sanctuary has been developed to attract Monarch Butterflies during their great migration. The eucalyptus trees and plants offer the butterflies a spot to rest and recharge during the winter months as they continue down to Mexico.
You’ll find the butterflies present from October to February. The Monarch Sanctuary is in Pacific Grove and is free for visitors. They even have volunteer tours you can join to learn more. If you’re planning a visit, aim for the middle of the day.
Visit Bixby Bridge
If you’re looking to snap a photo of one of the most notable sights in Monterey, you’ll want to head about 30 minutes south to Bixby Creek Bridge. This is one of the most popular tourist spots on a west coast road trip through Central California. It’s also one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world, spanning 714 feet in length.
A few things to keep in mind: 1) this is a popular spot and can be crowded with limited parking. Make sure you’re alert and drive slowly. 2) Please follow the signs and for your safety stay behind the rocks and away from the edge!
Eat Your Fill
The area around Monterey has a ton of amazing restaurants! This is definitely a trip that you’ll want to splurge on eating out for every meal. There are so many places to eat, but a few of our favorites from our last trip were:
Alta Bakery – this bakery has some beautiful and tasty pastries in addition to coffee drinks. Plus, they have a backyard garden area where families can enjoy their treats.
Lucy’s on Lighthouse – this is the perfect place for kids! It’s all about hot dogs with a skateboarding twist. Order dogs with crazy toppings, then enjoy your meal outside on one of their picnic tables. Finish your meal off with one of their tasty ice cream treats!
Rio Grill – one of the best restaurants in Carmel, this is a foodie lover’s must-try spot. The menu features unique southwestern flavors with a California spin. I can honestly say that most of what I saw on the menu are dishes I’ve never seen before on a menu. So good!
Osteria al Mare – if you’re in the mood for Italian with a great view, this is the spot for you. This restaurant is the perfect spot to watch the sunset while listening to the sea lions bark.
And don’t miss my Cannery Row Restaurants post where I share some other favorite spots, like Fish Hopper, Schooners, Lalla Oceanside Grill, and the C restaurant + bar.
A couple of other popular spots we haven’t tried but I want to mention is Old Fisherman’s Grotto. This restaurant is on Old Fisherman’s Wharf and one of the classics of the area. We also missed trying Revival Ice Cream, which is supposed to be amazing and offers an award-winning Bee’s Knees ice cream that contains honey, beeswax, and bee pollen!
Stroll Cannery Row
If you’re in the mood for shopping, you’ll want to stroll along Cannery Row. This area is packed with tourist shops in addition to some of the restaurants I mentioned above.
Kids might also want to do the Mirror Maze and Lazer Challenge which are located on Cannery Row.
Since Monterey is right on the coast of Central California, it’s no surprise that whale watching is a popular activity for the area. And with its moderate climate, Monterey has whales visiting most months of the year.
Enjoy Hotel Life
Monterey has some amazing hotel options for families. On our recent trip, we stayed at the newly renovated Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa. Kids will love this hotel because it has two pools and fire pits. You can even buy a s’mores package to enjoy a campfire at the end of the day.
The Hyatt Regency Monterey is also located centrally and was a great spot for our home base as we drove around the Monterey area.
Lastly, if you have night sky fans in the family, you might want to plan a visit to the Fremont Peak Observatory. From April to October, you can attend some of their public events, like a solar program during the day and night sky viewing at night.
It is part of a state park, so even if the observatory isn’t offering any events, you can still visit the location and get a great view of the stars without city light pollution.
I hope this has helped you plan your trip. There really are so many fun things to do in Monterey with kids. And if you’re heading north after Monterey, don’t miss my posts about our Glamping at Safari West in Santa Rosa and our stay near the Golden Gate Bridge!