A Wealth of Biology and Leisure in Monterey
Some vacation recommendations.
Along with family vacations, my wife and I plan at least one trip a year for just the two of us. While we certainly enjoy going places with our kids, even when they drag their heels and complain a bit (which kids have been known to do), these one-on-one getaways give us an opportunity to explore different types of destinations in a more intimate, spontaneous way. It’s also good just to reconnect as a husband and wife… away from work, responsibilities, and the rest of the daily grind (no pun intended).
We took a trip to Seattle three years ago that we kind of hold up as the gold standard. The weather there was beautiful (yes, the sun sometimes shines in Seattle), the sights were amazing, and the entertainment was first-rate. But our vacation last week measured up pretty closely.
A couple decades back, I spent a few hours in Monterey, California. It was part of a broader trip with some friends to the bay area. Like pretty much everyone else who’s ever gone there, I enjoyed the tide pools and world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. But my time there was limited, and I didn’t see as much of the biologically and visually rich area as I would have liked. So, when my wife (who’d never been there) suggested it as this year’s destination, I was immediately on board.
And since I like to recommend good stuff to Daly Grind readers, I figured I’d do just that — a travel blog, if you will — for this week’s newsletter.
Lodging and Transportation
We stayed at the Monterey Plaza Hotel in the downtown area, which is perfectly located just off the beach and a short walk from both Cannery Row and Old Fisherman’s Wharf. Though we rented a car at the San Jose International Airport, having a vehicle isn’t really necessary for getting around the most interesting parts of Monterey. If you don’t feel like walking (which we did a lot of), there’s a free public trolley and lots of bike rental shops that offer a wide variety of bicycles (including surreys, which are pretty amusing) for use along some nice, long paths including the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail.
We found that most local bike rental shops won’t let you take their bikes all the way to Carmel-by-the-Sea, so if you plan on traveling down the 17 Mile Drive (the scenic Pacific coastline stretch through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove), or doing some other excursions, a car might be a wise choice after all.
I’m not going talk much about the Monterey Bay Aquarium, since it’s already such a well-documented tourist destination. I’ll just say that it’s amazing, you’ll see lots of exotic sea-creatures (the jellyfish are a favorite), and you should definitely check it out. Just one warning: if you can, go on a weekday instead of a weekend. We went there on Friday afternoon, and it was overflowing with people (and strollers). There was hardly any elbow room, even with timed-entry in place, and that did make it less enjoyable.
As for marine life in the wild, there are some great viewing opportunities. Whale watching tours are a big business in Monterey, with boats leaving from Old Fisherman’s Wharf. We didn’t go on one since my wife tends to get seasick, but they’re said to be great. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see at least one whale, even in the off-season.
What we did do is rent a kayak and check out some sea-life in Monterey Bay. We paddled out among the seals, sea-lions, sea-otters… and lots of kelp. The animals were fascinating. The kelp, not so much. They may be ecologically important, but kelp forests are kind of a pain in the arse to paddle through.
Still, it was a fun experience in pretty calm waters. Ironically, we found that the best viewing area is actually from shore (kind of). I’m talking about the Coast Guard pier on the southeastern side of San Carlos beach. My wife and I stumbled across it our first night, and enjoyed some up-close-and-personal meetings.
When we returned the next morning, we were treated to the hilarious antics of a sea-otter who spent at least an hour cracking open and chowing down on a variety of seafood.
The pictures don’t do this gal justice, but maybe some video will.
We came back that night for another show — a loud one. Sea-lions and sea-otters were coming and going in every direction, and it was really quite a spectacle.
Sean Lion Lookout is another good viewing area (it’s basically a fenced in beach for seals), though you won’t be able to get as close.
Food and Entertainment
As you can probably imagine, that are lots of great seafood restaurants in Monterey, and we didn’t experience a single bad meal while we were there. We ate dinner at Chart House (which is a little on the fancy side) and Fish Hopper (which is more casual); they both have great seaside views. A couple blocks away from the coastline, we ate at the Sardine Factory, an old-school, classy joint on a hill that I found particularly intriguing because the lady pictured on the wall behind my wife bore a striking resemblance to a young John Daly.
But honestly, the best seafood I had on the entire trip (and possibly ever) was at a discreet little diner called the Sea Harvest Restaurant & Fish Market. We noticed it between stops, and stepped in for a quick lunch. Seriously, the fresh Cajun sea bass absolutely blew my mind. I’m guessing the rest of their Cajun dishes would too. The place doesn’t have a website or Facebook page, but here it is on Yelp. It’s a definite must if you’re visiting Monterey.
As for entertainment, we didn’t take in any live music (other than street performances) or magic shows (though we saw a few advertised), but we did have a blast in the Monterey Mirror Maze on Cannery Row. Granted, I’m biased in that I’ve always loved mirror mazes… even as an adult. This one’s definitely high-quality and yes, adult-appropriate.
As you’ve probably gathered, the beaches in Monterey and surrounding areas aren’t typically clear and clean like the kind you’d find in Destin, Florida. They’re rocky and feature a lot of kelp and seaweed. With that comes lots of tide-pools were you can spot all kinds of little crabs and other crustaceans moving about.
The most scenic beaches (which make for great photo ops) are along the aforementioned 17 Mile Drive (a toll area) that includes Cypress Point. The Lone Cypress area in itself is very impressive).
South of the 17 Mile Drive is Carmel-by-the-sea. It’s a cool, stylish city with an unmistakable charm, but we mainly just checked out its business district… which was insanely busy. It took us a good 20 minutes to even find a parking spot, and that was on a Friday morning.
An area my wife and I really enjoyed was Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, which is about 4 miles south of Carmel. It’s a great hiking area (with plenty of trails), and the sights are just unbelievable.
Australian landscape artist Francis McComas once described Point Lobos as the "greatest meeting of land and water in the world,” and it’s hard to argue otherwise. You can find more photos from this state park on my Instagram page.
The high temperature was in the mid 60s every day we were there, with intermittent clouds and sunshine. I’m told that’s pretty typical for July. It was comfortable, but a light jacket when out at night, or out on a boat, is a good idea. September is actually Monterey’s warmest month, with an average temperature in the low 70s.
Since Substack is telling me I’m about to reach my email size limitation (because of all the pictures), I’m going to wrap things up, and forgo "Random Thought”, “Obligatory Dog Shot”, and “Featured Vinyl”. Those weekly features will resume next week.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
Also, if you’re not caught up on my Sean Coleman Thrillers, you can pick the entire series up at a great price on Amazon. And if you’re interested in signed, personalized copies of my books, you can order them directly from my website.
Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!
This is one of my favorite places on earth, not only for the reasons you've mentioned here, but it's golf heaven. As a long-time Bay Area resident I traveled to the Monterey Peninsula many times, and my family were members of the Aquarium for a number of years.
I love my new home in Northern Nevada, but I will miss Monterey. Glad you enjoyed it.