Monterey is one of the most family-friendly coastal cities in California, especially if the little ones are curious about adventure. You can spot bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles while on a dive or boat cruise in Monterey Bay, while otters and harbour seals often frequent the waters of Point Lobos State Reserve. Families can also enjoy hiking and camping at Monterey's many state reserves and wildlife sanctuaries.

    The city of Monterey has many fun places to take your kids, too. Museums often organise exciting workshops and interactive exhibits for kids to learn in a fun environment – excellent on a rainy day in Monterey. Looking to plan a family excursion everyone will love? Check out our guide to the best things to do with kids in Monterey.

    1

    Monterey Bay Aquarium

    Encounter sea otters and leopard sharks

    • Families

    The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a family-friendly spot at the top end of bustling Cannery Row. Exhibits include recreations of the Californian ocean kelp forests, stingray touch pools, tanks with blacktip reef sharks, and inlets filled with rare sea otters.

    Just outside Monterey Bay Aquarium, you can spot the boisterous barking California sea lions. They're often basking in the sun on the jetties and rocks alongside the aquarium itself. There's even an onsite café where you can settle with a coffee and enjoy their company.

    Location: 886 Cannery Row, Monterey CA 93940, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 831-648-4800

    Map
    2

    Dennis the Menace Playground

    Locomotives and loveable geese make this perfect for the whole family

    • Families
    • History

    The Dennis the Menace Playground offers plenty of hands-on fun for the little ones in Monterey. Just a single block back from Del Monte Beach, it's easy to get to from the bustling promenades of Monterey. Inside, tunnels and swinging bridges and challenging climbing frames with corkscrewing slides keep the more energetic travellers busy.

    History buffs will also love it, mainly for that vintage Southern Pacific locomotive. It takes pride of place, showcasing its classic steel chassis from the 1920s. To the north, you can hop on curiously themed pedalboats on Lake El Estero to cycle the waters on an oversized rubber ducky.

    Location: 725 Pearl St, Monterey CA 93940, USA

    Phone: +1 831-646-3860

    Map

    photo by jencu (CC BY 2.0) modified

    3

    Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary

    See thousands of monarch butterflies from October to February

    • Families
    • Couples
    • Photo

    The Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary attracts thousands of monarch butterflies between October and February. These beautiful insects are usually out and about during the day, along with the sanctuary’s docents who are more than happy to answer your questions about monarch butterflies. Enjoy a leisurely walk past pine, cypress, and eucalyptus trees that dot the nature reserve.

    Entrance to the Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary is free – you’re allowed to admire and take photos or videos of this unique phenomenon, too. The best time to visit is from noon to 3 pm. Pacific Grove's annual Butterfly Parade takes place on the 1st Saturday of October, hosting a lively street parade and butterfly-themed bazaar.

    Location: 400 S Dolliver St, Pismo Beach, CA 93449, USA

    Open: Monday–Friday from 11 am to 2 pm, Saturday–Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm

    Phone: +1 805-773-7170

    Map

    photo by a200/a77Wells (CC BY 2.0) modified

    4

    San Carlos Beach Park

    Enjoy a picnic with views of Monterey Bay

    • Families
    • Photo
    • Budget
    • Adventure

    San Carlos Beach Park is at the western edge of Cannery Row in Monterey, right next to a beach of the same name. While surfers and divers frequent its clear waters, the 2.87-acre park is very popular with families enjoying picnics on weekends and holidays.

    It has grassy lawns, picnic tables with benches, and sandy beaches, all of which offer views of Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean. If you want to stretch your legs, there’s a paved trail right behind San Carlos Beach Park called the Monterey Peninsula Recreation Trail.

    Location: 100 Reeside Ave, Monterey, CA 93940, USA

    Open: Daily from 6 am to 10 pm

    Phone: +1 831-646-3866

    Map

    photo by Ed Bierman (CC BY 2.0) modified

    5

    Asilomar State Beach

    Excellent for nature walks along the shore

    • Families
    • Photo
    • Budget

    Asilomar State Beach, located on the western side of the Monterey Peninsula, is a popular spot for scenic walks and cycling in Pacific Grove. The beach spans around 1 mile in length, facing the heavy surf of the Pacific Ocean. It’s very popular with surfers, though families often stay on the shore, where they can explore tide pools and relax with a picnic and blanket.

    Harbour seals often frequent Asilomar State Beach’s rocky outcroppings at low tide. If you visit in August, you can even spot migrating humpbacks and blue whales out in the ocean. You can also walk the 0.25-mile boardwalk at Asilomar Natural Dune Preserve, which covers 25 acres of restored dune ecosystem.

    Location: Sunset Dr, Pacific Grove, CA 93950, USA

    Phone: +1 831-646-6440

    Map
    6

    Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

    See migrating whales in November

    • Families
    • Budget
    • Adventure

    The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary covers over 5,000 square miles of natural seascapes, making it one of the USA’s largest marine sanctuaries. It’s home to over 450 marine plant species, 26 species of marine animals, and 4 species of turtles. You can enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities year-round, including diving in kelp forests and rocky reefs, tide pooling, as well as kayaking in wetlands.

    The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is one of the best whale-watching spots in California. Grey whales migrate through the sanctuary in spring and winter, while humpback whales are easily spotted in summer and autumn. Smaller marine animals like sea otters and harbour seals often bask on the rocks throughout the year.

    Location: Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, California, USA

    Phone: +1 831-647-4202

    Map
    7

    MY Museum (Monterey County Youth Museum)

    One of the city’s largest indoor recreational learning centre

    • Families
    • History

    The Monterey County Youth Museum (MY Museum) offers hands-on exhibits and programmes specifically designed for kids to learn about various careers. The 8,500-sq-ft museum is located on Washington Street in Downtown Monterey, around 700 yards southeast of Old Fisherman’s Wharf.

    There are around 80 exhibits, with themed zones like MY Hospital, MY Creation Station, and MY Healthy Farm. There’s also a 2-storey treehouse called MY ImagiTree, where kids of any age can enjoy many rides and slides. MY Day at the Beach is excellent on rainy days – it has a large sandbox and slide, as well as a walk-through lighthouse.

    Location: 425 Washington St, Monterey, CA 93940, USA

    Open: Tuesday–Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday from midday to 5 pm (closed on Mondays)

    Phone: +1 831-649-6444

    Map
    8

    Point Lobos State Reserve

    A diving and hiking spot in Carmel-By-The-Sea

    • Families
    • Photo
    • Adventure

    Point Lobos State Reserve is a stretch of coastline at the northern tip of the world-famous Big Sur. Called the “crown jewel of the state park system”, it’s home to sea lions, harbour seals, elephant seals, sea otters, and orcas. You can enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities, from diving and whale watching (December–April) to hiking and picnicking.

    There are several beaches to explore at Point Lobos State Reserve. Start in the north, where crystal-clear waters filter through to Coal Chute Point. Then hike the pine woods that halo lovely Whaler's Cove. Push on to Sea Lion Point, where you'll be able to see some of the region's more entertaining coastal inhabitants sunning themselves on the rocks.

    Location: 62 CA-1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923, USA

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 7 pm

    Phone: +1 831-624-4909

    Map
    9

    Carmel River State Beach

    Spot seabirds between the dunes

    • Families
    • Photo
    • Budget

    Carmel River State Beach is a mile-long shore with clear waters that are excellent for diving and kayaking. It’s also part of the Carmel River Lagoon and Wetlands Natural Reserve, where you can spot the resident population of birds. The beach also offers easy access to the kelp forests of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, making Monastery Beach one of the best diving spots in the area.

    This nature reserve spreads across an estuary with a winding waterway, small oxbow lakes, and glowing sandbanks covered in verbena and sage bushes. You can get to Carmel River State Beach by following Highway 1 south for 15 minutes and passing the Comstock cottages of charming Carmel-by-the-Sea.

    Location: 26478 Carmelo St, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923, USA

    Phone: +1 831-649-2836

    Map
    10

    National Steinbeck Center Museum

    Learn about the life and writings of the famous author

    • Families
    • History

    The National Steinbeck Center Museum in Salinas honours the works and life of the American author John Steinbeck, with interesting exhibits and special programmes. The permanent gallery displays his past writings and stories to help you relive Steinbeck's experiences. The museum also has a research room with more than 45,000 artefacts, manuscripts, historical documents and film archives.

    The National Steinbeck Center Museum organises various educational programmes for those interested in honing their writing skills. The Steinbeck Young Authors programme is tailored for middle school students, where they learn by reading John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony or The Pearl.

    Location: 1 Main St, Salinas, CA 93901, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 831-775-4721

    Map

    photo by LordHarris (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    Penny Wong | Compulsive Traveler

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