Explore Monterey Bay

Added by Catherine Capon

Explore this beautiful coastal town with options for hiking, diving, kayaking, surfing, and more.

If you’re new to wildlife holidays and not quite ready to hike through scorching deserts or sail in perilous seas to catch a glimpse of an endangered species, then Monterey is your perfect introduction vacation. Everything about a visit to Monterey is relaxed and easy. You don’t even have to leave the harbour in order to see the surprisingly large sea otters reclining leisurely whilst eating their invertebrate treats. And, if you’re feeling particularly laid-back, you can even wildlife watch from the comfort of a waterside restaurant. However, I’d recommend getting up close and personal by renting a kayak and going for a gentle paddle around the buoys, boats, seals and sea lions. Even the diving in Monterey is uncomplicated. There’s a great site by the harbour with beach entry so you don’t have the hassle of boarding a boat. On these dives you can glide amongst the lazily undulating kelp fronds to look for resting leopard sharks and innocuous octopuses. In Monterey, many attractions are within strolling distance, the locals are gems and the tour operators have that golden American customer service attitude. My only warning; life will seem very hectic when you leave!

Monterey is situated in Northern California, a 2 hour drive south of San Francisco on the Pacific Coast. You could happily spend an entire vacation kayaking, diving, whale watching and hiking in the local vicinity but if you’re interested in exploring the wider area, there is even more on offer. Pacific Grove is Monterey’s neighbouring city and is famous for monarch butterflies. Between mid-October and mid-February, the monarchs stop at this overwintering site and in peak season the trees are dripping with the beautiful winged insects. Just south of Monterey is Carmel (where Clint Eastwood was once mayor!) which is the locals’ surfing spot as well as being a dog-owners heaven. Further south still is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve which offers pristine wildlife watching opportunities without the boats and buildings of Monterey. And for truly breath-taking scenery, purple sand beaches and dizzying redwood forests, continue south on Highway 1 past Bixby Bridge to Big Sur where, if you’re lucky, you can spot the critically endangered California condor.

The one place that I would encourage everyone to visit is the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. Not only can you learn all about the local marine life without even getting wet, you’ll become an expert in sea otter biology and find out how the population nearly went extinct due to overfishing. I was amazed at how the resident rescued otters use tools to crack open invertebrate shells, keep their favourite tools in the folds under their forelimbs and even pass tools on to their pups as a kind of inheritance! The Aquarium runs essential conservation programmes, including SORAC, where orphaned sea otter pups (their mothers killed in storms or by sharks) are adopted by the resident females and learn all the skills they need to survive in the wild. This is a fantastic project as the pups can later be released to the wild which wouldn’t be the case if the pups were raised by humans.

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Photos by Joe Platko

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Overall rating: 

I agree with the Monterey Bay Aquarium tip AND Point Lobos. Both are definitely worth visiting. Point Lobos has a few miles of trails and is for hikers of all skill levels, but mostly beginners. Has absolutely stunning views and lots of areas to spot sea otters!


over 5 years ago

I would recommend hiking at Point Lobos State Park (just below Carmel-By-The-Sea on Hwy. 1, about 3 miles south of downtown at most). It's a hidden gem and offers great ocean views.

over 5 years ago

Great article! I sure need to visit this place, it looks incredible! So much wildlife! Thanks for the travel tips too :) That seal pup is so cute! And the sea otter!

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