Monterey with Kids Ultimate Guide + Best Things To Do (2024)

Need help planning a trip to Monterey with kids? I recently visited Monterey with my kids and I have all the details you need about what to do and where to stay. 

Monterey is one of the most well-known cities in California. It’s beautiful, vibrant, has world-class attractions, an adorable downtown, and fun beaches.

And it’s perfect for families! It’s lively and has something for everyone. You can make it a day trip or stay the whole week.

Since we live in Northern California, we have the flexibility to be able to go whenever we want. Because the weather is a little moody in the Bay, I put it on my Weather app and monitor every week. When I see that it’s sunny and hits 70, I start looking for hotels.

That’s exactly what happened with our trip to Monterey, and bonus—it was Mother’s Day weekend! I was so excited to spend the weekend there, and it turned out to be amazing.

If you’re planning on visiting Monterey with kids, keep reading for everything you need to know—plus a weekend itinerary! 

Key Takeaways

  • Monterey is a great destination for families.  Besides the beautiful beaches, Monterey is known for having one of the best aquariums in the country, the famous Cannery Row, all types of water activities, and  
  • There are different areas in Monterey, each with their own appeal. Downtown Monterey is near Old Fisherman’s Wharf and many kids activities, Cannery Row is full of shops and restaurants and the aquarium, while beachside hotels will provide perfect ocean views. 

⚠️ Looking for a place to stay in Monterey? 

Do not look anywhere else, just book The Portola Hotel and Spa at Monterey Bay

This is where we stayed and it was amazing in every sense. Perfect location in the heart of downtown, heated pool, big rooms with balconies, food on-site, plus it’s gorgeous. Seriously, just book it. 

👉 Check prices and book The Portola Hotel and Spa at Monterey Bay by clicking here! 

Table of Contents

The Best Things to do in Monterey with Kids

1. The Beach: Del Monte or Monterey State Beach

monterey state beach

The beaches in Monterey are family-friendly with plenty to do. Del Monte or Monterey Beach are both great options. We first drove to Del Monte since it was closer to our hotel, but we couldn’t find any parking so I went over to Monterey Beach.

Del Monte is more popular because it’s right next to Old Fisherman’s Wharf and walking distance to several hotels. (There’s also a McDonald’s right across the street which was handy for the kids.)

Monterey State Beach is a little out of the way, but the beach for Monterey Tides hotel.
Both are long, sandy beaches with calm waters and stunning views of the Monterey Bay. The water is calm enough for swimming and wading (but it IS cold, so watch out! The kids, of course, have no temperature gauge so they didn’t mind it at all)

We had a really relaxing time at Monterey State Beach. there was plenty of room to spread out, and everyone that was near us was very nice! (I mean, who wouldn’t be nice when you’re sitting on a gorgeous beach, right?!)

It had a small parking lot and a few picnic tables. There were also a couple of port-a-potties. 

NOTE: It takes about 10 minutes to walk from the parking lot to the ocean. There’s a small lagoon that you need to walk around using a beach path, but the path is lined with flowers and plants.

Before you head to the beach, read over my best beach hacks for babies and toddlers by clicking here

2. Monterey Bay Aquarium

monterey bay aquarium is a great place to visit when in monterey with kids

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best aquariums in the world. The WORLD. This has to be on your itinerary when you go to Monterey with kids- it was the main reason I’ve had Monterey on my list for so long! It’s home to over 10,000 marine animals!

Tip: I would recommend going later in the day, if you can. We went 15 minutes before it opened and there was already a long line of people waiting. Luckily it went fast once they opened, but I bet it’s easier an hour or so after opening.

You can easily spend hours here. It’s huge, with indoor AND outdoor exhibits, and like I said before, there are over 10,000 marine animals here—including sharks, sea otters, octopus, sea lions, and jelly fish.

There are also exhibits on everything from the kelp forest to the deep sea. You’ll learn about the different types of marine life and their role in the ocean ecosystem.

You can watch feedings, visit the hands-on area where you can touch different types of sea creatures, you can also take a behind-the-scenes tour to learn more about how the aquarium works.

There were two play areas as well, one for bigger kids with water play area with boats and tunnels, and another for the smaller ones with a soft play area. There’s also a huge café if anyone gets hungry.

I was floored by the museum. It was fun, educational, and inspiring!

Check it out and buy tickets here. 

3. Dennis the Menace Playground

dennis the menace park is a great place to visit when in monterey with kids

If you’re looking to get some energy out at an AWESOME play area, this is it.
There are plenty of activities to keep kids entertained—multiple play structures, a slide, a life size train (!), and a maze.

The playgrounds have slides, swings, climbing structures, a rock climb wall, and a sand pit. There are different areas for different age groups.

There are also bathrooms, a big (free) parking lot, cute water fountains made to look like animals, and plenty of bench seating in the shade.

4. El Estero Park

pond at el estero park

Dennis the Menace Playground is actually a part of El Estero Park. In addition to the playground, there’s skate park, hiking and biking trails, a pond with paddle boats, a baseball diamond, and plenty of grass to run around in.

If you’re not into any of that, you can take it easy and enjoy the scenery, go for a walk, or have a picnic.

5. MYMuseum

mymuseum in downtown monterey

A children’s museum that you MUST visit when in Monterey with kids. I loved it because it was just the right size for young kids, and the exhibits were so fun. Plus it’s so cute, there’s a huge treehouse right as you enter!

There are around 20 interactive exhibits for kids to learn about science, art, and culture. The exhibits are designed to be hands-on and engaging, so kids can really learn by doing.

There’s a fire engine (and fire house), a grocery store and cooking kitchen, an the art studio, a bubble machine, and an ambulance. There’s even mini golf!

If you check their schedule, you can attend a storytime or educational program or take part in an art class or science workshop.

The best part is that MY Museum is located in downtown Monterey, walking distance from Old Fisherman’s Wharf, so it’s easy to get to and there are plenty of other things to do in the area.

Check it out here. 

6. Cannery Row

cannery row in monterey

Cannery Row is a historic district in Monterey that is a popular tourist destination with a mix of restaurants, shops, and attractions, right on the water! You’ll look out at beautiful McAbee beach.

It is a one-mile-long stretch of road that was once a part of a thriving sardine canning industry. (Get it, CANnery Row.)

There are waterfront hotels, a variety of shops from high-end to souvenir shops, restaurants, and dessert shops.

There are also all kinds of activities like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, kayak rentals, e-bike rentals, the Mirror Maze, an arcade, laser tag, and an interactive playground. A must see when visiting Monterey with kids.

Get more details about Cannery Row here.

See Cannery Row by water – and spot a sea lion too!

 ✅ Check out prices and book this highly rated full day kayak rental by clicking here!

7. Old Fisherman’s Wharf

old fishermans wharf is a great place to stop by when in monterey with kids

Fisherman’s Wharf is a popular tourist destination in Monterey. There are several restaurants, shops, and attractions located on the wharf. It’s also home to a colony of sea lions! They can be seen sunbathing on the rocks or swimming in the ocean.

No visit to the wharf would be complete without trying some of the fresh seafood—and there are many different restaurants to choose from. If you have any room in your stomach afterwards, there’s a number of candy, dessert, and ice cream shops for your sweet tooth.

There are a number of boat tours that depart from Old Fisherman’s Wharf too (like this amazing whale watching tour!). These tours offer a unique opportunity to see marine life up close and personal! Or you can relax on a sailing or fishing boat tour.

Check it out here.

8. Whale Watching Tours

whale watching tours are a great thing to do in monterey with kids

If you’re looking for a fun, educational, and unforgettable experience, I highly recommend going on a whale watching tour.

Monterey Bay is home to a variety of whales, including gray whales, humpback whales, and blue whales. You may also see dolphins, sea lions, and other marine animals. It’s such a delight to see the kids’ reactions when seeing the animals jump out of the water!

If you have any interest in marine life, whale watching tours are a great way to learn about it. The tour guides are knowledgeable about the different species of whales and other marine animals that live in the area.

Looking for a whale watching tour with a 99% success rate of seeing whales? 

✅ Check prices and and book this highly rated half-day Monterey Whale Watching tour by clicking here!

… and what about a Great White Shark tour? Yup, you read that right! Monterey Bay’s population of sharks has exploded so this is your opportunity to see them up close! 

✅ Check prices and and book this 3-4 hour Great White Shark Tour by clicking here! 

9. Bay Boat Tours

Monterey Bay is a beautiful place, with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the city of Monterey. A boat tour is a great way to relax, check out the scenery, and take in the fresh air.

The Bay is home to a variety of marine wildlife, including whales, dolphins, sea lions, and otters and cruising around on a boat tour is a great way to see the animals in their natural habitat!

You’ll also learn about the history of the area from the guides and see some of the most famous landmarks. 

There are so many amazing boat tours to choose from, but this one stands out (and fills up fast!)

This Elkhorn Slough Wildlife Tour earned a Badge of Excellence! It takes guests on a slow ride on a catamaran to see animals up close and personal in the Elkhorn Slough. 

If you want to see a variety of sea animals- ✅ check prices and book the tour by clicking here!

10. 17-Mile Drive

17 mile drive in monterey

The 17-Mile Drive is a scenic route that winds along the Monterey Peninsula. It is a VERY popular tourist destination, with amazing views of the ocean, Pebble Beach golf courses, and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Some say it’s too touristy, but I absolutely loved it. The whole drive really is beautiful and you can stop at various points along the way to take in the scenery and take photos.

You’ll pass several gorgeous beaches, including Pebble Beach, Cypress Point Beach, and Spanish Bay Beach. And for the golf lovers, the drive passes by world-class golf courses, like Pebble Beach Golf Links, Cypress Point Club, and Spyglass Hill Golf Course.

Tip: to really enjoy it, don’t rush! It’s a scenic route so take your time and enjoy the scenery. And definitely stop at the viewpoints! 

You can’t miss the 17-Mile Drive while in Monterey! It was one of our favorite memories of the trip. 

If you don’t want to drive it yourself,
👉 check prices and book this 17-mile Drive Tour

And if you’re rather bike it,
👉check prices and times on this 17-mile Drive E-bike Tour 

11. Rent a Sea Car

sea cars in monterey

If you are looking for a unique, fun, and eco-friendly way to explore Monterey, then you should rent a sea car. (Added bonus, they are SO cute!)

A sea car is a small, open-air vehicle and you can rent them all over town. They’re easy to maneuver and are so fun to drive. And since they’re powered by electricity, they don’t produce emissions.

Places you can drive to in a Sea Car include along the coastline to take in the stunning views, around Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row, or to the beach! 

Feeling like having some fun in a Sea Car?

 👉 Check prices and book this 1-hour Sea Car tour around Monterey and Carmel here! 

12. Point Lobos

point lobos

If you’re looking for some calmness and pure beauty, go to Point Lobos Natural Reserve. It’s been called the “crown jewel” of California state parks. Not actually in Monterey, but close enough and worth the short drive south.

The reserve is over 7,000 acres of jaw-dropping coastline, including beaches, jagged cliffs, coves, and crystal clear waters.

If you want to hike the area, the coastal trail is well-maintained and is about six miles long. It takes roughly 3 hours to walk the full loop, but you don’t need to do the full hike to see the beauty—do as much as you can!

As you’re exploring, you’ll be able to spot a variety of wildlife like sea otters, seals, dolphins, and whales.

You won’t regret coming here!

Best Places to Stay in Monterey with Kids

Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay – Downtown Monterey

If you’re looking for a luxurious hotel within walking distance to Old Fisherman’s Wharf and Del Monte Beach, plus in the Portola Plaza, this is your spot! This is where we stayed and I HIGHLY recommend it.

You’ll have a choice from standard guest rooms, premium rooms, and for extra room, a variety of suites. Plus, most rooms have balconies with city or water views.

Besides being in a perfect location, the hotel has a lot of cool amenities, like an outdoor heated pool and two on-site restaurants. And for kids between 3-8, there’s a children’s loyalty program called Portola Pirate Program that offers pirate themed activities! Depending on the season, kids get a custom activity book, treasure maps, or a tasty treat at one of the restaurants. 

 ✅ Check prices and book your stay at the Portola Hotel and Spa by clicking here! 

portola hotel in monterey

Monterey Tides – on Monterey State Beach

If you’re looking for a comfortable and convenient place to stay in Monterey, CA on a budget, Monterey Tides is a great choice.

The hotel is located directly on Monterey State Beach, with their own private beach area just for their guests.

There’s an on-site restaurant that looks out on the water, an on-site coffee shop, and a heated outdoor pool. It also offers bike rentals and a beach bonfire pit.

They offer standard rooms with one king or two queen beds, with inland or ocean views.

✅ Check prices and book your stay at the Monterey Tides Hotel by clicking here!

Monterey Plaza Hotel – Cannery Row

If you’re looking for a luxurious hotel located right on Cannery Row, you should choose the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa. The Plaza is the top-rated hotel in Monterey!

Standard guest rooms with one king or two queens are offered, with patios overlooking inland, ocean, or harbor views. If you’re feeling fancy, you can stay in one of the luxury suites that have separate living rooms, large balconies with ocean views, and even a fireplace.

The Plaza offers a sundeck with two large hot tubs, on-site dining, complimentary bikes, shuttle service, room service, and many other luxurious amenities.

Check out the Plaza and book here! 

 ✅ Check prices and book your stay at the Monterey Plaza Hotel by clicking here!

Monterey Weekend Itinerary

Friday

  • Arrive in Monterey and check into your hotel. 
  • Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
  • Take a walk or bike ride along Cannery Row. This historic street is lined with shops, restaurants, and attractions. Have dinner then head back to the hotel to relax.  

Saturday

  • Have breakfast (check out Crepes of Brittany!)
  • Visit Old Fisherman’s Wharf and take a whale watching tour or bay boat ride
  • Have lunch at one of the many restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Hit Del Monte Beach for some fun in the sun 

Sunday

  • Go to Dennis the Menace Park in El Estero Park.
  • Visit MYMuseum
  • Have lunch at one of the neighboring restaurants.
  • If you have time, spend a few calm moments at Point Lobos before heading out.

FAQs: Monterey with Kids

Is Monterey California worth visiting?

Yes, Monterey, California is definitely worth visiting! It is a beautiful city with so much to offer. It’s a great place to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

There are beautiful beaches in the area, a variety of boat rides, the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, an adorable downtown area, fun parks, an amazing children’s museum, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the 17-Mile Drive.

No matter what you are looking for in a vacation, Monterey has it! 

How long do you need in Monterey?

It depends on how much you want to see and do. If you are just interested in visiting a couple of the most popular landmarks, then you can get by with a day trip.

However, if you really want to explore the area, have some fun at the park, relax on the beach, or check out Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, then you will need to stay at least two nights.

How do I spend a day in Monterey?

  • Morning: Start your day with a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
  • Early afternoon: Take a walk or bike ride along Cannery Row. This historic street is lined with shops, restaurants, and attractions.
  • Late afternoon: Head to Del Monte Beach to relax in the sun or El Estero Park for the kids to enjoy Dennis the Menace playground and a boat ride on the pond in an oversized duck.
  • Evening: Have dinner and dessert at Old Fisherman’s Wharf. 

Wrapping Up: Monterey with Kids

Monterey is a great place to take the kids. There are so many things to see and do, and the city is very family friendly. Here are some of the highlights of our trip:

  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-see for any family visiting Monterey.
  • MYMuseum was such a treat for the kids. The variety of exhibits were a perfect combination of fun and educational. Plus, it was adorable!
  • Monterey Beach was beautiful and relaxing. The mountain views were amazing too!
  • Cannery Row is a great place to experience the local culture and see some of the city’s most famous landmarks.

We had a great time in Monterey, and we would definitely recommend it to other families. If you’re planning a trip, be sure to check out our blog for more tips and suggestions. 

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MEET BESA

Your Go-To Girl for Beach Travel

Hi! I’m Besa. I’ve always been a travel-loving beach bum… and then I had kids. Two boys, born 19 months apart. But I didn’t let that stop me. I still travel, even with a couple little boys in tow – and I want to help other parents like you do the same!

I’ll be sharing all my travel tips, beach hacks, and guides for some of my favorite family vacation beach spots.

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Why Trust Beaches and Babies?

Why Trust Beaches and Babies?

Besa has been a frequent traveler for almost 20 years, and the last five years of her travels have included her two toddler boys, 19 months apart.
Years of flying and beach bumming with her kids has given her plenty of hard-earned experience in the travel world.

Need Help Booking Your Trip?
Use My Favorite Resources!

FLIGHTS
Kayak searches hundreds of travel sites for the lowest prices plus the flexible calendar tells you which days are the cheapest to fly.

LODGING
booking.com is easy to use and gives options for all types of lodging. When I know I want a big rental house, I use VRBO.

RENTAL CARS
rentalcars.com scans multiple agencies at your destination to give you the best price.

ACTIVITIES
Viator lets you search for a specific activity at your destination or scroll all available.

Read over my full list of the best sites to book with on my Resources page.