Bay Area Road Trip: Monterey Bay - 510 Families
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Bay Area Road Trip: Monterey Bay

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of California’s best indoor tourist attractions, a perfect mission for the long days of November or December school closures. Or try it over the summer and add on some beach time. It’s a quick two-hour drive from the East Bay. And the best part is that kids of all ages will be captivated.

The Kelp Forest has sharks and humongous fish of all sorts. Blew all our minds! |Photo Credit: Julie Herson

Day Trip to Monterey

Head out of the {510} at 8 am, meet some South Bay friends you are always meaning to visit for breakfast, and proceed to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to arrive around 11 am. There are plenty of fish feeding shows throughout the day, and the venue is open until 5 pm every day.

Lunch in the Aquarium cafeteria is decent, while the views are superb. You can also explore in and around the aquarium, located on a tourist-friendly strip, Cannery Row. Ride the free trolley when the kids get tired of walking. Next drive over to the beach or Dennis the Menace park to get the last of the wiggles out. The kids will be exquisitely exhausted after an epically memorable, full day. Head home after dinner and let everyone but the driver fall asleep in the car. {Read our three-year old recommendations for Monterey Bay Aquarium}

Plan B is an Overnight Getaway to Monterey

My kids love the Dennis the Menace Park in Monterey after we’ve had our fill of sharks at the Aquarium | Photo Credit: Julie Herson

There are plenty of hotels in and around Monterey to choose from. Look for kid friendly options like a heated pool, free breakfast, or deals on Aquarium tickets. Here are a few lodging options to consider:

  • Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay: The hotel promises to be kid-friendly, offering warm chocolate cookies upon arrival and free hot chocolate for the whole family in their onsite restaurant. A pirate-themed scavenger hunt is offered to interested kids upon check-in. There’s also ice-skating available at Custom House Plaza (located just steps away from the hotel). Rates start at $349/night.
  • Embassy Suites: Stay in one of their newly-renovated suites and swim in their indoor pool, which ups the ante for a simple overnight trip.
  • Looking to glamp? See our close-to-Monterey KOA review for more ideas.
  • Moss Landing is another fun option to consider if you’re looking to add beach time to your trip.
  • Butterfly Grove Inn looks pretty special and we’ve heard it’s family friendly. It’s adjacent to the Monarch Butterfly sanctuary, and has a pool and hot tub.
  • Andril Fireplace Cottages: Cute little cottages just a short walk to Asilomar Beach in Pacific Grove. Eight minute drive to the Aquarium. Hot tub, table tennis and dog friendly too.
  • Or sleep with the sharks and blow your kids’ minds with a sleepover at the Aquarium. These epic sleepovers are pricey but include Aquarium admission for the next day (Currently on hold due to Covid-19 restrictions).
  • An expensive but memorable add-on could be a 3-4 hour whale watching trip. Just make sure to take some motion sickness medicine first if that’s a problem for you! You can often find deals on Groupon and it’s so so cool for kids ages 3+.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Penguins
The penguins are always a popular stop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium | Photo Credit: Julie Herson

Aquarium Admission:

Regular ticket price is $49.95 for adults; $34.95 for 3-12 year olds; FREE for children under 3. Many hotels in the area offer two day passes for the price of one. AAA sometimes offers a discount. Currently you must buy tickets in advance online.  Membership may be a good option if you have a big family and want to come back a few times a year. It’s not cheap, but if your kiddos love it, it may be worth it. And you don’t need to make prior reservations as a member.


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Whale Watching Monterey
Whale watching on the Monterey Bay is amazing, with dolphins often making an appearance as well | Photo: Julie Herson

Before You Go:

Have you gone to the Monterey? What’s your favorite thing to do? Let us know in the comments!

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6 thoughts on “Bay Area Road Trip: Monterey Bay”

  1. I have a t tip for more adventurous families. Consider staying at the Monterey International Hostel! They have reasonably priced private family rooms (advanced reservations required) with bunk beds and a groovy, international vibe. Lots of young travelers from around the world, games, reading areas, a piano, and a spacious community kitchen are features of the dorm-like establishment. We stayed for two nights last summer and the boys had a blast and still talk about it as a place they can’t wait to go back to. Bonus points for central location (three blocks to Cannery Row/Aquarium) and FREE parking, even for the whole day when you check out.

  2. Buy aquarium tickets in advance online and have them held at will-call. The lines to buy tickets can be brutally long, especially in the summer. We did it last summer and it was so nice not to have to wait in that long line! Also the cafeteria there has some really wonderful food.

  3. Pingback: Three-year olds’ guide to Monterey Bay Aquarium - 510 Families

  4. We just got back from a day trip…

    * one of the membership categories allows a grandparent to bring *all* grandchildren under the age of 18 and you get two transferable guest cards. We joined when my in-laws were visiting (13 of us), and I hold “Guest 1” while my husband and his mom are named. The guest cards can be used without the named card holder. We made out money back on the day we all visited!

    * We arrive as close to opening as possible (9ish), and around 11 eat an early lunch, then hop on one of the amazing tours. The tours are $12/person for members, and take you behind the scenes. Those get us out of the busy afternoon fray, and we are ready to drive back home after the tour!

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