There are times during my weekend adventures when I stop and look around at my surroundings and think, “I can’t believe I live in California.”
From a base of San Francisco, I’ve been able to see some incredible areas in the state within a short drive. The mountains. The Pacific Ocean. Wine Country. Beaches. Farmland.
On Sunday morning, I found myself in one such incredible area …. Monterey.
After leaving our overnight in Santa Cruz, Dave and I continued about an hour down scenic Highway 1 all the way to Monterey.
The second we exited off the highway, I could tell this was a nice place. There were gorgeous homes on the mountainside, clean sidewalks and streets and beautiful parks. We drove along the coastal tourist area and saw people canoeing on lakes, picnicking by the water, playing volleyball and walking and biking.
Everyone looked content. The tourism website for the area says Monterey offers “iconic California experiences”, and after my visit, I would totally agree.
Since we only had one afternoon to explore, we chose to park the car in a paid lot and set out on foot along Cannery Row, a historic district with shopping, dining and hotels right on the water.
While still being family-friendly, Monterey provides an entirely different vibe than Santa Cruz. It’s more upscale, it’s less loud, and it’s a bit more refined. The Cannery Row is a great place to walk around, take pictures in front of the ocean views, dine outside and shop. We spent some time in the Tervis Tumbler store (being from Florida, we just love our Tervis Tumblers), and sampled some very different and pleasing flavors of balsamic vinegars and olive oils at Monterey’s Tasty Olive Bar (they provide bread and let you sample as much as you want, so it was a great appetizer before lunch!)
I must say, on this particular day, lunch was fabulous.
We selected The Fish Hopper, a fairly fancy seafood joint on the water. I ordered the special of the day, which was a white sea bass and crab-meat salad, and Dave ordered macadamia-crusted halibut and some cinnamon-flavored sweet potatoes. I’ve been a big seafood eater my entire life (being that I am a product of a fishing family), and I always tend to order fish. Dave’s not much of a fish eater, although he does like most sushi. But little by little he has been adding some fish to his repertoire, and when he decided to order the halibut, I was ecstatic. Not only because I knew I’d get some bites of it, but also because I’ve always wanted him to join me in the fish world. And yes, he liked it.
With full bellies, we walked over to the main attraction at the end of Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Truth be told, I wasn’t all that excited to go in. Not only was it expensive ($35 per adult), but I always picture aquariums as dark, boring places with nothing but fish tanks. Boy was I wrong in this case.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a bright, open industrial-looking space with two floors. On the inside, there are replicas of life-size whales and sharks hanging from the roof, huge windows with full views of the ocean and plenty of natural sunlight. We got there right before a show was starting outside, so were able to sit right down looking out over the ocean to catch a live puppet show with some great singers. The show was designed to encourage people to think big about saving the planet, and all the puppets were made out of recycled materials. Pretty cute.
After the show, we walked around the exhibits, admiring some ugly deep-water fish, petting starfish in the touch tank, watching penguins and puffins and even observing some freshwater fish in a simulated upstream tank. There were a lot of kids at the aquarium and a lot of people disobeying the “no flash photography” rule in the darker exhibits, but it wasn’t as crowded and stressful as it could have been.
It took us about two hours to go through the entire two floors, so in the end it was worth the ticket price.
I am a former Disney employee, so I seem to relate everything we see and do in California to some form of a Disney experience. Here’s one that my fellow Floridians can relate to: In Central California, when the temperatures are not as hot, people don’t seem to get as bad of “B.O.” or body odor as they do in the steamy Florida sun. When walking around groups of people in the aquarium, we only encountered one-to-two cases of human body stink, which is absolutely nothing compared to a Florida entertainment venue, in which everyone reeks of dried sweat. True story.
To end our Monterey experience on a sweet note, we stopped in Starbucks and a fudge shop for some samples, and I bought a key lime truffle for the ride home. Delish.
This time last year I didn’t even know there was a city called Monterey, and now I’ve been there with Dave ordering fish for lunch. Oh the adventures continue …