24 hours in Monterey: beyond the aquarium

24 hours in Monterey: beyond the aquarium


The 101 stretched before us while carsick-prone little V slept the sleep of the Dramamine’d in her car seat. The bustle of San Jose slowly lengthened into farmland with rows upon rows of lettuce, kale, and strawberry busheswith their sweet pink fruit peeking beneath the leaves. For miles, only the field workers bent to their task break the lines of America’s salad bowl, with maybe an errant taco truck standing nearby a feathery field of fennel. The bristles of Monterey pine and cypress interspersed with russet succulents interrupt the landscape before finally the bay enters our view. With only 24 hours to spend in Monterey with a toddler, we wanted to explore beyond the famous aquarium.

Hour 1-3: Carmel

thinker toys carmelWe began our brief 24 hours in downtown Carmel, at Thinker Toys. Trains choo choo around a ceiling-mounted track, kites loom suspended from the rafters, a giant K’nex ferris wheel spins slowly behind the checkout counter. Most of the toys sold educate as well, lots of Thomas and Melissa and Doug. Little V heartily enjoyed playing with the train and kitchen sets, as well as watching the gumball machine.

Happily contented with the stuffed kitten she coerced from us at Thinker Toys, we decided to head to a nearby vineyard for lunch and a wine tasting. When in Carmel, right?

folktale winery menu

The moment you step through the arbor at Folktale Winery, they greet you with two coupe glasses filled with their refreshing brut, which smacks of apples and butter. A gentle breeze carries the scents of the nearby vines and the intoxicating aroma of breads baking in their outdoor wood-fired oven. Here, you sit at tables overlooking a grassy patio strung with twinkle lights, where little ones (or adults) can play giant Jenga, dominos, foosball, or corn hole. The staff bring the next tastings to your table, so you can enjoy the California sunshine. According to the staff, they make all wine on the property itself, and do not distribute, so you need to visit or order online through their website. My daughter loved the wood-fired pizza with zucchini, sweet corn and burrata, and I enjoyed it with their sparkling rose which has a faint aftertaste of watermelon.

For more tips on Wine Tasting with Toddlers, be sure to open a bottle and click here.

Hour 3-7: Cannery Row and Hotel

An easy five minute walk down Cannery Row brought us to the Ghirardelli store. The long line moved quickly, both adults and children enjoying the sweet treats. One marshmallow hot fudge sundae easily served all 3 of us.

In need of some exercise to burn off the sugar, we headed to the Dennis the Menace playground at El Estero Park. If little V ever needs training for American Ninja Warrior, we will return here. A suspension bridge leads to two green twisty snake-like slides, a rock climbing apparatus overlooks a model train, a maze leads to a tall tower with a ladder on one side and fire-pole on the other. V continually dashed up the stairs to the three-story corkscrew slide, waited patiently for her turn, then screamed with delight as she rushed to the zip line. Besides the available parking, my husband and I liked the non-chemical relatively clean park toilets. I know, we clearly have high standards. Little V wanted to return the next day, but the playground is closed on Tuesdays after Labor Day.

dennis the menace playgrounddennis the menace montereymonterey playground heaven

Having now worked up an appetite, we headed for an early dinner at Montrio Bistro, a restaurant recommended by our hotel concierge. From the sauvignon blanc-style Spanish Txakolina to the spicy smoky Rusty Bolt cocktail, the drink list made it feel like a date night instead of an evening spent spoon-feeding crave-able macaroni and cheese to a toddler. On the night we visited, they offered an appetizer special, a hummus made from fresh garbanzo beans and sugar pie pumpkin topped with grilled bread and pomegranate gastrique that melted in my mouth. I thought about getting a second plate of it for dessert.

Hour 7- 16: Monterey Plaza Hotel

Our first 12 hours in Monterey came to a close back at our hotel, the lovely and understatedly elegant Monterey Plaza Hotel. The eponymous plaza overlooks the bay and offers limited seating around an outdoor fire pit. Inside the lobby stands another fireplace juxtaposed with elegant but inviting sofas. This hotel primarily sells its location, very close to all the action of Cannery Row and downtown Monterey, but also set far enough away that the quiet atmosphere relaxes you immediately.

I would recommend splurging for a harbor or ocean view room. We did not, and enjoyed a lovely view of the employee parking lot for the Chart House next door. Schooners, the hotel restaurant offered a large variety of typical beach hotel bites and cocktails. Fortunately, they also have an extensive list of mocktails and blankets to cozy the evening fall chill on the waterfront patio.

Sea lions barked offshore somewhere near the patio, but they remained invisible in the thick black night.

Hour 17-19: Otters and Oatmeal

Breakfast options abound near the Monterey Plaza Hotel. For a quick yogurt and coffee there is Cafe La Strada right on the plaza. Schooners also offers breakfast and provides room service. The Coastal Concierge had recommended Lulu’s Griddle in the Middle for breakfast, but it is also closed on Tuesdays. Instead, we headed for an early morning stroll.

Catty-corner to the Aquarium, we entered the town of Pacific Grove and crossed the street to First Awakenings, a small breakfast joint serving classics and modern interpretations thereof. They provide the delicious homemade pancakes, crispy-on-the-outside but creamy in the middle French toast, and Mex-American egg dishes but also have a decently sized healthy menu. The orchard oatmeal had almost more apples than oats. The Viva Carnitas scramble, though very rich, boasted heavy amounts of flavor. There seemed to be a good mix of locals and tourists, as well.

Along the way back along Cannery Row to the hotel, there are numerous coastal overlooks offering views of the bay. An otter frolicked in the open water from the overlook adjacent to the Aquarium. It was difficult to say who enjoyed this more: little V who kept bouncing up and down or the otter playing in the soft waves.

Hours 19-24: Rounding out 24 hours in Monterey with a Toddler

With little time left before we needed to head home, we decided to run off a little more energy before the impending three hour drive.

From the moment little V walked through the Kids’ Entrance to the MY Museum, she did not want to leave. She could helm a boat, go down slides, climb a treehouse. We made air rockets and giant bubbles, she played in the fire station and performed Operation in the little hospital. She dressed up as a giraffe in the theater, and made a trick or treat bag. Can you believe all of this happened in under 2 hours?

MY museum
entrance to MY museum
MY museum
inside MY museum

$8 per person for both adults and children over 2–cost justified for the amount of fun.

Of course, a fed child is a happy child. For lunch, we crossed the street to The Paris Bakery, a small bakery cafe that is inexpensive, delicious, and very toddler-friendly. Authentic sandwiches, yummy and kid-friendly soup, a glass case full of pastries, cakes, and treats to tempt the adults and kids alike. A perfect end to a short trip.


24 hours in Monterey with a toddler left us hungry for more, but seemed a perfect amount of time for a quick and east getaway.

Where do you like to go for short trips? Where else have you traveled around Monterey with your little ones?

If you in Southern California, make sure you check out: #1 Tip for Visiting Disneyland with a Toddler and Top 5 Reasons to Visit Los Angeles.

birds in the bay, Monterey

Tin Box Traveller

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23 thoughts on “24 hours in Monterey: beyond the aquarium

  1. This really was an action packed 24 hours, Love all the adventures the kids got to have in such a short time, must be the child inside me and the fact I was a huge Denis the menace fan growing up but I’d have a go on the Zip line if they let me 😀

    1. I think he was the mayor at one point. Doris Day I believe still co-owns the Cypress Inn in Carmel, which is supposed to be very pet friendly.

  2. Wow, you did a lot in 24 hours! How do you keep your energy up to see so much in such a short time? I find I always end up getting too tired and having to skip things. Folktale Winery & Vineyards looks beautiful!

    1. It was amazing, I honestly it is one of my favorite wineries next to shoestring in solvang. We just follow the kid’s pace, nap when she does and we eat super early in general.

    1. It’s a game with bean bags, where you try to throw them onto certain places on a board. It used to be called something else, I swear.

  3. I teach John Steinbeck’s works at school, and I always thought I would like to visit this area of California. It looks like there is a lot for kids to do. My daughter would like the toy store. She always wants to spend her money on stuffed animals. We’re hoping to go to California in the next couple of years, so I will keep these ideas in mind!

  4. That park looks like so much fun! I love mini weekend getaways. They make it feel like you’ve been on vacation even if you don’t have a ton of time. We go out of town on average probably once a month or so, but mostly for just one or two nights at a time.

  5. Great post on things to do with little ones in tow! I love Monterey but don’t have any children so it was nice to read a different perspective of things to do!

  6. I would love to visit Carmel & Monterrey area. I went when I was really young, but I can’t remember it. Hopefully I can go visit soon. These are some great tips for those with kids. Ill have to bookmark this for later!

  7. This was really cute, I’m glad your baby loves to travel and isn’t a picky eater–I imagine that would make everything difficult. It’s awesome to see so many parents turning their children into travelers at such a young age.

  8. I’ve never been to any of these places in California and would love to do more exploring of the state. Carmel sounds absolutely dreamy!

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