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
We 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?
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.
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.
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?
$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?