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Monterey Bay, CA
Go nose-to-nose with shrimp and sharks at a family-friendly aquarium.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, copyright
Monterey County CVB
A trip to the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is a lot like putting on scuba masks and fins, then diving into the ocean -- except you never get wet or cold.
Situated in Monterey's Cannery Row, the world-acclaimed aquarium is a window on 300,000 marine critters representing nearly 600 species. There are even rarities, such as Pacific hagfish, eelpouts, and squat lobsters, that only deep-sea divers have witnessed until now.
Designed for Children
Children's education specialists helped design the facility, which caters to kids of all ages -- even infants and toddlers. A boatload of brand-new interactive exhibits earns the aquarium an enthusiastic "two thumbs up" from families. But beware: The kids will have so much fun you'll have a whale of a time dragging them home. Reserve 3 1/2 to 4 hours for your visit.
- Splash Zone
This popular family learning gallery is an all-time favorite. More than 30 hands-on exhibits about the ocean habitat capture young visitors' imaginations. Some of the more rare inhabitants include a colony of blackfooted penguins, monkeyface eels, and Wobbegong sharks.
- Coral Reef Play Area
Your little sea urchins will dig dressing up like crabs, clown fish and whales. After they pose for a photo inside a "giant clam" chair, send them on a crawling cruise through the Coral Crawl Tunnel (parents can go, too!), where they'll peer through glass windows and get nose-to-nose with sea horses, ribbon eels, and harlequin shrimp. Rarely seen leafy sea dragons await on the other side of the tunnel.
- Coral Cove
This exhibit for toddlers (under 3) has crawl areas, a waterbed on which they can feel the motion of water, and an above-ground "sink" with floating rubber fish.
- Mysteries of the Deep
More than 40 species -- including catsharks, ratfish, and apple anemones never before seen in an aquarium -- are on display in this 7,000-square-foot exhibit exploring the ocean depths. Most of the creatures were collected from waters 3,300 feet beneath the surface.
- Outer Bay Gallery
The centerpiece of this award-winning exhibition is a million-gallon tank with the world's largest viewing window (54 feet long, 15 feet tall). Through it, you can see giant ocean sunfish, tuna, sharks, barracudas, and sea turtles. Also, check out the jellyfish gallery, the largest exhibit of its kind at the aquarium.
- Kelp Forest Feeding Show
Get a diver's-eye view of a live seaweed forest at this towering 28-foot-high exhibit. Ask the diver questions, and get answers as he speaks to you via a two-way communication mask.
- Touch Pool
Ever pet a bat ray? They look slimy, but they're not. Try it! We dare ya! It's an experience you won't forget. Your kids will get a kick out of touching the rays, sea stars, abalone, and other live marine creatures.
Looking for more to do? It'll be hard to top the aquarium. But Monterey's land attractions are just as awe-inspiring for kids.
Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
- Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
Don't miss this one! Your youngest and oldest will thrill at the sight of migrating Monarch butterflies clustered in the Monarch Grove Sanctuary public park in Pacific Grove, or "P.G." as the locals call the peninsula town sandwiched between Monterey and Pebble Beach. Up to 60,000 colorful butterflies congregate at the park in clusters that hang suspended from tree branches 20 to 40 feet off the ground. Dress in bright yellows and reds, and a few butterflies might land on you. Mother Nature stages this spectacular display from October to March -- with the most concentrated numbers in the park from October through December, during warmer hours of the day.
- Sea Lions at Old Fisherman's Wharf
This working pier, built in 1846, was once a major Pacific port. Now, it's a bustling mecca of fine dining and shopping. A stroll down the pier will get you up close and personal with playful California sea lions, harbor seals, and endangered brown pelicans trolling for fishy scraps. Whale watching, fishing trips, and glass-bottom-boat sea life tours all depart from the wharf.
- Monterey Recreational Trail
"Take five" while your children let off steam on this picturesque trail stretching 4.3 miles along the shore from Monterey to Pacific Grove. Our favorite section of the asphalt trail -- from Fisherman's Wharf to Cannery Row -- is ideal for viewing sea otters and seals.
Type of Trip: Educational
Best Ages: All ages
Ideal trip length: Weekend, a half-day at the aquarium, one day on side trip
Distance: San Francisco (115 miles); Sacramento (186 miles); Los Angeles (325 miles)
Best time to go: After Labor Day and before Memorial Day -- you'll find fewer crowds and better lodging deals.
Weather: Moderate year-round. 51/45 degrees in January; 75/62 degrees in September
Lodging: Budget motels can be found at Munras Ave. and Fremont St. in Monterey. Camping available.
Squirm Factor: None to some
If You Go...
Favorite Local Spot:
Dennis the Menace Park
Enter on Pearl Street in downtown Monterey
Designed with creative playthings by the comic-strip cartoonist, Hank Ketcham, a local resident.
Best souvenir: Sharks in a bottle (that's a real dead shark in a bottle).
Traffic alert: Rainy winter weather may bring mudslides south, from Monterey to Big Sur, causing closures on Hwy 1 and detours to Hwy 101.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Phone: 831- 648-4888
Buy tickets in advance, especially during the busy summer season. Tickets: inside California: 800-756-3737; outside California: 800-225-2277.
Old Fisherman's Wharf
Located in the center of downtown Monterey
Monterey Peninsula Visitors & Convention Bureau
The Veterans Memorial Park Campground
Has up to 40 spaces available
Monterey Bay Aquarium, copyright
Monterey County CVB
Children of every age will love visiting the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, a classic amusement park sitting on a mile-long beach at the northern end of Monterey Bay. This 93-year-old park is the state's oldest. It's also home to two national historic landmarks -- the 1924 Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster and the 1911 Looff Carousel.
One of the coolest things about the park? You can walk onto the grounds for free. (Most parks charge everyone a ticket at the door.) That makes it easier to split your time between the beach and the rides. However, you'll pay dearly for individual rides. A variety of ticket plans makes it easier on the budget. On Monterey Bay, 45 minutes north of downtown. Open Memorial Day to Labor Day and most weekends and holidays in fall and spring.
Avid readers in your clan will enjoy a trip to the National Steinbeck Center. The life and work of the Nobel Prize-winning author come alive in this $11 million, multi-sensory exhibit in Old Town Salinas. Watch film clips and interactive exhibits from such Steinbeck classics as East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, The Red Pony and Cannery Row in one of the museum's seven theaters.
The National Steinbeck Center
One Main Street, Salinas, 20 (scenic) miles north of Monterey
Reviewed April 2004.
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