Over president’s day weekend, Tammy and I were fiending for a trip. We initially thought about doing a short-notice LA jaunt, but put that to another weekend, when we could actually convince some people to come with.

So: Monterey, California. Made famous by, news to me, John Steinbeck, who apparently was really into sardines. Also, apparently Monterey once had a booming sardine industry - hence Cannery row. All news to me - I just knew it had a dank aquarium and was a hotspot for whale watcher.

The itinerary:

  • Check out Aquarium
  • Do a Kayak Tour

Aaaand that’s it. Pretty simple, straightforward. We had been talking around the end of last year, beginning of this, about how we should take the time to explore California before we potentially leave it (forever?), and, why over complicate things? Anyway, just two things turned out to be plenty, as Cannery row and walking around town more than filled space.

Monterey Aquarium

I’ve got opinions on aquariums. Used to volunteer at one when I was a kid in South Carolina. The aquarium we had there was one of the best in the world, at the time anyway. Supposedly the largest tank in America. Since then, I’ve failed to be impressed by anywhere else. That’s changed - Monterey Aquarium is a masterpiece.

The architecture alone is a sight to behold. Built around an old cannery, concrete, glass, built out on the inside with wood. I love it. Not to mention how the tucked it in perfectly against the natural rock. There’s a couple, multi-level outside decks, one of which stretches around a massive natural tide pool, waves crashing up into it and refilling clear-blue-green water.

Anyway, the line to get tickets was super long, luckily Tammy got ours online, which I think is just about the only sane way to go about it. Day of, we muddled about with parking. Could have saved a couple bucks if we had enough quarters to put us in the ample street parking at the coin-only meters, or had gotten there early enough to score one of the newer meters that take a credit card, but garage parking was something like 20$ for the day, so no real loss.

We got in around 11am, caught the feeding in their massive tank (which was quiet exciting, if difficult to see things from the second floor), then managed to keep ourselves entertained there until hunger took over around 2pm. Nothing there particularly struck me as must-see, simply wandering and enjoying the exhibits was enough for me.

Lunch was at a cute chowder house called “Vivolo’s Chowder House”. Chowder great, everything else decent. Worth.

After was a simple walk around Cannery Row, which is nearly identical in every way to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, except they have much more placards and historical monument type things at Cannery Row.

Late afternoon came with a sudden downpour, so we took shelter in Tidal Coffee, which was entirely unremarkable but for the fact that they had stacked bookshelves of Steinbeck books, so Tammy and I relaxed and read for a while.

The evening was our typical - hide in the hotel with piles of snacks, abuse our TV until we can get the HDMI plugged in, and play videogames. Incidentally, our hotel was the cheapest in the area available on short notice, and was perfectly adequate. It was the Stargazer Inn and Suites.

Kayak Tour

Day 2’s primary activity was a kayak tour. We went with Monterey Bay Kayak Tours and got their 2.5 hour guided tour Monterey Tour at 60$ a person. It turned out to be the perfect option, as right at the end of 2.5 hours we were frozen and exhausted, but well entertained. It involved a small group of three, with two tour guides, paddling around the docks. There was a surprising amount of sea life to see, including Sea Lions (we saw one with a gnarly shark bite), Seals, Sea Otters (we saw a mother floating around with her pup on her tummy!), and various underwater critters like sea stars. Unfortunately, the waves were too powerful to get out to Cannery row, but the guides kept us well entertained with their knowledge of the various critters.

We got dunked at the end of the kayaking ride, so after regrouping at the hotel, it was dinner at Old Fisherman’s Grotto. The place has a strict “no kids” policy, which was refreshing after the aquarium. Food was good, views were fantastic - large windows overlooking the bay. Dessert was surprisingly ghastly for how good the dinner was.

One more night in the hotel and a drive home Monday morning. The perfect 3 day weekend - though it probably could have been done in 2, an objective was to relax and recuperate anyway. There’s a quite more we could have done there - excellent restaurants and bakeries in hour-drive-away Big Sur were recommended to us, and we missed all of the hikes the area is relatively famous for. I feel Tammy and I will probably be heading down south again soon to further our goal of enjoying as much as the region as possible before moving on.