Choose Your Own Adventure: Monterey, California

What will you do on your day in Monterey?

China Cove

1. If you drive into Monterey, California:

a.  at night and needing a place to stay, and you want oceanfront views, go to #2.
b.  at night and needing a place to stay and you’d rather avoid the crush of Cannery Row, go to #3.
c.  in the morning, and you’re starving, go to #4.

2. You’re bummed out by the cost of parking anywhere downtown, but drop your bag and give the squeal of a five-year-old girl when you see the stuffed sea otter holding its baby that’s nestled between the pillows of your bed.

Turn down service at the InterContinental

InterContinental The Clement Monterey is a 3-minute walk from Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the snuggly toy sea otter that you’re tempted to buy for your niece is from their gift shop.

The hotel along the beach was built in 2008 with the protection of Monterey Bay wildlife in mind – it was limited in design and height to prevent shadows on the tide pools, and it was the first new hotel built along the coast since the 1980s.

You take a bath in the soaking tub, and then walk across the bathroom to rinse off in the shower, it seems rude to not use both, and then have a staring contest over your coffee with the western gull out on the balcony (the gull will win). If the coffee:

a. is enough for your breakfast, and you want to get on the water, go to #7.
b. has just made you hungrier and you head downstairs to the hotel restaurant, go to #4.

3. Just under a mile inland from Fisherman’s Wharf is the Hotel Abrego, Monterey’s most recently renovated hotel (redone since 2010). Strip down naked immediately and spend the rest of your evening padding about your room wearing the soft robe and flipping through the channels of the flat screen TV. You don’t have cable at home or a robe, so you take advantage when you can. When you wake up in the morning, if:

a. you scarf a Power Bar you had stashed away, swig some coffee, and head out the door to see one of Monterey’s most famous attractions, go to #6.
b. you’re not ready to venture out into the world, but instead just downstairs to the breakfast bar, go to #5.

A meal isn’t a meal in California without avocado.

4. Ask for a table next to the windows in the InterContinental The Clement Monterey and worry over the menu. Any menu with more than three options (most of them), and you tend to get overwhelmed, wanting to make sure you get something good if you’re going to shell out money.

You decided on the Castroville Omelet with local artichokes, but then you’re distracted by the idea of a Belgian waffle. When the server comes over, you blurt out “Huevos Rancheros.” Then peer out at the bay and try and spot sea otters. After you finish, if you:

a. want to see the marine wildlife actually in the wild but without getting (too) wet, go to #7.
b. want to walk for three minutes to see lots of cool animals without any possible submersion, go to #6.

5. You eat at the breakfast buffet at the Hotel Abrego, and the spread reminds you of the free continental breakfasts at thousands of hotels around the country. As you munch on your eggs, giving the half hearted smile of someone who’s up earlier than usual to anyone you accidentally make eye contact with, you ponder how much of the price of bagels and yogurts are built into the hotel room cost at, say, a Motel 6 compared to this $10 breakfast and just what the profit margin is on scrambled eggs and a variety of juices.

Why is it that the more expensive the room, the amenities change? Is the choice a free breakfast vs. a softer mattress, the best smelling shampoo, conditioner, and lotion you’ve ever run across in a hotel, and snuggly bathrobes? After not coming up with an answer, if you:

a. want to see the marine wildlife actually in the wild but without getting (too) wet, go to #7.
b. want a guarantee of seeing lots of cool animals without any possible drowning, go to #6.

6. Monterey Bay Aquarium, on the site of a former sardine cannery. was opened in 1984. It is part live animal exhibits and part research & conservation facility. They’re involved in sea otter rescue and conservation (some of their work was recently featured in the film Otter 501), sharks and jellies research, seahorse propagation and more.

As you look over the map and schedule, you make a note of the southern sea otter feeding time. These little guys are strong enough to bite off your finger and male sea otters have been known to rape harbor seal pups in the wild, but with their intelligence, playfulness, and perhaps, above all, just how snuggly they look thanks to their fur that has 1 million hairs per square inch, they are one of the main attractions at the aquarium.

You find yourself becoming a bit mesmerized by the movement of the plants in the 28-foot tall kelp forest exhibit. Rockfish, leopard sharks, wolf-eels, a school of Pacific sardines all swim through the enclosure that mimics the environment of the bay outside.

After debating returning to your childhood dream of becoming a marine biologist, if you:

a. want to get out on the water, go to #7.
b. are hungry and ready for a sit-down lunch, go to #9.
c. want to go for a walk through the literary history of the city, go to #10. If the sea and the forest is more your style, go to #13.

7. Paddling out into Monterey Bay on a sit-on-top kayak on a tour with Adventures by the Sea, and you’re amidst the kelp forest that you’d seen in the aquarium. The water is clearer than you’d expected with over 20 feet of visibility, and you can see to the rocky bottom between patches of giant kelp. Carrena, your tour guide and who’s paddled in the bay for over 25 years, said it was clearer than she’s seen in a long time, then warns you that staring into the depths for too long might be a bad idea if you’re prone to seasickness (which you are).

Harbor seals

There’s a little bit of swell, and you see pelicans dive, a sea otter mother with a baby on her belly, and male sea lions sunning themselves near the Coast Guard Jetty. You hear a loud ppffffft exhale behind you; you turn and see a harbor seal within reach of your paddle who has come to see what you’re up to. It slips back beneath the water, tipping its head to the sky, its nose the last thing under the water, and for a moment, you want to jump in and follow it.

If you’re now:

a. ready to walk through some of the literary history of Monterey, go to #10.
b. ready to keep up the wilderness exploring, but this time on land, go to #13.

8. Since Monterey is along the coast, the climate is generally mild, and even in the summer, it rarely gets above 75-80F. Which means that you can enjoy clam chowder pretty much year round. Slowly wander down Fisherman’s Wharf and get free samples of chowder. The official banning of free samples has been debated, so it’s not an absolute guarantee. If you:

a. arrive on the wharf, and you’re turned off by the tourism kitsch, and you’re still hungry, go to #9.
b. dive into the frivolity of the wharf and snag as many samples as you can, and afterwards, you want to take a walk through the city, go to #10. If you want to walk through the woods and along the coast, go to #13.

9. You’ve traded a view of the ocean for a meal at Monterey Fish House on what seems like the more industrial end of Del Monte Ave. The small restaurant uses local fish and produce when possible, and you order fresh halibut. You’re full less than half way through your meal, but you find the strength to power through. Sated and a bit sleepy, if you:

a. want to walk off your lunch in the city, go to #10 or if you want to head to the woods, go to #13.
b. want to bask in your fully and happy state with no more energy used than it takes to drive your car, go to #11.
c. want to split the difference and go for a leisurely bike ride, go to #12.

10. “Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses.”

One of the many classic labels in the sidewalk.

So starts John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. The city is proud of their Steinbeck connection, and while there are more stores selling kitsch souvenirs, more chain restaurants and hotels, and no whore houses, laboratories, and flophouses, you walk along the famous street and find the bronze bust of John Steinbeck at the corner of Prescott and Cannery Row and the memorial to Ed “Doc” Ricketts, Steinbeck’s marine biologist friend, is near where he was killed in a train accident.

The history of the Cannery Row area as a fishing center started thousands of years ago with Ohlone fishermen who built villages along Monterey Bay for easy access to the abundant fish populations. In the 1900s, the first sardine canneries opened, and 50 years later, the industry collapsed from overfishing. The underwater pipes that were used to transfer the sardines from the ships to the factories are still along the ocean floor – turned into destinations for first-time scuba divers in the bay.

Walking along Cannery Row, you see reproductions of canning company labels in the sidewalk, and there are large murals of cannery workers along the Recreational Trail that winds through Cannery Row. While a tourist attraction for sure, it’s still cool to walk along the same coastline that Steinbeck walked along.

11. You hand $10 to the guide at the gate to 17-mile drive. Built in 1881 to give tourists something to do, and as a way to get additional money from visitors, 17-mile drive winds around the Monterey Peninsula through the Del Monte Forest and along some pretty beautiful stretches of coastline. The drive, marked by a red line in the road, heads past some of the world’s most famous golf courses, Pebble Beach, and past enormous mansions.

You find it pretty, you take a picture of the Lone Cypress, but you can’t help feeling a bit annoyed that you’ve paid to drive down a stretch of road that seems no more overwhelmingly scenic or beautiful than Hwy 1 on the way through Big Sur or up towards San Francisco.  If you’d done the drive on a bike, you could have gotten in for free.

12. Renting a bike from Blazing Saddles, you take the recreational trail from Cannery Row and out along the coast into Pacific Grove. Rounding Lovers Point, which you’d thought was named for its romantic views out onto the bay, but was actually named by Methodist Episcopals as the Lovers of Jesus Point, and the crowds of Monterey thin out. Ice plant grows alongside the trail, and you can see for miles out onto the bay.

On the way from Lovers Point to Pinos Point.

If the wind isn’t making whitecaps during the winter, you can sometimes see the telltale spout that means whales are passing by.

Gray whales migrate south along the California coast from December to mid-February, and then they head back north through May. Humpback whales can be seen feeding in Monterey Bay from late April to late December. Blue whales, the world’s largest animal, seek out the krill in the deep subterranean Monterey Canyon between June and October.

You follow the trail out and around Point Pinos and its lighthouse and golf course, and then back towards Monterey along Lighthouse Avenue to check out the monarch habitat. During the winter months, monarchs on their way to Mexico roost in the eucalyptus groves. Bundles of the orange and black insects hang from the trees.

13. Some locals may park their cars along Hwy 1 for access to Point Lobos trails, but the California parks systems are hurting for money, so you find it easier to part with your cash for a parking space than you did when in town.

Point Lobos has been called “The greatest meeting of land and water in the world.”  As you start your hike along the North Shore trail at Whalers Cove, you think that Francis McComas, the landscape artist who came up with the phrase, might just be right. When you round the corner an hour or so later and see China Cove, you’re sure that he was.

China Cove

“Old man’s beard” lichen hangs from the Monterey Pines and Monterey Cypress. The trail has diversions to a few little inlets and coves that shelter the occasional sea otter, and as you start to head south and west, you can hear sea lions out on the rocks in the aptly named Sea Lion Cove.

It was the sea lions that gave the area its name; during the Spanish occupation in the late 1770s, the Spanish called the point “Punta de los Lobos Marinos” – Point of the Sea Wolves. You take over 100 pictures on your six mile hike/walk.

Turns out it’s beautiful under the water here as well. You end up taking your advanced scuba diving certification course in Whalers Cove, and after a long surface swim in the cold water, you check out kelp forests while swimming with rockfish and bluefish and the occasional seal and sea lion.

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One Response to Choose Your Own Adventure: Monterey, California

  1. Hi Kristin,

    Beautiful China Cove photo! I have a question about using one of your photos for a watercolor class. Could you please email me when you have a chance?


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