Let’s explore some of the top things to do in Monterey with kids! From inside fun for rainy days and educational experiences to hiking and adventurous options, Monterey is packed with fun things for children and families to enjoy!
While you may have heard of the most things to do in Monterey like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, there’s much more for you and your kiddos to check out here.
One of the best things about this city is that there are so many different options for visitors. Education-focused family travelers, adventure-seekers, fabulous foodies, sun soakers, and fun loving families will all find things that they will love to do while in they are in Monterey.
So, let’s get started and learn about the top family friendly things to do in Monterey!
25 Incredible Things To Do In Monterey With Kids You Shouldn’t Miss
Rent a Swan Paddle Boat at El Estero Park
Through El Estero Boating, you can participate in one of the top Monterey kid friendly activities, renting a paddle boat! El Estero Park is a lovely place top be for families. It’s located on Del Monte Avenue and has a lot to offer families, and all types of visitors.
On El Estero Lake, you can take out different paddle boats for a half an hour or a whole hour. And while you are here, you will have a few options to choose from. Choosing between one of the regular paddle boats and one of the animal paddle boats is the biggest decision for you and your little ones.
The regular paddle boats come in different glittery colors and the animal paddle boats are either swans or ducks. You can expect to save some money by choosing a regular paddle boat as the swans and ducks are pricier. Nevertheless, this is one of the best things to do in Monterey with kids!
Have Your Mind Blown at The Monterey Bay Aquarium
As one of the best things to do in Central Coast California, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is an incredible site that you won’t want to skip over when you are visiting Monterey. It’s hard to talk about what to do in Monterey CA without mentioning the aquarium!
Located on the rocky California coast, the aquarium sees around two million visitors each year! What makes this aquarium different than many marine life attractions is that it exists for the purpose of conservation. The water in the tanks is pulled directly from the bay so that animals are given a life that is as similar to the bay as possible.
As a non-profit, they do perform countless tasks for the betterment of marine life and the ocean’s health every day. In fact, they have worked to restore sea otter populations, pass bills that support ocean health, transform fisheries around the world, and more!
There are so many breathtaking exhibits at the aquarium including an aviary and an area that is designed to look like you are underneath the famous wharf in Monterey.
When searching for the best things to do in Monterey with kids, you will probably always hear someone suggesting the aquarium, and rightfully so! It’s even a favorite of Betty White who was a fan and donor of the aquarium and all the good work they do. So much so that instead of flowers at her funeral, she requested donations to the aquarium.
Consistently ranking among the top aquariums in the U.S., the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must for anyone visiting this lovely coastal town.
Hit One of The Stunning Beaches in Monterey
Spending time at one of the best beaches in Monterey is among the top fun things to do in Monterey CA with kids. While the water in Monterey is super cold all year around, sun bathing, checking out the tide pools, taking a walk, and wildlife viewing are all great ways to spend you time on the beach in Monterey.
If you or your little ones do want to get in the water, there are a few beaches with calmer water where little ones can be safe from the more turbulent areas. Lovers Point Beach, McAbee Beach, Seal Rock Creek Beach, and Del Monte Beach are all fairly calm compared to the others in the area.
For those traveling with dogs, there are a few beaches that are the most dog-friendly. Monterey State Beach, Asilomar Beach, and Carmel River State Beach all allow dogs. And you can have your doggos off the leash at nearby Carmel Beach as long as they are under voice control.
Follow The Path of History
If your family is interested in historical things to do in Monterey with kids, following the Path of History is the way to go! The path weaves through the historic district and showcases historical sites and buildings. It also takes you to a museums like the Old Monterey Jail Museum and the Cotton Hall Museum.
You can start at the Customs House, then just follow the little round emblems in the sidewalk. They will lead you to fifty-five historical sites along the trail and it will have you pass beautiful gardens along the way.
Following this path is great for photography, learning about the history of Monterey, and sticking to your travel budget as the buildings and museums on the path are free to visit. You can walk this path on your own or you go with a guided walking tour which is ten bucks for adults, and free for everyone under 18.
Dennis The Menace Playground
Is outdoor play a must on your Monterey itinerary? The Dennis The Menace Playground is one of the best fun things to do in Monterey with kids. This park is huge and has countless activities for children.
Whether it is overcast or sunny, this playground is perfect for families looking for free stuff to do in Monterey CA.
Remarkably, this playground has been around since 1950 when it was built with the help of the creator of the Dennis The Menace comic strip, Hank Ketcham. He was a resident of Carmel just down the road from Monterey and of course, a lover of childish antics.
Large slides, bridges, spinning platforms and climbing bars, tunnels, and more are all there at the Dennis The Menace Playground. Kids’ eyes light up when they see this park!
Hike at Jacks Peak Park
When people talk about Monterey attractions, you rarely hear someone suggesting Jack’s Peak, which is such a shame! Of all the things to do in Monterey with kids, Jacks’s Peak is definitely the most underrated and it offers the best hiking in Monterey.
This county park is 525 acres of wooded mountain area that offers hiking trails and picnic areas for visitors. Photography, wildlife viewing, catching a glimpse of the bay, and enjoying a picnic are all great ways to enjoy the park.
This is one of the best free things to do in Monterey as you can spend time exploring the nature of Monterey County, save money by having a picnic instead of eating out, and you will get to see a view of the Monterey Bay that few visitors ever get to see.
Learn at The Monterey County Youth Museum
We can’t talk about the top things to do in Monterey with kids without talking about the Monterey County Youth Museum.
Also one of the best things to do in Monterey with toddler, the museum is only ten dollars and children under two are able to enjoy it for free! The museum aspires to provide an environment where children can be curious and creative while growing their thrill for lifelong learning.
Whether you are traveling with a super young one who is still in diapers or an older child who is nearing their tween years, there are exhibits that suit the developmental age of most children.
The museum also holds different events throughout the year so be sure to check their website before you arrive to see if you can add any fun events to your itinerary. One of those events includes a 21+ games night where adults can enjoy drinks, board games, and food from local restaurants.
Play an Escape Room Game
Rainy days in Monterey can be pretty common from fall to spring, and a good way to tackle these days is to have a solid plan for things to do in Monterey when it rains. And an escape room is the perfect way to have fun despite the weather!
The family activities in Monterey CA, like Escape Room 831, are great ways to strengthen family relationships and make memories that your kids won’t soon forget. Plus, the games at Escape Room 831 offer different levels on difficulty and scariness so you can find something appropriate for your kids ages.
You’ll find Escape Room 831 location on Wave Street and Lighthouse Avenue. When you book a room at one of these location, you can choose from themes like Alice’s Dream which is an Alice in Wonderland theme and The Terminal which is a dimly lit office in a subway terminal.
For those with young kids, the Alice in Wonderland themed room is most appropriate. However, I took my five and six year old to The Terminal and they did well there as well. As long as your kids are old enough to understand that it is fake and they aren’t trapped in the room, you should be
Don’t miss out on an escape room while you are in town as it is one of the best things to do in Monterey with kids!
Explore Tide Pools on 17 Mile Drive
Seventeen Mile Drive is among the most popular road trips in California. There is an $11.25 admission fee for driving this scenic stretch of road along the dramatic coastline of the Monterey Peninsula. There are loads of stops along this drive where you can get out and enjoy the natural beauty of central coats California.
This is by far one of the best things to do in Monterey with kids! With mind blowing tide pools like the ones along 17 Mile Drive, your kids will be occupied for hours while you sit back with a good book or simply enjoy the scenery. But, it’s not just tide pools, there’s a lot to see and do along 17 Mile Drive.
One of the must-see places along the 17-Mile Drive is Spanish Bay. Spanish explorers stopped here to camp in 1769 when they were trying to find the Monterey Bay based on a description of the bay from 1602. This is one of the beach beaches in Monterey County! There’s a lovely wooden boardwalk along the beach and benches where you can sit and enjoy the view of the waves coming in.
Something else worth a stop along 17 Mile Drive for is the Pebble Beach 17 Mile Drive Gingerbread House. This cutesy and unique house is a must-see for travelers who like to see the strange and unusual on their adventures.
Other overlooks and information stops can be found along 17 Mile Drive, including Fanshell Beach Overlook where you get views of a beautiful beach and see the pupping habitat for harbor seals. If you want to see wildlife while you are in the area, this is a must!
Walk Around Cannery Row
Hands down the best of the free activities in Monterey is walking Cannery Row. This is probably the most recognizable location in the city. This stretch of road in Monterey was home to fish canneries in the early days of California.
There was a big canning boom and expansion due to demand brought on by the war from 1916-1918 and many more canneries and businesses erupted during this time. John Steinbeck wrote a book titled Cannery Row which was published in 1945. And over time, the row continued to gain popularity.
Today, Cannery Row is mostly restaurants and shops. There are several gift shops here where you can find a souvenir at a reasonable price. You could also grab a milkshake or ice cream to enjoy while you walk around.
Walking along here gives you a look back in history while seeing the effects of modernity on this historical road in California. Also, a great spot for taking travel pictures, walking on Cannery Row is among the top things to do in Monterey with kids.
Cannery Row Audio Tours Here
Enjoy The Kid Friendly Restaurants in Monterey
While looking for restaurants in Monterey, you should keep in mind that there are some restaurants that aren’t exactly kid friendly. After a long day of exploring the top things to do in Monterey with kids, a delicious coastal dinner is in order, but not everywhere is great for kids of all ages.
Some restaurants in town have policies about no high chairs and no booster seats, as well as how loud children can be. So, be sure to check online for information about the restaurant you are wanting to visit. Of course, the regular concerns of is there a kids menu and is it too rowdy for kids are also in play.
Some of the top restaurants to visit include Bubba Gump Shrimp, Sur Burger, Lalla Grille, and most places for breakfast in Monterey as these are all kid friendly! Lalla Grille has white table cloths and an elevated vibe but they still have a great kids menu and will provide a high chair upon request.
See the Point Pinos Lighthouse
A short two-mile drive from the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the pretty Point Pinos Lighthouse. One of the best Monterey activities is taking the drive to this fun little lighthouse. First lit in 1855, Point Pinos Lighthouse is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the west coast. Remarkably, even the lens is original!
This stunning site is one of the top things to do in Monterey with kids for a few reasons. First, while there is a small entrance fee, it is reduced for children between seven and seventeen, and children under seven are free. Plus, area around the lighthouse is absolutely beautiful and great for photography. Lastly, a visit here serves as a learning opportunity, which we know is very important to a lot of family travelers.
Hike at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is one of the most popular attractions on any Pacific Coast Highway road trip and definitely one of the top things to do in Monterey with kids. There is a small entrance fee that is totally worth the cost!
Point Lobos is home to incredible hiking trails, great beaches, beautiful views, bluish-green water, and diverse wildlife. This is an extremely busy part of Monterey County, so if you plan on visiting during your time spent in town, be sure to arrive early in the day so that you can get a parking spot.
Even better, visit on a weekday if possible. On good weather days, parking can fill up by 10 am on weed days so do your best to arrive as early as possible. Once parking fills ups, cars start parking in the sandy areas along the Cabrillo Highway. You can see people walking along the highway to get to the entrance of Point Lobos so be careful driving around this area.
While in Point Lobos, check out the Whalers Cabin. This cabin was built by Chinese fishermen in the 1850s and today it acts as a cultural history museum for visitors. There are also dreamy beaches in Point Lobos that are worth checking out.
A couple of the best are Gibson’s Beach and China Cove Beach. China Cove is one of the best beaches in Monterey County!
To get to China Cove, you take the Bird Island Trail. This trail takes you down a long wooden and stone staircase to the beach below. This cove has natural rock tunnels and cliffs around the beach, creating a mystical area that photographers and outdoor enthusiasts love.
There are often seals laying on the beach here so be sure to keep your distance if they are present while you are there.
If you have plenty of time to spend at Point Lobos, consider hiking the Point Lobos Loop Trail. This trail is a combination of trails that make a loop of nearly seven miles. This path will allow you to see many of the best parts of the state natural area.
For those who need a shorter, more accessible trail, the Sand Hill Trail is wheelchair and stroller-friendly. This trail is only 0.4 miles long and gains less than twenty miles in elevation making it super easy. No matter which trails you choose to explore, Point Lobos offers some of the top opportunities for hiking in Monterey County.
On the Sand Hill Trail, you will get views of Sand Hill Cove and Sea Lion Cove. Binoculars or a monocular would be great to bring along with you on this trail and to all of Point Lobos as you can spot wildlife in the water and on the rock cliffs throughout the area.
Visit the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History
The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History is just a few minute drive from Monterey on the Monterey Peninsula and it offers free admission for everyone on the last Saturday of the month during the school year. If you are visiting Monterey during this time, swing by the museum to enjoy the museum as it is one of the best things to do in Monterey with kids.
If you are planning on getting around the city on foot or by bike, no worries! The museum is just one mile from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You will know you have arrived when you see the large whale sculpture out front.
The museum focuses on plants, animals, geology, and the cultural histories of the Monterey area. It has been open since 1883 (the same year that the Brooklyn Bridge opened) and it is one of the oldest natural history museums in the country. The collections here show a deep diversity of the flora, fauna, and historical artifacts of the central coast.
Grab Ice Cream in Monterey
Ready for some amazing ice cream in Monterey? There are some seriously mind blowing places to get ice cream while you are in town. After walking around in the California sun as you explore this dreamy seaside town, there’s nothing like a cold creamy ice cream.
A popular ice cream shop is Revival Ice Cream on Alvarado Street. They have vegan options and they make their flavors using locally sourced products and house made toppings. If you find your self on the Old Fishermans Wharf, you can stop by Monterey Bay Creamery yummy treats, views of the bay, and wildlife viewing.
You can also head north a few minutes to Marina where you can try Moon Scoops. This shop is less than ten minutes from the Old Fishermans Wharf and well worth the drive. They also sell waffle ice cream sandwiches, cookies, coffee, and more. Plus, the dining area is super cute and Insta-worthy!
Getting ice cream from one of these remarkable shops is one of the best things to do in Monterey with kids!
Walk Around The Old Fisherman’s Wharf
Among the free things to do in Monterey with kids is to visit the Old Fishermans Wharf. The wharf acted as an active fish market until the 1960s and today serves as not only a historical site but also a place to shop, eat, and sightsee.
You can find shops on the wharf that sell souvenirs, clothes, jewelry, and more. There are also restaurants and sweet shops where you eat or browse overlooking the pretty blue water of the Monterey Bay.
Plus, if you are visiting close to a holiday, you can enjoy the decorations on the wharf. Always outfitted with a festive dress, the wharf is a fun place to be around holidays year-round.
If wildlife watching is on your itinerary for your trip, you can usually see some sea lions and harbor seals splashing around the wharf. You can also hear and see them off in the distance as well. Keep your eye out for the buoys in the bay, sea lions love to lay down on them and rest in the sun.
Monterey Walking Tour Here
Learn a Bit of History at The National Steinbeck Center
John Steinbeck did wonders for tourism in Monterey County. You can visit the National Steinbeck Center which is about a thirty-minute drive from the Monterey Bay Aquarium where you can see all of the exhibits that have been dedicated to his life’s work and his memory.
If you are traveling as a family, you will be happy to know that admission to this museum is free for children five and under which makes this one of the best things to do in Monterey with family!
This center acts as both a museum and a memorial for this famous author. Steinbeck grew up in town where the center is located and you can find different sites dedicated to his memorial all throughout central coast California.
You will want to spend at least an hour and a half to two hours here to really take in the information that is offered. Once you are done exploring the center, there are loads of restaurants and coffee shops around the center if you want to drop in for a drink or a bite to eat.
Walking around Salinas is a great town to walk around in because of its history and its beauty. It has a very classically California valley look to it that you will love to see and photograph, especially if you have never been in the area before.
If you are able to carve out some time on your trip to Monterey to walk around downtown Salinas, you’ll love the beauty and history of this lovely CA town. So, don’t miss a visit to Salinas and the Steinbeck Center as it is one of the best things to do in Monterey County with kids!
Walk Through a Mirror Maze or Play Mini Golf
The Monterey Mirror Maze is fun for all ages! Whether you are 5, 35, or 55, the mirror maze is always a hit. As one of the best things to do in Monterey with kids, be sure to add this attraction to your itinerary!
At the mirror maze, there is also a Laser Challenge. You can navigate the laser beams on your own or tackle the challenge with a friend. Either way, playing a spy in the laser challenge is one of the coolest things to do in Monterey when it rains.
Pro-tip: put on the special kaleidoscope glasses to make it even more difficult. [You can find them by the entrance to the maze!]
Go Whale Watching
While whale watching may not be the best thing to do in Monterey with a baby, it is definitely one of the top things to do in Monterey California with kids who are a bit older! In fact, whale watching is super popular in the Monterey Bay.
You may be wondering when is the best time to go whale watching in Monterey. Well, you can see whales in the bay most of the year, but you aren’t likely to see them during the winter months. The best time to see whales is March through November.
There are several companies in the area that give whale watching tours. There are different types of tours so you can choose the one that works best for you and whoever you’re traveling with. Keep in mind, it is a lot colder out in the bay than it is on the coast so be sure to wear something warm and have something to cover your ears with.
If you get motion sickness or your children are younger, you may want to bring some Dramamine with you. If you forget, don’t worry, most companies offer something for motion sickness for sale before you board the boat. For those who book through Monterey Bay Whale Watch, they have ginger candy and motion sickness meds for sale as well as other things you might need on the boat like ear muffs, gloves, snacks, and water.
Whale Watching Tours Here
Hike at Garland Ranch Regional Park
Hiking is among the top things to do in Monterey with kids. You will have to drive roughly twenty minutes from downtown Monterey to reach Garland Ranch Regional Park.
Here you can find the Lupine Loop Trail. It is rated as easy in difficulty and is among the kid friendly hiking trails near Monterey. At only 1.5 miles long and little elevation gain, this trail only takes around a half an hour to complete. A lot of people walk their dogs here and you can get close to the Carmel River from this trail.
Another easy and kid friendly trail in the park is the Rancho and Copper Trails Loop. It’s only 1.4 miles and takes around a half an hour. Or, if you are able to take a slightly more difficult trail, check out the Garland Ranch Waterfall and Siesta Point Trail. Rated as moderate in difficulty, this trail is just two miles long.
Visit Bakeries in Monterey
Bakeries in Monterey offers sweet treats, savory pastries, and quick lunch options while you are exploring the town. When you’re traveling with kids, keeping them happy and entertained is a must, especially with the little one. Sometimes, all they need (and you!) is a delicious sweet treat to sink your teeth into.
Visiting the bakeries in town is one of the best things to do in Monterey with kids. You can head to L’Aubette Belgian Bakery for authentic Belgian waffles, Lilly Mae’s Cinnamon Rolls for gluten free options, Paris Bakery Cafe for colorful and beautifully crafted pastries, and to Rock N Roll Donut Bar for over the top kid friendly donuts.
There are many other options in town as well where you can get everything from fresh baguettes, bagels, and croissants to crepes, sandwiches, and cupcakes. Plus, many of these bakeries also offer lunch, coffee, and more. So, you are sure to find something that fits the needs of everyone in your family.
Walk Along The Rocky Coast at Asilomar
Visiting the rock coastline at Asilomar State Beach is among the best things to do in Monterey with kids. Here you can find tide pools, sandy beaches, rock formations, and more.
You can walk along the coast on a sand trail that curves along with the changing coastline. There are also wooden boardwalk sections and a gazebo along on the coast that gives you a spectacular view of the crashing waves and the expansive blue water off the Asilomar Coast.
You can find parking here on Sunset Drive. There’s sandy space off of the road where cars park before walking to the beach and trails. You will find this area at the northern part of the Monterey Peninsula which is a roughly 5-10 minute drive from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Explore The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
A chance to see thousands of Monarch butterflies? Yes, please! Visiting the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is one of the best things to do in Monterey with kids. The sanctuary is roughly 5-10 minute drive from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and is well worth the drive!
The sanctuary is open seven days a week and is best visited in the winter months. The butterflies cluster together on Cypress, Pine, and Eucalyptus trees which is quite a site for visitors! They will only be in the area from mid-October to early March, so be sure to check them out if you are visiting during the winter months.
See Wildlife at The Coast Guard Pier
Monterey County offers more coastline than any other county in California, so checking out the wildlife that like to hang around the coast is a must while you are in town. At The Coast Guard Pier, you can enjoy wildlife viewing while not breaking your travel budget as it is totally free to visit, making it one of the best free things to do in Monterey CA!
Once you arrive and realize just how close you can get to the marine life off of the pier, you will see why visiting here is easily one of the top things to do in Monterey with kids! While you have a chance at seeing seals and sea lions in many places in town, the Coast Guard Pier is allows you to stand with just a couple of feet from them.
Sea lions hang around Monterey all year round, but they aren’t always lounging at The Coast Guard Pier. You will find them there lounging on the rocks that line the pier in the sunshine during the warmest months of the year. However, even during the rest of the year, you can usually see them off the end of the pier.
Take a Mini Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
Hands down, taking an excursion from your time spent on the peninsula to go on a mini Pacific Coast Highway road trip is among the best things to do in Monterey CA with kids. The adventures and opportunities to explore along the PCH are incredible bucket list activities!
You can see some of the most mind blowing views in all of California from the highway, take stunning travel photos, eat breathtaking meals, shop for local art, visit museums and historical sites, go hiking, see wildlife, and much more while you are on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Some of the top towns to visit on the Pacific Coast Highway within three hours from Monterey include:
Some of the best things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway within three hours from Monterey:
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Santa Cruz Wharf
- Capitola Beach rainbow houses
- Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
- Hearst Castle
- Morro Bay Museum of Natural History
All of these incredible things to do in Monterey with kids will allow you to explore the city and surrounding areas in various ways. You can see the natural coastal beauty, venture to the Carmel Valley, learn about the history of the area, try incredible west coast cuisine, and more.
There’s a reason why more than three million people visit Monterey County each year, the beauty, fun, and food here really are unmatched. And now that you have learned about the best things to do with kids in Monterey, which of these awesome sites and attractions will you be adding to your travel itinerary?
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