|An easy weekend getaway is heading up the 101 North and stopping along the way at beach towns like Pismo, wineries in Paso Robles, or John Steinbeck’s stomping grounds in Salinas. Those who wish to push further but stay just shy of San Francisco won’t be disappointed by visiting Monterey. This area is concentrated with sightseeing excursions from the comfort of your own vehicle like the 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, to winding around the quaint beachfront villas in Carmel and is half an hour away from Santa Cruz.
Monterey is a perfect place to park, get out and stretch while taking in the charm of this historic town known in large part to writer Steinbeck for its Cannery Row. The narrow streets and warehouses aren’t filled with sardines anymore (although you can still smell a whiff of brine) but are loaded up with gift shops, restaurants and hotels. On the west end of Cannery Row is the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. With an emphasis on conservation this state of the art facility offers guests an opportunity to get up close and personal with sea life ranging from exotic seahorses, penguins and sea otters to sharks. The spacious exhibits accommodate large groups and tours with several aquariums for visitors to peer into within each room.
The Jellies Experience includes the most colorful and fascinating combinations of jellyfish anywhere. The exhibit is quite dark, so children should probably be accompanied by a parent, but the glow emanating from these free-floating, ephemeral spaceships of the sea entices one to find a seat and simply observe the graceful ballet. It is one of the most beautiful assemblages of these magnificent but powerfully curious creatures.
The Secret Life of Seahorses paints a fabulous and touching story of these gentle animals. The Pacific Seahorse most are already acquainted with is shown up here by its flashier relations like the Leafy or Weedy Sea Dragon. Having a similar color to kelp and seaweeds, the fins take on the appearance of branches, camouflaging the body. A fun fact I learned is unlike mammals, male seahorses are the ones who become pregnant and give birth. Maybe seahorses should become the official totem for Dads.
One can explore the exhibits self-guided in a couple of hours but to really experience the full impact, guests should take advantage of the hourly demonstrations during feeding time. Located in a generous auditorium, the real action comes to life as sardines, dolphins and unusual fish that aren’t your ordinary tuna swirl and dance as they catch their hourly lunch. The view is breathtaking as a tornado of silvery sardines flood the surface of the water while larger creatures drift by, allowing spectators a long, leisurely glimpse of marine life without the need for a scuba suit.
Another recommended activity is the afternoon lectures which last approximately 15 minutes. I sat in on of my favorite subjects of the sea: Project White Shark. The talk is accompanied by video and a slideshow that demonstrates the Aquarium’s efforts to understand these mysterious predators. I was surprised to discover that no one knows their exact life span. I also learned teenage sharks hug closer to the shoreline, those crazy kids. I'll wave from land.
Young and old will enjoy the Penguins, one of my favorite exhibits, especially during feeding time as they swim up to the glass and perform tricks much to the delight of children. One in particular kept dipping down only to rise up, break the surface and furiously paddle his flippers. There is a live video cam of the blackfooted penguins for folks to check out from the comfort of their own home, but seeing them in person is a march worth taking.
If you’re in Monterey or the surrounding area, be sure to stop in and marvel at the sea life alive and well on Cannery Row.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Open every day except Dec 25
Regular hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Winter: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Summer/holidays: 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
Summer weekends: 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
PH: (831) 648-4800
886 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
Tickets: $34.95 - $21.95