Monterey: A Touch of History, Coastal Adventure
By Kathy Chin Leong

On Sunday, October 24, someone special is turning 20, and it's not me. Or should I say, "someTHING special?" Believe it or not, the Monterey Bay Aquarium celebrates two decades of marine education and enjoyment in this historic town.

On the 24th, admission for kids 12 and younger will be FREE, and the aquarium will host a big birthday bash featuring live entertainment, a birthday cake, and an ice sculpture for sea otters.

There are other reasons to visit the Monterey area in October. Weather is at an optimum hovering in the low to mid 70s, and tourist attractions are open year round. Further, in an effort to keep vacation bucks flowing, lodging establishments are dropping rates and will continue to due so until next year.

At press time, here's what we found:

  • In honor of the monarch butterfly, Pacific Grove will sponsor a Monarch Days special, which will run through mid-March. A variety of freebies and product and lodging discounts are yours when you visit Monarch Days participants in nearby Pacific Grove.
  • The Monterey Holiday Bounty promotion runs from Nov. 15 until Dec. 31. Guests at participating hotels receive a box filled with gift certificates and special discounts on green fees, shopping, free desserts, and more.
  • The Monterey Hotel, celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year, will allow centurions to stay for free between Oct. 3 and Dec. 31. Younger guests whose birthdays fall within those months can obtain a birthday bash discount: one percent discount for every year of their age. There is a hitch-you can only stay between Sunday and Thursday. Properties in the Moonstone Hotel chain are also participating.

KID FUN

If climbing is something your kids love, visit the Dennis the Menace Park where your family will find a full-sized steam engine, small rock climbing wall, and plenty of bridges and slides.

Across the street from the park is the Del Monte Beach , perfect for sandcastle building and the paved walking/bike path that stretches down to Pacific Grove. Great for roller blading, biking, and pushing strollers, this multi-use Recreational Trail walkway connects beaches, shopping areas, the aquarium and restaurants for 18 miles.

Kids who love animals and sea creatures will have a blast at the Monterey Aquarium, where they can pet sharks, rays, and starfish in touch pools.

For indoor fun, the Monterey Sports Center is a great option for rainy or windy days. Priced between $2.50 and $6 for admission, this affordable facility boasts a baby pool, lap pool, water slide, and a gym. There's a cafe for a snack after your workout.

Preschoolers and early elementary love MY Museum in downtown Monterey. The dress up stage area, magnet table, and pizzeria keeps kids occupied for hours.

We all loved the free Monterey Bay Chocolates Factory Tour in Seaside. The short 15-minute tour at the store is just long enough to hold the attention span of a five-year-old, and at the end, each member of your group gets to pick their own flavor of truffle from the store's chocolate smorgasbord. Make sure you go on a weekday when the tours are available.

For needed down time, go to the Monterey Library on the edge of town. It's a good-sized, two-story library. There, the adults can check their email and kids can enjoy reading all kinds of books. An upstairs cafe sells snacks and coffee.

HIKING

And for a $8 parking fee, families can spend the day hiking and viewing birds and sea life at Point Lobos State Reserve . If you are wondering where those Carmel artists all got their inspiration, go to Point Lobos, and the breathtaking cliffs and coves will want to turn you into a painter as well.

Easy hiking paths are also found at Jacks Peak Regional Park. Ten miles of hiking and riding trails also features unobscured views of Monterey Bay and Carmel.

HISTORY

Monterey is noted as the "the most historic city in California," and you'll find a bevy of old buildings and museums to depict how life was in the days of old Monterey.

At the Maritime Museum , visitors learn about historic harbor ships, early Monterey families, the sardine canning factories on Cannery Row, and how the canneries were essential to feeding the troops during World War II.

The Pacific Museum on the plaza takes people back further in time, before California was a state and Monterey was occupied by the Rumsien Indians. Other historic buildings include the Presidio Museum, the Custom House, and the Cooper-Molera Adobe , a house occupied by the Cooper family through three generations.

Volunteers with the California State Parks happily give free historic house and garden tours. To sign up ahead of time, call 831/649-7118.

OUTDOORS

If you go to Pacific Grove visit the Butterfly Sanctuary near the Pt. Pinos Lighthouse. This is the opportune time to see clusters of monarchs in chains off of the trees.

And for some real outdoor adventure, BAFT has just learned that the former Fort Ord military base has opened up a new set of mountain bike trails on its property. These new trails include steep runs over rocky terrain as well as flat tracks winding past ponds and forests.

GOTTA EAT

What's a vacation without great food? Renee Brinks of the Monterey County Visitors Bureau makes the following recommendations:

Great places for brunch:

  • Toasties Cafe -great omelets, salads, and sandwiches. Call 831/373-7543.
  • First Awakenings - reasonable prices and awesome Mickey Mouse pancakes. Contact 831/371-1125
  • Culinary Center of Monterey - great buffet brunches on weekends. 831/333-2133

Kid-friendly restaurants with a view:

  • Bubba Gump Shrimp Company -the original seafood shack with toys for kids to play with while waiting and a Tom Hanks look-alike on weekends. Make reservations at 831/373-1884.
  • Louie Linguini's - new eatery with bay view and a giant puppet that makes appearances on weekends. Call 831/648-8500. More scenic oceanscapes are found at bustling hangouts such as Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
  • Sapporo Teppan Grill - Chef cooks at your table while you enjoy panoramic views. Call 831/333-1616.

GOTTA SLEEP

Where to go to spend the night? Monterey County offers many, many options.

For family suites:

  • Lighthouse Lodge and Suites , Pacific Grove- The 95-room facility, running $89 to $525, features a full breakfast, wine and snack reception, and barbecue burger dinners nightly. Call 831/655-2111.
  • Embassy Suites , Seaside- Five minutes from Monterey, the Embassy is known for cooked-to-order breakfasts. The 12-story hotel maintains microwaves and refrigerators in every room, and kids can frolic in its indoor pool and arcade center. Call 831/393-1115.

For budget travel:

  • Monterey Youth Hostel , Monterey- Starting at $54 per night for a family room, the hostel is walking distance to the aquarium and has a full kitchen with large living area for guests. Make reservations by calling 831/649-0375.
  • Monterey Bay Lodge , Monterey- This spot is so kid friendly that a couple of rooms come with bunk beds. With prices ranging $69 to $259, the 45-room lodge also allows pets. Call 831/372-8057.

For high end luxury:

  • Monterey Plaza Hotel , Monterey-You can get a hotel room for $190 all the way up to the 2,000 square foot Presidential Suite with its own separate entry for $3,200 a night. It's all up to you. This resort hotel with its own spa and fitness center on premises represents an impeccable property with grand views of the ocean on Cannery Row. Call 800/368-2468.
  • Tradewinds Inn , Carmel-The $4 million renovation features a contemporary Asian theme with tranquil fountains in each room, large bamboo in vases, and Asian-style furnishings starting at $300. A firepit and meditation fountain in the courtyard makes this an ideal relaxation spot. Breakfast is included and small dogs are welcome. Call 831/624-8525.

With the kids back to school, Monterey is a great place to bring the family for a day of fun. And if you still have little ones who aren't in school yet, or if you are homeschooling, stay longer and take advantage of the fall weather and seasonal specials to make a memory with your family.

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CONTACT INFORMATION:

Kid fun:
Monterey Bay Chocolates factory tour, 831/899-7963.
Amphibious Shuttle tour, 831/373-0770.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, 831/648-4888.
Monterey Library, 831/646-5601.

Historic:
Pacific House Museum, 831/649-7118.
Custom House, 831/649-2909.
Maritime Museum, 831/372-2608.

NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES:

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