Growing up in Prunedale (a tiny little town no one has ever heard of, just 20 minutes or so outside of Monterey), I never found it to be particularly exciting to live there. I had a membership to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the mall or movies were your weekend adventures, and a trip to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for a birthday was a fun treat. Now that I have lived on the East Coast for quite a few years, and have a lil’ one of my own, I truly appreciate my visits back to the Bay Area so much more now. Funny how that happens, huh? Below I will list a bunch of fun activities you can do with your kids if you find yourself in the picturesque Monterey Bay, and surrounding areas.
Things to do in the Monterey Bay Area with Kids
Monterey Bay Aquarium – Located in Monterey, on the popular Cannery Row, is where you can find one of the largest aquariums in the world. You can see all types of fish, touch starfish and stingrays at the touch tanks, watch otters play, all while taking in breath taking views of the Monterey Bay. The aquarium does have a small cafe, but I’d recommend checking out Cannery Row or the nearby Fisherman’s Wharf for some delicious, fresh seafood, or a yummy ice cream cone. Also, right near Fisherman’s Wharf is Dennis the Menace Park, which is a huge playground, with tons of things for your lil’ ones to climb, swing, and explore on. If your child loves the ocean and sea life, they will most definitely be thrilled by this place.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – Located in Santa Cruz, this place has sand, surf (Santa Cruz is well known for surfing), and the boardwalk, which is stocked full with rides for all ages, games, and a mix-match of carnival type food (think burgers, funnel cakes, deep fried oreos, etc). The boardwalk also has Neptune’s Kingdom, which houses mini-golf and billiards, Casino Arcade, with lazer tag and arcade games, and across the street is Boardwalk Bowl. The beach has volleyball courts, and if carnival food isn’t your thing, you can always walk over to the Santa Cruz Wharf, which has Ideal’s Bar and Grill (with outdoor seating) right at the start of the pier, or a variety of food and shop options out on the actual pier. My daughter still talks about how much fun she had here.
Roaring Camp – Located in Felton, not too far from Santa Cruz, Roaring Camp is the perfect place if you have a lil’ one who loves nature, or aspires to be a train conductor some day. They have real steam engine trains that can either take you up into the Santa Cruz Mountains, covered in larger than life redwoods, or on a 3 hour train ride to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Roaring Camp also has a little, old western style town surrounding the train depot, where you can grab a bite, or take some old fashioned pictures. Henry Cowell Redwood State Park is next door, where you can picnic, hike, and gaze at over 2,000 year old redwoods. Also, if you have an older child, you may want to check out the nearby Mystery Spot. It’s quite cool, even for adults, and it is a fun way to get your know-it-all, physics-loving family members to really scratch their head.
Happy Hollow – Located in San Jose, Happy Hollow is perfect for the animal loving, ride trying youngsters. Perfect for the younger set, this place is part zoo, with monkeys, tigers, and petting zoo, and part small child amusement park. They have playgrounds, child roller coasters, rope bridge parks, and plane, train, and automobile kiddie rides. They have a variety of learning activities, and a cafe to grab some food. Brooke has been here twice, and she still raves about digging for dinosaur bones. My budding archeologist…
Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park – Located in Gilroy, this is another great spot for your lil’ ones. This place has a variety of kiddie rides, water fixtures for the hot summer days, playgrounds, and their gorgeous gardens that decorate the park beautifully. With an array of flowers, bushes, and their really fun Circus Trees, the gardens really make this stand out from other parks with rides and attractions. There is a bunch of food options scattered throughout the park, from Mexican, to BBQ, to treats, that everyone is sure to find something they like. Brooke was young when we first took her here, and these rides were her first rides ever, so she probably doesn’t really remember this park too much, but I can say, she sure had a big ole’ smile on her face the whole time we were there.
Carmel Beach & Carmel-by-the-Sea – Located in Carmel, just south of Monterey, lies one of California’s most beautiful beaches. With powdery, white sand (Yes, in California!), and the world famous cypress trees surrounding, it truly is a lovely site. After you enjoy the beach, you can check out Carmel by the Sea, which is the most adorable village, with a bunch of shops, eateries, and galleries galore. If your kids don’t mind the browsing, it is definitely worth a stop at Thinker Toys, which is a wonderland of toys for kids of all ages. Also, if you’re in the mood for a scenic drive, you can always check out 17 Mile Drive, or the drive to Big Sur. Both are gorgeous!
Sunset Beach & BBQ – Located in Watsonville, just south of Aptos/Santa Cruz, is the perfect beach to bring the whole family. It is quite large, so it never feels crowded, and you’ll see people boogie boarding, playing beach volleyball, and just catching some rays. What I recommend is heading to Safeway (or local grocery store), and buying food for a BBQ. Then, head to the beach in the afternoon, enjoy the beach in all its glory, then have a nice BBQ on one of the beach’s BBQ pits. It is a fun way to really get in some quality time with your family, and if you’d like to make it last the whole weekend, you can go camping at the attached camping grounds. You can check out our pics and how we spent our day at this great beach HERE.
If you are traveling to the Monterey Bay, I know you will have a lovely vacation, and with this guide, you’ll know your kids will have a great time as well!
Have you ever been to Monterey, California, or any of the surrounding areas? If so, where did you visit?