Monterey Bay in California was the second stop on our US road trip and was a huge highlight. One thing that struck me about the scenery was how incredibly blue the sea and sky is. When I hear Monterey mentioned I get a memory flash of dazzling cobalt blue so it doesn’t surprise me that Monterey has been described as the ‘greatest meeting of land, sea and sky’. I feel the same could be said for that whole stretch of Californian coastline.
We’d had our first three night’s in San Francisco and on our last day ‘Biked the Bridge‘ before picking up our hire car and driving the 133 miles down Highway 1 to Monterey Bay. Highway 1 is the slightly longer, but prettier, coastal route and we took it because we wanted take in the sight of deep blue seas and craggy coastline after our time in the city.
I love to see wildlife in its natural habitat and Monterey Bay is absolutely teeming with it so I couldn’t wait to explore. We’d also got a whale watching trip booked during our stay – I was beyond excited.
Our first full day in Monterey was spent exploring the Bay on foot. First we headed down Alvarado Street to Fisherman’s Wharf which has a kitschy, holiday feel about it – and the sun felt good on our faces after the cold San Francisco fog.
The wharf is lined with brightly painted stalls selling seafood and clam chowder which you can have served in a bowl of sour-dough bread. You’ll not get fish any fresher than here. There are a few whale watching tour operators on the wharf so we checked out the one we’d reserved with and confirmed our places. We also took a peek at their list of recent sightings and it was looking good for our trip the next day. Incredibly good.
After a quick look at Old Fisherman’s Wharf we walked around the scenic bay to Cannery Row. The row, used to be lined with sardine canning factories, and was originally called Ocean View Avenue. In 1958 it was officially renamed Cannery Row after John Steinbeck’s novel set in Monterey in the Great Depression. Cannery Row is also home to Monterey Bay Aquarium which is located in an old sardine canning factory right on the edge of the ocean.
But before we arrived at Cannery Row we walked the whole of the bay which took around an hour and a half. So, what wildlife did we spot on our walk…
Harbour seals were the first creatures we saw slipping through the crystal waters as the sun glinted off their sleek coats. They’re found year-round in the region and can be identified by their pale, spotted coats. Their flippers are shorter than Sea Lions so they tend to bask on lower rocks which they can easily haul themselves onto.
Californian Sea Lions
We heard and smelt the Californian Sea Lions before we saw them. They barked as they basked on the warm rocks soaking up the sun and they can be seen all around Monterey Bay lolling around on whatever they can find; mile markers, old tyres used as buoys, docks and rocks – they’re the most prolific, and vocal, of all the wildlife.
These furry little creatures are quite playful and incredibly cute. They spend their time floating amongst the kelp in the ocean. They need to eat 25% of their body weight each day to survive and live off sea urchins, mussels, clams, crabs, snails and other food foraged from the sea. They live in the seas all around Monterey and can sometimes be heard cracking open their food – they use small rocks to hammer open shells and prise seafood from their shells. Clever and cute!
A variety of seabirds make the migrations to Monterey. We saw many birds including brown pelicans which have made a strong recovery due to conservation efforts in the area.
We also spotted Elegant Terns and gulls – one Seagull seemed almost as interested in us as we were with it.
We were more than happy with our wildlife spottings on our first day in Monterey Bay but that was nothing compared to what was in store for us on our whale watching trip scheduled for the following afternoon. I’ll be telling you about that in my next post.
Our Monterey Bay Hotel
We first arrived in the town at around 6pm and found a hotel in Monterey very quickly. We avoided Cannery Row on the coast where accommodation is more expensive and found ourselves a great hotel within ten minutes walk of Alvarado Street and Fishermen’s Wharf. The Abrego had spacious rooms with ensuite, a good bar and restaurant and small pool and jacuzzi. At $119 plus taxes per room per night (excl breakfast) we were very happy with our find. Check Monterey hotel availability here.
Where to Eat in Monterey Bay
On our first night we headed out for something to eat nearby and found the Bull and Bear where we had the best ribs ever. Served with coleslaw, chips and a cold beer – not the healthiest choice but boy it was good and the atmosphere was lively – a lot like a pub in the UK. Next morning we headed back to Alvarado Street for a good breakfast in Monterey Cafe. Alvarado Street is lined with a variety of restaurants and a few bars so you’ll have no trouble finding somewhere to eat. Cannery Row similarly has lots of restaurants, many seafood and many with fabulous sea views and there’s Fisherman’s Wharf too so plenty of choice all within a reasonable walk.
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Have you been to Monterey Bay, California? What wildlife did you spot and what was your favourite sighting?