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Discovering wildlife in Monterey Bay, California

Blue Sky & Sea Monterey Bay

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 nights 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. For the best sea views book one of the Monterey hotels on the beach.

I love to see birds and animals in their natural habitat. The wildlife in Monterey Bay is everywhere you look so I couldn’t wait to explore. We’d also got a whale watching trip booked during our stay – I was beyond excited.

Elegant Terns, Monterey

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.

Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey

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.

Cannery Row

Cannery Row Sign, Monterey

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

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.

Basking Sea Lion

Sea Otters

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!

Sea Otters, Monterey

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.

Pelicans, Monterey Bay

We also spotted Elegant Terns and gulls – one Seagull seemed almost as interested in us as we were with it.

Seagull at Monterey

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.

Where to stay in Monterey Bay

Hotel Abrego, Monterey

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. [button link=”″ color=”teal” newwindow=”yes”] Check hotel availability and rates in Monterey Bay[/button]

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.

A Day in Monterey Bay catching the wildlife on a walk from Fisherman's Wharf to Cannery Row← Pin it for later…

Have you been to Monterey Bay, California? What wildlife did you spot and what was your favourite sighting?

More road trip posts here…

Road Trip Itinerary – South West USA

What to see and do in San Francisco

San Francisco – Biking the Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco Highs at Coit Tower








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Cathy (MummyTravels)

Tuesday 1st of December 2015

The sea otters sound incredibly cute - and lucky them to live in such a beautiful spot.

Suzanne Jones

Wednesday 2nd of December 2015

They are the cutest of all the animals we saw - could have watched them all day!

Bridget @ A Traveling B

Wednesday 25th of November 2015

Beautiful photos! Monterey sounds like a dream. My cousin lived there for a little while and is dying to move back - hoping to sneak a visit in then!

Suzanne Jones

Wednesday 25th of November 2015

If you do then you should seriously go on a whale watching trip with Monterey Bay Whale Watching - it was one of the highlights of our whole road trip. Post to come soon! :)


Monday 23rd of November 2015

I adore sea lions, but those sea otters are too cute as well. I've never been here, looks gorgeous. Might have to add it to the road trip itinerary.

Suzanne Jones

Monday 23rd of November 2015

Definitely book a whale watching trip if you go - Monterey Bay Whale Watching is the best company to use :)

Sam K. Francis

Monday 23rd of November 2015

OMGGG those sea otters! How sweet :) Love your blog and this post is cuteness overload lol xxx

Suzanne Jones

Monday 23rd of November 2015

I wish we'd have been able to get closer the cute little sea otters. Thanks for dropping by :)

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