As California begins to safely re-engage travel, indoor attractions are flickering back to life.
In Monterey, the beloved world-class aquarium has begun polishing its tanks with plans to re-open soon; until then, the city is a peaceful escape with plenty of outdoor activities geared toward Covid-safe getaways.
As of mid-March, Monterey has entered California's red tier of Covid restrictions, meaning the picturesque place on the bay is quietly coming back to life. And the timing is just right given how this age of uncertainty is leading us all outdoors and in search of tranquil escapes.
Interaction with the ocean has been proven to lower stress and bolster mental health by regulating brain waves and setting our minds to more meditative states. If you're looking to get out of town and decompress, go wander the beaches and ride the waves of Monterey Bay, kayaking through its fields of jellyfish, and watch the otters frolic as you sip cocktails by the waterfront.
Here's what to do over a weekend in Monterey.
Take a two-wheeled adventure.
Strap on a helmet and take in Instagram-ready bay views from a rented bike or e-bike from Big Sur Adventures, located in nearby Pacific Grove. You can rent by the hour to move at your own pace, you go with a guide if you don't have a particular destination in mind. You'll learn some highlights of Monterey's history, a bit about the local marine life, and hear stories about local legends. Plus, you won't need to think about charting a course or finding your way back.
// Rentals start at $10, tours at $79; Big Sur Adventures at The American Tin Cannery, Suite 122, 125 Ocean view Blvd. (Pacific Grove), bikebigsur.com.
Dine right on the water.
Suspended directly above the rippling blue waters of Monterey Bay, Schooner's Coastal Kitchen and Bar, at the Monterey Plaza Hotel, has a heated waterfront terrace that makes enjoying afternoon cocktails and sunset suppers possible no matter the temperature outside. A favorite hangout of the southern sea otters that play in the coastal kelp beds, Schooner's is also a regular hotspot for herons, egrets, and other water fowl. Order a Maritime Manhattan, Cannery Mule, or blood orange Negroni, or opt for a glass of vino from one of the region's wineries. The lunch and dinner menus feature fresh local seafood and traditional flavors.
// 400 Cannery Row Monterey CA 93940, schoonersmonterey.com
Watch out for whales!
Monterey offers year-round whale watching and guaranteed sightings no matter when you visit. Migration patterns predict exactly what you'll find, but there are always whales in the area. Winter (December through mid-March) is the best time to catch a southbound gray whale, whose season peaks in mid-January, when you might see more than 30 whales an hour from Point Pinos in Pacific Grove. Winter dolphins are also common, as are harbor sightings of southern sea otters, California sea lions, and harbor seals. Discovery Whale Watch (and other local tours) provide engaging, knowledgable naturalists who narrate the three- to four-hour trip and provide fascinating facts along the way.
// Advanced booking recommended ($65-$75), Discovery Whale Watch, 66 Fisherman's Wharf, discoverywhalewatch.com
Kayak with sea creatures.
As part of a National Marine Sanctuary, the Monterey Bay provides exceptional opportunities to view marine life in the wild. Get up close and personal with cormorants, sea stars, sea lions, and seals in a kayak or stand-up paddle board that you can rent by the hour or via a guided tour with Monterey Bay Kayaks. Knowledgable guides can teach you the difference between seals and sea lions, help you spot invertebrates, and ensure a safe distance between you from protected creatures. Tours include free continued rental once the tour is finished.
// Rentals start at $35, tours at $55; Monterey Bay Kayaks, 693 Del Monte Ave., montereybaykayaks.com
Peek into tide pools.
Tide-pooling isn't just for curious kiddos. The Great Tide Pool, located in Pebble Beach along the 17-Mile Drive, is one of the finest in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. It was a frequent haunt of novelist and early ecologist John Steinbeck, and served as an important location in the novel Cannery Row. "The sea is very clear and the bottom becomes fantastic with hurrying, fighting, feeding, breeding animals," wrote Steinbeck. If you access the pools at low tide you can expect to find crabs, abalone, mussels, sea anemones, and sea stars. You may even catch a glimpse of a bashful octopus. You'll pay a $12 gate fee to enter Pebble Beach by car. Remember, don't touch and leave no trace.
// 1400 Sunset Dr., (Pacific Grove), seemonterey.com
When in Monterey, eat calamari.
Many local restaurants claim to have the best calamari in Monterey. Federico Rusciano, executive chef and co-owner of the newly-opened restaurant The Pocket in nearby Carmel, gives them a run for their money. Rusciano personally sources local calamari from a Monterey fisherman, then batters and fries it to perfection. Crisp and crunchy, the calamari is served with lemon and house-made aioli. Delicate seared scallops are another stunner among the shared plates. Seafood is well represented across the menu, which also features decadent meat and vegetarian options. Wine is a critical part of the experience, so be sure to ask for pairing suggestions.
// The Pocket, Lincoln St, 5 NE of 6th Ave. (Carmel-by-the-Sea), thepocketcarmel.com
Check in, sleep tight.
After a day in, on, or alongside the water, tuck in for the night at the recently renovated Hyatt Regency Monterey where mid-century modern meets California casual style. Enjoy plenty of space and social distancing on the 22-acre grounds, unwrap your takeout or sip your morning cup of coffee on the heated patio, or grab a complimentary s'mores kit to toast at any of the property's five fire pits. We highly recommend getting a ground-level terrace for the ideal blend of indoor and outdoor scenes. Face coverings are required at all times in shared indoor spaces.
// Hyatt Regency Monterey, 1 Old Golf Course Rd., hyatt.com