Popular Monterey Shore Excursions
Monterey Bay Aquarium (886 Cannery Row, 831-648-4888, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. except in summer, when opening is at 9:30 a.m.) is one of the outstanding aquariums in the country. It features a wide array of sea life, much of which is native to the surrounding waters. There are sea otters, penguins, a white shark, special exhibits -- something for everybody. Be warned though: This is the prime destination in town. Cruisers on shore excursions will arrive at the busiest times. Independent travelers should order tickets in advance from the Web site (no need to stand in the ticket line too) and plan on arriving at the entrance shortly before opening to avoid the worst of the congestion. Cruisers who take a shore excursion to the Aquarium will be right in the middle of the crowds.
Cannery Row gets its name from the sardine-packing industry that once thrived here. Now, the preserved warehouses and factories house shops, galleries, wine-tasting establishments, restaurants and the prerequisite souvenir stores. For something unique to the area, try one of the wine-tasting shops that feature wines from nearby wineries, or explore the smaller galleries and shops on the side streets. It's a great walking area, particularly the seaside hotel parks and beaches.
The Maritime Museum of Monterey (5 Custom House Plaza, 831-372-2608, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily except Wednesdays) showcases ship models, photographs and other collections that highlight the area's seafaring past. A special attraction is the 500-glass prism of the historic Fresnel lens from the Point Sur Lightstation that illuminates the Maritime Museum and its seven exhibit areas. Displays range from the Rumsien/Ohlone Indians and Spanish explorers to the USS Macon and war in the Pacific to Monterey's era as the sardine capital of the world. One benefit: This museum is located in the main part of the town, away from well-worn tourist paths.
Near the Maritime Museum are many of the stops on the Path of History (start at the State Park History Theater in Stanton Center for a short film, 831-655-8070), a section of downtown Monterey that preserves and highlights the architecture and lifestyle of the 1800's. This self-guided tour is free, and a tour booklet is available at various locations around the town.
John Steinbeck fans can explore the numerous local real and literary haunts of the famous author by car. Monterey Rent-a-Roadster (229 Cannery Row, 831-647-1929, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily) rents authentic reproductions of classic cars by the hour to make the drive memorable (reserve in advance). A CD entitled "Footsteps of Steinbeck" is a self-guided driving tour that fills a morning or afternoon and is available in numerous shops in town. Steinbeck fans will also want to include the town of Salinas on their itineraries.
Monterey Whale Watching (96 Fisherman's Wharf #1, 800-200-2203) offers three-hour whale-watching tours at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily (see the Web site for a coupon for discounted tickets). For much of the year, Monterey Bay itself is a feeding ground for many varieties of migrating whales. This is a great outing for the entire family. Advance reservations are required; group rates and special tours can be arranged.