Monterey Bay--Four Ways

We just took completed a four-way discovery trip, or actually rediscovery, of Monterey Bay. It consisted of a:

  1. Full afternoon, behind the scenes, at the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium,
  2. Morning guided kayak trip through a Monterey Bay kelp forest;
  3. Horseback ride though a eucalyptus grove and sand dunes, next to a golf course and beautiful homes and along a beach; and
  4. Leisurely drive and strolls along the spectacular 17-Mile Drive.

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Behind the Scenes at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

What an incredible gem—always rated as one of the best aquariums in the world. We began our day (actually only 5.5 hours) with lunch at a window table (complete with standard binoculars and wildlife identification chart) at Cindy Pawlycn sustainable seafood restaurant (manila clams steamed in Thai coconut curry sauce were delicious and fish and chips were acceptable). After a brief tour of the first floor (with requisite time with the adorable sea otters), we went to a short (only 15 minute) but very informative lecture on sea otters and then for an absolutely amazing “behind the scene” tour of the aquarium. After an overview of the aquarium’s replica sardine cannery, we toured the area behind the display tanks for explanations of how they worked, through the kitchen and a description of the fishes’ expensive and sustainable diets, to the front and to the roof above the top of the kelp forest display, down to the clinic and above the top of the Bay display.

Although our guide provided good explanations of everything we saw, the most interesting part came when she stopped pretty much every expert we passed (on fish, diets, birds, fish medicine and surgery, operations and so forth) to discuss their specialties and answer every question we had. And, since ours was the last tour of the day, our guide was happy to take all the time we needed (even though it went more than a half hour beyond the scheduled hour tour) to find people to answer every one of our obscure questions.

When we finished, we toured the upstairs displays, beginning with the beautiful jellyfish and on to the giant, 800,000 gallon open sea tank with its large dolphin fish, fascinating 500-pound Mola Mola ocean sunfish, school of tuna, and the only great white shark in captivity. (Monterey Bay is the only aquarium in the world that has been able to capture, maintain in captivity and then successfully release great whites.) A biologist standing in front of the tank was happy to field every question anybody could ever dream of asking.

Touch tanks allowed us to touch and get explanations of the lifecycles of everything from kelp to starfish and abalone and gave us a chance to watch shark and ray fetuses moving inside their protective amniotic pouches.

After spending the rest of our time looking at and learning about a wide range of other bay inhabitants (and especially watching the eerily graceful dances of octopuses (not, as we learned “octopi,” since octopus is derived from a Greek, rather than a Latin word), we found things to keep us happily occupied—and continually learning—up to the aquarium’s 6:00 closing time.

Kayaking with Harbor Seals, Sea Lions and Sea Otters

Thursday morning we had a date with a kayak—a two hour Monterey Bay paddle with Monterey Bay Kayaks. After the required technique and safety briefing, we launched from a beach north of Fisherman’s Wharf. Our first stop was the end of the breakwater, which serves as a resting place for over 100 harbor seals. We are very accustomed to hearing seal and sea lion bellows and watching their behavior and even seeing their playfulness, as when snorkeling in the Galapagos, where sea lions raced up to our faces, only to stop at the last second to blow bubbles into our faces. This trip, however, we discovered a new type of playful behavior, with dozens of harbor seals coming out to our kayaks (while maintaining respectful distance) and following us as we paddled gradually away.

We then headed to the kelp beds, where we learned about different types of kelp (a form of algae) and sea grass, and saw sea otters, a number of unusual types of crabs and a dead, but clearly discernable Mola Mola (a much smaller version of the sunfish that so enthralled us at the aquarium).

Then, on the way back, we passed and explored the under-the-dock portion of the abalone farm that supplied what was soon to become our lunch. Overall, a very fun and educational way to spend a morning.

On our next trip, we plan to experience the Monterey Bay waters in two other ways:

  • A kayak trip through the Elkhorn Slough coastal wetlands (which has larger populations of otters, birds, sea lions and harbor seals); and
  • After donning a wet suit to make the cold water tolerable, a brief snorkel through a coastal kelp forest.

Horseback Riding along the Beach

We previously horseback rode on Pebble Beach and were tempted to take a repeat ride. A timely half-price TravelZoo offer sealed the deal. As with our previous Pebble Beach Equestrian Center ride, we were delighted. The hour and a quarter ride took us through wooded sand dunes, provided great views over the peninsula’s coastline and golf courses, took us between classic Pebble Beach “cottages” and along the beach.

The Equestrian Center staff did all the work and our guide provided good commentary and answered all of our questions; not just about horses, but the Pebble Bay community, the management company and the impact of the recession on local businesses, not to speak of a ins-and-outs of working with deal-of-the-day coupon companies

Although the trails are always the same, we plan to return to the scene of the ride.

17-Mile Drive and Walks

How many times can you drive or walk along the 17-mile drive in Pebble Beach before you tire of it? Although I am sure there is a limit, we are nowhere near close to it. True, we don’t stop at as many of the sights, or read as many of the signs as in the past. The views, however, continue to be magical and it’s always humbling to see how the other half (or at least the other 1 percent) lives. The coastline, however, is about more than driving. It also has some great walks. A couple of our favorites are those along the:

  • Boardwalks and beaches at the Inn at Spanish Bay (which is also a great place for a sunset drink around the fire pits, listening to the bagpiper saluting the end of the day); and the
  • Walk along Pacific Grove’s Ocean View Blvd, between Lovers’ Point and Perkins Parks.

Also, if you are in season (beginning in mid-October), which we were not for this trip, don’t miss Pacific Grove’s Monarch Grove Sanctuary, where you can see thousands of Monarch Butterfly’s resting in trees between legs of their massive winter migrations. If you don’t bring you own binoculars, you can typically use one of the docent’s spotting scopes while listening to the fascinating story of the beautiful insect’s migration and lifecycle.

Then, when you exit the drive in Carmel, it is worth a short detour to drive along Scenic Road, heading south from the Ocean Avenue Beach.

And, while it is not exactly along the 17-mile drive, it is also worth another short detour—this time to the Carmel Mission, a lovely renovated structure that is central to the history of California.

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