By Kelli Wheeler

It’s time for a weekend road trip that the whole family will enjoy! Pack your bags for an easy three-hour drive to Monterey where you and the kids can play together on the beautiful shores of Monterey Bay. Go traditional with a walk and seashell hunt on the powder sugar soft Carmel Beach, visit the internationally acclaimed Monterey Bay Aquarium or try something new by checking out huge masses of monarch butterflies. Then set the kids free at Dennis the Menace Playground where they can climb a full size locomotive. Check out other great attractions below!

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary
165 Forest Ave
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
(831) 648-5716
Season: Oct. – Feb.
Hours: Sunrise to Sundown every day; Docents available 12 p.m. – 3 p.m.
Cost: Free

I’ll always remember my Kindergarten field trip to Pacific Grove’s George Washington Park and the Monarch Grove Sanctuary. Eucalyptus and pine trees were blanketed in Monarchs. This sight is amazing to behold and if you go when a docent is present, it’s also highly educational.

Photo Credit: Kelli Wheeler

The Monterey Bay Aquarium
886 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 648-4888
Hours: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., every day
Cost: child admission (3-12) $19.95, students (13-17 or in college) $27.95, adults (18-65) $29.95, children under 3 free

This world-renowned exhibit of marine life and their habits wasn’t built until I had moved from Monterey, but it has been worth going back to year after year. Currently there’s a new Great White Shark exhibit and the Open Sea exhibit is now open after renovations. Highlighting Monterey Bay’s status as a marine sanctuary, you will get an interactive and breathtaking peek at all aspects of marine life including the kelp forests, tidal pool with simulated crashing wave, and stingrays.

Cannery Row
Bay Bikes-Wheel Fun Rentals
585 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93949
(831) 646-9090

Cannery Row was my playground growing up with its tide pools under the piers and tucked away beaches offering sea glass. Revitalized with shops and restaurants, including the fun Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., it is home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and a great starting point for renting bikes to cruise the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. (My favorite is the four-wheel surrey.) Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove and Fisherman’s Wharf are steps away. Kids will enjoy spotting sea lions, seals and sea otters. You’re sure to find the sea lions noisily camped out on the Coast Guard pier.

Photo Credit: Monterey Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf
#1 Old Fisherman’s Wharf
Monterey, CA 93940
(530) 304-0163
Hours: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: Parking rates

A Monterey trip without visiting Old Fisherman’s Wharf would be like a chocolate chip cookie without chocolate chips. Some things delightfully never change like the classic candy treats and taffy machine pulling salt-water taffy at Carousel Candies, store front delicious fresh seafood offerings from restaurants owned for generations, and the dancing monkey who will tip his hat for a quarter (although it used to be a penny). You can also venture off into the Monterey Bay from here on whale watching trips, a glass bottom boat ride, or a bay cruise.

Photo Credit: Kelli Wheeler

Dennis the Menace Playground and Lake El Estero
777 Pearl St.
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 646-3873
Hours: 10 a.m. – dusk, closed Tuesdays
Cost: free

As a kid, Dennis the Menace Playground was where it was at. Modernized for safety but still a fun, unique, whimsical playground, it’s part of the 45-acre El Estero Park Complex in the center of Monterey. Rent paddleboats, enjoy a snack bar or visit a skate park. Designed in 1965 by Hank Ketchum, creator of the Dennis the Menace comic strip, it features an authentic steam engine for climbing on, suspension bridge, tunnels and mazes. There are also giant slides, a lion head water fountain and plenty of sand for kids to kick their shoes off and sink their toes into.

Photo Credit: Kelli Wheeler

Gianni’s Pizza
725 Lighthouse Ave.
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 649-1500
Hours: Mon – Thurs 3:30 p.m. – 10 p.m., Fri & Sat 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., Sun 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Thirty years ago, I was squeezing through fence boards from my grandma’s house to pick up a prized pizza from Gianni’s. A few blocks up from Cannery row, this pizzeria is still the best in town now with an expanded menu, plenty of seating and full bar. It’s within walking distance of the Monterey Bay Aquarium so when it’s time to eat this is the place to go.

Carmel Beach
Ocean Ave and Scenic Rd
Monterey, CA 93921

There are lots of great beaches in Monterey (Lover’s Point and Monterey State Beach, to name a couple), but my personal favorite is the powder sugar soft sand and iconic vista of Carmel Beach. Park in downtown Carmel, grab coffee and stroll down the quaint streets to the Cypress-lined shores of the Beach. The kids will love digging in the sand and jumping the waves, strolling its mile long shore and watching the dogs frolic in the surf.

Kelli Wheeler is the author of MOMSERVATIONS® The Fine Print of Parenting, a family columnist and mother of two living in Sacramento. You can read her humorous Momservations blog at and follow her on Twitter at .