From beautiful beaches to historic haunts like Cannery Row, there is something for everyone when visiting the beautiful California coast. These fun activities for families in Monterey are just the tip of the iceberg.
Family visiting Cannery Row
Credit: Cannery Row

“Being at ease with himself put him at ease with the world,” so goes the quote from John Steinbeck’s classic novel, Cannery Row. But as most parents like me know, a typical vacation with kids can cause a lot of unease if you don't plan with every family member in mind. That's why I love finding destinations that have just that—something for everyone.

My family and I recently had an unforgettable experience in Monterey, and we spent most of our time in California’s legendary Cannery Row. Cannery Row originally reached fame as the “Sardine Capital of the World” drawing in people from all over who were looking for work catching and canning these fish. But after World War II, the sardines started to disappear from Monterey Bay and the city began to fall to ruin. That is until 1968, when an effort to revitalize the city began.

Cannery Row has since turned into the number one visitor destination for California’s central coast, and it's just one area of Monterey that offers plenty of things to do with your family. While our trip wasn’t perfect (no vacation with kids ever is), I wanted to share with you what we learned along the way. From where to stay and where to eat to where to go and what to do, here are a few tips so you can plan a Monterey vacation that will put everyone at ease.

Monterey Plaza Hotel _ Spa
Credit: Cannery Row

Stay at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa

When planning your trip, one of the first things most people ask themselves is, “Where should I stay?” I recommend staying at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa. This hotel is conveniently located along the coast of Monterey Bay and in the heart of Cannery Row. You can easily walk to any nearby attractions and also take advantage of its rooftop spa. Don’t forget to check out their complimentary bicycles! These are a great way to get around town.

Take a Walking Tour

Speaking of getting around town, a walking tour of Cannery Row is a must! These tours will take you throughout Cannery Row, providing you with the history of Monterey while visiting the locations that inspired John Steinbeck’s famous novel. While on the tour, be sure to stop by Monterey’s Funest for a memento!

Get Adventurous with Adventures by the Sea

Once you have familiarized yourself with Cannery Row by foot, check out Adventures by the Sea for some other varieties of exploring. Here you can rent a kayak and explore Monterey Bay or grab a surrey and cruise along one of Monterey’s 18-mile Recreational Trail that runs along the shoreline, both of which our teenagers enjoyed. Keep in mind that these rentals can be purchased in either half day or full day increments depending on your needs.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Credit: Cannery Row

Explore the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Did you know that Monterey Bay is home to one of the largest national parks in the U.S.? The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary stretches along 276 miles of shoreline and reaches depths of 12,743 ft. Here visitors can enjoy fishing, tide pooling, and even whale watching while learning about the various marine wildlife that inhabit the bay. Teens will enjoy whale watching while younger children will love visiting the tide pools where they can learn about all the little creatures left behind from the receding tide.

Spend a Day at the Beach

What is a trip to California if you don’t spend a day at the beach? If you are looking to get some sun or catch some waves, then head over to McAbee Beach or San Carlos Beach. But instead of working on your tan, you may want to test your scuba diving skills. While McAbee beach offers Instagram-loving teens that perfect sunset photo, San Carlos Beach certifies more divers than anywhere else in the world. Since the minimum age for scuba diving in most areas is ten years old, this proves to be a great activity for older kids and teens.

Fish Hopper
Credit: Cannery Row

Grab Lunch at The Fish Hopper

If you are planning your trip right, you will make sure that food is not just an afterthought. That is why I recommend stopping by The Fish Hopper. Open for both lunch and dinner, The Fish Hopper provides excellent seafood, outdoor seating, and amazing panoramic views of Monterey Bay. If you want my opinion, order the crab cakes, you won’t regret it!

Enjoy Dinner at the Historic Sardine Factory

Another option for dining is The Sardine Factory. Why should you dine here? Well, The Sardine Factory is one of the restaurants that helped revitalize Cannery Row since its opening in 1968. If that’s not a testament to good food, I don’t know what is! That is why it has received the award of “Best Restaurant in Monterey”. Parents will enjoy the swordfish filet paired with one of their many fine wines while kids will love the classic macaroni and cheese.

Mirror Maze
Credit: Cannery Row

Get Lost in the Monterey Mirror Maze

While these tips may be helpful to planning your vacation, they won’t be of any use to in trying to navigate your way through the Monterey Mirror Maze. Here you and your family can choose to participate in several different activities such as mini golf, a laser maze, and of course a psychedelic themed mirror maze. Kids will have fun earning the title of Maze Master while walking through the maze an unlimited number of times for only $12. This is a great activity for kids and teens alike, which is why we recommend it for ages 4 and up.

Indulge in Dessert at Ghirardelli’s 

And to cap it all off, head over to Ghirardelli’s for a sweet ending to your trip. Known for its famous chocolate squares, Ghirardelli’s not only serves as a chocolate shop but also an ice cream parlor. Your family can enjoy delicious frozen treats topped with Ghirardelli’s handmade hot fudge all while overlooking the beautiful Monterey Bay.

Colleen Kelly is the host of the National PBS Series “Family Travel with Colleen Kelly” If you’re looking for more tips from Colleen Kelly on making family travel easier, check out