So Much to See and Do in Monterey County, California by Bonnie and Bill Neely

To see Monterey County, California, is a dream we had planned for a long time, and we really wanted to spend a day at the Monterey Bay State Aquarium, the number one attraction in the area. Since we travel in a large RV it was necessary to find an RV park in which to leave our rig, so that we could enjoy all the places in our tow car.  We love KOA Campgrounds so we selected two: Moss Landing KOA and Salinas KOA to be our center for explorations. These are excellent campgrounds with lots of great things to see and do nearby, and both are a short, easy drive to Monterey Bay and Big Sur.  At Moss Landing we found the harbor of yachts and fishing boats so interesting and learned a lot at the Shakespeare Society of America.  At Salinas we bought fruit and vegetables at many little roadside stands and watched great farming in progress with people diligently picking by hand. The Steinbeck Center and John Steinbeck’s home, now a restaurant, were the center of our activities and enjoyment in Salinas.

In Monterey Bay Fisherman’s Wharf is a wonderful center of ever changing activities, festivals, and special holiday events by day and night. An arts and crafts event with live music was the focus on Memorial Weekend. There is lots of parking available, but you may have to walk a little way! But this place is ALWAYS FUN! Check the calendar of events for the time you will be in Monterey.

We headed for the Aquarium and spent a WONDERFUL day there, with time to explore each of the numerous exhibits. A large exhibit in the Aquarium is devoted to the history of Cannery Row, which is the historic location of the Aquarium. Cannery Row was the big business in this area for almost a century. The 100 year old machinery and building are preserved here.  In our 21st century the exhibit is almost overwhelming to read the story of the fish canning business and see the photographs of the people who labored so mercilessly for long hours each day. Yet canned salmon and sardines, which could be taken in a knapsack and eaten anywhere, revolutionized consumer food products. People far from the ocean could enjoy fish for the first time, and in World War I the products were so much in demand that this area of the Pacific was overfished. For years the declining industry produced smelly fishmeal for fertilizer. By World War II the fish population had recovered and the huge demand for these cans returned. But again Monterey Bay was overfished and the sardine population dwindled severely, ruining the business.  John Steinbeck wrote about Cannery Row in 1945 and that brought visitors to the area, and the tourism here began.

2   touch tanks

At the Aquarium we loved spending about an hour after each film seeing a different exhibit and studying all the information on the signs. Expert volunteers were always nearby to answer any questions, and we were able to touch various harmless species of the ocean in the hands-on tanks. The water is very cold and straight out of the Pacific, just outside the door. The wide porch is a lovely place to capture photos of the coast and beach.

Now this amazing deep ocean canyon of Monterey Bay and the ocean surrounding is a Marine Sanctuary, and all kinds of ocean species thrive. The Aquarium is a driving force in preserving of the Ocean’s bounty and beauty. Just outside the entrance to the Aquarium is the quite different modern day Cannery Row, a bustling entertainment district of quirky tourist shops and also some upscale shopping, restaurants, eateries, bars, and hotels.

Since we had eaten a really good lunch at the Aquarium, we got our hands stamped so we could return and walked along Cannery Row to get a mid-afternoon snack. We found elegant pastries and coffee at Austino’s Patisserie. This bakery/deli has such beautiful displays of lots of delicious foods for all your quick meals and snacks…and of course, many choices of coffees and shakes.

Back at the Aquarium each hour there is a film about different sea creatures and a humorous and informative talk given by one of the Aquarium research scientists. The films are EXCELLENT, and while we waited a few minutes for each film to start the entire audience of every age had fun with the quiz teaching us about the featured sea creature. There is a question and 4 answers from which to choose. The “D” selection always brought laughter from everyone. These films show ocean life in a way no one but expert divers gets to see in person.  The movies are so informative and fascinating.

3    big tank

One of the largest exhibits is the open ocean tank, which safely encloses fish and sea animals behind huge viewing windows, but the animals are still in their natural habitat, and we are seeing directly into the ocean! In the very, very deep waters of Monterrey Bay we saw the huge kelp trees, which are so important as a feeding ground along the California coast.  They were waving in motion with the waves.

4   penguins food

In mid-afternoon is feeding time for the penguins. The two informative hosts answered questions about these furry tuxedoed mammals while we watched the little penguins take turns enjoying their feast. Then we had a good education watching many species of birds flit about in the Wetlands Display area.

5   wetlands exhibit

Monterey has one of the deepest bays in the world and is the center of 4,601 square nautical miles of protected Marine Sanctuary. At the Aquarium and several other places in the area are scientific research centers, where biologists and botanists and oceanographers are constantly learning about life underwater, still the most unknown region of our earth. These people work faithfully and hard to protect the sea life and to educate the public about saving our planet. Perhaps the display at the Aquarium which had the most lasting impact on us was about the North Pacific Gyre, a natural enormous whirlpool between Hawaii and California.

6   deepest bay

However, it is now tragically known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and is estimated to be twice the size of Texas and growing. About 11 million tons of plastic waste and carbon-containing compounds that resist degradation swirl endlessly in this gigantic mess we humans have created by non-recycled refuse. Displays which artists have created for the Aquarium are imaginative works of beauty and of usefulness from discarded bits of plastic and other disposables to show how we could reuse our discards, instead of tossing them mindlessly into trashcans. But the enormity of the mainly plastic wastes that are constantly spinning in our ocean and killing sea life is staggering! It inspired us to try to get a recycling program started in our small Texas town and to be more conscious of not using plastic bags or buying plastic wrapped products. It is much safer and cheaper to purchase and refill permanent water bottles for sports and travels. In some states now there is a law against plastic bags for merchandise, or you must pay if you use them. Cloth bags are so much better, if we just train ourselves to carry them.  Each of us must become the change we want to see or we will not have an earth for our grandchildren. This was a MOST WONDERFUL day, and we recommend going early and staying all day, for every age from strollers to wheelchairs!