5 Fun Things to do in Monterey, CA with Kids

The beautiful Central Coast of California touts some of the most photographed craggy coastline in the world, as well as many breathtaking beaches, hiking trails, animals in their natural habitats, and of course, views for days. Our family loved our vacation visiting Monterey and found so many great activities and sights for kids of all ages.

What to do in Monterey, CA and Nearby

1. Monterey Bay Aquarium
Arguably one of the best in the world, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is both an exotic collection of undersea life and a conservancy focused on preserving the health of our oceans. Scientists work to learn more to teach us about that wet stuff that covers about 70% of our planet and also entertain us with amazing exhibits.

We were so impressed with the enormous tanks full of giant hammerhead sharks, blue fin tuna, schools of sardines, and waving forests of kelp that must be at least 30 feet high. The aquarium is so fun; you could spend all day here. Don’t miss the interactive exhibits for the little ones and the roaring tide that rushes over glass to make you feel like you’re inside the churning surf. The jellyfish tanks were our family favorite. So. Cool.

Fun things to do in Monterey CA with kids - Monterey Bay Aquarium
We enjoyed the peaceful jellyfish tanks at Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the fun things to do in Monterey, CA with kids.

2. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
When I was a kid, we used to beg to visit the Beach Boardwalk and rides in Santa Cruz, and it’s still just as fun today. Built in 1907 and about an hour from Monterey, the amusement park is one of the oldest beach boardwalks in the U.S. and contains all the charm of an old seaside experience from yesteryear, except updated for modern day fun.

The Giant Dipper, built in 1924, still safely runs through heights and dips along the beach. Several other rides for kids of varying ages dot the boardwalk, along with arcades, food, shops, as well as Neptune’s Kingdom, a fun center filled with mini-golf, air hockey, ping pong and more. You’ll find all the favorites too, like a carousel, Ferris wheel, haunted house, bumper cars and more.

3. Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
During the right time of year, a visit down the coast to Pacific Grove is a spectacular way to enjoy Monarch butterflies up close. The Monarch Grove Sanctuary is winter home to thousands of migrating Monarchs from October through February. Some traveling all the way from Mexico and flying more than 2,000 miles, these butterflies cling to the local trees in giant clumps as they huddle for warmth to wait out the winter.

The adjacent museum is fun for the kids, as are the viewing areas where you can walk through groves as butterflies flutter around you and an occasional caterpillar crawls your way. If you visit in non-winter months, you will not see many Monarchs, but the area is still pretty and the gallery is open year round so you definitely get the butterfly vibe!

Visit the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum website to learn more about when and where to view Monarchs in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Luis Obispo.

4. Carmel-by-the-Sea
This town is so quaint, it looks like it could have been built for a movie set in a mythical European village. Having celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2016, Carmel was formed as a bohemian artist colony and has carried that theme forward through the decades.

Fun things to do in Monterey CA with kids - Downtown Carmel by the sea
Strolling in downtown Carmel, you can enjoy quaint buildings filled with galleries, restaurants, shops and more.

Now a collection of art studios and galleries, trendy restaurants and world-class shops, Carmel’s main street ends up at one of the most gorgeous beaches on the coast. The kids loved sampling local favorites like hand-crafted ice cream, homemade fudge, fresh deep-fried calamari with lemon, and the parents enjoyed the downtown stroll that ended with us putting our toes in the warm, white sand.

On the drive into town, stop in to see the historic Carmel Mission, or as it is properly named, Mission San Carlos Borromeo del rio Carmelo. The second mission built in California by Father Junipero Serra, Carmel Mission is his final resting place and his favorite of all the missions he helped to establish in the late 1700s. It’s really quite beautiful and a worthwhile museum tour.

Fun things to do in Monterey CA with kids - Carmel Mission
Mission Carmel is the final resting place of Saint Junipero Serra, father of the California missions.

5. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
With so many hiking trails and easy access to beaches and meadows, Point Lobos is very popular for divers and hikers alike. We walked several very easy trails that were wide and flat — so easy that people were pushing strollers alongside us. There were so many cool creatures to observe: seals, otters, Canadian geese, ducks, lizards, hawks, butterflies and more.

Offering hundreds of vistas from cliff tops to coves, the park features opportunities to meander along trails that lead throughout. We were told whale watching is popular here as well, and although we did not see any on our visit, it seems to be a regular occurrence from October through May.

Fun things to do in Monterey CA with kids - Cove at Point Lobos
Chock full of hiking trails, coves and animals in their natural habitats, Point Lobos is a true treasure and another one of the fun things to do in Monterey, CA with kids.

You may also enjoy:

Hilton Mom Voyage writers receive free night certificates to use at Hilton Hotels & Resorts worldwide. To learn more, visit our About Us page.

This post was written by Hilton Suggests Team Member, Jon B. Are you interested in traveling to Monterey? Let us know if we can help you with any other recommendations. Tweet us for more great local travel tips!

More posts from Jon B.