The Monterey Peninsula is one of California’s most beautiful areas. It includes the three towns of Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel. It is like an outdoor playground for adults and children. From beaches to wildlife and wine tasting to shopping, this area has plenty to keep families entertained for days, especially with the beautiful areas of Carmel Valley and Big Sur just a short drive away.

Probably the best known attraction for kids is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Despite its steep entrance fees (which are used to help fund the aquarium’s conservation work), it’s definitely worth a few hours and is very family-friendly. Don’t miss the jellyfish, otter, and sea horse exhibits as well as the touch pools.

Another fun stop in Monterey for families is the Monterey State Historic Park and nearby waterfront. The historic buildings and gardens make a nice area to stroll, and outdoor markets are often held in the park’s square. From there, you can walk to the boardwalk and let your kids have a lollipop or ice cream while admiring the boats and seals in the harbor. From here you can easily access the coastal walking trail, where kids can try to spot seals.

Pacific Grove has a long, beautiful walking trail along the ocean, where you can see seals resting on the rocks and plenty of birds. You can park anywhere along the road or go a little further to Asilomar State Beach. Pacific Grove is also home to the Monarch Grove Sanctuary, where you can see the butterflies as they stop here on their winter migration from mid-October to mid-February. The best time to see them is between noon and 3:00.

No visit to the Monterey Peninsula is complete without taking the 17-Mile Drive. Go slowly and allow time to stop at Bird Rock, the Lone Cypress, and other marked points for dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean. Bring binoculars for the kids to use to spot sea lions and birds. For the best views of the ocean, start in Pacific Grove and end at Carmel Beach, where kids will love the soft white sand and dunes.

The village of Carmel-by-the-Sea is possibly the cutest town in California. Devote some time to exploring its downtown and have kids hunt for the town’s many secret courtyards. Stop in for sweet treats at the bakeries and cafes and let the kids’ imaginations take over at the lovely toy store Thinker Toys.

Point Lobos State Reserve has been called “the greatest meeting of land and sea.” This assortment of cliffs and cypress forests offer stunning views of the Pacific and are home to a variety of wildlife, both in the water and on land. If you are lucky, you may see sea otters in the waters. There are easy hikes suited to families with young children, but be careful of some steep cliffs. If the weather is sunny, pack a lunch and plan to stay a while because there is plenty to see here.