Monterey Birthday

Dara: In honor of my latent obsession with Big Little Lies, today’s post is about none other than… Monterey! 

TJ: We went to Monterey last year for Dara’s birthday. Because I know she loves aquariums, I planned her surprise trip around a VIP tour at the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.

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Dara: Aquariums are my favorite type of attraction because I’m obsessed with the expansiveness of the ocean and grew up going to the Boston Aquarium way too frequently, considering the fact that it rarely changes.

TJ: So to the Aquarium we went! And for this trip, we decided to camp in the mountains instead of staying in the city so we could finally use all the camping equipment Dara got us for our anniversary.

The whole weekend was amazing. We drove up to the campground Friday after work and spent all of Saturday at the aquarium until around sunset when we hung out on the beach a bit before walking around Carmel-by-the-Sea and having a late dinner. Then on Sunday meandered down the 17-Mile Drive and Pebble Beach before taking a leisurely trip down the coast back home.

With a pit-stop at Elephant Seal Beach! It wasn’t really on the plan but we saw some signs about it on the way down and had to stop and see the elephant seals. But more on that later…

Yes so day one! We got to Saddle Mountain Ranch (beautifully tucked into the hills of Carmel Valley) Friday night and picked out a great campsite. There, we pitched our tent for the first time, which was a fun ordeal in the dark with only our headlamps and car headlights to help. We survived though, then went straight to sleep.

(For those of you less camping inclined, there are so many options in the area, ranging from the cheaper motels, to some very very pricy places, like the hotel at Pebble Beach.)

Early Saturday morning, we got up, made oatmeal on our camping stove, then went straight to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Pro Tip: Park in a cheap ($7/day) lot downtown then take the free Trolley to the Aquarium. The closer you are to the building, the more expensive.

Tickets to the aquarium itself are $50 per adult but definitely worth it! There’s so much to explore, it’s worth spending an entire day there. It’s one of the most famous aquariums in the world and inspired the setting of FINDING DORY. It has one of the world’s biggest tanks the 1.2 million gallon Open Sea exhibit, plus, there are super cute otters, some sharks, cool a deep ocean section, a fantastic jellyfish exhibit, and so much more.

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For those of you who know your fish, the huge tank at Monterey is big enough to hold a mola mola, which is the heaviest bony fish in the world. It wasn’t out when we went but a lot of the other large fish were out in full force. You should definitely check the schedule for feedings and events when you go. There’s always a lot going on.

We definitely recommend the VIP behind the scenes tour on top of that. Seeing the inner workings of the aquarium was fascinating. Not only did you get to see the top of the tanks and back of exhibits, but we learned about all of the day-to-day animal care and maintenance that occur.

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After spending the day at the aquarium, we headed over to downtown Carmel, to see the sunset at the beach. It’s the perfect spot to do it since the beach faces almost directly West. Plus, right above it is Carmel’s very chic, very cute downtown, filled with English Cottage, storybook buildings. It’s worth wandering around there. You’ll find plenty of little art galleries, classy restaurants and more. A bit expensive, but perfect for foodies. 

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IMG_5385.JPGFor dinner, we chose to head to Sur at the Barnyard, a very nice Californian place on the way back to the campground. 

Where the biggest breakthrough of the weekend happened – I got Dara to eat swordfish! It was the first piece of fish she’s almost willingly ate in years since she has a blanket, maybe silly “no seafood” rule. And she definitely liked.

Like is a strong word. I would say that I tolerated it.

Anyway – you ate it! And I can now tell people that Dara likes swordfish. 

Blegh! But anyway, the next morning we headed back to Carmel to drive down the famous 17 Mile Drive in Carmel. It’s a beautiful stretch of road, which costs $10/car to see, meandering down the picturesque cliff and cyprus tree-filled coast past spacious mansions (as seen on BIG LITTLE LIES). 

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Lots of great photo ops on the way, including the famous “Lone Cyprus.” Plus the road goes right past the Pebble Beach golf course. It’s worth walking inside to see the place, which is of course absolutely stunning. We ate lunch at a nice little pub there (which was still ridiculously expensive for what it was, but still cool). 

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And finally we headed back down to LA, driving down Highway 1 on the coast for the first half, until around San Simeon. It’s quite the drive along the coast but unfortunately closed off now, since there was an enormous landslide near Big Sur recently. But once Highway 1 opens up again, the drive is definitely worth it! 

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The highway zig zags along the coast next to cliffs and over beautiful bridges, offering spectacular views. These are the bridges featured in BIG LITTLE LIES (though fun fact: they are not actually that close to Monterey so those characters were really driving out of their way).

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The best pit stop we took was near San Simeon at the Elephant Seal Beach, which is filled with, you guessed it, Elephant Seals!  The beach was very loud, and apparently is always full during the breeding season (Nov-Feb), as we learned from the handy dandy “Elephant Seal Times” newspaper that we found. 

That’s where I get my news. Not the lamestream media…

I have no idea who takes the time to put together that newspaper but its existence was kind of hilarious. We could not for the life of us find ours to take a picture, but the curators of it also run the Elephant Seal website and live cam. We spent the whole time there Snapchatting elephant seal fights and stand-offs like the below:

It was weirdly intense since they were fighting for territory enough to draw blood, which was an interesting contrast to having been at the very tame aquarium the day before.

But anyway, if you’re in California, check out the coast near Monterey! There’s lots to do both in the city and out, and beautiful scenery abound.

COST REPORT: $$-$$$

TICKETS TO THE MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM: $50/person

CAMPSITE: $45/night

17 Mile Drive: $10/car

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