Pacific Grove in Winter

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Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove, CA is popular with families and others year round.

I received the Monterey Bay Aquarium e-newsletter announcing the Member’s Night and made a hotel reservation right away. I figured that on a random Saturday night in January it would be quiet. While it is less busy than this last weekend with the AT&T golf tournament in Pebble Beach, it was still lively.

Traffic on Saturday was congested at various points between Sacramento and Monterey. I reached Monterey in time for a late lunch at Gianni’s Pizza in New Monterey. I checked into my hotel (not worth mentioning) and walked to the Pacific Grove coastal walk for some fresh air. It was beautiful at Lover’s Point.

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Beach 1: the family beach

The first Lover’s Point beach is the most protected and perfect for families with young children. The water is c-c-c-old but there is plenty of sand. This beach is also closest to a snack bar and coffee shop.

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Beach 2: Good for body paddling out to the surf.

The second beach at Lover’s Point provides access to the surf if you are interested in paddling out or surfing. The first two beaches have stairways to make access easier.

The third beach didn’t reveal itself until I walked a bit further along the beach walkway and looked back. It is a sliver of sand between the rock face and the waves. It is a beach for teenagers and others who like daring each other to dash in the surf.

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Pacific Grove is a wintering site for a diminishing Monarch population.

Lover’s Point is the perfect destination for a family walk and picnic or a bike ride. There is some parking on the street and is a good stopping point if you are driving around the peninsula on the coast road. Or it can be a rest stop if you are walking from Asilomar to the Aquarium.

I decided one night is not enough to warrant .a 3.5-4.5 hour drive one way.  A sign of my age, sigh. When I was a teenager I would drive that much to spend the day at the beach. Then with children I needed at least an overnight. Now I want more than one night to recover and to justify the carbon footprint! One thing for sure, Pacific Grove is worth the effort even in the dead of winter.

Monterey Bay a Superb Marine Sanctuary

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I became a member when my grandson was born. This trip we are celebrating his second birthday with multiple trips to the Aquarium.

As a member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I try to visit as often as I can. Indeed, the entire Monterey Bay offers an opportunity to observe marine life. Just a few days ago a “superpod” of dolphins was caught on video by the Aquarium staff. As my 2 year old grandson would say, “Wow!”

https://www.npr.org/2018/09/07/645677562/watch-superpod-of-dolphins-seen-racing-off-california-coast

The Monterey Bay Aquarium gives those of us unable to snorkel or dive the opportunity to see life under the sea. The Open Sea exhibit has hammerhead sharks and two sea turtles. I spent at least 5 minutes watching the female octopus actively exploring her space.

The sea otters are favorites. Sometimes it is hard to appreciate them because of the crowds. My friend UK Sarah was reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck and he didn’t mention sea otters. I double checked with the docents and they agreed the sea otters were almost hunted to extinction when Steinbeck was in Monterey County. They began to make a comeback in the mid-70s. The growing public support for marine life made it possible to establish the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 1992. The kelp forests are essential for the otters, yet without otters the urchins proliferate and eat the kelp forests. Thanks to the Aquarium’s education and conservation programs the Bay has become a much friendlier place for all marine life.

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I learned a few things on these visits to the Aquarium. Two year olds (not just Calvin) will vocalize in a way that sounds a lot like screaming like a monkey when they are frightened by the “ocean wave experience” or a scary fish. Mostly though they are in awe and very excited to take it all in.

And I still love the penguins!

 

Celebrating World Penguin Day!

20170330_100529The African penguins are on the second floor of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, past the top of the Kelp Forest and adjacent to the Splash Zone. The area was empty of people when I first arrived. I sat on the carpeted bench and watched as child after child discovered the exhibit. “Penguins!” they’d exclaim with the face lighting up. Many sea creatures scare people because they are potentially lethal–jellyfish and sharks–but everyone appears to find the penguins charming and funny.

The penguins at the Aquarium are fed daily at 10:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. There is no special ticket required to watch the keepers feed them fish and answer questions from the audience. There are also interactive displays to expand your knowledge of penguins. African penguins are among the most threatened species because of their dwindling food supply and habitat, but the Aquarium stays upbeat.

The Aquarium is part of AZA Species Survival Plan, a zoological conservation program that is keeping endangered animals alive and maintaining their genetic diversity through collaboration and sharing of, in this case, the birds around the U.S. When I compare the rich, stimulation that African penguins have in the wild with the sterile, almost two-dimensional exhibit space, I have to remind myself how they can be ambassadors that inspire people to care about what is happening to these wonderful birds in Namibia and South Africa.

Need a penguin fix and can’t get to Monterey? Watch the live Penguin Cam!

Over in South Africa, an organization called SANCCOB is leading the way in studying, rescuing, and rehabilitating wild African penguins. Through their Chick Bolstering Project, SANCCOB biologists monitor African penguins in the wild and bring abandoned, injured or starving chicks in for care. Together with colony managers, they also rescue and hand-rear eggs that have either been abandoned by their parents or when the adult penguins were found nesting in areas outside of the protected colony area. Last year Monterey Bay Aquarium Aviculturist Monika Rohrer journeyed to South Africa to volunteer with SANCCOB.  (from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s website)

On quiet days when there are few visitors the penguins get to go for a stroll outside their enclosure. Watch the penguin parade.

Don’t Miss the Monterey Bay Aquarium

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The mission is to inspire conservation of the ocean.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a gem of an aquarium. It is a truly excellent place to visit if you have children, but even has a lot to offer adults. In addition to the delightful permanent exhibits with the Kelp Forest (with sharks), Sea Otters, Jellyfish and Penguins, the Aquarium hosts special exhibits.  Thanks to the animated film Finding Dory and the Octopus hero Hank, octopi have been rehabilitated in the public consciousness. I’ve always admired the intelligence and ingenuity of octopi so I enthusiastically entered “Tentacles.” It was worth it just to see the Giant Pacific Octopus. Wow.

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Nearby is an excellent exhibit on plastics in our oceans and what we can do to reduce this insidious pollution. I particularly enjoyed various artists’ use of plastic to make sea-inspired collages. You can read more about this issue on the Aquarium’s website.

You can eat at the Aquarium’s cafe, or enjoy your picnic lunch outside on one of the observation decks. The brilliance of rehabilitating an old sardine cannery is more obvious when you stand on a deck extending over the Monterey Bay. I’d actually like to come back on a bad weather day!

I do not like to eat a lot of fish, but I know fish is a healthy choice. I have used my concern over commercial over-fishing to avoid ordering fish at restaurants. Now I can download the Aquarium’s Seawatch App on my phone to check for safe options to enjoy fish guilt-free. Check it out.

I used my AAA member discount to buy my ticket through the AAA website, even so, it is $50 to visit. This may not make you blink, but it does make me pause. I want to be able to spend 2.5 hours or more at that price. I had not been in years–the penguin exhibit had not been added so it was probably pre-1998–and I wasn’t sure I’d visit more than once a year.  Once I experienced the variety of exhibits and spent time on the deck watching the sea, I realized I want to make it more of a habit and I want to share it with my grandson. So I went to the membership desk and converted my ticket to a membership. Watch this space for reviews of the special tours and member events.

24 Hours in Monterey, California

I had a little less than 24 hours in Monterey on a Wednesday-Thursday. Monterey takes some effort to get to since you have to get through San Jose traffic. Every time as I approach the peninsula I wonder if it really is worth it–and then I see the Monterey Bay and ‘yes!”

Ever since I saw my friend Jen’s photos of the penguin parade at the Monterey Bay Aquarium I have been hankering to visit. I lived in Pacific Grove in 1984-5 and when I return I like to eat at my favorite restaurants and check out favorite beaches and walks. A lot has changed in 30 years so some flexibility is needed.

I was driving up from Bakersfield after a business meeting, so I got there too late to eat at my favorite dinner place SandBar & Grill on Wharf #2. I checked into the Lone Oak Lodge on north Fremont Street. It deserves the good reviews it received on Trip Advisor: clean, comfortable and spacious in a good location for under $100 a night. After a long day of driving I was ready to stop. I made a cup of decaf with my in room coffee maker and checked my email on the free wifi.

After a great night’s sleep I checked out by 8:30 so I could try a new breakfast place, LouLou’s Griddle. It is located on the same wharf as the SandBar & Grill. It was a beautiful, brisk morning. The wind was already blowing so I was relieved to find hot coffee and a seat at an inside table. It is a popular place and once you taste the food it is obvious why. The food is excellent in addition to the classic diner charm in a great location.

I returned to my car and headed to Pacific Grove to enjoy the ocean views at Lovers Point. Pacific Grove was originally a Methodist church camp with many of the smaller homes built as cabins. Lovers Point was Lovers of Jesus Point. There is a trail and walks from Asilomar to the Aquarium in New Monterey. The views are incomparable with opportunities to see otters and other sea life.

I like shopping in the Pacific Grove village. Over the years some things have stayed the same, like the classic post office and library, and other things have changed. Holman’s Department store closed. You can still buy books at the Book Works shop. I discovered a new shop Tessuti Zoo with unique gifts and colorful crafts made by the shop owner.

I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for a couple of hours of fun. (more to follow) I walked around Cannery Row and a ways down the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail. Next time I’ll explore bike rentals at Adventures By the Sea bicycle rentals at 210 Alvarado Street. You can cycle over 3.5 miles to Pacific Grove via Cannery Row.

I was ready for lunch around 1 p.m. and I really craved Gianni’s Pizza. Alas, they are only open for lunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So I circled back to Vivolo’s Chowder House that I passed at 127 Central Avenue. It was a happy discovery. It looks unimpressive from the exterior but it is elegant and the clam chowder deserves its local favorite status.

I debated doing more in Monterey, but the traffic is always miserable going through San Jose at rush hour. I decided to drive back via Santa Nella so I could see how full San Luis Reservoir is and enjoy a less stressful drive. The reservoir is completely full and the hills are the greenest I’ve seen in 7 years.

All together a very happy adventure.