Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Carmel and Monterey

We’re going to race through the time we spent in Carmel-by-the-Sea. What can you say about a town with hyphens? That its quaintness is over-rated, that its obsession with pets is weird, that its faux little Hansel and Gretel cottages are twee. I’m sure Carmel is a lovely place to live if you are over 65, drive a 4X4 and play golf but for visitors looking for Carmel’s quirky, artistic past, our advice is to just keep driving. If you stop, however, we recommend the Dolphin Inn, a quiet, well appointed, reasonably priced hotel close to the center of town. Carmel City Beach is quite nice also.

If you are driving through, we do recommend that you stop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Despite the aquarium’s reputation for being crowded and expensive, it was Eloise’s turn to have some fun. After all, she had done the courthouse, the mission, the castle and the library with good grace and a sense of NoCrowds adventure. But this time we were going to see something that is at the top of every family’s “to do” list in central California. And that’s the problem. No matter what day of the week, and we were there on a Thursday, the place is filled with marauding children, thousands of them it seemed. Plus it’s expensive, $40.90 for the two of us. And it is located in a tragically awful tourist redevelopment of Cannery Row (Steinbeck devotees look away now) filled with chain restaurants and souvenir shops.

But for all that, we loved it. Despite the cost, the crowds and the sad surroundings this is an awesome, world class aquarium which combines American showmanship with the enormous educational challenge of getting us to understand and care about what is happening to our oceans.

All the exhibits offer a winning combination of entertainment and education. The exhibit on jellies (I used to call them jelly fish but I now know they are invertebrates) was a psychedelic experience. The sea otters were beyond adorable. The three story, 343,000 gallon Kelp Forest tank was, well, huge and mesmerizing. We learned a lot about what is threatening our oceans and what is and isn’t being done about it. There is a great little exhibit set in a 1950’s American diner about how to make smart seafood choices and an historical exhibition of what Cannery Row looked like in the days when Steinbeck described it as “a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” Ironically, we found more of that feeling inside the aquarium than outside in what’s left of Cannery Row.

For the record, we decided to pass on Monterey’s famous 17 Mile Drive, the only private toll road west of the Mississippi, which connects Carmel and Pacific Grove passing through Pebble Beach, one of America’s grandest gated communities. I really couldn’t see the point of giving the Pebble Beach Company $9 to drive through a safari park for rich folks. Instead, we pushed straight on to San Francisco into the welcoming arms of my cousin and her family.

The Facts

The Dolphin Inn
Corner of 4th & San Carlos Street
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
Tel: 800-433-4732 toll-free
Local: 831-624-5356
Email: dolphin@innsbythesea

The Monterey Bay Aquarium
886 Cannery Row
Monterey, California 93940
Tel: 800-756-3737
Local: 831-648-4937
Hours: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Daily
Photo courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium website


  1. I'm glad that,overall, you enjoyed your aquarium visit. On the topic of crowds, there are a few ways to gain more solitude.

    Off-season and afternoons are always less crowded. And there's a peak-season option, too: Evenings by the Bay, when the aquarium stays open til 8 p.m. on Saturdays & Sundays from 4th of July weekend through Labor Day weekend.

    I brought older relatives a couple of times last summer and it was really quiet from 5 p.m. on. There's live jazz in the galleries, and the restaurant's open for twilight dinners overlooking Monterey Bay.

    Ken Peterson, Communications Director
    Monterey Bay Aquarium

  2. Ken,
    Your information about how to visit the Monteray Aquarium in greater solitude is superb as is the aquarium.