Museums aren't just stuffy old places with boring pictures and hushed voices. In Monterey, museums come alive, especially for kids. Interactive, immersing displays draw children and adults alike into new worlds. Become a leafy sea dragon at the Monterey Bay Aquarium's "Splash Zone" exhibit, search for hidden clues at the National Steinbeck Center's treasure hunt, and stomp grapes at MY Museum. Museums that educate, stimulate further exploration and let kids be kids can be found throughout the county.
And Monterey County's fun isn't located just in museums. Parks created especially for children are also located throughout the area, giving them some extra motivation to enjoy the great outdoors.
Looking for ideas on how to spend a family weekend? Take a look at our Family Fun itinerary, or book a ready-made vacation package for the entire family to enjoy.
Agricultural and Rural Life Museum
Life was different at the turn of the last century, and the Agricultural and Rural Life Museum in King City's San Lorenzo Park is a walk back in time. See first-hand how students of the era learned at a one-room schoolhouse, complete with students' desks and slates for writing, and teachers' tools for discipline. The blacksmith is still at work, and the farmhouse gives visitors a view into how people lived100 years ago. Antique mining and farming equipment are on display, as are a tack shop, country store and antique printing press. The barn and outdoor displays are open daily from 10am-4pm all year. The other buildings are open weekends, April-October. Free guided tours help make this an enjoyable and educational experience.
Dennis the Menace Playground
This famous playground, located at El Estero Park inMonterey, is known throughout the state for its whimsical equipment, which includes among many other things a drinking fountain inside the mouth of a lion, a swinging rope bridge, a roller slide, and a life-sized hedge maze. Created in 1956 by cartoonist Hank Ketcham, the park celebrates the rights of kids to be kids. A snack bar is located directly outside the park. Open daily at 10am (closed Tuesdays September-May); free admission.
The Carmel Mission, also known as San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission, is home to some of the most significant religious artifacts in California. Founded by Father Junipero Serra, the mission was built in 1770 and is still home to a thriving Catholic community. Today, visitors can get a taste of mission life as it was back then. An on-site museum houses California's first library, as well as a collection of tools and equipment used by the Spaniards and Native Americans in their day-to-day lives at the mission. The spartan cell where Serra lived is also recreated in detail. The Carmel Mission is on Rio Road in Carmel. For hours, fees and a schedule of mass, call 831-624-3600.
The Soledad Mission is the 13th of the 21 California missions; it was built in 1791, seven years after Father Junipero Serra's death. Free and open to the public, visitors can see the original adobe ruins, which are under restoration. Museum, gift shop and gardens are open daily, except Tuesdays. The Soledad Mission is on Fort Romie Road, Soledad. Call 831-678-2586 for more information.
Mission San Antonio is the third California mission, founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1771. It, too, is still active as a parish church. This is a wonderful place to picnic, with tables under the shade trees to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. There is a one dollar donation to visit the grounds and museum. Mission San Antonio is located in Jolon/Fort Hunter Liggett. Call 831-385-4478 for more information.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey
Pop up next to penguins, observe playful fresh-water otters, crawl past giant clams and see eye to eye with tropical sharks in Splash Zone at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Here, kids can explore life in colorful coral reefs and along rough rocky shores. See blackfooted penguins, moray eels and other live animals in this child's introduction to the wonders of the ocean. Hands-on learning activities let you play games, try on marine animal costumes, and create your own tidepools. Splash Zone is a rich educational experience that's also oceans of fun!
Monterey County Youth Museum (MY Museum)
The Monterey County Youth Museum gives children the chance to discover the thrill of learning through unstructured play at its 80 exhibits. MY Museum has recently relocated and more than tripled in size, providing space for even more galleries that encourage children to discover how they learn best. Exhibit areas include the Creation Station; the toddler-centric MY Day at the Beach, with a sandbox, a slide, a boat and a walk-through lighthouse; MY Hospital, with a life-size version of the game Operation; MY Go-Fore Golf, with golf games to play on the green and gopher tunnels for crawling under it; MY Theater, where children can perform on stage and even use a TV camera, and more!
National Steinbeck Center Museum, Salinas
John Steinbeck's works come to life in this hands-on, interactive museum in Salinas. Here, kids can climb on The Red Pony and take a peek at marine specimens from Doc Rickett's lab in Cannery Row. Treasure hunts that encourage children to find specific items in the exhibit galleries and an "Eye Spy" game are two ongoing ways to encourage understanding and learning at the National Steinbeck Center museum.
Wild Things, Salinas Valley
Welcome your kids to the jungle with a stop at Wild Things in the Salinas Valley. Various tours are available daily where tiny tots can see lions, tigers and bears. Need even more of an adventure? Book one of Vision Quest Safari's cozy African-style bungalows and have your breakfast served by an elephant!
Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History
Stop by "America's Last Hometown," and visit The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. Here, families can explore the natural history of Monterey County including its native tribes, animal species, plants and geology. Special exhibits include "Living with Mountain Lions" and "Illustrating Nature," which showcases work from CSUMB students. For a current list of all the exhibits click here. Be sure to not miss out on the photo op with of the life-size whale sculpture out front!