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How To Enjoy Monterey Bay Without Breaking The Bank


By Lu Sobredo

Life is about making adjustments.

Days and nights of continuous hot weather in parts of Northern California sent my family packing in early July 2019 for the San Francisco Bay Area. A couple of nights at our sailboat in Sausalito suited our budget. No hotel cost. A little over a decade ago, our hotel and food budget would have been $300 - $500 dollars for the weekend.

We curb the cost of eating out some of our meals while at the boat by choosing neighborhood restaurants, not touristy ones. Find some of my favorites in this article: Sausalito: A Hidden Gem in the San Francisco Bay. And we supplement our meals by eating in or taking selected grocery items, both hot and cold, on a picnic at our favorite spots in town.

This one hot summer week in July 2019, our family also opted to visit the Monterey Bay Area. It was our first in almost seven years. We were not deliberately avoiding the iconic place in our backyard all these years. A weekend in Carmel and Monterey could set us back financially; it rivals the cost of a roundtrip ticket to Europe. So, over the several years, we chose Spain and Portugal for our summer adventure. But this year, I am still recovering from a major surgery. My body could only handle a short jaunt next door. And there is a way to do it inexpensively without driving for only a day trip.

If cost is a factor when going to Monterey, here are a few hints to stay within a reasonable budget:

1.    Scour the internet for hotel bargains in June or July. Even a week or two before intended visit, you might just find the right bargain for you. The range of prices vary: from 2-star to 5-star hotels to bed and breakfast boutique hotels. We have stayed in mostly 3-star establishments. This time I wanted to treat our family to a 4 or 5-star accommodation on a bargain. During August, September, or October, booking hotels in the Monterey Bay Area close to downtown or main tourist attractions could empty your pockets of hard-earned $300 - $500 dollars a night. Choosing to go in July was the wise thing to do. I managed to find a discounted weekend for less than $200 and another for less than $250 a night. I opted for a little luxury and chose a price somewhere in between, a room that usually costs $300 plus a night. There are small hotels that cost a little over $100 but 10 minutes away from downtown with spartan accommodations. We have stayed in those once or twice before. Not my choice this time; but the option is there.

2.    Be flexible with dates of stay. Of course, being retired helps. Flexibility is a given. Remember, July and August are vacation months for Europeans and travelers from other locations in the world. Expect to encounter a number of tourists in Monterey Bay, ranging from children of all ages to retired couples. Keep that in mind. In my experience, the crowd is still manageable in June and July. The staff at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the area’s top attraction, tells us they are busy all year long. That is a good sign for the Aquarium’s sustainability, a good sign for California’s economy, and an excellent sign for people’s interest in the survival of our ocean’s eco-system.

3.    Be clear on your purpose for visiting. Acknowledging your purpose for the visit will surely help when planning activities. Our purpose for going to Monterey Bay Aquarium is three-fold: relaxation, nostalgia, and photography.

a.    Relaxation is crucial. I have been through some intense health challenges these past months. My family had to play caregiver, a role which is seriously-health-tampering for them as well. Being caregiver can be health-threatening and life-shortening if not attended to enough. My severe chronic illness of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) for six years now, and another health issue requiring an invasive surgery descended upon our family’s health landscape. This weekend treat is a small reward for my loving caregivers, to whom I owe so much.

b.    Nostalgia: Monterey Bay was a place my parents and other elders spent our last few vacations before heaven called for them one after the other. So grateful that my Auntie/Mama Nene, who was there with us during the mini-vacations, is enjoying her 90s at her beachfront home on our ancestral land in the Philippines. Also, Carmel was where my husband and I spent our first December, Christmas weekend as a couple for the first time. Memories swarmed my senses as I set foot in places we once visited. They were meaningful moments that I wanted to honor.

c.    Photography: My husband is an avid photographer whose works have been exhibited in galleries and museums in Northern California. Photography has complemented his work as a university professor all these years. Now retired, a professor emeritus, he wants to spend more time on his artistic leanings and outdoor adventures. Monterey Bay is scenic and breathtakingly photogenic. They make a perfect match. So, I tag along when hubby is chasing sunsets to photograph.

Photographer Chasing Sunsets. ©Lu Sobredo
4.    Limit activities for a 2 or 3 day stay. Be conscientious managing your time. Arrive in town early enough to avoid commuter traffic if not flying in directly to the small airport. If one is too tired to do anything else after checking into the hotel, make sure you have purchased groceries from Trader Joe’s: sandwiches, drinks and treats ahead of time. An 8-minute walk. This offers flexibility and reduces the cost by not eating out on your first night. A stroll by the Fisherman’s Wharf or to a nearby coffee house is a good start the first day as the body acclimates to the area. We limited our 3-day activities to the:

a.    Monterey Bay Aquarium: The Aquarium opened on October 20, 1984. It was then the largest public aquarium in the United States. Today, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia is the largest aquarium in the world today.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium fees for a day visit is $49 per person. Prices are lower for seniors ($39.95) and children ($29.95). Our hotel offered two-day entry tickets for the price of one. We opted for it. Our favorite exhibits were: Penguins, Sea Otters, Kelp Forest, Open Sea, and any lecture at the auditorium about sea life and conservation.

Colorful Corals and Fishes. ©Lu Sobredo

Lookout Point From the Monterey Bay Aquarium. ©Lu Sobredo

Another Vantage Point from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. ©Lu Sobredo

Hubby Entranced with the Kelp Exhibit. ©Lu Sobredo

Heading to the Open Sea Exhibit. ©Lu Sobredo

b.    Local Bakeries: I make a habit of finding good bakeries and returning to a familiar one. This is true when in Spain. This time, while staying in downtown Monterey, my son and I walked (with my cane of course) to Paris Bakery. It took us 7 minutes. It is by far one of the most popular local bakeries. However, I must say the croissant is passable, but not Paris, France passable. Unfortunate, as it should be their signature pastry. The rest of the pastries I purchased were quite good, according to my hubby.

Paris Bakery in Monterey. ©Lu Sobredo

c.    Vegan and non-touristy eating places: The restaurant, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. has become a fixture in the last decade or so in the Cannery Row where you also find the Aquarium. It wasn’t there during the Cannery Row’s earlier period, but the restaurant has become a tourist favorite. The restaurant’s name was based on the movie, Forrest Gump released in 1994. We avoided the place this time. Instead, we chose an unusual addition, an Asian Indian restaurant called Ambrosia, with a welcoming host, Boon (not sure of the spelling). Excellent and clean tasting buffet and individual menu items. The other eating places of choice were: El Cantaro, a vegan Mexican restaurant one block away from the Aquarium is perfect for herbivores; Crepes of Brittany in downtown near the Fisherman’s Wharf on Portola Plaza is good for the soul. At least this soul. As it turned out, the owner hails from Bretagne, France (Brittany in English) who also used to own an eating establishment in my hometown called Taste of Brittany. Little did we know we would end up enjoying the special taste by visiting Monterey. His ten-year business in Monterey must be thriving--the restaurant was full for breakfast.

Strawberry & Cheese Crepes. ©Lu Sobredo 

d.    Fisherman’s Wharf: This was walking distance from our hotel and a nice vantage point to photograph the sunset. The Italian restaurant did not impress. So be selective when deciding to eat at the Wharf. Order appetizers or something small.

e.    Ride through scenic coastal roads: The 17 Mile Drive along the coast towards Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach is all over travel brochures. We skipped this because we have driven the scenic route many times before. And if time is limited, and the body could only handle so many activities, we are fine foregoing this activity.

f.     Carmel-by-the-Sea: On our way out of town to go home, I wanted to stop at Carmel. Not to shop. I’m not inspired to do that anymore. I was feeling nostalgic about past visits with family and loved ones. My hubby and son accommodated so I could reminisce while taking in the glorious view of the stretch of beach so familiar in our life experience.

Son Taking In Carmel-By-The-Sea

5.    Support Local Boutique Stores. I certainly didn’t intend to go shopping for other than food items and specialty baked goods. Yet, I found myself wandering into an artist cooperative shop near where our car was parked on the street, not far from the Aquarium. While waiting for hubby and son, I decided to take a peek. I met the proprietor Masiah Johnson who carries works of local artists in the area. It was meditative. I was drawn to glass earrings. Find her work and others’ art at Masiah and Friends Fine Art Gallery.

The three-day/two night-weekend in Monterey Bay went by so fast. And it was all I needed to feel renewed. I bathed in meaningful memories and made new memories with family, precious. The basic cost of hotel and aquarium was less than $700 dollars for three adults. Food cost could be easily managed based on choices. We splurged when we felt like it and shopped at Andronico’s for tasty sandwiches for convenience and cost-saving.

Hesitating to go? Don’t. You could decide to stay for one night to cut the cost of hotel in half. You can still enjoy an overnight visit in Monterey Bay without breaking the bank. You won’t regret it. And in keeping with the goal for writing my Blog as a health and travel advocate: Travel while you still can; tomorrow is promised to no one.

©Essay by Lu Sobredo


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