Family Road Trip to Pacific Grove
The butterflies are back! One of our favorite places for a fun family getaway is the picturesque seaside town of Pacific Grove, famous for its Monarch Grove butterfly sanctuary. While previous years saw almost no monarch butterflies return to the grove, for the past two years there have been thousands, with more arriving each day!
While not as flashy as Monterey, Carmel, and its other neighbors in the Monterey Bay Area, Pacific Grove makes up for this in charm, billing itself as "America's Last Hometown" and "Butterfly Town USA." With a close proximity to the Bay Area, plenty of things to see and do, and an amazing coastal location, Pacific Grove is an ideal place for a family getaway this winter (or any time of year, really).
Things to Do in Pacific Grove
Located on the tip of the Monterey Peninsula between Monterey and Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove (known by locals as "PG") boasts not only natural wonders like the Monarch Grove and Asilomar State Beach, but picturesque Victorian houses and a cute bustling downtown with a wide variety of dining and lodging options as well. The city of Monterey and the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium are literally just minutes away, with the aquarium only a few yards from the Monterey-Pacific Grove border.
Since it's a seaside community, there are plenty of activities focused around the ocean. Asilomar State Beach faces the Pacific Ocean on the west side of town, and features a broad expanse of white sand beach, tide pools, and miles of walking paths. Watch for sea otters bobbing around in the surf, and look for whales passing by in winter and spring. On the north side of town is Lovers Point Park, with its own beach on the calmer Monterey Bay, a snack bar, kiddie pool, recreational facilities, and more.
Every fall and winter, Pacific Grove becomes home to over thousands of Monarch butterflies, many of whom reside in the Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary. You can view overwintering butterflies in the sanctuary from October through late February. Admission is free, and there are often informative docents on hand to answer questions and let you have take a look at butterflies through a spotting scope or binoculars. The Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary is located at 250 Ridge Road, between Lighthouse Avenue and Short Street.
The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, just off Lighthouse Avenue at 165 Forest Avenue, presents exhibits about local plants, animals, geology, and native peoples. The museum also offers fun free science and nature activities for children. It's open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm and admission is $10 for adults, $6 for youth, seniors, students with ID, and military, and free for 2 and under and Monterey County residents.
A visit to Point Pinos Lighthouse, the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast (it was built in 1855) is always worth a visit, too. You can visit Fridays from 1–3 pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am to 3 pm, and Mondays from 11 am to 1 pm. Admission is $7 for adults over 17, $3 for youth ages 7–17, and free for kids under 7. It's located at 80 Asilomar Avenue (at Lighthouse Avenue).
Exploring the Monterey Peninsula
As previously mentioned, Pacific Grove is an ideal home base for exploring the Monterey Peninsula. The more tourist-oriented attractions of neighboring Monterey, including the aquarium, Cannery Row, Fisherman's Wharf, and the Spanish- and Mexican-era buildings of Monterey State Historic Park, are close by, within walking or bicycling distance (depending on where you're staying in PG).
We love to stop at the Dennis the Menace Playground in El Estero Park, located right off Del Monte Avenue on Pearl Street, near the Fisherman's Wharf area. Created with the help of Dennis the Menace cartoonist and Monterey resident Hank Ketcham in the 1950s, this big playground will keep kids busy for hours with its slides, bridges, maze, climbing wall, and more. The park also boasts a genuine Southern Pacific steam locomotive (currently off limits to park visitors). There are also restrooms and a snack bar on site.
When we're in the area, we also make sure to visit nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea, with its restaurants, galleries, shops, and amazing beach. The historic Carmel Mission, dating from 1771, is worth a visit, as is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, where you can hike, observe wildlife, and visit the Whalers Cabin Museum.
Where to Eat in Pacific Grove
One of our favorite family friendly dining spots in PG is the popular Toasties Cafe, downtown at 702 Lighthouse Avenue. It's a great spot for breakfast and lunch, and there are toys like Magnadoodles on hand to keep kids occupied while you wait for your food. Outdoor dining is an option on nice days. Right around the corner is Caledonia Park, which has a nice playground where kids can play afterward.
Other family friendly places we've tried and liked include:
- Peppers Mexicali Cafe (170 Forest Avenue): Solid Mexican favorites in a cute space right downtown.
- The Monarch Pub & Restaurant (617 Lighthouse Avenue): Great fish and chips and other British pub grub; outdoor seating with fire pits.
- Lucy's on Lighthouse (1120 Lighthouse Avenue): Cool surf shack with gourmet hot dogs, tater tots, ice cream, beer garden, and live music.
- The Little Chicken House (1193 Forest Avenue): Wood roasted rotisserie chicken and other BBQ specialties, with a drive-thru.
- International Cuisine (620 Lighthouse Avenue #220): As the name implies, a diverse menu of food from around the world.
- Pavel's Backerei (219 Forest Avenue): A local favorite for European-style pastries, cookies, breads, and more (it's cash-only, BTW).
There's also a Trader Joe's and a Safeway on Forest Avenue if you want to pick up snacks or supplies to make your own lunch. Grove Market on
Where to Stay in Pacific Grove
PG is chock full of lodging options ranging from quaint B&Bs to classic motels. Some good options for familes with children include:
- Butterfly Grove Inn, located adjacent to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, has a pool, and most rooms have fireplaces and whirlpool tubs. Our favorite place to stay!
- Asilomar Conference Grounds, located a stone's throw from Asilomar State Beach, started life as a YWCA retreat in 1913 and has rooms available in its rustic buildings, many of which were designed by noted architect Julia Morgan. There's a dining hall and social hall on the grounds, firepits, a pool and wireless Internet access. They offer special family packages, too. Read about our stay at Asilomar.
- Bide-a-Wee Inn and Cottages, which is pet-friendly and has picnic tables and barbeque pits available
The Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce also maintains an extensive list of places to stay on its website.
Getting to Pacific Grove
Pacific Grove and the Monterey Peninsula are about a 2 1/2- to 3-hour drive south of Marin, depending on the traffic.The most direct route is to pick up Interstate 280 in San Francisco and follow it to 101 in San Jose. Head south on 101 until you get to Prunedale, where you'll exit onto Highway 156 west, which will run into Highway 1 in Castroville. Follow 1 south and take the Del Monte Boulevard/Pacific Grove exit into Monterey. Once in Monterey, head west on Del Monte Boulevard and follow the signs to Cannery Row and Lighthouse Avenue. Take Lighthouse through Monterey, then turn left onto David Avenue and then right again back onto Lighthouse which you can then take directly into downtown Pacific Grove.
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