Monterey Bay: An Aquarium, a Caramel Apple, and a Mission

Road Journals Blog—My boyfriend Asa and I love to travel. Our last sojourn took us all the way to the Middle East, but there’s something to be said for vacationing closer to home. A two-hour drive south of the San Francisco Bay Area, we inhaled the salty-sweet ocean air, saw jellies, otters, and leafy seadragons, and ate rosemary quiche and hand-crafted baklava.

statue at Carmel Mission

Flowers surround a statue at Carmel Mission.

We began our coastal caper on a rainy afternoon, strolling the tourist center of Cannery Row, which John Steinbeck made famous in his 1945 novel of the same name. Today, the area is a series of high-end hotels, gift stores, and sweet shops. We stopped into Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory for a tangy, decadent Dirt N’ Worms caramel apple and an escape from the downpour. Later we dined at a tiny, family-owned Lebanese restaurant called Paprika Café. The highlights: fluffy, warm-from-the-oven pita bread, dolmas in yogurt, and flaky, honeyed baklava.

The weather brightened considerably on our second day, so we headed straight to Carmel and San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission (Carmel Mission for short), the second of California’s 21 missions and the final resting place of mission founder Father Junipero Serra. After wandering the small museum and the quiet grounds blooming with purple pride of Madeira, we drove back to downtown Monterey for rosemary quiche and chocolate-dipped strawberries at Paris Bakery.

jellyfish, Monterey Bay Aquarium

A jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium floats in a sea of blue.

We spent the last day in Monterey at the town’s top attraction, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Though the “Jellies Experience” exhibit had yet to open when we visited, we were still treated to dramatic Atlantic sea nettles, delicate umbrella jellies, and gelatinous moon jellies in groovy oval tanks. We also watched the aquarium’s newest resident—an abandoned sea otter pup being fostered by one of the resident female otters—playing and feeding on sea urchins. But my favorite exhibit by far was “The Secret Life of Seahorses,” featuring ribbon pipehorses and kelp-like leafy seadragons floating gracefully among the reeds.

This blog post was first published in May 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.


I've been to Monterey before, but I think I'll have to return for delicious Lebanese food and pastries. Thanks for some great new insights on a much-beloved destination.