It was seven o’clock on a foggy Thursday morning, the middle of rush hour for most, but as luck would have it for us, “rush hour” in Monterey, California takes on an entirely different meaning. The seagulls leisurely glide past the sun-bathing sea lions who amusingly watch the sea otters play on a soft bed of the finest California kelp. This sleepy sea town takes its time with everything, allowing its visitors a chance to take a much-needed rest from the hustle and bustle of big city life.
With its iconic rocky shores and crashing waves, the coastline in this part of California’s Central Coast is home to supremely magnificent views, on par with even the most far-off exotic lands, only it’s a mere five hours north from Los Angeles. The wild and well-preserved landscape is a spectacle to behold, conjuring up mystifying thoughts and reaffirming Mother Nature’s awe-inspiring imagination.
For more than seventy five years, Monterey has maintained and built upon its vision of acquiring open space and providing access to the waterfront for all who wish to revel in its majesty. As a result of the city’s tireless work, it currently boasts thirty six parks, more than 6 beaches and hundreds of acres dedicated to hiking and camping. Within its boundaries, it safeguards and nurtures miles and miles of unique coastal habitat not found anywhere else in the world, with a throng of dedicated volunteers the size of army. It’s an outdoor enthusiast’s dream getaway.
We spent the first day of our three day mini-vacation hiking through an ancient Monterey Cypress Grove, the Pacific Ocean always on our left, affectionately escorting us. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve was the perfect introduction to everything that Monterey stands for, preservation, conservation and steadfast stewardship of the land they call their home. You can quite easily spend the entire day there. The topography changes drastically with every twist and turn of the trail. You can find yourself scrambling over 60 million year old rock out-croppings, drop down into rich tide pools, hike past prairies and coves, then find yourself surrounded by thick forest. We didn’t want to leave, but promises of a table full of fresh seafood at The Grotto Fish Market on fisherman’s wharf coaxed us back to the city. Let’s just say we were amply rewarded.
Day two, we found ourselves at the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. Walking down cannery row, the aquarium’s building is large and imposing, but once inside it is bright, airy, open and inviting.
The energy that you feel as you walk through the doors resonates deep within and that’s not any accident. Thoughtfulness and a deep commitment to conservation of the oceans bursts through its seams, floating all the way down from the top. Executive Director Julie Packard, helped to found the Monterey Bay Aquarium back in the late 1970’s and her work over the last thirty years has been rooted in California nature and oceanic conservancy. Their employees are empowered with an infectious excitement, a wealth of knowledge and are more than willing to share the experience with you.
Making our way through the entrance, en route to the Rocky Shore exhibit, I couldn’t help but soak in all of the fine industrial touches, an homage to its distinct cannery row location. From brilliant sea lemons and bat star fish to stately anemones and rock-like limpets, the Rocky Shore exhibit is a fully hands-on experience that teaches kids about that delicate in-between world where sea meets land. It allows you to explore tidal rhythms, discover coastal currents and a up-close peek into these special shoreline creatures, seemingly lifeless when exposed to the air, that come alive under the water.
Entering the psychedelic Jellies’ maze was mesmerizing. This exhibit reaffirms my belief that Mother Nature is the most visionary of all artists, painting her creations on the canvas of our world, masterpieces our tiny imaginations could never hope to dream up. Jelly fish are some of the most elegant creatures I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing, their ribbons and ruffles, spikes, beads and dots effortlessly gliding, darting, flying through the water. And just for a moment, we forget all about the sting of their graceful tentacles.
The aquarium’s five spirited sea otters are at least an hour of pure enjoyment, watching them dart in and out of their various caves and caverns, playing hide and seek and performing three full acts for their audience. Rosa, Abby, Gidget, Ivy and Kit were all rescued from precarious situations along the California coast. They now act as surrogate mothers, companions and mentors to other stranded and rescued California sea otters as part of the aquariums Sea Otter Program, which has been studying and trying to save the threatened southern sea otter since 1984. What we stand to learn from our furry friends goes deeper than biological. Their strong sense of community, family and constant need for fun is something we can all weave into the fabric of our lives.
No aquarium would be complete without its fair share of splash zones, penguins and giant octopus, but nothing could top the eerie and mystifying display of the Open Sea, the aquarium’s largest and most impressive exhibit.
Sitting in front of that ninety foot window, watching our daughter, watching the sparkling schools of sardines dart to and fro, the humongous tuna and the graceful sandbar sharks all living in harmony, reminds me of the vastness of this great, big, bewitching world. It refreshed in me the understanding of diversity. It underlined the importance of acceptance and how it plays a role in our capacity to appreciate and relate to all that is different and beautiful. What a gift.