In pre-pandemic times, you could visit Monterey for the epic aquarium alone. A stroll on Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row was kitschy and fun — something to do at least once. And this touristy destination saw a resurgence and reboot last year that brought exciting new openings, offerings and expansions. Like everything else in our world, that all came to a shuddering halt with the California shutdown. But Monterey County’s restaurants, wineries and hotels are opening their doors once more.
If you’re pondering a visit — a day trip this fall or sometime down the road — here are five cool things to check out, including two you can enjoy virtually. (As with everything these days, be sure to call before you go to make sure circumstances have not changed.)
1. Cooper Molera reboot
The historic Cooper Molera Adobe in Monterey’s Old Town Historic District has undergone massive, meticulous rehabilitation, thanks to a collaboration between developer Doug Wiele and California State Parks that restored the landmark and added some commercial-use space. The Cooper Molera Adobe Museum is still closed, due to the shutdown, but you can stroll the gardens and enjoy seasonal breakfast and lunch fare at the new Alta Bakery & Cafe. It’s the brainchild of culinary director Ben Spungin, formerly of Post Ranch Inn, who says that the complex’s Cella restaurant, with its full bar and twinkling courtyard space, will open in the next few months.
Details: Alta Bakery is open daily from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 502 Munras Ave. in Monterey; www.altamonterey.com.
2. Rolls, tacos and suds
Monterey’s roster of fun spots to eat grew last year with the addition of several newcomers. The folks behind Folktale, the Carmel Valley wine group, have opened a casual Asian spot called Pacific Bowls & Rolls on Alvarado Street with a menu that includes bowls — Lomi Lomi Salmon, for example, and a California Bowl with tuna, crabmeat, avocado and ponzu — as well as sushi rolls and “sushiritos.”
Next door, the husband-wife team behind Carmel’s wonderful Cultura Comida y Bebida brings us Cult Taco, with terrific Oaxacan street food and outdoor dining. And Wedo’s Tacos, the resident taco-slinger at Dust Bowl Brewing, will be launching a second truck soon at the new Monterey Zoo. (More on that zoo in a sec.)
And if caffeine’s your thing, Captain + Stoker, the hip coffee roastery on East Franklin Street, has launched a Nitro-Cycle — a bicycle coffee cart that makes stops along the Coastal Recreation Trail and Cannery Row. Follow @nitrocycle831 on Instagram to find the cart.
Details: Pacific Bowls & Rolls opens at 11:30 a.m. daily except Sunday at 475 Alvarado St.; www.pacificbowlsandrolls.com. Cult Taco opens at noon Thursday-Sunday at 481 Alvarado St.; www.culttaco.com. Dust Bowl Brewing’s beer garden opens at noon Monday-Thursday and 11 a.m. Friday-Sunday at 290 Figueroa St.; www.dustbowlbrewing.com and www.wedostacos.com. And Captain + Stoker’s cafe opens for take-out at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays and 7:30 a.m. weekends at 398 E. Franklin St.; www.captainandstoker.com.
3. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my
Out on River Road, the Monterey Zoo — also known as Wild Things — has undergone a massive fundraising campaign and multi-million dollar renovation to turn this 51-acre ranch near Monterey into a real zoo, complete with lions, Bengal tigers and more. The zoo was accredited in June and is open now with social distancing measures in place.
Prefer to take a peek from home? You’ll find details and photos of all the animals and a virtual tour at www.montereyzoo.org.
Details: Zoo admission is $25-$35; online purchase strongly recommended. Open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily at 400 River Road in Salinas.
4. Self-guided e-bike tours
If you’re more into sightseeing than sweating, the two-year-old Two Wheel Tours company will be right up your alley. They offer self-guided e-scooter tours on a fleet of shiny GenZe electric scooters. The tour price ($90) includes a helmet, lock, binoculars and half-day GPS tour — with curbside pickup of scooter and equipment. Another option is Big Sur Adventures, a tour company that rents out regular bicycles, as well as e-bikes and offers tours, including a guided “Big Little Lies” e-bike tour ($79) that explores filming locations of the Emmy award-winning series set in Monterey, Pacific Grove and Big Sur.
Details: Two Wheel Tours is open by appointment at 601 Wave St., Monterey; www.twowheeltour.com. Find Big Sur Adventures at 125 Ocean View Blvd., Pacific Grove; www.bikebigsur.com
5. Those otter cams
The Monterey Bay Aquarium, whose marvelous otter and penguin web cams brought us much-needed entertainment during these bleak weeks, hopes to reopen before too long. In the meantime, you can enjoy the frolicking otters and other sea creatures from afar via the aquarium’s 10 webcams, which include a Shark Cam, a Moon Jelly Cam and a Monterey Bay Cam, that lets you watch the ocean waves, sea birds and passing boats off shore.
There are narrated feedings of sea otters, penguins and the creatures of the Kelp Forest, too. The doors may be closed to the public, but staff and volunteers are on site to care for the aquarium’s denizens. You can watch it all unfold online.
Details: Check out all that abundant sea life at www.montereybayaquarium.org.