The timing of our trip to Monterey could not have been better: it was the first weekend of my break from work and just one day after Jeff's birthday.
And although I originally planned to keep it a secret from him until we left that Friday, I decided to tell him a few weeks early since Jeff's never been too keen on surprises (especially when it involves a few hours of driving).
Our focus for our weekend away was to spend some quality time together and relax as much as possible. Because of that, we kept our schedule pretty open and stayed in one small area, Cannery Row, where we could easily get around on foot. The result was that we never felt rushed – as can often happen on vacations, especially short ones.
Of course the main tourist highlight of our trip was spending Saturday at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, mostly because Jeff had never been (he loved it, as I expected).
If you want to visit the aquarium, I recommend getting your tickets before you arrive so you don't have to wait in the long queue for the ticket counter. They have a separate line for pre-sold ticket holders that is MUCH shorter! Also, make sure you give yourself at least a half day to visit, or a full day if you want to catch a video at the auditorium or watch the scheduled feedings.
My favorite part of the aquarium has always been the jellyfish exhibit, especially because – you guessed it – I LOVE photographing them! Taking great photos of the underwater wildlife can be challenging, but here's a few bits of advice that work for me:
Be patient and courteous. This goes for both the animals you're trying to capture and the visitors around you. Photographing around other people can be difficult, but if you wait a few minutes in one spot, you can often find a few seconds when there's no one else around you. And although it can be difficult to capture an animal who's constantly moving, if you wait long enough, you just might get lucky. Oh, and don't use your flash in an aquarium, EVER!
Keep snapping. I took at least 70-80 shots of just jellyfish and of those, only about 20 were in focus. And of those 20, only about 3 were really stellar and worthy of being color corrected (my absolute favorite one is below). So when in doubt, just keep shooting.
Try continuous shoot mode. If your camera has this feature, try it out! It's a great way to quickly capture a subject's subtle movements, and works particularly well for slow moving creatures like jellyfish. That also means you're not constantly pressing down the shutter which helps minimize camera shake.
Of course we didn't spend all our time at the aquarium, we spent a lot of time eating and shopping too. Here are a few of our favorite finds:
Cannery Row Brewing Company
We stopped into the Cannery Row Brewing Company for lunch on the way back to our hotel for a little siesta. The restaurant is large and inviting, with a covered outdoor patio that was perfect for the warm weekend weather. Jeff was impressed with their very large beer selection and I taken with their balance of bar room favorites (ie. fried foods) with lighter menu options.
Trailside Cafe & Coffee House
On Sunday morning, we opted for brunch before heading back to the city and Trailsides Cafe was the closest brunch spot from our hotel. I was surprised that you order at the counter and not from the table, but since there was only 2 families ahead of us, it didn't take that long to be helped.
Nor did our food; it came within 10 minutes of ordering. Although Jeff felt his pancakes were nothing special (he's spoiled by the pancake place we frequent at home), I really loved my banana pecan french toast.
Cannery Row Antique Mall
While antique shopping certainly isn't everyone's cup of tea, I really love searching for vintage treasures. And the Cannery Row Antique Mall is HUGE; it's two full floors and probably the biggest antique store I've been into! There were lots of things that caught my eye, but most of them were furniture which we sadly didn't have the space for in our car. However, I did score a 1957 Disneyland puzzle featuring the Fantasyland Skyway (remember riding that?!?).
Oh, but one word of caution, if you do plan on checking it out, make sure you feed plenty of quarters into the meter. We made the mistake of severely underestimating how much time we'd spend inside and ended up with a $35 parking ticket – YIKES!
Hula's Island Grill
While I didn't get any great photos of this quirky restaurant, I wish I did so you could see the kitschy awesomeness that is Hula's Island Grill! Jeff and I are big fans of tiki bars (you might recall my special love for Trader Sam's), so it was a no brainer that we had to come here.
It's been over a month since we were there and Jeff is still raving about their Zombie cocktail. For me, I fell head over heels for their Luau pork. If you're into drinking strong rum cocktails, I'd definitely recommend stopping by!