We were in Marina in mid-October 2022, as part of Big Trip #4.
Marina was a last-second one-night stop on the way from the interior national parks in Northern California (Kings Canyon and Sequoia) to our originally-planned first stop on the coast, Santa Cruz. We thought we’d be able to visit Monterey from Santa Cruz, but it’s a pretty long drive between the two, so we were happy to be able to squeeze in a night near Monterey to get a quick overview of the area.
Marina is in central Monterey Bay, between Santa Cruz and Monterey, but closer to Monterey in the south. Our goals for this stop were: to show Bugsy a good time on the beach, and to introduce the humans to Monterey.
Campground and environs
We stayed at Marina Dunes RV Park. Our campsite was tiny–our truck was too big to fit and had to park across the street–but pleasant, with a picnic table and privacy walls. The best part of our campground was that we could walk to the beach in Marina Dunes Preserve, which Bugsy thought was pretty sweet. Dogs are allowed on the beach in Marina Dunes Preserve, but they are not welcome at the adjacent Marina State Beach.
Bugsy LOVES the beach, as we’ve seen in many previous Airstream destinations, and we’ll see more as we move down the California coast. Some of her favorite beach experiences thus far were in Jekyll Island, GA; St Augustine, FL; Eastpoint, FL; Wilmington, NC; Houghton, MI; and Page, AZ. This was her first time playing in the Pacific Ocean!
The beach at Marina Dunes was pretty (and empty when we visited) but we were a little surprised at the amount of kelp and kelp flies on the sand, which we would learn is normal on California beaches. Fortunately, Bugsy didn’t seem interested in eating or rolling in anything gross.
The campground was big and nice and kind of a party scene. There was a beach resort across the street, The Sanctuary, and we had dinner and drinks at the bar at Salt Wood, their wood-fired restaurant. We expected to just have a cocktail at the bar and head home for dinner in the Airstream, but the place wowed us and so we stayed for dinner.
The next morning the three of us drove into Monterey for a couple hours. It was a 15-minute drive from the campground to downtown Monterey. We wanted to see Fisherman’s Wharf (very touristy) and Cannery Row (much cooler); we didn’t have time this visit for the renown Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is at the top of every best-of list for Monterey. Next time, it’s our #1 priority.
To fuel our explorations, we started our Monterey visit at Captain + Stoker, a very popular and very cool coffee shop and roastery a couple blocks from the wharf. There was a Sunday morning artisan market happening out front and an energetic, friendly vibe from the employees. We really liked that it had a local feel while being so close to the touristy wharf.
On the way to the wharf, we passed the Old Custom House, built in 1827 and the oldest governmental building in California. Monterey was the original capital of California under Spanish rule, and the custom house is where the American flag was raised when the US first claimed California for its own.
Fisherman’s Wharf is full of restaurants and gift shops, and is the launching point for fishing charters and whale-watching cruises. Built in 1870, the wharf was an active fish market until the 1960s, when the local fishing industry declined due to the collapse of the sardine population in the Bay. We walked through the crowds to the end of the pier and then moved along.
Between the wharf and Cannery Row, we wandered around the bay waterfront, including along a portion of the 18-mile Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail (which we could have ridden to Monterey on from Marina, if we had bikes and a trailer for Bugsy), looking at historic buildings and laughing at the antics of the harbor seals.
Cannery Row was named for the many sardine canning factories once lining the street when Monterey was the Sardine Capital of the World during WWII. There are lots of hotels and restaurants in this area spanning from the wharf to the Aquarium, but the businesses felt less cheesy than at the wharf, and the architecture was neat.
We only had time for a quick overview of Monterey, as we were due at our previously-booked campsite in Santa Cruz to spend a couple days on the north side of Monterey Bay. Next time we’ll spend more time investigating Monterey’s history and outdoor activities.
- Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Check out Carmel-By-The-Sea, a pretty village south of Monterey
- Read Steinbeck’s Cannery Row