Experience the impressive wildlife and natural beauty of Monterey Bay on a campervan road trip!
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a rare haven for local and migrating wildlife. Situated to the south of San Francisco, this marine paradise serves to protect and preserve the astonishing animals that swim through its coastal waters.
An incredible natural wonderland, Monterey Bay is the ideal campervan road trip destination. With an endless supply of sandy beaches, rugged ocean cliffs, fascinating port towns, and diverse aquatic life, there’s something for everyone in Monterey Bay.
Where to Spot Wildlife in Monterey Bay
Don’t miss out on any of the amazing animals with this guide to the best places to see wildlife in Monterey Bay!
Marine Life in Monterey
Visitors come from all over the world to see the remarkable marine animals that congregate around the town of Monterey. Southern sea otters and their pups float around the shallows near the docks and beaches. Walk along the harbor between Coast Guard Pier and Fisherman’s Wharf for the best otter-spotting opportunities in central Monterey. Heading east along Cannery Row, you can also spot Harbor Seals, California sea lions, and even the playful Risso’s dolphins. The longer Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation trail leads you west along the beaches where sea otters and other animals often come to relax.
Whale Watching in Santa Cruz
At the northern edge of Monterey Bay lies the beach town of Santa Cruz, one of the best places for whale watching in Southern California. These enormous mammals are often seen from the shore at Lighthouse Point or West Cliff Drive. Boat tours are readily available for anyone who wants a closer look. Species that migrate through the bay in the summer include humpback whales, orcas, and blue whales. Grey whales are more commonly seen in the winter months. Santa Cruz is also a great place for a family vacation. Kids will have hours of fun at the big oceanfront Boardwalk Amusement Park packed with rides and rollercoasters.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
The world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium has plenty of fascinating sea creatures on display, if you’re not satisfied with the local wildlife. Based in Monterey, the Aquarium works to promote awareness of the issues surrounding marine life and to research new ideas for marine conservation. It’s worth it to spend a day wandering around the exhibits as you see sharks, rays, sea turtles, and countless colorful fish and crustaceans swimming around the habitats. The most popular and intelligent animals in the aquarium are the African penguins and the giant Pacific octopus. Check the aquarium’s feeding schedule before you get there to experience a memorable moment with the aquatic animals.
Monterey Bay’s Scenic Drives
Enjoy spectacular views from behind the wheel of your campervan as you drive along these world-famous coastal routes!
Highway 1: L.A. to Monterey
One of the best ocean-view drives in California is the long coastal road between Los Angeles and Monterey. Highway 1 is the perfect scenic route for your road trip with its endlessly shifting displays of beauty outside of every window. Highlights of the drive include the Mediterranean-inspired Santa Barabara, the vast Los Padres National Forest, the dark ridges of Big Sur, and of course, the breathtaking Pacific vistas. There are also great stopping points along Highway 1 if you have time for a walk or a picnic. These include Hearst Castle, Morro Bay, Salmon Creek Falls, and the many sandy beaches along the way.
17 Mile Drive
This enchanting route runs along the short stretch of coastline between Monterey and Carmel before winding back north through Pebble Beach. Although the drive itself is only 17 miles, you might spend a couple of hours completing it due to the many interesting stopping points on the route. Seal Rock Creek is a popular stop, filled with dynamic tidepools. From there you can see Bird Rock, an island off the main shore. Cypress Point Lookout and Fanshell Beach Overlook offer stunning views over the ocean, from your campervan or by foot. Spanish Bay Beach allows you to get out and walk along the sandy coast. Crocker Grove leads you through the oldest Monterey Cypress forests in the world.
Highway 1: Monterey to Santa Cruz
The scenic Highway 1 continues past Monterey and curves along the bayfront towards Santa Cruz. This stretch of the coastal route offers uninterrupted panoramas over the rugged shoreline and wooded plains that make up Monterey Bay. There’s also plenty of rural farmland along the drive, as picturesque vineyards and crop fields spread outwards from the road. Halfway up this segment of highway, you will get to Moss Landing. This is the best place to park your campervan and take advantage of the vast Monterey Bay beaches.
Picturesque Pacific Campsites
Stay in the best scenic campsites in Monterey Bay for those perfect Pacific views!
Marina Dunes RV Park, 93933
The Marina Dunes RV Park is a scenic campsite based 20 minutes away from Monterey. A pet-friendly site, Marina Dunes is located almost directly on the beach. To get from your campervan to the ocean, you’ll just need to cross over a small sand dune. The campsite has restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities, as well as activities like volleyball and horseshoes. There’s also a fitness center and WiFi is accessible in the RV park.
New Brighton State Beach Campground, 95010
Nestled along the northern curve of Monterey Bay near Santa Cruz, this campsite is the best place for a Pacific stay. The campgrounds are contained within the beautiful pine woods, next to the New Brighton Beach. There are standard campervan parking sites for $35 and pitches with full hook-ups for $50. Pets are allowed on a leash and there are showers and restrooms onsite.
Visit Monterey Bay this Summer!
The breathtaking coastal panoramas and captivating aquatic wildlife that thrives in Monterey Bay mean it’s one of the best places for a summer vacation in California. Book your campervan now to avoid missing out on the unbelievable beauty of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary this summer!
You can also check out our great RV sharing platform that lets you earn income by renting your campervan to other road trip enthusiasts. Come back this Friday to learn the best eco-friendly tips for your campervan vacation!