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5 Fun Things to do in Monterey This Winter

Last Updated on January 12, 2024 by Jess Grigsby

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Monterey bay view

When people think of Monterey, CA, many visualize it as a summer destination – and they’re not wrong. 

Monterey is beautiful during the summer months and has earned the honor of being one of the most-visited areas of California. 

We’ve got news, though: there are also dozens of great things to do in Monterey during winter.  

In this blog, we’ll share our favorite winter activities in Monterey and what makes each of them so unique.

Is Winter a Good Time to Visit Monterey?

Winter is an excellent time to visit the California coast, specifically Monterey

From the serene landscape to the stunning sunsets and ample wildlife, Monterey is a peaceful retreat during the off-season. 

Whether you’re a local looking to explore something new or visiting from out of town, Monterey is an excellent place to spend some time this winter, and not just during the holidays.

While the weather is cooler in November through January, it never gets super cold in California. Thanks to the coastal climate in Monterey, there’s never any snow, so it’s a great place to get outside during the winter. 

Winter is also the “off-season” for tourism in Monterey, which means fewer crowds, more parking, lower rates, and more access to everything you want to see and do – to name a few!

5 Fun Things to Do in Monterey in the Winter Months

1. Rent kayaks in the Elkhorn Slough

a couple kayaking in winter

Elkhorn Slough is a great kayaking destination all year round, but it’s exceptionally peaceful and beautiful during the winter months.

Thanks to its sheltered location, it’s a great place to escape the wind and waves, enjoy calm waters, and see wildlife.

The area is known for abundant shorebirds, guaranteed sea otter sightings, and lots of other marine wildlife. 

Experience everything the Slough has to offer by renting kayaks and exploring the area when you visit Monterey this winter.

Rent Your Kayaks Online Today!

2. Take a kayak tour in the Slough 

cliff in Elkhorn Slough

Do you want to explore Elkhorn Slough in the company of an experienced kayak guide? Take a tour of the area this winter. 

Here at Kayak Connection, we offer a variety of tour experiences in Elkhorn Slough, including our Birdwatching Tour, Wildlife Tour, Sunset Tour, and Family Adventure Tour.

Here’s a brief breakdown of each:

  • The Birdwatching Tour. During the fall and winter, Elkhorn Slough is full of migratory birds. In fact, the area holds the record for the highest number of bird species ever observed from a fixed point in one day – 116 different types! Our Birdwatching Tour takes you into the Slough to view these beautiful, rare birds during their annual migrations. Common species include sandpipers, dunlins, dowitchers, and more, including endangered birds like the snowy plover and the peregrine falcon. No kayaking experience is required for this tour, and photography is encouraged!
  • The Wildlife Tour. The Wildlife Tour is the most popular tour we offer in Elkhorn Slough. During this kayak experience, you’ll paddle through the Slough with one of our experienced guides, who will help you learn about the diverse wildlife in the area. During this tour, you’ll see migratory birds, harbor seals, and sea otters. Beginning kayaker? No problem. You don’t need any kayaking experience to enjoy the Wildlife Tour. 
  • The Sunset Tour. The Sunset Tour is one of the most popular outings we offer. During this fun experience, we meet 2 hours before sunset and head out to paddle along serene, glassy waters, where we enjoy sightings of seals, herons, otters, and pelicans. As the sun sets, the sky turns pink and puts on an incredible show. In fact, sunsets are even more beautiful during the winter months. This tour is excellent for beginners who want to paddle a double kayak. No kayaking experience is necessary, and the minimum age for this tour is 12. 
  • The Family Adventure Tour. Perfect for families with little kids, the Family Adventure Tour can accommodate kayakers ages three and older. A two-hour paddling experience, the Family Adventure Tour offers sea otter, harbor seal, and sea lion sightings and is the perfect way to learn about the Elkhorn Slough from one of our experienced naturalist guides. No kayaking experience is necessary. 

Book Your Elkhorn Slough Kayak Tour Today!

3. Go whale watching

Monterey’s unique submarine environment makes it an exceptional place to observe whales. 

Here’s why: the shallow continental shelf only extends a short distance offshore from Monterey, and a deep nearshore submarine canyon begins where it ends. 

Because of this, massive species like Gray Whales can be seen within just a few miles offshore, compared to 15 miles or more from the San Francisco Coastline. 

For an experience the entire family will enjoy, book a whale-watching tour this winter. Between December and mid-April, gray whales make the 10,000-mile journey between the icy waters of Alaska and the warm lagoons of Baja California and Mexico, where they give birth to their young. Sightings tend to peak around mid-January. 

The whales are usually accompanied by pods of dolphins and orcas and are highly visible from land or sea. 

4. Experience First Night Monterey 

If you are still here to ring in the New Year, celebrate at First Night Monterey, an all-day family-friendly event.

This year marks the 30th celebration of this annual event. 

The family-friendly Kids’ Night Out begins at 3 PM and continues for 9 hours with art, music, and New Year’s fun. The event is a great way to experience everything the Monterey community has to offer. 

Learn more here

5. Go on a hike 

Monterey is a great place to enjoy some winter hiking, thanks to the mild climate. 

Some of our favorites include the following:

  • The Skyline Trail. An easy 0.8-mile loop, this hike takes about 25 minutes and is kid and dog-friendly (as long as your pups are on a leash). The short hike offers beautiful views and access to one of Monterey’s most remarkable features: Jacks Peak. The Peak rises 1,068 feet above the surrounding landscape. As the highest point on the Monterey Peninsula, it’s also one of the best places to bird-watch and enjoy nature sightings. 
  • Garland Ranch Waterfall Trail. This moderate-difficulty loop hike is 2.1 miles long and takes about an hour to complete. Dogs are allowed on this scenic path, which meanders through an oak forest and up a mountain toward a waterfall. 
  • McWay Falls Trail. Located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in nearby Big Sur, the McWay Falls Trail is an easy out-and-back that’s 1.1 miles long. Dogs are not allowed. The main attraction of this seaside hike is its namesake: McWay Falls. One of only two tide falls in California, McWay Falls is about 80 feet high and tumbles directly into the ocean.

What to Wear When Visiting Monterey in the Winter

Thanks to Monterey’s mild coastal climate, you’ll never have to bundle up during the winter months. 

We do, however, recommend dressing for variable weather. During winter mornings, the marine layer can create a chilly, humid environment, which tends to burn off around mid-day.

If you’re going to be kayaking, hiking, or exploring in Monterey this winter, here’s what we recommend:

  • Dress in layers, with close-fitting, sweat-wicking layers closest to the skin. Avoid cotton layers since they trap moisture and can lead to you becoming chilled. 
  • Bring rain gear and a spare change of clothes.
  • Wear sunscreen, SPF lip balm, and sunglasses with a retainer, even when it’s cloudy.
  • Wear supportive, close-toed shoes that are appropriate for your given activity. If you’re kayaking, wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet, or consider renting neoprene booties. 

If you booked a kayak trip and aren’t sure what to wear, check out our winter kayaking guide for more information, or call the shop to speak to one of our team members. 

Monterey: Your Destination for Winter Adventures

group of people kayaking

Winter doesn’t stop us from having fun in Monterey. In fact, it presents many new activities and adventures to enjoy! 

Whether you live in town or are visiting from somewhere else, Monterey is a great place to kayak, hike, whale watch, or socialize this year.

At Kayak Connection, we love helping people explore everything the beautiful Monterey marine environment has to offer. 

Contact us today to learn more about our kayak tours and book an experience you’ll remember for years!

Author: Jess Grigsby

Since 2012, Jess has co-owned and operated Kayak Connection together with her husband Dave. She is a lawyer, coach, avid kayak enthusiast and mother of two teenage girls. At Kayak Connection, Jess oversees a team of experienced kayak guides who are all CPR certified, with many holding advanced Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certifications. Our team is composed of environmental educators, naturalists and classroom teachers with experience working with all kinds of visitors, from school groups to large corporate teams.