Life’s better in the sun: A day in Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea

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Like many basic Instagrammers will tell you, sometimes you just need a little “vitamin sea” to get you through life. Attending one of the UC schools not blessed with an easily accessible sandy beach means UC Berkeley students are definitely in need of the doctor and influencer-tested “vitamin sea.” I may sound like a broken record, but going to this school is stressful, and the changing weather does nothing for my mental health (seasonal mood fluctuation is real!). It’s essential for a SoCal gal like me to return to the ocean and sunshine of my hometown every once in a while, and I’m sure many other students can relate. 

To remedy this, I’d recommend finding a car, or a friend with a car, to take yourself out of the Bay Area to the gorgeous Monterey Bay. A two to three-hour drive away, the time spent in the car is well worth it when you make it to the quaint cannery town of Monterey and the artistic and Bougie (with a capital “B”) Carmel-by-the-Sea. 

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First things first, when you arrive in Monterey, park on Ocean View Boulevard if you can find a spot! It is the street right next to the ocean and has a trail you can walk on toward the Monterey Bay Aquarium. As you walk down the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, don’t miss the seals chilling on the beach. I could watch them nap and plop around for hours, but during my visit, my main mission was to see the aquarium. 

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The Monterey Bay Aquarium, located right on Cannery Row, is a fantastic nonprofit aquarium that can’t be missed. It not only is home to some of the most adorable sea otters you’ll ever see, but also does a lot of conservation work contributing toward a healthier ocean. While the ticket price is about $40 with a student ID, it’s well worth it! You get to spend hours reliving your childhood wonders as you gaze at gorgeous jellyfish, the giant Pacific octopus you may remember from the movie “Finding Dory” and the sea life that lives in kelp forests. There are some beautiful views of the ocean outside the aquarium as well, which allow you to fully take in the gorgeous sight of Monterey Bay. 

After the aquarium, we walked around Cannery Row. While it’s now a bit of a tourist trap, you still can’t help but feel like you’ve been transported back in time to when the cannery business in Monterey was busy and booming. Factory crossovers add character to the streets, and there are many old buildings and touristy shops to entertain yourself with. 

The Central Coast isn’t only known for Monterey. Located just south is the beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea, where we decided to spend the rest of our day. The small downtown area is home to quaint shops and bistros, little wooden houses where you can get your news and quite a few art galleries. As we took a stroll around the town, specifically designed for wealthy retirees and for vacationing young people who covet this lifestyle, we weaved in and out of the various chocolate stores and bookshops we found. Our favorite was Pilgrim’s Way Community Bookstore and Secret Garden, which we entered through a little red alleyway lined with plants and garden decorations. The hidden oasis in the back had lovely plants, wind chimes, art and locally crafted goods, and the bookstore itself had shelves of books and knickknacks. It was the perfect place to relax and soak in the homey feel of the town.  

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After, we were pretty hungry, so we stopped at 5th Avenue Deli and Catering Co. for some personalized sandwiches and Hansen’s soda. We made our way down the hill to Carmel Beach to catch the last few hours of light of the day. SoCal has sandy beaches and NorCal has rocky, windy beaches, but Carmel Beach was the perfect mix of the two. After finding a log to enjoy our sandwiches on, we made our way down the coast to the small cliffs and rocky area underneath a golf course. For any adventurer wannabes who are a little scared of rock climbing, think of this place as a beginner’s lesson to beach rock climbing! As we scrambled up and down and accidentally ended up on the golf course at one point, we took in the gorgeous views of the bay, the beach and the wide expanse of the ocean as the sun started to set. There really isn’t a better way to end a day. 

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Sometimes taking a day off to soak up some sun and appreciate our beautiful home state is necessary. Whether you get up close to some schools of fish or watch the waves crash on the shore, Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea are the perfect places to go to forget your worries and just be content. If you’re looking to find your peace this semester, give the Central Coast a chance.

Sunny Sichi is the blog editor. Contact Sunny Sichi at [email protected].