Restaurant at Monterey Bay Aquarium
We visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Thursday, 7/10. We arrived at the aquarium around noon and went immediately to the restaurant to get our name on the list for a table. We thought the 45 minute wait (you can put your name on the list and return later) was worth the access to a full bar and a window table with a fabulous view of the bay. Plus, the restaurant provides binoculars at each table with a laminated card with descriptions of various local wildlife.
Our waiter recommended the artichoke sampler, crab cakes, fresh oysters, fried fish and some fish dish that I can't recall. Since we'd just had crab cakes the previous day at Sam's in Tiburon, we went with the artichoke sampler and the fried fish.
The artichoke sampler held three ridiculously small portions of artichokes prepared three ways. However, it was actually quite tasty (especially the fried artichoke) and the fried fish and french fries were also very good.
With the complimentary bread basket, one appetizer and one entree was the perfect amount of food for the two of us, especially since we wanted to attend the 1:30pm otter feeding.
We enjoyed the aquarium so much that we purchased an annual membership when we realized there was no way we'd be able to see and do all the things we wanted to do in a single day. Plus, even though it was a Thursday afternoon, it felt like we were at Disneyland during a holiday weekend (and unfortunately, I speak from experience, lol!), with all the kids, mothers with strollers, large groups of children from various camps, etc.
Since we knew we would be returning, we opted to take a sunset sail around the bay with naturalists from the aquarium. We saw two dolphins, lots of otters, harbor seals, and some jelly fish during our 1.5 hour sail. Afterwards, we had a lovely dinner at Passionfish in nearby Pacific Grove.
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If you ever have the opportunity to visit off season take it, especially now that you are a member. Summer in Monterey is always very busy, but during the winter the area is pretty well empty. You get the opportunity to spend some time watching the animals, to get to know their behaviors. It's awful fun.
Unfortunately I haven't found any dining choices in the immediate area of the aquarium that aren't over-priced and under-quality. The aquarium serves good food, but it can be expensive and a bit chaotic. Nearest are Archie's American Diner which has all the potential in the world but for me has always fallen short on flavor and will cost $15 a person for burgers and dogs. Bubba Gump's is close and worth going to once, if only for the kitsch.
Beyond that the restaurants proliferate, many are good but also a touch too expensive. There are also several very good places if you want to go upscale, Duck Club, Whaling Station, etc.
If you travel up to lighthouse, you'll find the choices beginning to get a bit more local. Try Hula's if you like authentic Tiki, food is okay, drinks are the best tiki you'll find north of Tiki-ti and south of Trader Vics. (Okay I have lost track of myself now, time to stop rambling.)
Thanks for the tips! We had lunch at Hula's a few years ago and agree completely with your assessment, Good drinks, food only fair.
Next on our list to try is Whaling Station, as my husband is a huge fan of prime rib. We've eaten at the Duck Club up here in the Bay Area (Lafayette), but never the one in Monterey.
Other than Passion Fish, our other favorite place to go when in the area is the club house at Pebble Beach golf club. My husband thinks they serve the best extra spicy bloody mary's and fried calamari he's ever had anywhere, bar none. We haven't been able to snag an outdoor patio seat. We just order food and drinks from the bar while sitting in their huge comfy sofas just outside the restaurant.
Amir's Kabob House on Lighthouse is also good, and last year at least, no entree was over $20. Well seasoned and well prepared. Good kabobs and a nice lamb chop dish also. Limited wine list.
Very modest, but decent and straightforward seafood meals at Sea Harvest Fish Mkt. (at Foam and Hoffman, if memory still works).
Won Ju, a one woman Korean place on Lighthouse, is also solid, if not spectacular.
And yeh, the prime rib at Whaling Station is well worth the tariff.
re: Ed Dibble
Thanks for the additional tips! I recently discovered your excellent blog, which is what prompted me to add Whaling Station to our Monterey list, for our next trip to the aquarium.
We ordered the grilled shrimp appetizer, the scallops with chard, and the duck confit at dinner the other night at Passion Fish. We didn't care for the overly sweet honey glaze and the scalloped potatoes served with the duck, but the shrimp dish was so good that I was seriously tempted to pick up my plate and lick it clean!!! And the scallops were probably some of the best scallops I've ever had.
I didn't discover your blog until after our visit, so it was great to re-live our dinner through your blog, so I could point my friends to those exact dishes. This was our second visit to Passion Fish and we will definitely return for a third visit. And next time, I'll ask if I can order the shrimp dish as an entree. :)
As you noted, sometimes the shrimp dish is an entree.
I didn't blog about it because it has been a while, but the duck confit has long had a smoky-honey flavored sauce, if memory serves. I like it, but it may be different today (as PF seems not to be content to rest on its laurels), and tastes do differ.
Just one little note, I am just a contributor at mmm-yoso!!! The blog is KirkK's and he kindly lets some others sometimes play in his sandbox. Glad you like it, though.