Where to go when the kids are bored.
Aside from the beaches, which are widely distributed along the Peninsula's shoreline, most of the stuff we have for kids is located within the city limits of Monterey.
If your kids are bored and whining, Mr. Toy's first recommendation is to go directly to Lake El Estero. Lake El Estero has three attractions that are ideal for kids.
The first is Dennis the Menace Playground. Mr. Toy grew up playing here, and he can assure you it is the best playground you will ever visit.
Yeah, they have swings and slides, but who cares when they have a real locomotive? Er, pardon. For over half a century generations of children, including the 1960s version of Mr. Toy, played on it safely and happily. But, alas, in today's fearful, risk-averse culture the locomotive is not currently approved by the state as playground equipment. In 2012 the city put a fence around the locomotive denying future generations the joy of tactile exploration and practical physical skill building. The city would like to find a legal way to reopen the park's landmark feature to children, but it is unlikely to be fully and freely accessible ever again, which is a real shame.
But all is not lost. Dennis the Menace Playground contains a wide variety of other fun contraptions. There are two hills with a suspension bridge between them, pathways and kid-sized tunnels to run through. There's something that looks like a fishing boat. There's another bridge that looks like a sunset, beneath which is a slide with rollers that go bumpity-bump on your bottom. There's a maze to get lost in, and a climbing wall for junior mountaineers. There's sand to squish between your toes, picnic tables to eat on and a lion to stick your head in if you're thirsty.
And it's all FREE! Free parking too! It's better than Disneyland! You should go even if you don't have kids.
Dennis the Menace Playground is located just east of downtown Monterey on Pearl Street, in the middle of the park between the two bridges. The lake itself is just off of Del Monte Avenue between Camino El Estero and Camino Aguajito. See the map below.
And there's more at Lake El Estero: paddleboats! You can rent them at the little shack located at the corner of Camino El Estero and Del Monte. Rent one for half an hour and tire the kids out.
And there's still more: If you have older kids who own skateboards and helmets, there is a skateboard park around behind the ballfield. You can relax at the nearby picnic tables while they burn off their energy doin' some sidewalk surfin'. Ample parking is available alongside the picnic area.
If you're here in the spring or early summer, take a walk around the lake and see if you can find any baby ducks or geese. (Give the geese a wide berth, or Papa Goose may get upset. You don't want to get him upset, trust us.)
Also recommended is a place called MY Museum: Monterey County Youth Museum, which is full of informative hands-on exhibits. OK, that doesn't sound like much fun. Better to describe it as an action-packed educational playhouse! My Museum is thematically arranged as a microcosm of Monterey County, with exhibits representing various parts of the Monterey Peninsula and Salinas Valley. Some of the exhibits include a theatrical stage, a craft area, a tree house, a house perpetually under construction, and a mock hospital. My Museum is located in downtown Monterey at 425 Washington Street, between Bonafacio and Franklin, across from the Bank of America parking lot.