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Family travel: 5 amazing ways to play in Monterey Bay

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Romantic sunsets, endless powder-soft beaches and jaw-dropping ocean views may put a Monterey getaway near the top of your bucket list. But beware if you are planning to take the whole family along: You had better have some kid-friendly activities tucked up your sleeve as well.
And we’ve got your back with five fool-proof things to do with kids near Monterey Bay, from the world-famous aquarium to a wacky Mirror Maze. Here are five ways to play with kids on the coast.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s top five attractions include its stunning display of jellyfish. (Bay Area News Group Photo Archive) 
1 Monterey Bay Aquarium
Perched at the edge of the Pacific, licked by waves and visited by roaming sea otters, the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is guaranteed to immerse you in the majesty of the sea, its vastness and its poetry, like no other aquarium. With more than 35,000 creatures and nearly 200 galleries and exhibits, from jellyfish and sharks to sea otters, this is truly a window to the wonders of the sea.
The museum also aspires to take the awe it inspires and turn it into education about the urgent need for ocean conservation. On one recent visit, we sat on the back deck and watched in amazement as a wild otter mother gave birth to her pup amid the aquarium’s sheltered waters.
Details:  The Monterey Bay Aquarium is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 886 Cannery Row in Monterey. Tickets are $30-$50; .
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2 Dennis the Menace Park
If your kids need to run off some energy, this is your happy place. Little ones can zoom across swinging bridges, slide down hillsides, climb rock walls and shoot across mini zip-lines at this fanciful playground tucked into the El Estero Park complex. You can also rent a swan paddle boat in the nearby lake or catch a ballgame at the stadium.
Details: Admission is free. El Estero Park, 725 Pearl St, Monterey; .
3 Mirror Maze
Get lost on purpose at Monterey’s fun and confounding Mirror Maze. No matter how old you are, it’s a hoot trying to find your way through this glittering, mirrored labyrinth. Just when you think you know the way out of these psychedelic paths, the lights go out, strobes flash or pumping music disorients you and you have to start all over. Seriously, the first time we ventured through the maze, it took us almost 30 minutes to get out, giggling all the while. It’s also a nifty rainy day pastime when the beach is off limits.
Details:  Admission is $8 to $12 (tots are free). Open daily at 751 Cannery Row, Monterey;
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4 Set sail
Hitting the high seas in the Monterey Bay never disappoints. The deep submarine canyon close to shore draws legions of whale pods to feed in the area. On a recent four-hour trip aboard a Discovery Whale Watch boat, we spotted so many of these giants of the deep breaching and basking, we finally put down our cameras and just reveled in their playfulness in real life, rather than through a lens. In addition to this flurry of flukes, you are likely to see otters and sea lions cavorting in the waves. (Tip: If you think you might get sea sick, it’s best to pop some Dramamine before you get on board.)
Once you get back to shore, make time to sample the chowder at the wonderfully old-school Fisherman’s Wharf.
Details:  Three and four-hour Discovery Whale Watch tours ($37 to $51) depart daily from 66 Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey;

5 Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The ultimate mix of oceanside playland and chill surfer vibes, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been delighting thrill seekers of all ages since 1907. If you are a vintage roller coaster junkie, don’t miss the Giant Dipper. The first rise is a doozy as the wooden coaster creaks and rattles beneath you through the first rise, then sends you whipping down towards the ground at lightning speed.
Of course, children may prefer the high-tech whiplash and churn of Undertow, a spinning roller coaster thrill ride. And everyone will delight in the funnel cakes, cotton candy and, of course, the beach, at California’s oldest amusement park. If you only yearn for one or two rides, just buy a few tickets, but if you’re a serious ride aficionado (or an 8-year-old with a need for speed), pop for a wristband.
Details: Rides range from $4 to $7 each, wristbands are $30 to $40. Rides are open weekends only through March 29, and daily from March 30 through Labor Day. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Beach Street, Santa Cruz;
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