Moss Landing, Monterey Bay’s Lesser-Known, Family-Friendly Nature Escape

by Carmel L. Mooney

The Hidden Gem

What used to be a sleepy, little, lesser-known fishing locale nestled between Monterey and Santa Cruz, has evolved into its destination and world-famous wildlife lover’s getaway.

Moss Landing, once known only for its antique shops and fishing companies is now a mecca for families in search of wildlife adventures and unspoiled coastline at a slower and more low keyed pace.

You won’t find fancy chain hotels, large crowds, traffic congestion, or high-end boutiques which is precisely why traveling families are discovering and returning to Moss Landing in recent years where the once laid back coastal lifestyle of now larger and more populous beach towns is being recaptured.

Locals remember a time, several decades back when Moss Landing was best known for its smokestacks, bustling harbor, and locals-only greasy spoon waterfront diners. Fast forward to the twenty-first century when Moss Landing has developed into a destination of albeit only a small handful but gourmet restaurants, quaint inns, and world-class wildlife adventures.

Where to Stay

The perfect place to launch your coastal adventure is from the Captain’s Inn at Moss Landing. The simple colonial revival style building looks inviting but like any typical old historic inn from the outside yet is undoubtedly Moss Landing’s best kept secret and hidden gem of a surprise once you check in. This historic inn has been lovingly remodeled by talented innkeepers Melanie and Yohn Gideon.

Attention to detail, comfort, hospitality, and lots of little extras make this a place to appreciate and enjoy for all ages. Best suited for families with kids over the age of ten, two of the rooms are connected making family travel easy. Every room is beautifully, artfully, and thoughtfully decorated with a nautical theme throughout. We loved our view of the wildlife overlooking the coast, our toasty fireplace, and our raised bed crafted from a retired sailboat complete with a sail decorated with pretty little lights for its canopy.

Historic boats of all kinds adorn the rooms and provide beds, decorations, and whimsical conversation pieces. Meticulously chosen wallpapers, nautical lights, desks made of boats, oars, rudders, sails for window coverings and so much more make each room a true work of art and novelty. Everything is comfortable, elegant, historic, and fun at the same time. Not an easy melange to master but well accomplished at the Captain’s Inn.

A delicious freshly made, hearty homemade breakfast is served each morning. Gourmet teas and coffees, snacks, sodas, homemade cookies, candies, and lovely bathroom amenities round out the details.

A separate boathouse of rooms behind the main building or rooms in the main historic building offers different types of options and experiences. We enjoyed watching the resident wetlands wildlife from our soaking tub. We were awoken to the peaceful play of frolicking harbor seals, otters, and numerous coastal waterfowl at daybreak.

A sitting room with games and books, an outside deck made of yet another boat, and a parlor full of artifacts, historic photos, and a welcoming fireplace will make you want to stay and relax awhile even if you do have outdoor plans in the vicinity.

Sea otters frolicking in the Moss landing harbor

Fun and Critters

Bicycling, kite flying, fishing, antiquing, browsing, trail walking, dining, kayaking, bird watching, and even massage are options for passing the time in and around Moss Landing.

However, no visit would be complete without a thorough exploration of Elkhorn Slough. And there is no better way to immerse yourself in the flora and fauna of this diverse ecosystem than to embark on a guided nature boat cruise atop the calm waters of the Slough on a pontoon boat with Elkhorn Slough Safari.

This two-hour excursion is fantastic for all ages and offers an unparalleled opportunity to enjoy, photograph, learn about, and be captivated by hundreds of birds, sea otters, marine mammals, and wildlife. Kids are invited to play special games encouraging their exploration skills while parents and friends enjoy spotting, counting, and learning about the residents of the resident-rich wildlife mecca.

The morning we embarked with Captain Yohn and his first mate docent/naturalist we counted 60 playful sea otters, 184 Harbor Seals, 141 Sea Lions, 54 Great Egrets, 18 Snowy Egrets, 15 Great Blue  Heron, and countless Gulls, Terns, Sand Pipers, Pelicans, Cormorants, Avocets, Curlew, and more.

All ages from pre-teens to seniors were enthralled with the beauty and diversity of wildlife encountered by all. It was educational, fun, and captivating every moment from start to end. Complimentary homemade cookies and hot coffee were an added perk worth mentioning and enjoyed by all aboard.

The Captain’s Inn offers special packages throughout the year with tickets to various events included in multi-night stays.

Good Eats in Moss Landing

While Moss Landing offers numerous dining venues in recent years, Phil’s Fish Market continues to be the area’s best dining for impeccable seafood and much more in a relaxed and casual atmosphere. Phil has won prestigious awards and accolades from all over the world for his famous cioppino and other specialties and has been featured on some of the world’s most famous cooking and dining shows and by celebrity chefs. For the true, fresh catch, the Moss Landing experience is an absolute must.

Pack your bags for Moss Landing and experience the other side of the Bay. A gem rich in history, wildlife, and coastal charm, Moss Landing has it all but on a smaller scale and at a peaceful pace.

Some notable events are:

  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Center Open House in Moss Landing
  • The Moss Landing Antique Street Fair
  • Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion

Back to Destinations…

Carmel L. Mooney is a fourth-generation Californian. She grew up in Carmel and spent her weekends and summers in Moss Landing at her great grandmother’s home in the 60s and 70s.

Children looking at the anima life in Elkhorn Slough