DIABLO MAGAZINE: August 2022
Cars pass it each day, driving to and from Monterey on Highway 1. It’s the fishing village of Moss Landing, marked by two smokestacks from an off-line power plant. For fans of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, this is a region rich with marine life. Tucked behind a few shops in this tiny town (just 25 minutes north of Monterey and around a two-hour drive from the East Bay) is a mile-deep underwater chasm called Monterey Canyon that rivals the Grand Canyon in depth, a section of the Old Salinas River Channel, and the Elkhorn Slough.
The star of the show here is the 1,700-acre slough, a National Estuarine Research Reserve. One of just 30 such reserves in the country, the Elkhorn Slough is a tidal wetland with a rare ecosystem that attracts over 300 species of birds and the densest concentration of California sea otters on the West Coast.
Luckily for outdoor enthusiasts, the slough is quite accessible. There are two kayak outfitters in town, two small-boat touring companies, and a concessionaire for the latest craze—water bikes. Monterey Bay Hydrobikes puts you high above the water on a pedal-powered bike/boat that has great stability and won’t get you wet. There are also five miles of walking trails lacing the slough and the nearby Moss Landing Harbor District, a port of call for whale-watching and sportfishing trips.
Captain Joe Mancino of Elkhorn Slough Safari offers naturalist-led tours of the slough on his 27-foot pontoon, during which you might see hundreds of harbor seals and sea lions, as well as otters, egrets (snowy and great), blue herons, cormorants (three kinds), pelicans, and much more.
On these 90- to 120-minute tours, you’ll learn that the slough is 20 feet deep and its mud holds a bountiful buffet of worms, scallops, clams, mussels, abalone, and urchins for the critters who dine here. Playful otters pop up near the pontoon, sometimes slurping strings of spaghettilike innkeeper worms, while pelicans pack fish in their throat pouches. You might also see birds like Caspian terns and double-crested cormorants.
But it’s the otters who attract the most oohs and aahs, as they are often with pups and always rank 10 out of 10 on the cuteness meter. In fact, a celebrated otter named Blondie is a legend here, known for snacking sustainably on sea stars, then putting them back in the water to regenerate.
Speaking of sustainable seafood, there’s no shortage of dining options for humans in Moss Landing, either. Sea Harvest is a fisherman-owned café with an ocean-view patio and a menu of rotating specials based on what’s locally and sustainably caught that day. Moss Landing Cafe is another popular option with its deep-fried artichokes, fresh fish, and chowders. The eatery, owned by Mark and Gay Couts, is famous for its Cajun fish sandwiches and fresh oysters.
Lemongrass Seafood Bar and Grill Thai Cuisine; the Haute Enchilada Cafe, Social Club and Gallery; and the Whole Enchilada Coastal Cuisine are eclectic choices for seafood lovers. And once a mainstay in Moss Landing, Phil’s Fish Market is looking to relocate in town. The iconic restaurant/fish market has been leasing its building for over 20 years from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, which now has plans to build a new research facility there.
Retail hours have fluctuated since the pandemic began, but in addition to antiques shops, there’s PotStop, featuring pottery, statues, fountains, and more. Or visit On Board with Nancy Russell Whimsical Art to see home and garden art on display. There’s also a new business in town called the Power Plant Coffee and Store that promises pies and good vibes, in addition to the caffeine. If those otters caught your fancy, check out the Safari Bookstore and Gift Shop for otter books, otter T-shirts, and even socks adorned with otters.
A surprising retail find is the shop that includes the Shakespeare Society of America museum, a collection saved from the shuttered Globe Playhouse in West Hollywood and run by former Globe board member Terry Taylor. The Shakespeare collection includes over 1,000 graphics, 3,000-plus books, more than 1,000 museum and memorabilia pieces, and 10,000-plus slides and photos.
Taylor likes to engage visitors with a bit of Shakespeare trivia when they enter his shop. A printout on the counter lists some of the 1,700 words Shakespeare invented that are now part of the English language—words like hobnob, addiction, moonbeam, and even dawn. The space serves as a Shakespeare sanctuary, gift shop, and source of endless food for thought.
Inn and Out
A night or two at the historic Captain’s Inn at Moss Landing puts you squarely in nature, with time to explore the town. The stately blue-and-white house was once home to the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, and it and its companion building, a brightly colored boathouse, are located on the Old Salinas River Channel. If you are craving serenity on your getaway, there are days (especially during the week) when you can walk through town and feel frozen in time, far from the crowds of Carmel, Monterey, and Santa Cruz.
The 10 nautically themed rooms at the Captain’s Inn take advantage of the view; you can spend hours watching the wildlife through a thoughtfully designed expanse of windows. Comfy chairs and binoculars invite you to linger and enjoy a glass of wine from the region as you take in the spectacular nature show that Captain’s Inn owner Sweety Mistry likens to watching the Discovery Channel.
Even if you don’t walk the trails or spend time on the waterways, you’ll still likely spot an impressive array of birds, otters, and seals from the comfort of your room. But with so much to see and learn in this mecca for marine research, the best way to discover Moss Landing is to get out and explore.