Note: Updated Dec. 2015. Some cams are down or gone! See additions at the end for the newest.
So it’s time to play along Monterey Bay. Will it be a perfect day? (Of course.) But before I walk or kayak any stretch of the bay, I check the webcams. I’m looking for water conditions (flatter is better for kayaking), tides (low is best for beach walks), clouds or sun or fog (it’s usually a mix) and wildlife (great for picture taking). I’ve found there’s no single live webcam around the bay that’s perfect for my needs. Here’s my view of bay webcams from Santa Cruz to Monterey that collectively provide live shots and info for kayakers, beachwalkers, wildlife watchers, and those far from the coast who just need an ocean fix.
The Santa Cruz Harbor Beach Cam is one of several webcams around the harbor on the northwest edge of the bay. These offer the only non-surfing shots I’ve found for Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, all of the harbor cams show still images (screen shot right) that you have to refresh manually (not especially exciting or informative), but you can get a sense of the weather, harborside water conditions and beach crowds.
As you travel southeast along the curve of the bay at the mid-point is Moss Landing, a lovely working harbor and town, and home to Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), a premier science/engineering research center and to Elkhorn Slough, the second largest tidal salt marsh along the California coast. If that’s not enough (or maybe because there’s so much), Moss Landing also has the most webcams of any single community on the bay. A bay webcam newcomer (and as of the 2015 update, the best mid-bay), SeaOtters.com’s Live Sea Otter & Sea Lion Cam offers changing views of the harbor with its colonies of sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions and shorebirds. If you look closely at the shot on the left, you may be able to discern the sea lions crowding a dock (originally built for boats). (Note: This has been modified to keep the sea lions off.) The cam’s shifting shots show the harbor mouth and a nearby beach where sea otters haul out and snooze.
What I like about this cam is the variety of views, which are especially useful if going kayaking or wildlife watching, plus the video plays with audio — sounds of boat lanyards clanking and sea lions barking day and night (not sure if audio is live though). Sometimes I keep this cam running for the background sounds as I write. What I like least about this webcam are the ads that appear while you’re watching the video stream, even though I understand the need to keep the webcam live and am supportive of the local and state education and conservation organizations behind this effort.
Another mid-bay otter cam is at a secret spot and shared by the Elkhorn Slough Foundation and Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. (As of the 2015 update, this cam is down.) The live cam automatically shifts to preset locations (which is great when nothing is going on, but frustrating when there’s action at a particular site). You have to be patient watching this webcam because the action is jerky and often not very clear, although you do get a sense of the slough environment. (There’s video to entertain if you get bored.) However, the reward can be great, like watching a sea otter haul out on land (above) or catching a sea otter pair mating (right).
If the weather’s foul (or I just want an awesome way to kill time), I visit the MBARI website with the coolest and most unusual webcam views probably anywhere. When their vessels, the R/V Rachel Carson or R/V Western Flyer, are on research cruises, you can join the scientists and watch images from the ship or a deployed underwater vehicle. MBARI has several ships (details) and the ocean research work is varied and vast. The other amazing cam is on the MARS science node — a cabled observatory at 2,923 feet (891 m) below the surface at the edge of the Monterey Canyon. (How cool is that?) (Note: The MARS cam is down. Hopefully it’ll be running again in the future.) Even though these cams are great when there’s something going on, that doesn’t really matter. If you see nothing, visit MBARI’s images and video library or their YouTube channel — and totally lose track of time.
Closer to my home, at the south end of the bay, is the Del Monte Beach webcam, which offers an osprey’s view of the longest stretch of beach in Monterey. (This cam is no more as of Dec. 2015). The cam operates from about 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. showing a still image that’s refreshed every 30 seconds. I check it for tide and surf before a long beach walk (don’t want to get caught on this stretch at high tide with big waves). One drawback is its limited hours of operation. It would be nice to get this view from dawn till dusk (although because the camera faces westward you’re looking directly into the sun at sunset and so can’t see anything). Another drawback is that wet or foggy weather blurs the image.
The once-best bay view was the webcam at The Fish Hopper — a seafood & steaks restaurant on Cannery Row. This cam runs 24/7 and is live consistently. (Note: The cam was down for a while and the new positioning is poor for seeing the bay.) Sad. I relied on the view for water conditions before kayaking Monterey’s kelp beds. But, you can still watch bay visitors watching the bay day or night. I appreciate the restaurant’s commitment to this public service (along with pretty good food, although Cannery Row pricey).
Just down the street from The Fish Hopper is the Monterey Bay Aquarium with several live webcams. Most are focused inside on the exhibits, but their Monterey Bay Cam is turned toward the bay. It’s promoted as a 24-hour live cam, but at night it’s too dark to see anything, and sometimes I’m not sure if I’m watching a live feed or a video loop because the tides don’t seem to match what’s showing on other bay cams. However, when it’s live the location is perfect for viewing cormorant-covered rocks and bay waters outside the aquarium. And you can’t beat the views from the other webcams of what’s inside.
For those of you venturing south of Monterey Bay (going to Carmel, Carmel Bay or Point Lobos), be sure to check out the Pebble Beach Resorts’ Live Golf Cams (I know, technically not Monterey Bay, but linked geologically). There are several, each at a different Pebble Beach Golf Links hole. The ocean views (during the day) from Holes 9, 17 and 18 are great even if you’re not a golf fan, and if you are, they’re spectacular. Hole 18 is the renowned finishing hole with an incredible view (above). The Hole 17 cam offers a peek at a sweet, gentle kayaking spot called Stillwater Cove. From the cam at Hole 9 (right) you can see the waters of Carmel Bay and far across to the rocky promontory that is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (a favorite hiking spot, but that’s another blog post). (Note: These cams are off during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.)
Whether you’re visiting Monterey Bay and want to see what’s here, are here and want to know what’s outside, or want to visit vicariously, I hope you find this set of eyes on the bay useful and enjoyable. After taking in virtual views, get outside for the real thing.
As new or missed webcams come to my attention, I’ll add them.
A recent finding is a downtown Monterey cam overlooking the Custom House Plaza and harbor. I like it because it shows downtown life (this plaza is busy on New Year’s Eve) and the bay where I usually kayak.
There’s a Cannery Row and Bay webcam hosted by A Taste of Monterey – a wine market & bistro on Cannery Row. The panoramic sweeps of the bay are beautiful. This is my favorite Monterey webcam when it’s working (it was down as of my 2015 update).