12 Best Things to Do in Monterey, California: Must-See Attractions 2022
Once the capital of Spanish California, the small coastal town of Monterey is famous for its stunning coastal scenery, rich marine life, and delicious seafood, located along the southern shore of the huge Monterey Bay, it provides a great weekend away from San Francisco or San Jose.
While most things to do in Monterey are on the coast, there are plenty of great historical attractions and art museums to be found in the city. Most people, however, visit it for its sublime landscapes and nature, idyllic beaches, and secluded coves on spectacular cliffs.
Visitors can also go on whale watching tours or head to the magnificent Monterey Bay Aquarium to see even more marine life. You can see seals and sea lions just by sunbathing in the city harbor. With bustling Cannery Row and charming Carmel-by-the-Sea nearby, Monterey is a wonderful vacation spot.
12 Best Things to Do in Monterey, California
1. Monterey Bay Aquarium
No trip to Monterey can be complete without visiting the huge Monterey Bay Aquarium, the city’s main tourist attraction. Located next to Cannery Row and the bay, it offers an astonishing variety of animals, ecosystems, and exhibits.
The aquarium has grown significantly since it opened in 1984 and now exhibits more than 35,000 fish and marine mammals representing over 550 different species. Visitors can see everything from the endangered African penguins and funny sea otters to swimming sea turtles, sharks, and rays in the huge aquarium.
In addition to getting to know amazing animals and ecosystems, you can also see gigantic seaweed forests and gaze out at the ocean from the outside. Offering an up-close and personal glimpse of California’s coastal marine life, this world-class aquarium is surely not to be missed.
Address: 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
2. 17-Mile Drive
The thrill of traveling along 17-Mile Drive takes you through breathtaking coastal scenery. Following the south side of the Monterey Peninsula, the Scenic Drive has beautiful beaches, natural sites, and lookouts to stop along the way.
The long loop begins around Pacific Grove Gate before winding through dramatic cliffs, secluded coves, and expanses of golden sand. In addition to highlights such as the famous Lone Cypress Lookout and the snow-white dunes of Spanish Bay, the road also winds through Del Monte Forest.
In addition to the breathtaking views and the photo-worthy shoreline, 17-Mile Drive has countless outdoor activities for you to enjoy. It also passes huge mansions, immaculately maintained golf courses, and the charming seaside town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
3. Cannery Row
Located along the promenade is Cannery Row, a vibrant historic district that was once the heart of the city’s canning industry. Immortalized in the novel of the same name by John Steinbeck, it offers a variety of attractions and an engaging atmosphere.
After the sardine stocks collapsed in the 1950s, its warehouses and canisters remained empty until the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium took hold and revitalized the area in the 1980s. It is now teeming with plenty of lively shops and restaurants and has a beautiful waterfront to walk around.
While boutique hotels and cafes now line its streets, Cannery Row still has some historic sites, such as the atmospheric Antique Mall and the magnificent Cannery Row Monument.
4. Whale Watching in Monterey Bay
Monterey Bay is one of the best places in the United States for whale watching, so it’s worth taking a trip to see the majestic creatures in town. Many companies run tours that typically last three to four hours from Cannery Row and Old Fisherman’s Wharf.
Over ten different species of whales can be seen in the vast bay, and countless types of dolphins and porpoises, seals, and sea lions. As the feeding and migration seasons overlap, visitors have a great chance of seeing the massive mammals at any time of the year.
As you watch the whales, you can learn all there is to know about their foraging, breeding, and diving habits from the expert crew members.
5. Old Fisherman’s Wharf
Right next to Monterey State Historic Park is another excellent area to explore. Once a thriving fish market, Old Fisherman’s Wharf is one of Monterrey’s top tourist attractions, home to dozens of seafood restaurants and souvenir shops.
Built-in 1870, the historic wharf was first used for loading and unloading passengers and goods before later hosting a fish market. Today, it is lined with excellent restaurants and waterfront eateries, art galleries, candy shops, and jewelry stores.
Visitors can arrange fishing trips or whale watching tours from the pier. You don’t have to go far to see animals, as sea lions and seals can often be seen basking on nearby buoys and boats in the sun.
Just a ten-minute drive south of town, you can find another of the state’s perfect beach resorts – Carmel-by-the-Sea. Also located on the Monterey Peninsula, the small town stands out for its spectacular natural environment attracting artists, writers, and poets.
Located along the Pacific Coast Highway, its cluster of charming historic cottages and homes is surrounded by towering cliffs and rolling hills. Add a gorgeous white-sand beach and a mist-covered shoreline, and it’s easy to see why picturesque Carmel-by-the-Sea was once a colony of artists.
This rich heritage is still displayed today, as the city has many galleries and workshops for visitors. With cozy cafes, local restaurants, and the historic Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo also on offer, Carmel is worth visiting Monterey.
7. Monterey Bay Recreational Trail
Another excellent way to enjoy the natural riches near the city and the coast is to walk, run, skate or cycle along the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail. As you continue along the promenade, the paved path takes you through beautiful views wherever you go.
Almost 18 miles long, it stretches from Castroville in the north of the city to Pacific Grove in the south. Along the way, pass famous landmarks like Cannery Row and Old Fisherman’s Wharf, as well as tourist attractions like the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Connecting countless beaches, parks, and historical sites, the trail is perfect for exercising and enjoying the outdoors and for sightseeing and exploring the city and its surroundings.
8. Go to the Beach
Since life in the coastal city revolves around the sea, no visit can be complete without spending some time on the beach. Monterey has five fabulous public beaches near town to try.
Curving gently around the beautiful bay are Del Monte and Monterey; both offer wonderful sunbathing and swimming. Plus, the smaller San Carlos Beach, located just off Cannery Row, is an excellent spot for snorkeling.
Other popular places are Asilomar State Beach, which features sublime scenery and fun water sports, while Lovers’ Point Park is famous for its beautiful sunsets. With so many beaches and activities to choose from; Spending time on the beach is truly a must in Monterey.
9. Monterey Museum of Art
In the center of town you’ll find another of the city’s many attractive attractions: the Monterey Museum of Art. Now housed in two different downtown buildings, its extensive collection focuses on California art and artists, spanning from around 1875 to the present day.
Founded in 1959, the impressive museum houses over 14,000 works of art with paintings and photographs, ceramics and sculptures on display. While highlights include galleries of contemporary American art and artefacts from various parts of Asia, it also features works by big names like Henri Matisse, Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso.
The museum regularly hosts temporary exhibitions, while its location at La Mirada is in a historic mansion surrounded by beautiful gardens and gardens.
10. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
With breathtaking scenery, Point Lobos State Nature Reserve is a must-see in town. Located just a fifteen-minute drive southwest in the city, it offers all manner of outdoor activities, as well as epic ocean views.
It is often considered the crown jewel of California State Parks. Its dramatic rock formations and cliffs certainly make it a mesmerizing sight. In the middle of its promontories hide coves, caves, and secluded beaches. Seals and sea lions are often seen basking in the sun or swimming in the surrounding waters.
Bordered by two huge protected marine areas, you can go diving, snorkeling, and kayaking. Fantastic hiking trails also weave their way along its scenic coastline.
11. Dennis the Menace Park
Just a ten-minute walk east of the Historic District is Dennis the Menace Family Park. Located inside the larger El Estero Park, it has slides and swings, a suspension bridge, and even an adventure boat for the kids to enjoy.
Since its opening in 1956, the park has become viral thanks to its colorful and creative play areas. Named after the famous character of Hank Ketcham, the playground was designed in part by the creator of the cartoon, who was himself a resident of Monterey.
In addition to its climbing wall and labyrinth, there is an authentic old 1920s steam engine for children to play with, picnic areas, and places to hire pedal boats.
12. Monterey State Historic Park
A fascinating place to explore, Monterey State Historic Park is home to magnificent century-old buildings that shed light on the state and city’s past. Located in Old Monterey, its quaint streets contain historic homes with exciting sites and attractions.
Once the capital of California, the entire area is now protected as part of a National Historic Landmark. In addition to a wide variety of architectural styles, there are also pleasant gardens to visit, and informative exhibits and exhibit highlight the neighborhood’s history.
As you follow the “Monterey Historic Trail,” you will come across sites such as the excellent Pacific House Museum and the well-restored Customs House; The oldest public building in California.
Frequently Asked Questions: Best Things to Do in Monterey
What is Monterey known for?
Cultural Site. While Monterey is best known for the outdoors, it also has some of the state’s oldest historic sites. You’ll pass colorful gardens and historic buildings including the Custom House, the oldest government building in California, and the site of the arrival of the first Spanish in California in 1602.
Do you have to pay for 17-Mile Drive?
Admission to 17-Mile Drive is $10.50 per vehicle. The gate fee is reimbursed with a purchase of $35 or more at all Pebble Beach Resorts restaurants. Admission for tour buses is $5.25 per passenger.
How long does it take to drive 17 Mile Drive in Monterey?
Allow about three hours to explore 17-Mile Drive, especially if you stop to take photographs or eat along the way. You can enter 17-Mile Drive through the four gates, where you pay the $10.50 fee and can pick up a map of the road’s iconic sites.
How far is Carmel from Monterey Bay?
There are 3.47 miles from Monterey to Carmel by the Sea in southwest direction and 4 miles (6.44 kilometers) by car, following the CA 1 and CA 68 route. Monterey and Carmel by the Sea are 7 minutes far apart, if you drive non-stop. This is the fastest route from Monterey, CA to Carmel by the Sea, CA.
What is the best time of year to visit Monterey CA?
The best time to visit Monterey is between April and May. Spring offers warmer temperatures, fewer crowds and food festivals dishing out delectable eats, including Pebble Beach Food & Wine and the Artichoke Festival in Castroville.
Is Monterey expensive?
Just like the rest of California, Monterey is pretty expensive. In fact, it is probably more expensive than you expect, seeing as the prices in Monterey rival those in LA. Monterey is as much as 13% more expensive than the state average! In some areas, Monterey is more or less equal to the rest of the state.
What’s better Carmel or Monterey?
Carmel is more quaint village with beach access. Monterey is more family friendly working coastal/pier town. If it was a relaxing trip, I’d definitely pick Carmel- better food, better browsing, more picturesque. No need to drive to Carmel.
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