A visit to Monterey, California

by Jan

Cannery Row in Monterey is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tune, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. John Steinbeck

We stayed in Monterey, as par of our 3-week road trip in California.  We were super-excited about our visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but were curious to discover what else Monterey had to offer its visitors.


Monterey is a popular tourist destination on California’s rugged coast. It is a charming, small town, with stunning natural beauty and wildlife. Monterey has a rich, history and this is evident in some of the old buildings and houses.  You can also see the strong reminders of the previously thriving canning industry.

Read on for  what we got up to and the highlights of our 3 day visit to Monterey:-

What are the best things to do in Monterey?

Boats at dock in Monterey bay

Follow the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail

One of the best things to do in Monterey is follow the Coastal Recreational Trail at Pacific Grove.  On our first day, we hiked this picturesque trail along to Lovers’ Point Park and ended up in Cannery Row.

Historically, this waterfront path was once the Southern Pacific Railroad line.  Today, it follows the California coastline, providing scenic views of Monterey’s beach, nature and wildlife.

Another option is to cycle the coastal trail.  However, there is a lot to see and on a bike you’d need to stop a lot. Alternatively, if you’re feeling sporty you could hire a kayak.

Explore the rocks at Pacific Grove

Rocks at Pacific Grove, Monterey, California

Firstly, we stopped for a picnic at the beach at Pacific Grove.  We then spent some time exploring the rocks and rock pools.  The boys loved this and found a few creatures that hadn’t made it back to the ocean.

Watch out for the cheeky ground squirrels, who are very tame and the crabs which can get a bit nippy!

Boy with crab biting his finger on Monterey Bay coastal trail

See harbour seals and sea otters at Lovers Point Park

Monterey Bay Coastal Trail is one of the best places to see wildlife in Monterey.  Along the coastline, there are a number of marine-protected areas, which are abundant in wildlife.

Keep an eye out, as you may see harbour seals, sea lions or sea otters in their natural habitat. If you’re lucky, you might even see a whale.  If not, you’ll just have to sign up for a tour!

For more information about the animals we saw on our road trip in California, read this post:-

Amazing animals in California

Admire the Victorian houses on Ocean View Boulevard

As you stroll along Ocean View Boulevard,  take some time to look at the Victorian houses.  These charming historic houses have a great location overlooking the beach and are bound to impress.

Take a dip

If you are visiting Monterey with kids, there is a small, sandy beach.  This is very clean and safe for children, but was very busy when we were there.  There is a small ice-cream shop in front of the beach and outside seating.

Alternatively, you can visit Stillwell Children’s Pool at Lovers Point (only Friday to Sunday).

Take a walk-through historic Cannery Row

Cannery Row was once home to the numerous sardine-canning factories, which were formerly the key industry in Monterey.  The novelist John Steinbeck immortalised the street with his famous novel “Cannery Row”.

You can learn about the history of these packing giants or just wander through the shops, restaurants and cafes.

Take time to stop outside for a selfie at the Cannery Row Monument, where there are some popular photo spots.  The most popular are the statues of John Steinbeck and the Chinese fisherman who worked in the canning industry.

Cannery Row, Monterey in California

Sample some local wine (grown-ups only)

One of the best attractions for adults in Monterey is one of the local wine-tasting bars. Adults can enjoy a quick pit stop to taste some local specialities at A Taste of Monterey

Visit Monterey Bay Aquarium

Sign for Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, California
Monterey Bay Aquarium Sardine Shoal

As expected, our favourite thing to do in Monterey was a visit to world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Located at the end of Cannery Row, the aquarium was formerly a sardine cannery.

Today, it is an important centre for marine conservation and one of the world’s best-known aquariums.   Monterey Aquarium has an amazing collection of vibrant marine life and is a great attraction for visitors young and old. It was definitely top of our list of things to do on our 3 day visit to Monterey.

Admission to Monterey Bay Aquarium is not cheap, but it is well worth a visit. It’s a magical place and you could spend hours here discovering what lies beneath the dark ocean.

For more information on a visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium, read this post:-

A visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium, California

Old Fisherman’s Wharf

Monterey Harbour, California

As you continue along the coast, you’ll come to Old Fisherman’s Wharf. This is a vibrant promenade with restaurants, fish stalls and souvenir shops.  It is probably the main hub for tourists in Monterey and can get very busy.

You should expect to be bombarded by vendors trying to lure you in to their restaurants with food samples and “happy hours”.  The kids took advantage of some free clam chowder, but were more tempted by the three candy shops, offering homemade taffy, toffee apples and chocolates.

Fisherman’s Wharf is extremely touristy.  However, it does have a lively atmosphere and is definitely worth a visit.  It is also a great location to get wonderful views of the ocean, harbour, and Monterey wildlife.

Whale watching

Whilst you are at the Old Fisherman’s Wharf, you can also book a whale watching tour or a deep-sea fishing trip.  What better way to spend a day than on a boat watching out for these magnificent whales and other marine creatures.

The whale watching tours generally last about 2.5 to 3 hours.  An alternative option is to take a sunset tour.  These only last an hour and explore the sea creatures who live closer to the shore and harbour.

Whales at Monterey Bay, California

Monterey State Historic Park

Next to Fisherman’s Wharf are a collection of historic houses known as Monterey State Historic Park.  Monterey is one of California’s oldest states and has many important historic houses and buildings.  One of the best known is the colonial-style Old Custom House.  The Mexican government built the house, back in 1827.

If you want more information on the history of Monterey, join one of the guided tours, which run each day.  The history tour last about an hour and you can buy tickets from Custom House. However, on the last Sunday of every month, tours are free.

Alternatively, you could do the longer self-guided tour “Monterey Walking Path of History, using your mobile phone.

A day trip from Monterey

We loved our 3 day visit to Monterey, as there is so much to do.  However, we wanted to do some visits out of Monterey too.

Although we were limited on time, we took day trips from Monterey to Carmel-by-the-Sea and Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.


Continue your drive from Pacific Grove and you’ll come to upmarket Carmel-by-the Sea.  This delightful village is only 1-square mile, so is easy to explore in an afternoon.  One of Carmel’s big claims to fame is that Clint Eastwood was famously once the mayor here.

Carmel-by-the-sea is an expensive town and isn’t going to suit everyone’s budget. This extremely sophisticated village has a selection of stylish homes, exclusive art galleries, jewellers and high-end boutique shops.  It’s a great place for window shopping, even if you can’t afford to go in.

As well as window shopping, the best thing to do for free in Carmel is go to the beach.

Carmel’s beach is a wide expanse of fine golden sand at the foot of Ocean Avenue.  There is plenty of space to play or just sit in the sand dunes and admire the spectacular views.

Beach at Carmel by the Sea in California

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

If you are looking for the best place to go hiking near Monterey, head for Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

Point Lobos has been set up to help protect the rich natural beauty, wildlife and marine life of the area.  It is a perfect place for hiking and is a must for nature lovers visiting the area.  There is a wide choice of trails, which take you through the woods and along the coastline.  From here, you’ll get fantastic views and the chance to see seals and sea otters in the wild.

Point Lobos is only about 7 miles South of Monterey, so is easy to drive to.  However, you should go early, as parking is restricted to 150 places.

Find out more information on our visit to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in this post:-

A visit to Point Lobos, California

Are you planning a trip to California?  Read all our articles about the USA in our California Road Trip Guide.

Thank you for reading

Have you planned your trip to Monterey?  If you have any questions, please comment below.

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