Monterey 3-day itinerary: How to spend 3 days in Monterey, California

by Jan

This 3-day Monterey itinerary will give you travel tips and ideas and help ensure you make the best of your time in Monterey in California.

Monterey is a charming, small town, offering stunning natural beauty and wildlife.  It is a great family-friendly town, with lots to do and see for children, including the amazing Monterey Aquarium and immortalized Cannery Row.

Read on to discover the best of Monterey’s attractions and  how we spent 3 days in Monterey:-

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Arrival in Monterey and Old Fisherman's Wharf

Our 3-day Monterey itinerary doesn’t start until the afternoon.   We’d driven from Point Reyes National Park, where we’d spent 4 days on our 3-week California road trip.

Our accommodation was at the Monterey Bay View House, a large family home which we rented through Airbnb. It is a short drive to the shops, beach and main family attractions and has a lovely sunny garden.

On the first evening we drove to Monterey Harbour and had a wander round to get our bearings.  Our first stop was Old Fisherman’s Wharf, which used to be the original Monterey fish market, but is now a tourist attraction.  Keep a look out for jellyfish in the harbour water.

Old Fisherman’s Wharf has plenty of gift shops and restaurants looking out over Monterey Bay.  There are lots of people trying to entice you in with free samples of clam chowder (which the boys loved).  However, we chose the Crab House restaurant at the end of pier.

Boats at dock in Monterey bay

If you have extra time, you could book a whale watching trip from Old Fisherman’s Wharf.

For more information on the itinerary for our California road trip read our post:-

A road trip in California:  a 3-week itinerary

Day 1: Monterey Coastal Trail, Pacific Grove, Lovers Point Park & Cannery Row

Monterey Bay Coastal Trail

We started day 1 of our itinerary by following the  Monterey Bay Coastal Trail.  This popular trail follows the coast for 18 miles, from Castroville in the north to Pacific Grove in the south.

Firstly, we parked in Ocean View Boulevard and hiked along the waterfront trail from Pacific Grove towards Lovers’ Point Park.  This was one of the filming locations for the televised Big Little Lies.

Monterey Bay Coastal Trail follows the path of the former Southern Pacific Railroad line.  It offers a scenic view of Monterey’s beach, nature and wildlife.  There are also a lot of fabulous houses to admire in Pacific Grove.

At lunch, we stopped at the rocky beach to do some rock-pooling, rock stacks and have a picnic.  Watch out for the rather friendly ground squirrels in Monterey, who were very keen to share our lunch!

Boy with crab biting his finger on Monterey Bay coastal trail

Lovers Point Park

Monterey Bay Coastal Trail will take you through the marine-protected areas and up to Lovers Point Park.  We stopped to watch the harbour seals happily lazing in the sea and on the beach.  If you are lucky, you can spot sea otters, sea lions and even a whale!

Lovers Point Park is a landscaped park of 4.4 acres.  It has a sandy beach, a swimming pool and picnic areas.  There’s also a snack bar, where we went for an ice-cream.

This is a popular shoreline, where you can get great views of Monterey Bay and the cypress trees on the peninsular.

Rocks at Pacific Grove, Monterey, California

Cannery Row

Cannery Row, Monterey in California

Historically, Cannery Row was home to many Monterey sardine-canning factories and was immortalized by the novelist John Steinbeck.

Cannery Row is now a very touristy area, but there are plenty of shops, restaurants and wine-tasting to stop for.  Our favourite was the magic shop, where the shop assistant was happy to share some of his best tricks.

Outside the shopping area, you’ll find a great statue of John Steinback.

Day 2: Point Lobos National Seashore & Carmel-by-the-Sea

A visit to Point Lobos

On the second day of our 3-day Monterey itinerary, we took a day trip to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

Point Lobos is a nature reserve set up to help protect the rich natural beauty, wildlife and marine life of the area and is a must for nature lovers visiting the area.  It is only about 7 miles south of Monterey, so is easy to reach by car.

You’ll find a good choice of family-friendly walking trails at Point Lobos, fantastic views and great wildlife.  Keep a look out at the ocean, as you may spot sea otters in the wild.

Point Lobos Headland, California

For the full details of our visit to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, read our post:-

A visit to Point Lobos, California


After our day in Point Lobos, we continued up the coast to upmarket Carmel-by-the Sea. This rather stylish village has a selection of stylish homes, exclusive art galleries, jewellers and high-end boutique shops.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is only 1-square mile, so is easy to look round in an afternoon. Clint Eastwood was famously once the mayor here.

We had a wander round, decided we couldn’t afford anything, so went for a play on sandy Carmel beach.

Beach at Carmel by the Sea in California

Alternatively, You could drive from Monterey to Carmel on the famous “17 mile drive”.

Don’t forget to look out for the “lone cypress”, probably the most photographed tree ever!

Day 3: Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium Sardine Shoal

A visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium was probably one of the best things to do in our 3-day Monterey itinerary.

To be honest, Monterey Bay Aquarium is not cheap.  However, it’s a fantastic place and you could spend a whole day here discovering the mysteries of the dark oceans.  We fell in love with the adorable sea otters, who charmed us with their swimming antics.

Monterey Bay Aquarium is perfect for families, as it is so interactive.  Plus you can get a feel for life under the ocean at the Open Sea exhibit.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Tickets

Ticket prices are as follows:

  • Adults:  $49.95
  • Children:  $29.95

There are concessions for seniors and students.  Check Monterey Bay Aquarium for up-to-date admission prices.  The admission costs are steep, but it is a non-profit organisation and the money is invested in ocean conservation.

Practical information for your visit to Monterey

What is the weather in Monterey?

In summer (May to September), it is generally sunny and dry with an average temperature of 21 degrees.  However, there is regular coastal fog around Monterey Bay and Carmel, which can make summer temperatures feel cooler.

However,  winters are cooler, with some rain.

Accommodation in Monterey

With its prime location overlooking Monterey Bay, the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa is one of the best luxury hotels in Monterey.  Another option for a 4* hotel by the sea is the Portola Hotel.

For mid-range accommodation, try the Stage Coach Lodge, which has a pool and is near the beach or The Ramada.

If you’re looking for a budget hotel, the Abor Inn Monterey is a good choice.

Click here for rates and availability of other accommodation in Monterey.

Eating in Monterey

We stayed in self-catering accommodation, so ate most of our meals at home or took a picnic lunch.  This is a good way to save money if you are on a tight budget for your 3-day itinerary in Monterey.

However, if not, you’ll find plenty of restaurants and cafés to suit all budgets.

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

*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links – any purchases you make are unaffected but I may receive a small commission. (Read our full Disclosure Policy)

We hope you enjoyed reading our guide to 3 days in Monterey?   If you have any questions or tips of your own, please comment below.

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