Visiting Monterey, California?

Monterey is still one of my favorite places to visit.  Whether it’s your first or in my case 20th time visiting the area, there is never a shortage of fun things to do and see. Plus, you can’t beat the setting of the Central California Coast.  

This is a list of 10 places to visit while in Monterey. 

1. Cannery Row

Cannery Row is the main waterfront street in the new Monterey section of Monterey.

Cannery Row has a great history.  In the late 1940s when the sardines left Monterey, the canneries began to leave as well.  Monterey started looking like a decaying ghost town until the opening of The Sardine Factory Restaurant in 1976.  This signaled the beginning of a rebirth for the area, which was the foundation of the soon to come Cannery Row Company.

The revival of Cannery Row transformed it from a street of abandoned canneries into a welcoming waterfront where visitors come to shop, eat and play.

Cannery Row is now one of America’s top visitor destinations, attracting approximately four million people each year! 

2.  Old Fisherman’s Wharf

A visit to Monterey isn’t complete without visiting Old Fisherman’s Wharf. 

Fun for all ages, Old Fisherman’s Wharf is home to amazing restaurants (many obviously specializing in seafood), fun shops, whale watching tours and bay cruises, plus charter boats for fishing and sailing.  Because neighboring Wharf 2 is the heart of the area’s thriving fishing industry, you can usually watch the working trawlers unloading the catch of the day.

Being the wife of a fisherman, it’s always fun to watch other boat’s operations, so I love watching the fishing boats come in and offload. 

3.  Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium sits at the end of Cannery Row, and it’s one of the best aquariums I have visited!

The Open Sea Exhibit is one of my favorite exhibits at the aquarium.  There is a massive 90 foot wall that allows visitors to observe sea turtles, stingrays, hammerheads, leopard sharks, and schools of sardines and other fish in a large open space.  It shows how life is in constant motion in the open ocean.

With 45 interactive exhibits featuring reptiles, octopus, birds, fish and invertebrates, as well as a variety of tours, there is no shortage of activities.

The aquarium can be a bit pricey, but it is worth it.  I recommend visiting during the week to avoid crowds.

Something I need to mention is that they also have the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program.  This program helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that’s caught or farmed in ways that support a healthy ocean, now and for future generations. The Seafood Watch program has recommendations indicating which seafood items are “Best Choices” or “Good Alternatives,” and which ones you should “Avoid.” 

With my in-laws and husband making a living in the Alaska fishing industry, this is a subject I am especially interested in.  It’s important to learn how industries and regions are practicing sustainability.

4.  Carmel-by-the-Sea

Rated one of the top 10 destinations in the United States, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a must see.  

It’s a cute little European-style village sitting atop a picturesque white-sand beach.  Everything is within walking distance from your charming hotel or inn whether you are looking for amazing restaurants or beautiful art pieces.

5.  17 Mile Drive

The privately managed roadway, winding between Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach, takes you through a wind-sculpted forest of cypress trees to a rocky coastline with some of the most beautiful mansions.   

There is a fee to drive the 17 mile drive, but biking and walking are free.  Note, no motorcycles are allowed.

There are a ton of visitors making their way along the 17 mile drive, but given that there are so many places to pull over and take in the views, traffic wasn’t bad at all.

While winding through the 17 mile drive, you’ll also get great views of the celebrated golf course, Pebble Beach.  Pebble Beach was a very busy area.  Given that we were on a time crunch, we kept moving.

Next stop on the 17 mile drive is the Lone Cypress.  Be sure to stop as it’s one of the most photographed trees in the world!

Such an amazingly beautiful drive around every corner.

6.  Pebble Beach

The Pebble Beach Golf Links are located along 17-Mile Drive.

Even if you’re not interested in playing golf, you should make some time to visit the course simply to enjoy the scenery. The views from the Pebble Beach Resorts are not to be missed. Driving to Pebble Beach you may expect a golf club at the course but, in addition, there’s a small shopping mall.

7.  Cannery Row Antique Mall

The Cannery Row Antique Mall is the largest antiques and collectibles mall on the Central Coast.

The mall is right in the heart of Cannery Row with fantastic views of Monterey Bay. 

This historic building houses over 100 antique dealers. Once a canning company in the 1927 Steinbeck era, much of the original structure and machinery are still evident.

I love visiting antique stores, as you never know what treasures you will find.  There is definitely a lot of junk in antique stores, but as they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.  If you have never visited an antique store, it’s a fun way to spend an hour or so.

8.  Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (previously known as Laguna Seca Raceway) is a road racing track used for both auto racing and motorcycle racing built in 1957 near Monterey.

The track is actually located in Salinas, just a short 15 minute drive from Monterey.

My dad and I traveled to Mazda Laguna Sea Raceway every year for 16 years.  There is nothing like watching motorcycles blaze around the 2.238 mile long track in well under 2 minutes.  What’s even crazier is watching the racers plunge down the “Corkscrew” at Turns 8 and 8a. 

There are a variety of racing, exhibition, and entertainment events held at the raceway, ranging from superkarts to sports car racing and even music festivals.

9.  Moss Landing

Located at the mouth of Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing is a popular spot for antiquing, surfing and nature watching.

Moss Landing is one of California’s largest wetland areas, home to hundreds of species.

I found Moss Landing by accident the first time while on my way to Santa Cruz.  On the way to Moss Landing you pass by large fields of artichokes.  Then out of the fog shines a hole in the wall restaurant named The Whole Enchilada.  Here’s a little secret for you, every Friday, and only on Friday’s, they make the best sweet corn tamales I’ve ever had.  They run out, so be sure to get there early!

10.  Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos is just south of Carmel at the North end of Big Sur.  Point Lobos and includes Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and two adjoining marine protected areas:  Point Lobos State Marine Reserve and Point Lobos State Marine Conservation Area.

Point Lobos contains a number of hiking trails, many next to the ocean, and a smaller number of beaches.

There is a historic marine reserve, which was expanded in 2007. Point Lobos is also the home to a museum on whaling, which includes a historic building once used by area fishermen.

The wildlife protection and scenic seascape have led to Point Lobos’ reputation as a fantastic scuba diving destination.  I sadly have yet to dive in Northern California, but this is still on my list to do. 

I hope you enjoy visiting Monterey and the surrounding areas as much as I do.  After visiting, let me know what your favorite things to do and see in and around Monterey were.

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  • Reply Emily April 26, 2017 at 10:22 pm

    I just watched Big Little Lies on HBO which was based in Monterey and have been curious about it ever since. This article made me want to visit even more! There sounds like a lot to do there! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Reply June 18, 2017 at 1:36 am

      Haha, I haven’t seen that yet, but have to. Monterey is amazing and definitely worth a visit. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Reply Aireona- Nightborn Travel April 28, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    I went to Monterey a long time ago on a family roadtrip. I loved it there, especially the aquarium. After Finding Dory came out, I really feel like I need to go back and visit again. Great inspiration here.

  • Reply Tanmaya April 29, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    This is such a cool guide!! Can’t wait to visit Monterey and Carmel, it’s on my list of weekend trips!

    • Reply April 29, 2017 at 9:09 pm

      Thank you! It is such an amazingly beautiful place. You definitely need to visit! Thanks for reading!

  • Reply Sina May 1, 2017 at 7:05 pm

    That’s the first time I’m reading about Monterey and it looks like a beautiful place to visit. I would definitely go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and drive along the 17 Mile Drive, but everything you’ve mentioned sounds great. I’ve never really been to an antique store, but I like to idea of looking for a treasure 🙂 How many days would you recommend staying there?

    • Reply June 18, 2017 at 1:35 am

      I would recommend a week. You can do a lot in a day, but it is so nice to explore the surrounding area and taking the time to enjoy everything there is to offer. As for antique stores, it’s worth visiting one sometime. So many fun things to see and you never know what you will find. 🙂

  • Reply Dealman June 11, 2017 at 9:10 pm

    Good post. I m going next month los angles. Can’t wait to visit Monterey and Carmel, it’s on my list of weekend trips!

    • Reply June 18, 2017 at 1:30 am

      Thank you! California has so much to offer. It’s an extremely diverse state, and so much fun to visit! Enjoy!!!

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