Monterey is one of California’s best places to visit along the central coast where there’s abundant natural beauty, marine life, beaches and plenty to do outdoors.
This small coastal town exudes charm and has attracted writers, artists and musicians for over 100 years. Today there are dozens of festivals and events that take place throughout the year.
One of the town’s main streets is named Cannery Row where layers of history unfold from the time Native Americans inhabited the area, to the arrival of Spanish settlers, and later Chinese, Italian, Scottish among other immigrants arrived to build the bustling sardine canning industry. Legendary author John Steinbeck wrote a novel about this town, and his friend Ed Ricketts was a “father” of marine biology, inspiring many to preserve this coastal treasure.
We met local Diane Mandeville, VP of Marketing at the Cannery Row Company, who shared many activities that are listed below. She highlights that Ted Balestreri, the Chairman and CEO of Cannery Row Company, led the way to bring Cannery Row back to life.
We spent a few days in Monterey and here are some favorite recommendations on where to go, stay & dine.
What to Do in Monterey?
Sue Dreyer, Director of Marketing at Inns of Monterey points out that one of the reasons she moved to Monterey is she was attracted to the town’s beauty and the variety of activities to enjoy outdoors.
During our brief stay, we explored the town of Monterey and surrounding area. We quickly understood why locals love to live here and visitors return more than once to visit.
Our list of favorites below…what to do:
Cannery Row: The perfect place to start exploring Monterey is along Cannery Row where there are hotels, cafes, art galleries and shops lining the historic main street. You can walk to almost anywhere in Monterey from Cannery Row.
Discover Monterey by Land & by Sea: Whether you want to snorkel, paddle board, cycle, kayak, check out Adventures by the Sea for rentals and guided tours.
- Kayaking: Get in the water and kayak the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary near the McAbee and San Carlos Beaches. We kayaked one morning along the Monterey Bay coast, and watched sea otters, seals, sea lions and hundreds of jellyfish float around us. There are guided kayaking tours daily – click here for details.
- Cycling along the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail: There’s a 29 mile recreation trail along the coast. Rent a bike and enjoy the vistas! Click here to reserve your rental.
Old Fisherman’s Wharf: Visit the wharf where you’ll find shops, restaurants and outdoor cafes where you can try some fish & chips or the catch of the day.
Beaches: The beaches are very accessible in Monterey and there are excellent trails for walking, running and beach combing. Great place for beach combing and checking out tide pools. Visitors are amazed by the natural beauty of the coast lined with cypress trees, wild flowers and craggy rocks. Don’t Miss: there’s a small cove behind Spindrift Inn called McAbee Beach – if you want a beach all to yourself, this might be it.
Golfing: There are over 20 golf courses throughout Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel Valley and Pebble Beach.
Monterey Bay Aquarium: One of the top aquariums in the world where children and adults can see marine life at its finest – jelly fish, star fish, sharks, otters, seals and a giant kelp forest.
There are interactive exhibits, as well as excellent education and conservation programs that support the marine environment. Check out one of these initiatives called Seafood Watch to support a healthy ocean, and learn more about sustainable seafood, responsibly caught and farmed choices on menus when dining out.
17-Mile Drive: Take a few hours to drive the popular 17-mile drive that begins near Monterey and continues along the coast to Pebble Beach. Keep a lookout for The Lone Cypress on a rocky perch that has stood there for 250 years.
You’ll a stunning stretch of the California coastline with rocky shores, beaches and marine life along the drive.
Monterey Bay: Plenty of marine activity here with seals and sea otters frolicking in the waters, and depending on the season, there might be whale watching too.
Point Joe: Many believe Point Joe is where early explorers entered the Monterey Bay. From here you can see the rocks of Point Joe where many ships crashed as they attempted to enter the Bay.
Whale Watching: Sign up for a sunset sail or whale watching tour at the Monterey Fishermen’s Wharf.
- The Lodge At Pebble Beach: Home to the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Links, this 1919 Lodge is a popular destination.. This is where the AT&T Pebble Beach National ProAm takes place. Golfers tee off on Pebble Beach’s well-manicured golf courses. Open to the public – dine at one of the restaurants and enjoy the breathtaking views.
- Spanish Bay: In 1769, the Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola and arrived to Spanish Bay in search for Monterey Bay. Stop for a memorable sunset drink and appetizers at the Inn at Spanish Bay.
- Pacific Grove: A quaint town adjacent to Monterey and easy to visit. Boutiques, antique shops and cafes line its main street.
- Carmel-by-the-Sea: click here to find out our favorite things to do. If you enjoy nature and love to hike, follow one of the trails at nearby Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.
- Carmel Valley: Visit the Carmel Valley and stop for wine tastings at some of the wineries along the way, or dine al fresco at Corkscrew Cafe.
- Big Sur: One of the most scenic drives in the world is from Monterey to Big Sur along Highway 1. Take a 1/2 day to drive this coastal stretch and stop at Nepenthes for lunch – great burgers and surreal views of the Pacific Ocean. Note: Due to recent erosion and landslides, check the road conditions.
- Pinnacles National Park: About 1-2 hours from Monterey, visit this Park with dramatic rock formations and caves.
- Salinas: Visit the National Steinbeck Center and follow in the writer’s footsteps.
Where to Stay?
We stayed at three different Inns of Monterey properties — each central to Monterey, comfortable, clean and gracious hospitality.
Spindrift Inn: Looking for the ultimate beach escape? Located in the heart of Cannery Row on McAbee Beach, Spindrift Inn offers romance with bay view windows, rooms that have wood burning fireplaces, canopy beds and plush feather beds, marble bathrooms with Aveda products, and complimentary breakfasts in bed – delivered on a silver tray!
Named by TripAdvisor members as the “Best Hotel in the U.S. for Romance”
You can even watch the marine life with binoculars provided by the hotel. Don’t Miss! there’s also afternoon complimentary wine & cheese.
Monterey Bay Inn: This charming seaside inn is located next to San Carlos Beach and right on Cannery Row, Monterey Bay Innopens up to views of the Bay, a rooftop bay-view hot tub and terrace firepit, complimentary breakfast in bed.
Good to note: Our favorite room is #320, a panoramic corner room with bay views and a balcony to watch the sunrises and sunsets. Décor is contemporary and the expansive guestrooms have ultra-comfortable king-size beds and spacious bathrooms have hot tubs.
Casa Munras, Garden Hotel & Spa: Located in Old Town Monterey is the historic Casa Munras. Tucked away in a quiet pocket of Monterey is Casa Munras–a hacienda style hotel with bougainvillea growing around every bend.
It’s rooms are spacious, beds cloud like and are well cared for by friendly accommodating staff. Within walking distance of Monterey Bay shoreline, art galleries and Cannery Row, we were beyond happy to have landed at this bountiful respite.
Old-World Spanish charm combined with modern amenities — there’s an outdoor pool, spa, gardens and you can even rent a bike to explore Cannery Row.
Don’t Miss! Learn about this historic building and how the Esteban family was instrumental in developing Monterey during the 18th century. Read the plaque on the outer wall of the existing lobby building today that reads: “In Memory of Don Esteban Munras, last Spanish Diplomat of California of the Spanish Era for whom this was built in 1824. Dedicated by his great granddaughter, Maria Antonia Field, October 28, 1951.”
Estéban Restaurant – Enjoy a meal at the hotel’s restaurant and savor Mediterranean cuisine and tapas with fresh, local California ingredients.
Where to Dine?
- Estéban: Delight in Spanish inspired cuisine and taste a variety of modern tapas by Chef Thomas Snyder. Chef Snyder has traveled the globe and has earned his reputation from joining a Toulouse Michelin two star restaurant and as Chef of a Basque and Tapas restaurant in the Bay Area.
Don’t Miss! Every Tuesday night, Estéban Restaurant offers a three-course Paella dinner.
- Taste of Monterey Wine Market & Bistro: Did you know Monterey is one of California’s premium wine-growing regions with 40,000 acres of vineyards? If you don’t have time to venture out to these wineries for a tasting, wine lovers can explore over 95 local wines at Taste of Monterey along Cannery Row.
It’s an excellent bistro along the waterfront where you can sip, taste some tapas dishes, and take in the views. Located at 700 Cannery Row, Suite KK on the 2nd floor.
- Sardine Factory: One of the best happy hours on the peninsula with piano entertainment 5 nights a week.
- The Poke Lab where you can order the sushi burrito or visit Poke Time and get the poke bowl.
- Bakeries: Visit Parker-Lusseau on Hartnell Street for French pastries and breads.