The Monterey Peninsula is one of California’s best places to visit along the central coast where there’s abundant natural beauty, marine life, rugged coastline, beaches and plenty to do outdoors. It’s an ideal place with wide open space to explore safely with plenty of room for social distancing – biking, hiking, golfing and outdoor exercise.
Stay Safe & Enjoy Responsibly
Good to note: there are some activities included in this article that might be available after the covid-19 crisis. Due to the ever-changing environment some things open up and then they close, etc. depending on local restrictions and state mandates (ie. spas, wine tastings, shops, indoor activities, etc.)
This trip, we ventured out to find golf courses in the area and explored some new hiking trails.
This small coastal stretch exudes charm and has attracted writers, artists and musicians for over 100 years. There are dozens of festivals and events that take place throughout the year.
We visited Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel Valley and ventured down Pacific Coast Highway 1.
Sharing some favorite recommendations on where to go, stay & dine.
#1 Monterey – 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.
#2 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.
- Whale Watching: Book a reservation with Monterey Bay Whale Watch and look for whales, dolphins and seals. Humpback Whales, Blue Whales, Orcas, Dolphins are often sighted between April – December, and Gray Whales, Dolphins can be seen January – March.
photo credit: photographer for Go Whales
#3 Monterey 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.
A simple must for any California Vacation! The beaches are very accessible throughout the Monterey Peninsula 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.
Many golf courses have reopened with modified operations to follow proper safety and health requirements. Visit individual golf club websites for specific protocols and additional information.
#6 Monterey Bay Aquarium
Across from the Spindrift Inn, is The Monterey Bay Aquarium Education Center (referred to as the Bechtel Education Center), offers free education programs that has served 90,000 schoolchildren, 400 teens and 1,400 teachers. Since March, they have launched a “Learning at Home” section that has received over 160,000 page views and over 20,000 enrollments in new digital learning programs.
When it opens up again, it’s a definite must for our list of Best places to visit in Monterey CA! 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.
#7 Drive the 17-Mile Drive & PCH
Rent a Classic Car with Monterey Touring Vehicles: A highlight of our trip was driving a classic car along the 17-mile drive to the Pacific Coast Highway.
We drove two convertibles – 1954 Chevy Bel-Air Coupe and a lemon yellow 1955 Ford Thunderbird. Cars may be driven all over the Peninsula, to Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Carmel Valley & beyond. Their fleet of cars include a 1965 Ford Mustang, 1938 Rolls-Royce Phantom (perfect for a bride and her wedding party), 1927 Bugatti, 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder and more.
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 point that has stood there for 250 years. You’ll see a stunning stretch of the California coastline with rocky shores, beaches and marine life along the drive.
#8 Visit the Carmel Mission
Visit the Carmel Mission, built in 1797, one of the most authentically restored Roman Catholic mission churches in California. It’s one of the 21 missions along California’s Historic Mission Trail, all located near Hwy 101. These missions trace the El Camino Real (The Royal Road) and was financed by the Spanish Monarchy.
We hiked two of the trails from this list of 7 Hikes that Take Your Breath Away. Can’t wait to return and hike the other recommended hikes.
- Garland Ranch Regional Park – located in Carmel Valley with steep trails and incredible views of the ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountains.
- Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail – go by foot or bike on this paved and mostly flat 18-mile trail that winds its way from Pacific Grove all the way to Castroville. If you want to do a small portion of this trail, opt for the popular section with the Old Fisherman’s Wharf and Lovers Point.
#10 Tour the Big Sur Lighthouse
The Point Sur Lighthouse and buildings stand atop a dramatic volcanic rock along Highway 1 at Big Sur. Tours are offered at this California State Historic Park on Saturdays at 10 am and Wednesdays at 1pm – check the schedule for more details.
More places along the Monterey Peninsula…
- 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: 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.
There are a range of places to stay throughout the Monterey Peninsula. Whether you’re visiting solo, on a romantic getaway or a family reunion, corporate retreat, here are some of our recommendations.
Perched on a hillside in the Carmel Highlands, this Hyatt hotel overlooks stunning vistas of the Pacific Coast along Highway 1. The Inn opened its doors in 1917 and quickly became THE place to stay for artists and travelers. Today, the Inn features 48 guest rooms, many with their own fireplace and spectacular views of the coast from Yankee Point to Point Lobos.
It’s an ideal place to stay as you drive along Highway 1 with many areas on the property to relax and enjoy the jaw dropping views, or take a plunge into the pool after a hike on the coast. We spent hours looking out at the sea…spotting whales, listening to the pounding surf, and viewed the sunsets from our balcony.
We can’t wait to return for another sunset and enjoy the views from the Sunset Lounge and California Market at Pacific’s Edge dining spot.
Located on the Del Monte Golf Course and nestled in the Monterey pines on 22 secluded acres. Located off Highway 1, this upscale modern hotel is 3 miles from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 2 miles from Monterey Regional Airport and 7 miles from Carmel River State Beach, just minutes from the scenic wonders of the Central Coast.
We stayed in a spacious suite with a bedroom, living room and work area, that overlooked the pool, and found our accommodations to be comfortable.
Amenities include a Tuscan restaurant (Searoot to open soon), a sports bar, and a lounge with a fireplace and jazz. There’s also a spa, a heated outdoor pool and a gym. The hotel shuttle offers complimentary transfers to/from the Monterey Airport.
We also stayed at three different Inns of Monterey properties — each central to Monterey, comfortable, clean and gracious hospitality.
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!
You can even watch the marine life with binoculars provided by the hotel. Don’t Miss! there’s also afternoon complimentary wine & cheese.
This charming seaside inn is located next to San Carlos Beach and right on Cannery Row, Monterey Bay Inn opens 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.
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.
Due to current social distancing guidelines in place, there is outdoor dining only permitted in the Monterey County. We will be updating this list as more restaurants open up. Keep checking back!
Book a reservation for the outdoor patio dining and delight in Spanish inspired cuisine by Chef Gus. Savor Mediterranean cuisine and tapas with fresh, local California ingredients. There’s also curbside To-Go & Home Delivery Dinner Menu available nightly.
Important to note: check on state orders issued to Monterey County whether outdoor dining is available and/or when indoor dining is permitted again.
Bakeries: Visit Rise+Roam in Carmel-by-the-Sea to get your latte & croissant or Alta Bakery in Monterey.
Global Adventuress thanks those mentioned in this article for hosting us during our stay.