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A Guide to Monterey and the Monterey Peninsula

June 15, 2021 /
things to do in monterey

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

Monterey, as a consequence of its fortunate location, is one of the most popular destinations on any trip to California. Whether you’re driving along the coast on the magnificent Highway 1, visiting San Francisco, or heading straight for Yosemite National Park, you should consider spending a day on the Monterey Peninsula.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what the whole area has to offer and will try to answer these questions: what are things to see in Monterey? How many days should you spend here? What is the best way to visit the city and the Monterey Peninsula? What attractions should you prioritize if you are just passing through? Which area in Monterey should you choose for an overnight stay?

How Many Days Should You Spend in Monterey?

Monterey, located 99 miles south of San Francisco on the northern edge of the scenic Big Sur coastline, rests on the Monterey Peninsula, a fascinating area with bluffs, cypress trees, and cliffs overlooking the ocean. It may take at least two days to visit the various attractions in the city and the surrounding area, however, due to the numerous stops to be made on a trip to California, people tend to spend no more than one day here. If this is the case for you, I recommend that you spend more time exploring the Monterey Peninsula rather than tour the city.

Best Things to Do in Monterey

Monterey Bay Aquarium

monterey bay aquariumVisiting Monterey without going to its famous Aquarium would be a mistake! In fact, it is one of the best aquariums on the West Coast and has an impressive variety of marine species. The address is 886 Cannery Row and admission (included in the San Francisco City Pass) is $49.95 for adults, while teens, children, and seniors have a reduced admission fee. The price may seem rather high, but the beauty of the aquarium makes it worth every penny…

If you are in Monterey during the high season, I recommend that you visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium on a weekday because during weekends it is particularly crowded and finding parking is not easy. The aquarium is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Tickets

Path of History

monterey touristic attractions
Colton Hall

Monterey also has historical significance. In fact, you should know that for a period of time, it was the capital of California and the historical buildings and old adobe houses remain as evidence of the city’s past. In Monterey, a few blocks from the waterfront, you’ll find some of the most beautiful buildings dating back to California’s Spanish Colonial period. The buildings are found on the Path of History, a route of the city’s many historical sites.

To follow the historic route, just look for the yellow tiles on the road, which connect all the places of interest, or simply use the map on the official website. Many of the sites are private residential homes, but you can still enter the state-owned sites without paying an entrance fee. The most interesting buildings to see are Larkin House (1834), the first house built in the city in colonial style, Custom House, the oldest government building on the West Coast, and Colton Hall (1849), which is still furnished as it was at the time of the California Constitutional Convention and contains one of the first maps of the West Coast. Most of the attractions are located near where Monterey’s free trolley stops.

Tourist Areas: Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row

what to do in MontereyThis is one of the most touristy areas of Monterey. Fisherman’s Wharf is not particularly charming (nothing compared to its San Francisco counterpart or even just Pier 39), but you can take a walk along the pier and maybe you’ll be enticed by barkers to try some clam chowder in one of the restaurants.

Cannery Row, where the fish industry flourished at the time, was immortalized by John Steinbeck in one of his novels.  Now it’s full of shops and restaurants, as well as tourists.

Visit Monterey Peninsula

The main reason to stop in Monterey is to visit its surroundings. The best way to explore the peninsula is to take a nice drive along 17-Mile Drive, one of the best scenic roads in the United States. You can view 17-Mile Drive on the map below:

The road takes you to some very charming places, where you can make quick stops:

  • First stop in Carmel, a small picturesque city. We also wrote an article about it.
  • Pebble Beach is an incredible place with golf courses, villas, twisted trees, and romantic seascapes. If you’re in the area, stop by the Lone Cypress Tree, a solitary cypress that has become the subject of numerous paintings, pictures, and postcards.
  • In Pacific Grove, you will find many historical buildings and a jagged and breathtaking coastline. I definitely recommend visiting the beautiful beach at Lovers Point and the historic lighthouse at Point Pinos.

If you have a little more time, then you can go for a drive on the beautiful Highway 1, one of the most famous scenic roads in California, and head straight to Big Sur, where the most breathtaking views on Highway 1 are found. You can find all the information in our article about Big Sur.

Road Trip on 17-Mile Drive: Photo Gallery

Lodging in Monterey

My advice is not to limit your search to the city of Monterey. Instead, also look on the Monterey Peninsula, so you will have a greater selection and a higher chance to find accommodations at low prices. Here are some links where you can check the prices of accommodations at different locations in the area:

Finally, click the link below to find interesting activities and things to do in the Monterey Peninsula:

Activities in Monterey

Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

lorenzo puliti

I am fascinated by the wonders of the world I never tire of going in search of them.

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