California is a huge state that would take years to fully explore, yet I keep gravitating towards Los Angeles and San Francisco every time I head down there. This time I wanted to try to explore somewhere new, so I set my sights on Monterey. I’m so glad that I did because this may be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to in the state! Here are the 14 best things to do in Monterey, California.
How to Get to Monterey:
Monterey is located on California’s central coastline, and if you’re flying in the easiest way is to go from San Francisco to Monterey. From there you can rent a car at the San Francisco International Airport and jump on Highway 101 to get there in about two hours. I f you’re coming from Los Angeles to Monterey, it will take you about five hours (not including LA traffic).
14 Best Things to Do in Monterey
There’s plenty to do in the area, but here’s what I recommend for what to do in Monterey.
1. The Wine Experience
I’ve been to many wine tastings before, but The Wine Experience is unlike any others. They have over a dozen different wines on tap, and while you can taste them, you can actually create your own custom blend. This is genius, as so often I’ll taste a wine and think it’s good but could be a little less sweet or have a little more of another flavor. I blended 60% Viognier and 40% Malbec and really enjoyed my creation!
They have reusable glass growlers so you can save money (and the environment!) by coming in to refill your wine every time you’re empty. I also loved the custom labels they have so you can give someone a unique party gift with one of your own pictures on the bottle.
2. Casa del Oro
Built in 1845, this was originally a general merchandise store, where you could find everything from silverware to brooms to soap. The first safe in the city was installed here, which was a big deal since there weren’t any banks at the time. Miners would come here to ask the owner to store their gold in the safe. While the gold is gone, you can still see the original safe, furniture, and other accessories.
3. Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail
If you’re looking for a way to be active, check out the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. It’s 18-miles long and will take you past Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and more. There are also many Monterey hotels along here to call your home base. This route follows along where the Southern Pacific Railroad used to be, and there’s a separate lane for bikers.
4. Whale Watching
If you want an almost guarantee that you’ll see whales, Monterey is the place to do whale watching. You’ll want to put this on your list of things to do in Monterey if you love whales. I went with Sanctuary Cruises for a tour that was almost three hours long, which allowed us to see a good number of humpback whales. I liked that the boat changes direction when they see a whale. And will wait for awhile to see if they’ll come up again.
The guide was very educational and told us all about the area and the habits of these whales. We saw whales breaching and even upside down and slapping their fins, which I’d never seen before. It looked like they were having a great time!
Read more: Best Lake Tahoe Hikes in California
5. Monterey Aquarium
One of the biggest attractions in Monterey is their aquarium. You’ve probably seen it in countless movies, especially their section with dozens of jellyfish. They have a live kelp forest so you can see what life looks like under the water in Monterey Bay. Tickets are $49.95 for adults and $29.95 for children.
6. Drink in a Haunted House
If you believe in ghosts, visit Restaurant 1833 to learn about their ghost sightings and over 200 years of mysterious deaths. Supposedly the original owner was a doctor who was also thought to be a murderer, and patrons say he can still be spotted around the restaurant from time to time. Have one of their absinthe drinks and see how you feel about the place after you’re done. This is one of the more unique things to do in Monterey.
7. Big Sur
One of the most popular things to do in Monterey is to drive down Highway 1 to see the landscape of Big Sur. Allow a full day for this so you can take time to stop at all the pull outs along the way. While you’ll get stopped partway due to the road being closed for a landslide, there are still plenty of restaurants to eat at while you’re there. Make sure to bring your camera!
Read more: Where to Stop on a Big Sur Trip
8. Dennis the Menace Playground
The creator of the comic strip Dennis the Menace lived in the nearby city of Carmel and created this playground in 1956. Children will love playing on the suspension bridge, adventure ship, climbing wall, slides, and other play structures. There is also a steam engine that’s from 1924 that you can see (but no longer climb on). It’s the perfect way to get your kids’ energy out while you’re on a California road trip.
9. Scuba Dive in Monterey Bay
The only thing better than looking at beautiful views of the water is going into the water. You’ll love the amazing scuba diving in Monterey Bay. They have kelp forests and tiny, orange jellyfish that make you feel like you’re in your own underwater world. Breakwater Scuba was right on Monterey Bay so I could walk right in the water after getting suited up. This was by far one of my favorite things to do in Monterey, as I’ve never been in kelp forests like this before.
10. Old Monterey Jail
This stone jail was built in 1854 and was made of almost all granite to ensure it would be solid. This worked, as no one ever escaped. The jail closed in 1959, but you can still visit it to see what cells used to be like in the 1800s.
11. Visit a Spa Overlooking the Pacific Ocean
When you need to relax, there’s nothing better than visiting a spa. Head to the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa on Cannery Row to get a facial or massage. When you’re done, head up to the rooftop to soak in a hot tub while looking at gorgeous views of the water. It’s the perfect way to spend an evening or even a day during your California vacation.
12. Fisherman’s Wharf
This iconic pier is full of seafood restaurants, souvenir shops, and plenty of places to have a view of the water. I loved how colorful all the buildings were and how much was going on in this small area.
13. Cannery Row
Located on Monterey Bay, Cannery Row has something for everyone. While it gets its name from the sardine factories that used to occupy it, it’s now known as Ocean View Avenue due to its prime location on the bay. It’s one of the most popular things to do in Monterey. There are plenty of places to go wine tasting while having a beautiful view of the water, and afterward, check out one of the 25 restaurants that line the area. Kids will love watching all the wildlife that is found near the water.
14. San Carlos Cathedral
This church was built in 1791 and is the oldest continuously operating church in California. It also became the first cathedral in the state in 1849. While small, it’s a beautiful place to visit and should be added to your itinerary for things to do in Monterey. You can even see some of the original artifacts from when it first opened.
Read more: A Guide to Temecula Valley
Where to Stay in Monterey
There are a variety of Monterey hotels, whether you want to save money and stay more inland or splurge on a coastal hotel with a view of the ocean.
Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa – Rated the top hotel in Monterey, you’ll be treated to views of Monterey Bay every day and might not even want to leave. They have everything you could want here, including a fitness center, spa, restaurant, and bar, so you could easily spend a day relaxing. Read reviews on TripAdvisor | See prices on Hotels.com
Hotel Pacific – This hotel is right in downtown Monterey, making it convenient to walk to plenty of stores and restaurants. You can upgrade your room to have a balcony with a scenic view or have a fireplace for the colder nights. Read reviews on TripAdvisor | See prices on Hotels.com
I loved the food in Monterey! Here are some of the best places to eat in Monterey and the surrounding areas.
Peter B’s Brewpub
Peter B’s Brewpub had an award-winning brewmaster from the Midwest come over and brew some very different beers in-house. I had never even seen some of these flavors before! A few of my surprisingly favorite ones were a melon sour (Tiki Tembo) and a sour stout. You’ll want to add this to your list of things to do in Monterey if you’re a beer lover.
Although my beloved Seahawks weren’t playing, I loved watching Thursday night football at the many TVs around the restaurant as I had my sampler. I ended up ordering buffalo cauliflower “wings” and Shrimp Louie salad to top off my meal, and both were delicious!
If you love seafood, you have to make a stop at this restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Flaherty’s has so many seafood options that I think it took me at least 15 minutes to decide what to get. I ended up getting a lobster bisque for my appetizer and an Alaska halibut encrusted with crab for my entree.
Although I was completely stuffed, I couldn’t resist ending with key lime pie. The only true key lime pie I’ve ever had was when I was in Palm Beach, and this one tasted like it was straight from Florida.
Carmel Valley Coffee
One of my favorite things to do when traveling is finding a cute coffee shop to people watch, try the local coffee, and get a little work done. Carmel Valley Coffee was exactly what I was looking here, so I came here multiple mornings. I loved that they had organic coffee and gluten-free and vegan options for breakfast as well!
The Haute Enchilada
Located in Moss Landing, The Haute Enchilada is the perfect place to have lunch, especially if you just went whale watching across the street. I started with the roasted chile poblano soup and black bean empanada for an appetizer. My entree was a pescado cubano, which I promptly ate all of! All the dishes were very unique and full of flavor, which makes it one of the tastier things to do in Monterey.
This post was sponsored by See Monterey, but all opinions are my own.