The Monterey Peninsula is home to some of the most beautiful coastline in all of California with stunning views and numerous opportunities to explore and enjoy all the area has to offer. With a relaxed charm, Monterey offers exceptional dining, shopping, and entertainment in an atmosphere that celebrates the natural environment and history of the region.
Whether visiting for a weekend or a longer period of time, the list of area attractions will most likely exceed the hours in your stay. So, here’s a list of seven activities that should top your list of things to do in and around Monterey.
1. Whales, dolphins, sea lions, otters and more
The humpback whale surfacing is a graceful, powerful sight.
The sound of the blow, the cloud of mist, the peduncle arch, and the flash of the fluke before a dive create a dance that captivates. Beautiful creatures, the humpback whales swim in the Monterey Bay from April through November, as do orcas, blue whales, and dolphins. From December to April, grey whales can be spotted on their migration to Mexico. Year-round, the Monterey Bay area offers a chance to view sea lions, seals, sea otters, and countless species of birds.
Several whale watching tours leave from Old Fisherman’s Wharf twice a day. Tours are typically 3 or 5 hours in length.
2. Cannery Row
Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.”
― John Steinbeck, Cannery Row
The colorful Cannery Row made famous by John Steinbeck is now a vibrant area filled with shops, restaurants, hotels, and galleries. A great mid-day spot, Cannery Row is perfect for grabbing lunch, browsing shops, and sitting for a bit along the waterfront while taking in the magnificent harbor view.
The world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium is located at the north end of the Cannery Row area and offers the chance to view sea otters, sharks, seahorses, tuna, penguins, and thousands of other marine animals without leaving the land.
3. Old Fisherman’s Wharf
Seagulls fly overhead. The salty breeze gently blows as the sun shimmers off the water. Vendors offer small cups of chowder as an enticement to dine in their restaurant. Across the way, fishermen talk in the distance as they tie up their boats for the night.
Dating back to the 1800s, Fisherman’s Wharf has long been a center of activity in Monterey. Commercial fishing operations are now located to the east at Wharf II and Old Fisherman’s Wharf is a tourist attraction lined with seafood restaurants, gift shops, whale watching tours, and fishing trip operators.
Fresh seafood abounds in the restaurants along the Wharf including Old Fisherman’s Grotto, which was started in the 1950s as a small eatery by Sabu Shake, Sr. Known for their quality dining, Old Fisherman’s Grotto serves Italian and seafood specialties in a comfortable atmosphere with bay views and excellent service.
4. 17-Mile Drive
Recognized as one of the most scenic drives in the world, the 17-Mile Drive runs from Pacific Grove to Carmel, winding through the gated community of Pebble Beach, the Del Monte Forest, and along the Pacific coastline, providing amazing photo opportunities of the rugged landscape along the way.
Among the scenic spots along the drive are Fanshell Overlook, Spanish Bay, Point Joe, and The Lone Cypress, a single tree perched above ocean bluffs.
Golf courses, including Spyglass Hill, Cypress Point, and the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links, are scattered along the 17 Mile Drive in the secluded community.
Thinking of playing a round at one of the most famous golf courses in the world? Rates are $495 (includes a cart) and a two-night minimum stay is required at one of Pebble Beach’s hotels in order to make a golf reservation ($670 – $3000/night).
Good news – the entrance fee for the 17 Mile Drive is only $10 per vehicle and the views are priceless. Bicycles are welcome, motorcycles are prohibited.
5. Carmel By-The-Sea
Just a few miles down Highway 1 from Monterey lies the quaint village of Carmel By-The-Sea.
Located in a perfect location where land meets the sea, Carmel is a beautiful, dog-friendly town filled with cafes, restaurants, galleries, boutiques, spas, and small, luxurious hotels.
Similar to Aspen, Carmel is frequented by the rich and famous, but the quirky, pristine yet comfortable town is also enjoyed by millions of tourists each year. Rich in history, culture, and natural beauty, Carmel rewards your visit with much to do and see, be it for a few hours or a few days.
6. Hiking at Big Sur
What is Big Sur? It is a region ranging from Carmel on the north to Hearst Castle (San Simeon) on the south, where Highway 1 winds its way down the central coast next to the ocean with stunning views.
Popular for hiking and camping, multiple state parks can be found within the region including Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Andrew Molera State Park, Limekiln State Park and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
Located on the western slope of the Santa Lucia Mountains, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a central point for camping and day use hiking. The popular Pfeiffer Falls / Valley View trail is a scenic, moderate 2-mile round trip hike leading to a 60-foot waterfall. The trailhead begins across from the lodge just outside the main gate. Day use parking is located inside the gate for a $10 /day park fee.
Further down Highway 1 at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, the popular McWay Falls are found. Just a short walk from the highway, the Overlook Waterfall Trail is a path providing viewing of the McWay Falls as they pour onto the sandy beach below. The spot is crowded but still worth the visit.
7. Drinking some Carmel Valley wine
Nestled amongst gently rolling hills, orchards, and oak trees, are the wineries of the Carmel Valley. A much quieter tasting experience than Napa or Sonoma, 21 tasting rooms are situated along the 12 mile Carmel Valley route which runs inland from Highway 1 and Carmel including Chateau Julien, Talbotts Vineyards, Heller Estate, and Bernardus Winery.
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