Monterey is a wonderful coastal town located in Monterey County on the southern edge of Monterey Bay in Northern California.

Natural beauty and a relaxed atmosphere are two of the things that make Monterey such a special place. You can enjoy a world-famous aquarium, excellent restaurants, art galleries, and shops here.

Whether you’re just visiting the city or the Monterey Peninsula, you’ll find a wealth of recreational opportunities to enjoy.

The Monterey Peninsula anchors the northern portion of the Central Coast of California and comprises the cities of Monterey, Carmel, Pacific Grove and the resort and community of Pebble Beach.

You can plan a weekend getaway or an easy day trip from San Francisco or the SF Bay Area to Monterey. Read on to learn about the top things to do in Monterey, California and start planning your next trip!

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California – The Ultimate Bucket List! #Travel #SeeMonterey #California Click To Tweet

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1. Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
The 28 feet kelp forest exhibit in Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the tallest aquarium exhibits in the world.

The world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is definitely one of the best places to visit in Monterey.

Located on Cannery Row, the aquarium features a wide variety of marine life, including sharks, penguins, sea otters, and jellyfish. There are also interactive exhibits and hands-on activities for kids.

You will love exploring the unique exhibits in the Monterey Bay Aquarium and especially the unique and enchanting kelp forests exhibit.

The 28 feet kelp forest is one of the tallest aquarium exhibits in the world. Every installation at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is done with care, and a lot of thought has gone into it.

Not for a single moment will you feel monotonous. Also, don’t miss reading the beautiful and appropriate quotes scattered on the walls of the aquarium.

Before your visit, read my detailed review of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is a window to another world!

Tip: Buy a souvenir from the aquarium gift shop. I remember buying a stuffed red octopus that resembles an original Octopus I found in one of the exhibits.  

2. Explore Cannery Row

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Historic Cannery Row, Monterey

Cannery Row is the historic waterfront district of Monterey. It’s where the city’s sardine industry was based in the early 20th century, and today it’s a popular tourist destination.

If you walk along Cannery Row in Monterey, California, you’ll see a mix of old and new.

The historic buildings that used to house the canneries and their workers are now home to restaurants and shops, while the modern buildings house offices and other businesses.

But if you look closely, you’ll see evidence of the area’s storied past. You can also listen to a Self-Guided Audio Tour while exploring the historic sites along Cannery Row, where John Steinbeck was inspired. 

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Steinbeck Plaza

John Steinbeck was born in 1902 in Salinas, California, and grew up in Monterey. He spent a lot of time in the area’s canneries and factories, and these experiences inspired his famous novel Cannery Row.

The novel is set in the working-class district of Monterey known as Cannery Row and tells the story of the people who lived and worked there. Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

I recommend you read Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row before visiting Monterey. It will deepen your experience while visiting this vibrant place, and you will learn about the people who used to live there.

A few highlights along the historic Cannery Row

Cannery Row is dotted with many captivating landmarks. Here are some highlights of this historic street.

A landmark on Cannery Row, where John Steinbeck’s friend and famed marine biologist Ed Ricketts prepped the marine life he collected before shipping it to schools and medical facilities.

  • Cannery Row Monument on Steinbeck Plaza
50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Cannery Row Monument

The Cannery Row Monument on Steinbeck Plaza is an interesting tribute to the many notorious and famous characters associated with the area.

Designed by sculptor Steven Whyte, the monument features a large rock base with a statue of John Steinbeck sitting on top; below is one depicting his friend Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist; surrounding Steinbeck is other bronze figures, each representing a different aspect of life in Cannery Row.

  • Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop

The Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop in Monterey is a must-stop for anyone with a sweet tooth. Founded in San Francisco, this family-friendly spot offers delectable sundaes as well as a variety of chocolates perfect for souvenirs or just to satisfy your cravings.

It’s even better when you can sit out on the balcony and enjoy your ice cream while taking in the lovely views of the ocean. The railing often serves as a resting place for curious seagulls, adding an extra special touch to your experience. 

The sundaes here are made with only high-quality ingredients, ensuring their creamy and decadent goodness every time.

The shop also carries an extensive selection of Ghirardelli chocolate squares, which can be tasted upon entering.

With so many flavors, everyone is sure to find something that satisfies their taste buds. Each square is incredibly rich and decadent, creating an indulgent treat that can’t be beaten! 

  • McAbee Beach
50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Mural of two Chinese fishermen on McAbee Beach, Monterey Bay

This pocket beach, located in Cannery Row and popular with kayakers, scuba divers, and families, has a large kelp bed just offshore.

  • San Carlos Beach Park
50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
San Carlos Beach Park

This park is a lovely open space with lots of room for a picnic along the coast.

  • San Carlos Beach

This is a small beach located at the end of Cannery Row. It’s a great spot to visit on a sunny day.

3. Go whale watching

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Humpback whale breaching in Monterey Bay California

Monterey Bay is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. From January through April, you can see gray whales migrating along the coast.

In the summer, humpback whales can be seen near the shoreline. And in the fall, blue whales can be spotted near Point Pinos.

Embark on any one of the whale-watching tours to see these majestic creatures up close. The knowledgeable guides will share interesting facts about the whales and their habitat.

You’ll also have the opportunity to observe them from the comfort of a heated cabin or outside on the deck.

Book a whale-watching tour here. Meet your guide at the Fishermans Wharf to begin your tour.

The Monterey Bay Whale Watch Cruise is a great option for visitors looking for an affordable and fun-filled experience. The tour will depart from Old Fisherman’s Wharf and takes you into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where you are sure to spot whales almost every day. A marine biologist will guide you for 3-4 hours, informing you about the whales and other area wildlife as well as conservation efforts in place to keep them safe. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is home to an incredible variety of wildlife and has been nicknamed “the Serengeti of the sea.”

If you’re looking for a unique way to experience Monterey, you can opt for this sunset whale watching Cruise with a guide. Seeing these gentle giants in their natural habitat is an experience you won’t forget!

Travel Tip: Check the calendar to see which animals you can spot during different times of the year, and schedule your tour for when those animals are typically at the sanctuary.

4. Explore Old Fisherman’s Wharf

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey

Old Fisherman’s Wharf is a historic district in Monterey, California, built-in 1870 by the Pacific Coast Steamship Company.

The wharf was used by other commercial operations, and the city of Monterey took ownership in 1913.

The wharf was expanded through 1920. In 1923, while an unusually large shipment of sardines was being loaded onto the S.S. San Antonio, bad weather caused the ship to lean on the wharf, and 132 feet of it collapsed.

When the wharf was reconstructed, it was extended by 750 feet. Municipal Wharf II was constructed in 1926. After World War II, the sardine population in Monterey Bay collapsed, and Old Fisherman’s Wharf reoriented its business focus toward tourism.

Today, the wharf is a popular tourist destination, with shops, restaurants, and charter boats lining the boardwalk.

Visitors can enjoy fresh seafood and take in the stunning views of Monterey Bay. There’s never a dull moment down at the wharf.

Book a tour to go whale watching or go on a fishing trip, and don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for the resident sea lions sunbathing on the buoys and boats in the bay.

Whales, fishing, sea lions–oh my! Old Fisherman’s Wharf is a must-see for anyone visiting Monterey!

5. Go kayaking

Kayaking is a great way to explore the dramatic coastline of Monterey Bay. Several companies offer kayaking tours, and you can also rent a kayak and explore the waters of Monterey Bay on your own.

Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife, including seals, otters, and birds.

6. Ride a bike on the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
A view from Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail – City of Pacific Grove section

The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail is a paved, multi-use path that runs along the coast from Castroville to Pacific Grove.

The trail is perfect for biking, walking, rollerblading, and more. Take in the fresh sea air and stunning views as you travel along the trail.

There are several access points along the way, so you can start and stop as you please.

7. Visit Monterey State Historic Park

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Monterey State Historic Park

Monterey State Historic Park is a group of buildings and sites in Monterey, California, with historical significance.  

They are spread out throughout Old Monterey. The park includes the first theater, customs house, public building, and residence constructed in Alta California.

Step back in time by walking on the “Monterey Walking Path of History.” The Monterey Walking Path of History is a great way to learn about California’s rich history.

The two-mile path winds through the city and features 55 historical sites, including where Spanish explorers first landed in Monterey in 1602 and the home of famed author Robert Louis Stevenson in 1879.

There is also a self-guided free mobile phone tour available for those who want a more in-depth experience.

For an educational and culturally-enriching experience, take part in one of the hour-long guided history tours.

Guided history tours are available Thursday-Sunday at 11:00, 1:00, and 3:00. Each tour costs $10 for adults, while children 17 years old and below may participate for free. Get your tickets at the Custom House (adjacent to Old Fisherman’s Wharf).

Important historic buildings to see in old Monterey.

8. Custom House – A National Historic Landmark

The Old Custom House is a National Historic Landmark in Monterey, California, that represents the city’s Mexican heritage.

9. Pacific House

The Pacific House is a historic building that has been used as a hotel, law office, newspaper office, and ballroom. It showcases the different eras of the town’s history.

10. First Brick House

Early structures in Monterey were built of mud blocks that needed to be thick to support floors and required plastering on exterior surfaces to keep out damaging winter rains. The arrival of the American Period brought Gallant Dickinson, who, in 1847, introduced a new building technique to California – the art of fired clay brick making. Thanks to his endeavors, one of the first fired brick buildings in California was built.

11. Old Whaling Station

The Old Adobe was a structure unlike any other that had been built in Monterey, California. It was built by David Wight in 1847 as a residence for his wife and daughter, designed to be reminiscent of Wight’s ancestral home in Ayton, Scotland. The building was made of traditional adobe bricks and had a front walkway constructed entirely out of whale vertebrae – a relic of the days when whales were hunted for their oil and other products. 

Later, in 1855, the Old Monterey Whaling Company began shore-whaling operations and used the adobe as a headquarters and employee residence. They used the property from 1855-1908, when whaling activities terminated due to the significant depletion of whale populations. 

From 1908-1918, the building operated as an Inn; offering lodging services to travelers who passed through Monterey or stayed in the area for extended periods of time. This period marked its heyday as a business; visitors described it as “the most comfortable place along the coast… no finer accommodations could be found outside San Francisco”. 

Today the property is owned by the Junior League of Monterey County, which preserves it as part of its historic legacy program and provides tours to visitors interested in learning more about its history. The structure remains largely unchanged since it was constructed over 150 years ago; with its original adobe brick walls standing strong against time’s passing and its ivory walkway still making use of those whale bones that have stood witness to so much history over the years.

12. California’s First Theater

California’s First Theater is a historic building in Old Monterey. Built in 1846 by Jack Swan, the adobe theater was the first commercial entertainment venue in California and has witnessed several important moments in state history.

13. Casa Soberanes

Casa Soberanes was constructed during the 1840s by Rafael Estrada using sun-dried mud (adobe). For generations, this home has been a place of refuge and shelter for numerous families, including the Soberanes family from 1860 to 1922, as well as the Serranos, who purchased and restored it in the 1920s and 30s. The home is renowned for its stunning interior design that encompasses a unique blend of early New England and China trade pieces with modern Mexican folk art. This collection is attributed to Mayo Hayes O’Donnell, a local historian who resided in the building until she died in 1978.

14. Larkin House

Thomas Oliver Larkin’s two-story mud adobe brick home, known as “Larkin House,” holds a special place in history; it is considered the prototype for Monterey Colonial architecture, which was prominent during Monterey’s Mexican Period. Larkin had a successful business as an American merchant, and he operated his store out of his home. He was highly regarded in the community and was appointed by President Polk to be the first and only United States Consul to Alta California under Mexican rule. Alice Larkin Toulmin, Larkin’s granddaughter, inherited the house in 1922 and filled it with early 19th-century antiques from all over the world.

15. Cooper-Molera Adobe –  A National Trust Historic Site

Cooper Molera is an important National Historic Landmark that gives visitors a glimpse into the history of Monterey. It is composed of two adobe homes, a corner store, an adobe warehouse, a barn complex, and surrounding gardens, all enclosed within an adobe wall. This site has served as a witness to the evolution of Monterey into what it is today. 

16. Robert Louis Stevenson House

The Stevenson House is a two-story adobe structure that has seen a variety of occupants throughout the years, ranging from families to government officials, artists, writers, and fishermen. It has been around since the Mexican era and was once known as the French Hotel. During its time as a rooming house, it welcomed the young and aspiring writer Robert Louis Stevenson in 1879. He stayed with friends while courting his future wife, Fanny Osbourne, in Monterey. It was during this period that he wrote “Old Pacific Capital.” It is said that his setting for “Treasure Island” may have been inspired by his walks along Monterey Peninsula. Today, the Stevenson house has been restored with several rooms dedicated to the celebrated writer’s work.

The Stevenson House serves as an important symbol of Monterey’s rich culture and artistic heritage. Not only does it remind us of Robert Louis Stevenson’s creative genius, but it also provides insight into what life was like during the 19th century when he visited Monterey Bay Area. Even today, this historical building continues to inspire visitors and residents alike with its unique story and charm!

17. Casa de Oro-Joseph Boston Store

The two-story adobe and chalk rock building which was constructed for Monterey businessman Thomas Larkin in 1845, has since served as the site of many different businesses. In 1849 Joseph Boston opened a general merchandise store with merchandise ranging from food to clothes and items required by miners passing through Monterey. This store was known affectionately as “Casa del Oro” (or House of Gold) as it contained the only safe in town where miners could store their gold in a secure place. 

Travel Tip: During Christmas, visitors can stroll through the Adobe buildings, smelling Mexican hot chocolate and enjoying the brightly lit Luminaries.

18. Get immersed in art at the Monterey Museum of Art

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
A beautiful portrait of Russian-born San Francisco author Ruth Solomon Freeman inside the Monterey museum of art

The Monterey Museum of Art is a must-visit for anyone who loves art. The museum, founded in 1959, collects, preserves, and interprets the art of California from the nineteenth century to the present day. The museum has two locations – one at 559  Pacific Street, across historic Colton Hall in Old Monterey, and the other at 720 La Mirada. Tucked away on a hill above Lake El Estero and Monterey Bay, La Mirada is open only during special events. La Mirada is a historic three-story home with sprawling gardens.

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
A beautiful painting of the California coast inside the Monterey museum of art

On Pacific Street, you’ll be able to view contemporary art, California paintings, and photography. Some of the most famous pieces in the museum’s collection include paintings by Armin Hansen, William Ritschel,​Joan Miró, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. The museum is also home to incredible works by world-renowned photographers like Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. The museum is open Thursday – Sunday, 11:00 am – 5:00 pm. The admission fee is $15.

19. Visit the San Carlos Cathedral – A national historic landmark

San Carlos Cathedral, also known as the “Royal Presidio Chapel,” is the oldest continuously operating cathedral in California. The current building dates back to 1794, making it one of the oldest structures in Monterey. The cathedral is named after Saint Charles Borromeo, the patron saint of Monterey. The cathedral has undergone several renovations over the years, but it has retained its original Spanish Colonial Revival style.

San Carlos Borromeo de Monterey is an essential piece of California’s history. Founded by Father Junipero Serra, it began as a cornerstone of his mission on the shores of Monterey Bay. But after a year, Fr. Serra moved the Mission to Carmel and left San Carlos to serve as a Royal Chapel for soldiers stationed at the Spanish Presidio.

20. See the Salvador Dali exhibition by The Monterey History & Art Association

The Monterey History & Art Association is home to a permanent exhibition of remarkable and unprecedented art, including original etchings, mixed media, lithographs, and rare sculptures by one of the twentieth century’s premier and most celebrated surrealist artists, Salvador Dali. This exhibition has previously been exhibited in Spain and Belgium and is now located on the West Coast.

Spend time on some beautiful beaches in and around Monterey

Beach time is the perfect way to relax and enjoy the beautiful Monterey area. Whether you prefer your beach wild and rugged or a wine bar adjacent, Monterey has got you covered. Beach time is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation. Soak up the sun, swim in the waves, build sandcastles, or simply stroll along the shore; no matter how you spend your time, you’re sure to enjoy it. So pack your sunscreen, grab your beach blanket, and head to one of these beautiful beaches for a day of fun in the sun.

21. Del Monte Beach, Monterey – Feel the local vibe. 

Del Monte Beach is a locals’ favorite for surfing, picnicking, and beachcombing. The beach features a well-maintained boardwalk trail that runs through its dunes and is lined with benches and picnic tables.

22. Lovers Point Beach, Pacific Grove – See a unique sunrise and get creative inspiration

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Lovers Point Park and Beach

Lovers Point Beach in Pacific Grove is a beautiful destination that offers visitors the unique opportunity to watch the sun rise over the horizon of the Pacific Ocean.  With its east-facing location, this beach is one of few places on the West Coast where visitors can catch such a breathtaking sight. But it’s not just beautiful coastal views that bring people to Lovers Point; the beach also serves as a wellspring of artistic inspiration. It’s no wonder that painters, photographers, and other creatives make their way here to capture its majestic beauty.

23. Asilomar State Beach, Pacific Grove – Explore Asilomar Dunes Natural Preserve.

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
My all-time favorite hall inside the Asilomar conference grounds!

With its 20th-century Julia Morgan-designed Asilomar conference grounds and overnight lodging accommodations, Asilomar is the perfect place to spend a day or two and enjoy the beautiful state beach. The area is home to a wide variety of wildlife and plant species, including the rare Monterey cypress tree and Asilomar Dunes Natural Preserve.

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
My daughter on the boardwalk at the Asilomar Dunes Natural Preserve

In addition to its beautiful white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters, Asilomar offers excellent surfing spots for all levels of experience. Beyond the beach’s cozy lodgings, guests can explore its neighboring dunes, as well as partake in activities like natural history walks and self-guided tours. The Asilomar Coast Trail is an easy stroll along flat sandy stretches of beach.

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
A surfer in Asilomar State Beach!

24. Spanish Bay Beach, Pacific Grove (Pebble Beach) – A quick stop while driving the famous 17-mile drive to stack rocks and wander through dunes

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Sunset from the boardwalk at Spanish Bay Beach!

Spanish Bay Beach, located in the exclusive gated community of Pebble Beach, is a public beach with a beautiful boardwalk that winds through the dunes. Although swimming isn’t recommended due to strong currents and unpredictable waves, it’s still a popular spot for surfing. In the last decade or so, visitors have been leaving behind cairns – small stacks of rocks – along the shoreline as a way of connecting with nature. 

The beach lies between two other stunning beaches: Moss Beach to the south and Asilomar State Beach to the north. It’s also situated along the famous 17-Mile Drive, one of the most scenic roads in California. After exploring Spanish Bay Beach, visitors can take advantage of all that Pebble Beach has to offer: from its world-famous golf courses to delicious restaurants and luxurious hotels. The picturesque sandy shoreline is lined with driftwood, sea shells, and colorful pebbles, which give it an almost magical feel.

25. McAbee Beach, Monterey – A stop when you’re sightseeing in Monterey.

When visiting Monterey and needing a refreshing break from sightseeing, McAbee Beach is an ideal spot to relax and make memories that will last forever. Just a short walk away from the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium and bustling Cannery Row, this tranquil beach offers up an impressive view of the crashing waves and palm trees-dotted shoreline. 

For those hoping to cool off with a dip in the cool water, pay attention to the tide: when high tide rolls in, this small beach retreat is reduced to only a sliver of sand. However, at low tide, there is plenty of room for visitors to spread out and take advantage of the soft sand beneath their feet. Not just for leisurely strolls along the beach, McAbee Beach also serves as an ideal launching point for kayakers looking to explore the wildlife-abundant Monterey Bay.

26. Monterey State Beach, Monterey – Relax and indulge in a delicious lunch at a restaurant.

Monterey State Beach is the largest beach in the area, a stunning stretch of sand offering plenty of recreational activities and a breathtaking view of Monterey Bay. Located right by Monterey Bay Waterfront Park and the Monterey Bay Recreational Trail, visitors can partake in a variety of activities such as beach volleyball, lounging on the sand, picnicking at any one of numerous available tables with convenient barbecues pits close by, or running and walking along one of many well-maintained pathways. The beach is composed of three individual stretches all spaced out within a mile radius from each other. 

Visitors looking for child-friendly fun will be delighted to learn that Monterey State Beach’s gentle sand shelf makes it perfect for wading in the shallows, as well as exploring multiple tide pools located along its shoreline. There are even more entertainment options for those who’d like to take advantage of them – kayaking, sailing, bird watching, whale watching, or simply admiring the sunset over the horizon provide ample opportunities to make your day at this picturesque location unique and unforgettable. The park also features wheelchair access paths as well as accessible restrooms so everyone can comfortably enjoy all that this generous natural environment has to offer.

27. San Carlos Beach, Monterey – Easily accessible beach stop

San Carlos Beach, situated in the historic town of Monterey, California, is one of the most popular and accessible beach destinations for locals and visitors alike. Located at the western end of Cannery Row, it can be easily reached from downtown and provides stunning views over the bay and its magnificent coastline.

28. Go on a hike to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
I and my daughter at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve!

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is an idyllic escape for nature lovers. Among all of California’s 280 state parks, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve has often been called the “crown jewel of the State Park System.”  Located just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Point Lobos offers visitors miles of coastal trails with stunning ocean views and plenty of wildlife. The scenery here is incredibly inspiring for photographers, painters, and poets who can take advantage of the tranquility to hone their craft amongst lush surroundings.   

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Whale bones, Point Lobos State Park

The wild, majestic landscape is laced with 14 meandering trails. If you choose a trail along the shoreline, as I did, you will see innumerable seabirds along the way. For those looking for something more exhilarating, scuba diving near Point Lobos is an excellent option. Considered one of the richest underwater habitats in the world, Point Lobos offers numerous dive sites perfect for both novice and experienced divers alike; they could even spot whales while exploring beneath the surface. There are plenty of guided tours available that provide all the necessary equipment – it’s easy to make a day out of exploring this beautiful area both above and below water level! With so much natural beauty and potential adventure awaiting you at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, it’s no wonder it’s considered one of California’s best treasures.

29. Explore Colton Hall Museum

Colton Hall is where the California constitution was drafted in English and Spanish back in 1849. The Colton Hall Museum houses a re-creation of the room in which this momentous event took place. This is one of the free things to do when in Monterey.

Colton Hall Museum IS open Sat-Sun, 10 AM to 4 PM.

30. Visit the Presidio of Monterey Museum

In addition to being a popular destination for fishing, Monterey has a long history as a military base. At the Presidio of Monterey Museum, you can explore 7,000 years of human history on the peninsula. The museum offers a fascinating look at the city’s past and present.

The museum, located in the Lower Presidio Historic Park,  is open on weekends and doesn’t require an entrance fee.

31. Visit Old Monterey Jail

The Old Monterey Jail was an imposing structure constructed in 1854 of thick granite walls designed to deter any attempted escapes. Its history spanned 102 years, from 1854 until 1956, during which time not a single person managed to break out from its secure confines. A visit to the building today is like taking a step back in time to the era of the Wild West – although it’s now open for visitors rather than inmates. Guests can explore this historic site every Thursday through Sunday between 10 am and 4 pm. 

32. Visit Sloat Monument

The Sloat Monument is a granite structure that was erected in July 1910 in honor of Commodore John D. Sloat, who, during the Mexican-American War, declared California part of the United States. This site has special significance as it marks the original beginning of California’s statehood and is an important symbol to many Monterey Bay locals, as well as a popular tourist attraction. The monument to Commodore Sloat stands at the top of Presidio hill overlooking Monterey Bay. You can visit the monument every day between 9 am and 5 pm. 

33. Enjoy a super scenic drive on the 17-Mile drive

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Lone Cypress on the 17-mile drive

Take a trip to one of the most renowned coastal roads in the world and experience for yourself why 17-Mile Drive is so beloved by travelers. The 17-Mile Drive starts at the Pacific Grove Gate and continues through Del Monte Forest. Renowned for its picturesque beauty, this iconic drive has been captivating visitors since it was first conceived in the late 19th century. You’ll find an abundance of amazing vistas sure to delight you.

Begin your journey with a visit to Lone Cypress, a gnarled Monterey cypress tree occupying a cliffside perch overlooking the PACIFIC OCEAN. This 250-year-old tree is proudly perched on a granite rock and has become an enduring symbol of Pebble Beach Resorts. 

As you continue your journey, take in the impressive sight at Crocker Grovethe native Monterey cypress forest.

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Crocker Grove is home to the largest and oldest Monterey Cypress trees in existence.

From here, you can make your way to Fan shell Beach, where natural beauty abounds in an untouched form. Here you’ll encounter pristine white sand beaches bordered by thick vegetation perfect for exploring or enjoying a picnic lunch. Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife – seabirds often flock here, making it ideal for bird-watching enthusiasts! 

Continue driving until you arrive at Point Joe – here, you can witness how powerful the restless sea can be as waves crash against rocks tucked away along this wild shoreline.

Afterward, stroll along the boardwalk at Spanish Bay, where sweeping views await around every corner. Marvel at striking sunsets against a backdrop of crashing waves before continuing along your travels as far as Carmel River State Beach – home to nearly 4 miles of sandy beaches perfect for frolicking or swimming on warmer days! 

Don’t forget: admission fees are required when entering 17-Mile Drive but are reimbursed with any purchase of $35 or more from all Pebble Beach Resorts restaurants (excluding Pebble Beach Market). So don’t miss this unique opportunity to experience one of the most scenic drives in California!

If you’re looking for a more active and immersive experience during your scenic drive along Monterey Bay, you should consider booking this popular three-hour electric bike tour from Pacific Grove. Along the way, learn about the area from your guide and make stops at impressive viewpoints.

Whether you stop at the best viewpoints or take in the fresh sea breezes, riding tandem with your young children is sure to make the experience even more special. This electric bike tour is designed for all skill levels and ages; no experience or special equipment is required. The bikes are powered by electricity, so they don’t require any pedaling; instead, they travel at a leisurely pace that allows you to appreciate every view while still covering plenty of ground over the course of three hours. This tour is perfect for families who want an active day outdoors without exerting too much effort. Book this guided tour now!

34. Explore Pacific Grove – the Butterfly town! 

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Pacific Grove’s shoreline at Perkins Park during the spring

Pacific Grove, a quaint and picturesque town situated on the Monterey Peninsula in California, is beautiful all year. It’s best known for its serene views, seaside trails, and unbeatable weather. But the magic carpet or the blooming ice plant that graces Pacific Grove’s shoreline at Perkins Park during the spring makes it one of the perfect destinations for spring break.

Travel Tip: Perkins Park is the section of shoreline between Lovers Point park and the Esplanade.

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Monarch Grove Sanctuary!

Every fall, thousands of monarch butterflies migrate to Pacific Grove and cluster together on pine, cypress, and eucalyptus trees in the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. Due to this unique phenomenon, Pacific Grove is nicknamed Butterfly Town, which gives us another reason to visit Pacific Grove.

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Monarch butterflies at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary!

Take a stroll along Ocean View Blvd and keep an eye out for these beautiful creatures, who often congregate near patches of wildflowers. In addition, you can explore the charming streets of Pacific Grove and its abundance of unique shops and restaurants.

35. Visit a vibrant butterfly house – a quirky place in Pacific Grove

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
My daughter sitting in front of the vibrant butterfly house in Pacific Grove!

Another quirky place I like in Pacific Grove is a vibrant butterfly house. You have to see this in person ❤️. Mark the exact address of the house full of butterfly sculptures and artwork 📍 309 9th St, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

36. Visit Point Pinos Light House in Monterey

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Point Pinos Lighthouse – In the darkness, a light still shines!

The Point Pinos Lighthouse is a historical landmark off of the Monterey coastline. Built in 1855, it is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast and offers guests an insider look into the life of a 19th-century lighthouse keeper.

Visitors can walk around and explore the grounds surrounding the Point Pinos Light House and climb the 95 steps to the top of the tower for a view of Monterey Bay. Inside, guests can learn about its rich history and even take part in an interactive program that allows them to explore at their own pace.

The Point Pinos Lighthouse is open year-round, with special events happening all the time.

37. Visit Monterey County Youth Museum – an enjoyable and stimulating location for young kids

The Monterey County Youth Museum is a great place for families and young children to visit. Located in the heart of downtown Monterey, it offers interactive exhibits that teach kids about the area’s history and culture. The museum also has an outdoor play area where kids can explore nature and build with materials like pebbles, sand, and sticks. The museum’s staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and they offer a variety of programs for kids to participate in, including art classes, science experiments, and more.

The Monterey County Youth Museum also hosts special events throughout the year, like their monthly “First Saturday” program, which includes hands-on activities for kids and families. If you’re looking for a fun place to explore with kids, the Monterey County Youth Museum is worth visiting!

38. Visit Dennis the Menace Playground – a fun place for kids

The Dennis the Menace Playground, named after an iconic children’s comic character, has been open for over fifty years and continues to bring joy to kids today. It is a must-visit for any family looking for fun things to do in Monterey. The playground was created as part of the El Estero Park complex with the help of Hank Ketcham, creator of the Dennis the Menace comic strip. This unique playground was designed with children of all ages in mind, and it offers plenty of activities to keep kids engaged. The park features a variety of slides, ladders, swings, a suspension bridge, a hedge maze, and other interactive play.

Additionally, there is a large sandbox for younger children to enjoy. For older kids, there is an exciting zip line that stretches across the playground. No matter what your child’s age or interests, they are sure to find something to enjoy at Dennis the Menace Playground. So don’t hesitate to add this fun-filled destination to your list of things to do in Monterey!

39. Explore Fort Ord National Monument

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations

Fort Ord National Monument is a protected area that was once used as a military base. Fort Ord was a leading training center and deployment staging ground during the Vietnam War. It is estimated that 1.5 million American troops trained at Fort Ord. The base was established in 1917 and was used by the United States Army until it was decommissioned in 1994. The area is also notable for its historical significance, including its role in the Spanish settlement of California. The area was first discovered by explorers from Spain, and it played an important role in the establishment of early California settlements. The base covers 14,651 acres of land, and it is now home to a variety of different habitats, including grasslands, chaparral, and oak woodlands. The monument is also home to a number of endangered species, including the Smith’s blue butterfly and the California red-legged frog. Fort Ord National Monument is a great place to explore the diverse landscapes of California and enjoy the outdoors.

With more than 86 miles of trails, there’s something for everyone. The trails wind through a variety of landscapes, from grassy hills to coastal shrubland. And the views are stunning! Whether you’re looking for a challenging hike or a leisurely stroll, the Fort Ord National Monument is a great place to explore.

40. Visit Carmel-by-the-Sea – a charming seaside town

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations

Take a trip to the enchanting Carmel-By-The-Sea and prepare to be amazed. This unique seaside town is just a short drive from Monterey and is renowned for its European flair. With its cobbled streets lined with quaint English cottages and Swiss alpine chalets, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into a fairytale.

Wander through the city’s vibrant galleries and indulge in the fine artwork they have to offer – from paintings of stunning landscapes to sculptures of intricate detail. You’ll be sure to find something that will become a cherished piece in your own home.

Visit the beautiful Carmel Mission, one of my favorite Spanish missions in California. Whenever I visit this place, the “ordinary” seems exquisite, and it feels like an escape from the over-stimulating “extraordinary” of reality. I especially love the carefully manicured garden behind the church.

My daughter in front of beautiful Carmel Mission

If you love wine, then indulge in some wine tasting and savor a delicious lunch in one of the restaurants in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

When ready for outdoor adventure, stroll down to the sandy beachfront for breathtaking views of the rugged Pacific coastline. Gaze out at the magnificent scenery and savor this unparalleled experience. The calming sound of waves crashing against rocks will take your breath away as you relax in this peaceful paradise. Carmel-By-The-Sea offers a truly magical escape from everyday life!

41. Go wine tasting

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations

Monterey Wine Country is home to some of the most renowned and historic vineyards and wineries in California. Carmel Valley and the Santa Lucia Highlands are home to some of the oldest vines in the state, while San Bernabe and San Antonio Valley are known for their award-winning wines. No matter your taste, you’ll find a wine to suit your palate in Monterey Wine Country.

Spend a delightful afternoon exploring the charming and historical town of Monterey while tasting some of the best wines in the county!

Visit Cannery Row or downtown to discover an array of exquisite wineries featuring wine tasting rooms, each offering its unique selection of fine vintages.

Take your time as you stroll through the streets, browsing all the fun shops and attractions, with plenty of opportunities to find that perfect sip to enjoy. With so many options for sampling delicious wines, your day is sure to be one you won’t soon forget!

Pierce Ranch Vineyards is a small family-owned vineyard in San Antonio Valley that produces wines with an emphasis on Spanish and Portuguese varieties. Visit their tasting room in downtown Monterey.

Address – 499 Wave Street, Monterey, CA 93940.

A visit to A Taste of Monterey is a must-do for any wine enthusiast visiting the region! Located on iconic Cannery Row, this oceanfront spot offers unrivaled views over the bay and a delectable selection of local wines and craft beers. Whether you’re looking for a romantic evening out or simply seeking to explore the area’s unique flavors, this is the perfect place to come and savor the tastes of Monterey. 

Address – 700 Cannery Row, Ste. KK, Monterey, CA – 93940

Located on Cannery Row, the Wine Experience offers unique services that can help both wine novices and connoisseurs alike. From interactive classes, customizable labels, and personal blending sessions – there is something for everyone here. The experienced staff can guide you through the entire process of blending your own wine, from selecting grapes to adding finishing touches like sugar or oak aging. And at the end of it all, you will be able to take home a bottle of wine that you have created. Discover the joys of creating your own wine blend at The Wine Experience!

42. Visit National Steinbeck Center in Salinas

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
An exhibit inside the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas

The National Steinbeck Center is an inspirational, state-of-the-art museum and cultural center in the heart of Salinas, California—the birthplace of Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck. The center is dedicated to preserving and celebrating Steinbeck’s life, spirit, and works. Through its collections, exhibitions, educational programs, publications, and public events, the Center serves as a hub for the study, exploration, and appreciation of Western American culture. It offers visitors an interactive experience that is both engaging and educational.

All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal

John Steinbeck
A sculpture of John Steinbeck inside the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas  , 50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
A sculpture of John Steinbeck inside the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas

43. Go on a scenic drive on the River Road Wine Trail 

River Road Wine Trail is a unique and beautiful place to visit, nestled snugly in the Santa Lucia Mountain Range in Monterey County, California. Spanning from Salinas to Greenfield, it is home to some of the Central Coast’s finest wineries, each with its own distinct character and charm. These wineries produce an array of different wines, including pinot noir, chardonnay, pino gris, syrah, and more, that are sought after by connoisseurs from near and far. 

What makes River Road Wine Trail so special is that many of its wineries have been family-owned for generations, so there is a profound sense of pride and respect for what they do. This shows through in the quality of their wine as well as in the way they treat visitors who come to tour their wineries. The tasting room staff are friendly and professional – they are incredibly knowledgeable about their products and will happily answer any questions you may have about them. 

The climate in these vineyards is ideal for creating extraordinary wines. The combination of cool ocean breezes coming off the nearby Pacific Ocean at night and warm days create an environment perfect for cultivating grapes which then turn into these exquisite vintages. Not only do the vines thrive here, but visitors can also enjoy stunning views from atop the hills; in fact, some wineries offer tours that provide breathtaking views over Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary below. 

44. Visit poet Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House

Robinson Jeffers is considered one of the most influential and significant poets of the 20th century. His Tor House in Carmel-by-the-Sea is an iconic landmark that embodies his legacy. The stone cottage was built by the poet himself, incorporating rocks from the surrounding area and filled with ancient artifacts. Visiting Tor House is an opportunity to learn about Jeffers’ life and works, as well as experience the beauty of Carmel-by-the-Sea from a unique perspective. The house also features stunning gardens, a living roof with wildflowers, and lovely views of the Pacific Ocean.

45. Take the iconic road trip through Big Sur

Bixby Creek Bridge,  on the Big Sur coast of California , 50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Bixby Creek Bridge,  on the Big Sur coast of California – one of the most photographed bridges in the golden state!

Big Sur, a rugged, mountainous stretch of the beautiful California coast, is magical. It’s an iconic road trip destination filled with stunning natural beauty. Do a day trip to Big Sur from Monterey. Take the classic Pacific Coast Highway to drive through Big Sur, stopping at various attractions such as McWay Falls, Bixby Bridge, Garrapata State Park, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, and Pfeiffer Beach.

46. Play golf at Pebble Beach – The no. 1 public golf course in America

ebble Beach - The no. 1 public golf course in America, 50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Pebble Beach golf course, Monterey, California, 

Pebble Beach Golf Links is a public golf course in Pebble Beach, California. It is regularly rated as one of the top golf courses in the world and has hosted six U.S. Open Championships since 1972. The famed 18-hole course meanders along dramatic coastal terrain with mesmerizing views of Carmel Bay, Point Lobos, and Stillwater Cove. The course is a true test of skill, so it’s no surprise that it has seen some of the greatest golfers in history compete on its fairways. Whether you’re an experienced player or just getting started, Pebble Beach Golf Links is an unforgettable experience and well worth the visit. Also, don’t overlook other golf courses like Spyglass Hill Golf Course, Del Monte Golf Course, the Links at Spanish Bay, and Poppy Hills Golf Course. Spend an afternoon on one of the picturesque golf courses in the area, indulging in a leisurely game of golf for either nine or eighteen holes.

47. Visit the Moon Tree

The remarkable story of the Moon Tree begins with the Apollo 14 mission in 1971. On board was Stuart Roosa, a Command Module pilot and a former U.S. Forest Service smoke jumper, who brought hundreds of seeds with him in his kit as part of an experiment to see if exposure to radiation in space would affect their subsequent germination and growth. Over the course of 33 hours, Roosa completed 34 full orbit turns while conducting gravitational and radar experiments, as well as taking photographs of the Moon. The Moon Tree is just one of those seeds taken by Roosa on this historic mission.

To examine the effect that radiation had on the seeds, they were compared to similarly treated earthbound seeds after they were germinated back on Earth. Surprisingly, no significant changes were detected between the growth patterns of both sets of seeds. Nevertheless, this experiment provided valuable insights into understanding how plants might respond to space travel and colonization efforts in the future.

It is a symbol of humanity’s aspirations and collective curiosity for exploration beyond our world and into outer space.

Address:  📍 536-570 Pacific St, Monterey, CA 93940

48. Enjoy 1-Hour Monterey and Cannery Row Sea Car Tour

The 1-Hour Monterey and Cannery Row Sea Car Tour offers a unique and exciting way to explore the stunning beauty of Monterey Bay and the Central Coast. With this GPS-guided tour, you can cruise along the Pacific shoreline or through town at your own pace. This tour enables visitors to experience the best sights while gaining insight into the culture of Monterey. As you drive, listen to recorded commentary about attractions like Fisherman’s Wharf and Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. 

This tour is ideal for those who would like a convenient way to explore the area without having to worry about getting lost or spending too much time in a certain spot. The GPS-guided sea car takes all of the guesswork out of navigating, allowing you to maximize your time spent in Monterey. And since it is just an hour long, it makes for a perfect afternoon activity for anyone looking for something fun yet not too demanding on their time. Book this tour now!

49. Explore one of California’s most spectacular wetlands

50 Top things to do in Monterey, California -  The Ultimate Bucket List - Travel Realizations
Sea Otters playing in the water at Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing, California

The Elkhorn Slough Wildlife Tour offers an unforgettable experience for any nature lover. This unique tour takes you up close and personal with one of California’s most spectacular wetlands and wildlife. Elkhorn Slough is a 7-mile-long tidal slough and estuary on Monterey Bay in Monterey County, California. It is California’s second-largest estuary and the United States’ first estuarine sanctuary. On tour, you’ll have the opportunity to observe a variety of animals in their natural habitat, including sea lions, otters, seals, pelicans, herons, egrets, and more. You’ll also learn more about the wildlife from your knowledgeable guide as they provide interesting facts and information along the way.

Another great aspect of this tour is that it is electric-powered, with both morning and afternoon tour times available to accommodate your schedule. This means you can enjoy a stress-free and eco-friendly journey around the fascinating Elkhorn Slough estuary. Additionally, each boat comes equipped with comfortable seating and plenty of shade so that you can relax in comfort throughout your adventure on the water. 

On top of all these great features, the Elkhorn Slough Wildlife Tour provides a wonderful opportunity for families to share an exciting outing together. This tour is one of my favorite things to do with my children when I visit Moss Landing. Book this tour now!

50. Monterey Jazz festival

The Monterey Jazz Festival is a must-see event every September. It began in 1958 as a three-day festival at the Monterey County Fairgrounds and has grown to become one of the longest-continuously-running jazz festivals in the world. The three-day, the two-night event brings together some of the world’s most celebrated jazz artists to perform on 20 acres of beautiful oak-laden land.

What and where to eat in Monterey?

If you are in Monterey, then you have to try “Monterey Style” clam chowder. Old Fisherman’s Grotto, the oldest restaurant on Old Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, California, is the proud home of “Monterey Style” clam chowder. This iconic recipe has been served to residents and visitors of the peninsula for more than half a century and continues to be an absolute favorite amongst seafood lovers around the world. The delightful bowl of creamy chowder is served in an even more delectable garlic butter-toasted bread bowl, giving it added flavor and texture. You can also try the creamy “Monterey style” clam chowder at Rockfish Harbor Grill and Schooners Monterey if you want to enjoy a heated outdoor patio.  

Where to stay in Monterey

InterContinental The Clement Monterey is the perfect choice for guests looking to experience the vibrant culture of Cannery Row. Located in the heart of Monterey, the hotel is within walking distance of numerous attractions, including shopping, wine tasting, and delicious local restaurants. Guests will also find a plethora of amenities on-site, including a spa and a children’s club. With spacious and elegantly furnished rooms, each offering partial or full ocean views, guests are guaranteed a comfortable stay. Book a stay here!

Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa offers an unparalleled experience for travelers in search of luxury and relaxation. With breathtaking views of the Monterey Bay, a private beach, a full-service spa, and only steps from Cannery Row and 10 minutes walk from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, this hotel is sure to delight even the most discerning traveler. Book a stay here!

Portola Hotel & Spa makes for an ideal getaway. Located in downtown Monterey, you can easily stroll to the many shopping and dining spots nearby. Their onsite spa is highly rated, offering guests a chance to relax and unwind with luxurious treatments. It offers convenience, comfort, and relaxation in one package! Book a stay here!

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I hope I have been able to convince you that a visit to Monterey and Monterey Bay is something that should not be missed.

With its breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife, it’s the perfect place for a vacation or getaway.

Visitors can explore many iconic attractions, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, or Fisherman’s Wharf, and experience its vibrant culture through museums and galleries.

Not to mention, there are plenty of delicious seafood restaurants and wineries to indulge in local delicacies.

Nature lovers will find an abundance of activities, including kayaking, boating, and whale watching – allowing them to get up close with some of the most majestic creatures on Earth.

Additionally, they can take in spectacular views along the coastline while enjoying picturesque sunsets. So follow my guide to plan a trip to Monterey and create great memories that will last a lifetime!

Leave a comment below if you have any questions, or DM me on Instagram @travelrealizations

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Chirasree Banerjee

Hello. My name is Chirasree. I have been traveling for almost 11 years to places all over the world. I enter into a separate reality during my travels and enjoy the allure of escape from the mundane. I seek beauty through nature and human-made creations. Because beauty is powerful. I seek knowledge. I observe, absorb, and write about the places I visit and the profound realizations and inspirations that each place has to offer.