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11 Best Things to Do in Monterey, California

Monterey is a small city in California that was once the capital of Spanish California from 1770 to 1882. It now has many historical sites and modern attractions. It was once an important city in the fish canning industry. Monterey and the surrounding area have attracted artists since the late 19th-century, and many celebrated painters and writers have lived in the area.

Now, Monterey is a hotspot for tourists and locals alike who enjoy the beautiful ocean views, good food, art and history. But for those that don’t know the area, what is there specifically to do? Well, join us as we go through the eleven best things to do in Monterey, California. Whether you’re a local, a returning visitor, or are planning to go there for the first time, check out our list and see if there’s anything that tickles your fancy.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

At number one on our list is Monterey Bay Aquarium. Monterey Bay Aquarium has proven to be one of the most popular things for visitors to do in Monterey. With the well laid out and engaging exhibits, it is made even more spectacular by its setting on the water’s edge. At certain times of the day, visitors can see some of the daily shows and watch sea otters or penguins being fed.

Remember to check out the incredible Open Sea exhibit, where you can see tuna, sharks, turtles and other stunning marine life feeding through the huge window. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

While the aquarium focuses on the rich marine life that Monterey Bay has to offer, there are special exhibits that give insight into other areas. The architecture of this elaborate aquarium complex was adapted from the former Hovden Cannery, which stood there from 1916 to 1980 and was one of the largest of the eighteen in Cannery Row.

17-Mile Drive

At number two on our list of the best things to do in Monterey, California, is the 17-Mile Drive. It is a must for the beautiful scenery and absolutely stunning views. Just a few miles from Monterey, lies the wonderful seaside town of Carmel. On the south side of the Monterey Peninsula.

While there is a direct route between the two, taking the 17-Mile Drive offers the epic views and wonderful charms of the countryside. The route begins at Pacific Grove Gate and runs through the Del Monte Forest. You will experience endless cypress trees and Monterey pines. The picturesque beaches and isolated cliffs are truly something to behold.

This is a drive you do not want to miss, and remember to take some time to explore the town of Carmel.

Cannery Row

Number three on our list are the restaurants and the oceanfront of Cannery Row. This waterfront street originally served as a fish packing area, but don’t let that worry you. Those times are long gone. Now, it is one of Monterey’s main tourist hotspots with restaurants, shops and the stunning waterfront.

With its old buildings and modern stores, Cannery Row is a place for busy tourists and history buffs alike.

Monterey State Historic Park

Another one for the history buffs is at number four, Monterey State Historic Park. Located in Old Monterey, once the capital of California, Monterey State Historic Park consists of historic homes and buildings, with many that date to the early 19th century. The park was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

The area is relatively compact with yellow tiles in the sidewalks to link the attractions, making it a very easy place to explore. As well as the historic buildings, the gardens are wonderful to admire. They range from stunning rose gardens, to cypress hedges, and even have an educational herb garden.

Monterey Museum of Art

At number five we have one for the art connoisseurs with the splendid Monterey Museum of Art. In what is great for those visiting from afar, the museum has a large focus on California art and artists. The museum is split into two separate locations, each with their own focus.

The Pacific Street location, which is called the Monterey Museum, is focused on photography and contemporary art. The second location, named the Monterey Museum of Art – La Mirada, is housed in a beautiful old mansion surrounded by lush grounds and a lovely rose garden. This location displays changing exhibitions.

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Old Fisherman’s Wharf

At number six on our list of the best things to do in Monterey, California, is the Old Fisherman’s Wharf. Old Fisherman’s Wharf is another popular seaside area that is oriented towards tourists. It is not far from Cannery Row and has its own shops and restaurants.

It’s a superb location to enjoy good food and stroll along the oceanfront while taking in the views over the bay. Seeing sea lions sunning themselves is another spectacular thing to behold. And don’t forget to check out the whale watching excursions and glass bottom boat tours that leave conveniently from the wharf.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

The wonderful Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is number seven on our list. It’s difficult to find a place more stunning than this. South of Carmel, just 15 minutes from Monterey is this beautiful stretch of coastline that is encompassed by Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. If you’re looking to take some epic photographs, enjoy a walk or simply appreciate what nature has to offer, then look no further. This reserve has it all.

Dramatic granite cliffs and unusual rock formations have created an outstanding visual spectacle. Headlands, caves, and rock-enclosed ponds all come together into a truly remarkable place to visit and admire. Remember to check out the waves as they crash on the rocks while the tidal pools reveal small marine life.

There’s also a variety of hiking trails in the area that offer fabulous views across the entire area to help you fully appreciate this majestic place. Just to make it even more appealing, you may even spot sea otters, seals, sea lions, and during the winter months, whales.

Dennis the menace Playground

At number eight on our list is the Dennis the Menace Playground. When it comes to kids parks, this playground is a favorite amongst the locals and visitors alike. The park features a variety of structures for kids to play and enjoy themselves on. Slides, a maze, even a lion-shaped drinking fountain, this park has it all.

Most unique about the park are the twisted trees that look more like unusual works of art than they do actual trees. Based upon the comic book character, Dennis the Menace, the playground included the creative input of Mr. Hank Ketchum, the creator of Dennis the Menace, who was a Monterey resident.

Wildlife Viewing at Coast Guard Pier

The wildlife viewing at Coast Guard Pier is number nine on our list. For those that have an interest in wildlife or love photography, this place is made for you. It’s located between Old Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row. The wildlife that frequently visits Coast Guard Pier consists in large numbers of sea lions, harbor seals, and sea otters. Seabirds are also a regular in large numbers.

What’s more exciting is the anticipation as you approach, you can hear the barking of the seals. The pier is actually a 1700-foot breakwater that was built in the 1930s. It was later covered over with the wharf you see today. It is now the home port of the US Coast Guard Cutter Long Island.

Monterey Bay Coastal Trail

At number ten, the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail. This 18-mile paved path follows the coastline from Castroville to Pacific Grove. It is the perfect place to walk, jog, ride a bike, push a stroller, walk a dog, or even zip along on a skateboard.

There are benches that have been placed along the way to provide rest spots for those that need. With snack bars that are ideal for grabbing a quick bite, it’s a truly welcoming place to enjoy. You can also settle in at one of the restaurants for a leisurely lunch before setting back off onto the trail.

The trail offers a pleasant and visually stunning way to casually travel around Monterey. Along the way you can come across the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, Old Fisherman’s Wharf, and the American Tin Cannery outlet mall. All to simply make it an even more enjoyable jaunt.

Lovers Point Park and Beach

At number eleven and the last on our list of the best things to do in Monterey, California, is the wonderful Lovers Point Park and beach. If you happen to be an early riser, then all the better for you as Lovers Point Park is one of the best places in the world to watch the sun rise over the Pacific.

Lovers Point is a 4.4-acre park. It is an undeniably beautiful spot and an ideal place to stroll, relax, enjoy a picnic or simply take a few photographs. The wonderful views out over the ocean and across Monterey Bay have made it a popular park with the locals and visitors alike. You can even use the park as a convenient place to access the water with your kayak or canoe, scuba gear, or stand up paddleboard. What more could you ask for.