Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Located along the Central California coast along the Monterey Peninsula, there are lots to love about the city of Monterey. It’s conveniently situated about midway between Santa Cruz and Big Sur, making it a convenient place to base yourself for some spectacular day trips too. From gorgeous beaches to a world-class aquarium, and a thriving food and drink scene, you’ll find a long list of things to do here, including these fabulous options.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium one of the nation’s most highly acclaimed, and one of the few across the globe to showcase species like yellowfin tuna, huge bluefin and sunfish. Located at the site of a former sardine cannery on Cannery Row, it hosts many large pools and tanks that showcase marine life along the California coast, with more than 600 species of plants and animals. In the Ocean’s Edge Wing, you can view giant kelp forest from a number of levels, while the Open Sea galleries is absolutely mesmerizing, housing all sorts of creatures from sea otters and stingrays to jellyfish. A unique tank was constructed to hold the jellies, with a circular flow of water suspending them that creates an especially breathtaking sight.
Cannery Row is Monterey’s historic district, which became internationally renowned thanks to author John Steinbeck’s colorful stories. The former cannery buildings that were once part of a thriving sardine canning industry, have now been transformed into shops, eateries and hotels, as well as featuring a number of historical attractions. and with restaurants, hotels, shops, and historic attractions. Right behind Cannery Row is hidden McAbee Beach, a stretch of sand that lies in a sheltered cove that few know about beyond the locals. It’s a great place to search through the tide pools, looking for colorful creatures and to spot sea otters and sea lions as well.
The Monterey Bay Coastal Trail is a popular paved path that clings to the coastline, following the same route as the old Southern Pacific Railway. It starts in Castroville, and stretches south for nearly 20 miles, passing through Monterey before culminating in Pacific Grove. You’ll pass Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, along the way, along with some gorgeous beaches, beautifully-landscape parks and historic sites. It can be traveled on foot, via bicycle, a canopied quadricycle or in-line skates.
Fisherman’s Wharf is an historic wharf that’s popular for dining on delectable fresh seafood. Once used to host a wholesale fish market, today it’s one of Monterey’s most popular tourist attractions. You’ll find countless seafood eateries from casual open-air bars to upscale restaurants on the waterfront that offer jaw-dropping views of the bay and the Pacific beyond. In between are lots of offers to explore, from art galleries and jewelry stores to souvenir and candy shops.
Multiple tour operators offer whale watching excursions that embark from the wharf, allowing visitors to take an especially unforgettable adventure to see the humpback and grey whales, dolphins, porpoise, sea lions, otters and loads of other marine life. Whether you’re looking to view the outside from inside the comfort of a heated cabin, or for closer encounters via a Zodiac, you’ll find multiple options to choose from. With so much marine life calling this area home, tours are available year-round for viewing the incredible diversity of life in the bay. In fact, many consider Monterey to be one of the top spots in the entire nation to marveling marine mammals and seabirds.
Monterey boasts a number of local craft breweries too, some right downtown, like Cannery Row Brewing Company, providing an ideal spot for brew enthusiast to sample local offerings. Its main attraction is the astounding number of beers on tap – 73 at latest count, with a similarly extensive selection of bourbon and other liquors. Other options include the Alvarado Street Brewery which also hosts a beer garden and grill, while its tasting room is in nearby Salinas.
The longest running jazz festival in the world, the Monterey Jazz Festival is hosted on 20 acres of picturesque oak-filled grounds, right in the heart of town. It takes place annually in September over three days and features seven stages of live jazz entertainment, an international shopping bazaar, exhibitions, food and beverages vendors along with films and the chance to interact with some of the performers. It also presents a Jazz Legends Gala, where the Monterey Jazz Festival Jazz Legends Award is presented to one of the leading contributors to the world of Jazz.
Monterey is also home to a beloved park, named after the popular menacing comic strip character, Dennis the Menace. It’s been around for over a half-century, with multiple generations of kids playing here ever since. It’s surrounded by a lake, while the Pacific Ocean lies just beyond creating a spectacular setting for the unique attractions like a hedge maze, suspension bridge and even a 1924 Southern Pacific steam engine. Of course, it also hosts a statue of Dennis the Menace that both kids and the kid-at-heart enjoy capturing a selfie with. The creator of the comic strip, Hank Ketcham, lived in nearby Carmel and was involved in the planning of its design.