When you live in Northern California, you find ways to keep yourself entertained which often leads to random road trips, last-minute planning, hiking excursions, and adventurous areas to explore. Living in Northern California, we often leave for the beach and a few of our favorite places include Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Monterey Bay, and Bodega Bay. There are so many things to do in Monterey and I wanted to give a locals perspective on some of the best things to do in Monterey.
There are so many other nooks and crannies to explore other than just these major beach towns, but it is fun to explore these areas again and again. Driving up and down highway 101 is a breathtaking drive that everyone visiting California should do once in their lifetime. It gives you a great sense of how different California can be when heading from south to north or vice versa. Below are a few of the things I love to do in Monterey Bay, California.
Be sure to read this guide on some of the best small-town beaches in the USA.
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Monterey, CA | Things to do in Monterey
Big Sur and Bixby Bridge – Most scenic of things to do in Monterey
One of my favorite things to do in California. A must-do when doing a road trip in California. Big Sur and its windy roads are beautiful to see the cliffs and oceans. There is the beautiful Bixby Bridge, McWay Falls, Pfeiffer Beach, and so much more. This coast will give you surprisingly beautiful scenery all the way down the coast.
Stroll along the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail – Popular Monterey Tourist Attraction
This trail stretches 18 miles and walks along the coast of Monterey. This coastal trail will provide you some great views. The trail is perfectly paved and perfect for bike riders and perfect to walk for people of all ages. Almost 2000 people every weekend use this trail to walk, bike, and stroll along. If you are lucky, you might catch the view of some whales out in the distance.
Visit Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s wharf is something you kind of has to do at every big coastal town in California. It’s one of those things where you can get excellent seafood dishes, see the large sea lions and seals, and just have a relaxing aesthetic. You can also do some whale watching, grab some bay cruise tours, deep-sea fishing, visit some unique shops, and enjoy a fresh bowl of clam chowder. This is one of those things to do in Monterey, that everyone has to do when visiting.
If you enjoy shopping, these will be the most popular things to do in Monterey when it comes to buying souvenirs and browsing local shops.
17 Mile Drive (includes Carmel and Pacific Grove) – Popular Things to do in Monterey
This is a romantic place to explore the beach and just to see the types of beaches we have in northern California. We have a variety of types of beaches along the coast and this is a great place to take friends and family. It is a very scenic route along the coast and much recommended if stopping by Monterey Bay. Also, if you love houses, be sure to check out some of the large houses in this area. Be sure to bring cash, this area is a gated area and requires payment for access.
Monterey Bay Aquarium – Popular Things to do in Monterey with Kids
This is a great place to take kids or a significant other and explore the sea animals we have. They have a dive tank which is pretty interesting when the divers explain the different water animals. They also have a huge collection of jellyfish which is very mesmerizing to watch, with the clear blue waters and the jellyfish’s glowing exterior. There is so much to do in this fun aquarium which includes a lot of hands-on activities such as daily shows and feedings, arts & crafts, splash zones, and an opportunity to dive. Be sure to check out the daily feeding times to plan your time at the aquarium.
Explore Cannery Row
This is a street located in Monterey and inspired by the book by John Steinbeck. It’s also the road known for the sardine canneries which no longer exist. The last cannery closed in the 1970s, but the area has been revived. You can enjoy waterfront hotels, delicious restaurants and shopping at local boutiques.
Eat Ice Cream at Ghirardelli
There are several places where you can grab Ghirardelli chocolate and ice cream and Monterey is one of them. Ghiradelli is a Northern California classic and most of their locations are only located in California with the exception of a few states. Ghiradelli is Italian chocolate that became famous in California. The original store is located in Stockton, CA and the most famous one is located in San Francisco.
This is a beautiful place to visit in the Big Sur area. The park is full of hiking trails and beautiful camping areas. This is a great place to camp for an exquisite view of the Big Sur Coast. This park is popular and really known for the waterfall that falls into the ocean that is surrounded by the mountainous cove.
What wharf on the coast doesn’t give a great experience of shopping for souvenirs, eating fresh seafood, and watching sea animals? Whale watching in Monterey is a common thing to do on the wharf. Don’t forget to check out the glass bottom boat tours if you wish to see more whales up close and personal. If you plan to visit Monterey, you might as well enjoy the fresh sea breeze and gorgeous view with a nice hot warm bowl of clam chowder.
Kayak Monterey Bay
Kayaking is a favorite pastime in all of California whether it be in the lakes, the oceans, the bays, the rivers, and more. There are a lot of places to kayak in Monterey and I highly suggest you kayak using Monterey Bay Kayaks. They have a great location and a variety of different types of Kayaks and paddle boards which is perfect for anyone wanting to take a relaxing tour of the bay in the water.
Go to the Monterey Historic Park
Monterey Historic park is a park filled with old historic houses and buildings that are all located in Monterey. You can do a guided tour or a self-guided tour where you can download the brochure from here. They also have self-guided cell phone tours as well and you can input the numbers for the location you are visiting. This is one of the most historical things to do in Monterey.
Visit the Monterey Museum of Art
This museum focuses primarily on the art of California. It focuses on the past, present, and future artworks that are within California. The artwork rotates regularly and ones that are not available may be cataloged for the time being. They are typically open 11 am – 5 pm Thursday through Saturday.
Do some wine tasting – Visit some of the best Wineries in Monterey
Northern California is known for its wineries and local wines. If you have heard of Napa, one of the most popular places to get wine in the world, then you can understand why. The weather in California all year long makes it a great location to make and sell wine. Wineries in Northern California have been in the region since the Spanish missionaries had established the first vineyards in 1812.
This is probably one of my favorite things to do in Monterey, not because it’s wine, okay maybe a little bit, but because wine in California is like no other.
Check out the Salvador Dali Museum
If you happen to be an art buff, I highly suggest visiting the Salvador Dali Museum. It’s filled with local exhibitions, a collection of Salvador Dali’s work, an education center, and of course community events. They are open daily from 11 am to 8 pm and are located near Fisherman’s Wharf.
Salvador Dali, if you don’t know who he is, is a Spanish surrealist artist. Surrealism is about creative works of the unconscious minds like dreams and obscure things.
Wander the San Carlos Cathedral
This is California’s oldest operating cathedral. It was built between 1791 – 1794. It was built in a traditional Spanish colonial style. California was taken over by the Spanish during the 1500s hence the name California which means hot place. So a lot of Spanish missions and cathedrals were built in California. There are about 21 missions today that is currently located in California.
The Best Wineries in Monterey
- De Tierra Vineyards
- Folktale Winery
- Paraiso Vineyards by Smith Family Wines
- Hahn Family Wines
- Caraccioli Cellars
- Pierce Ranch Vineyards
Where to eat in Monterey, CA
There are a lot of great places to eat in Monterey from seafood, steak, and just an interesting atmosphere. It’s a great place to visit to get some delicious local food. California takes pride in local produce so many restaurants will have seasonal dishes. I really enjoy looking up new restaurants in local areas in Northern California, it’s what made me the food I am today. This would be one of my personal favorite things to do in Monterey. Definitely check out some of the restaurants below.
- Crown & Anchor
- Passion fish
- Monterey’s Fish House
- Poppy Hall
- Jeninni Kitchen and Wine Bar
- Cafe Guarani
- Other Brother Beer Co.
- A taste of Monterey
- Bistro Moulin
- Las Cazuelas Taqueria
Bakeries in Monterey
There are a lot of bakeries in Monterey. I have listed a few below but I highly recommend visiting Kara’s cupcakes if you enjoy cupcakes.
If you have a huge sweet tooth like myself, Kara’s Cupcakes is a delightful palace to get your sweet fix. They also include a gluten-free option and are known for their local and use of organic options along with making sure they provide green energy bakeries. Most of their cupcakes are topped with their signature starflower fondant decoration. Kara’s cupcakes can also be found in San Francisco, Napa, Palo Alto, San Jose, Walnut Creek, and Burlingame.
Other Bakeries in Monterey
- Paris Bakery Cafe
- Pavel’s Backerei
- Parkere-Lusseau Pasteries
- Red’s Donuts
- Carmel Bakerey
- Lafayette Bakery and Cafe
Where to stay in Monterey
There are a lot of options on where to stay in Monterey and it truly depends on what you want to get out of your vacation. You can choose to have a more romantic getaway with a hotel along the beach or a family house perfect to share with a group of people. I’ve listed some of the best hotels in Monterey along with the best AirBNBs in Monterey.
The best hotels in Monterey
I found it perfect to grab a hotel in Monterey for the weekend especially when traveling with my partner. I would want something romantic and along the beach or closer to town to walk into. Hotels can be quite expensive in Monterey due to the location and is a popular tourist destination for locals. Here are some of my hotel recommendations for Monterey.
Expensive Hotels in Monterey
- Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa
- Monterey Bay Lodge
- Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa
- Old Monterey Inn
- Hotel Pacific
- The Monterey Hotel
- Monterey Tides
Mid-Range Hotels in Monterey
The best AirBNBs in Monterey
There are a lot of beautiful AirBNBs in Monterey and Northern California known for having more of a neighborhood feel and local vibes. Although there are hotels, we enjoy having a more community and local feeling. It’s perfect for families and people who want someplace to enjoy the entire summer.
- John Steinbeck’s Adorable Writing Studio
- Sanctuary in the Dunes
- Zen Garden Cottage
- Ocean Wave Monterey Condo
- Carriage House with Ocean View
- Mermaid Bungalow
What are some of your favorite things to do in Monterey, CA? List them in the comments below!
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