20 Things To Do In Monterey

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Charming, low-key and spectacularly beautiful, Monterey, with its temperate climate, award-winning culinary scene and staggering cliffs, is a world away from the urban sprawls of the Bay Area and Southern California.

Monterey’s proximity to Carmel, Pebble Beach and Big Sur make it a hub for the Golden State’s most popular events, from the professional golfing championships at Pebble Beach to big-time motorsport races at Laguna Seca. Monterey is the perfect destination to enjoy California’s coast and always has something happening to keep you entertained no matter who you are or how old you may be. Here are 20 things to do in Monterey.

Monterey, California

Top 3 Monterey Tours

20 Things To Do In Monterey

monterey pebble beach
Feeling the sand between your toes is one of the best things to do in Monterey and along the coastline. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer.

1- Visit The Point Sur Lightstation

Built in 1889, the Point Sur Lightstation has stood firm ever since, high atop a chunk of volcanic rock some 270 ft (82 m) above the Pacific Ocean.

The lighthouse was needed when California was first settled and ships had to navigate the treacherous waters of Point Sur, however, it wasn’t until the 1880s that it became a reality.

In the past, lighthouse operators would often live in solitude for months due to the remoteness of the Point Sur Lighthouse.

That all changed in 1972, after the lighthouse was automated, making the role of the lighthouse operators at the light station redundant.

The Point Sur Lightstation is one of the oldest operational lighthouses in California open to the public.

Visiting the light station is one of the things to do in Monterey for history buffs.

Point Sur Lightstation is 15 miles (24 km) south of Carmel along Highway 1.

2- Watch Some Championship Golf At Pebble Beach

Synonymous with world-class golf and luxurious automobile exhibitions, Pebble Beach attracts over two million visitors each to its many events.

The Callaway Golf Pebble Beach Invitational, the First Tee Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am are three major golf tournaments at Pebble Beach every year.

The US Open Championship also regularly features at Pebble Beach.

California’s golfing Mecca has much more than golf to enjoy, such as the world-renowned annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance classic car show or the Pebble Beach Food and Wine, a yearly celebration of the West Coast epicurean lifestyle.

If you can’t make it to an event, one of the things to do at Pebble Beach is to unwind in comfort and style at a luxury lodge while enjoying gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean. Another fun thing to do is to take private surfing lessons with a local.

Pebble Beach is at The Lodge at Pebble Beach, 1700 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach, CA 93953.

3- Meet The Marine Life At Monterey Bay Aquarium

monterey aquarium marinelife
Watching an animal interaction show is one of the fun things to do in Monterey’s aquarium. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer.

With engaging exhibits showcasing over 35,000 unique marine animals, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is renowned as a bastion of conservation and marine research.

Opened in 1984, the facility sits right on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Monterey’s Cannery Row.

It features popular exhibits such as the Open Sea Gallery, the Kelp Forest and the Splash Zone.

The aquarium also hosts various entertaining shows throughout the day and the highlight of your visit is to observe penguins, sea otters, sharks, turtles or tuna feeding sessions up close.

Visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the best way to learn more about the region’s rich aquatic life and is one of the top things to do in Monterey for families.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is at 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940.

4- Hike Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Monterey point lobos emerald water
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a stunning place to visit and one of the things to do near Monterey is to go hiking there.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is an untouched stretch of coastline 15 minutes south of Monterey.

Dramatic cliffs, caves and natural ponds dot the reserve’s landscape while the chilly Pacific Ocean’s waves crash on jagged rocks.

Point Lobos State Natural reserve is a paradise for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, offering a variety of hiking trails throughout the reserve with stunning views of meadows, headlands and the Pacific Ocean.

Point Lobos is the perfect outdoor escape and a destination that will amaze you with spectacular West Coast views.

5- Admire Californian Art At Monterey Museum of Art

The Monterey Museum of Art has a vast collection of art from some of California’s best-known artists, such as William Ritschel, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Armin Hansen, to name a few.

Spread across two locations, the museum tells the story of Californian contemporary art through exhibitions stretching as far back as the 19th century.

Opened in 1959, the museum’s total collection spread across the two facilities encompasses some 14,000 unique items for visitors to admire.

Monterey Museum of Art is at 559 Pacific St, Monterey, CA 93940.

6- Hit The Road On The 17-Mile Drive

things to do in monterey today
Look out for the lone tree along the 17-mile drive. The drive is one of the best things to do from Monterey.

Stretching from Pacific Grove Gate to Del Monte Forest, the 17-Mile Drive runs from Monterey to Carmel, located just south of the Monterey Peninsula.

The 17-mile drive provides stunning views of rows upon rows of cypress and Monterey pine trees, idyllic Californian beaches and rugged cliffs.

A highlight is the Cypress Lookout, a stunning observation point offering an unbeatable panoramic view of the wild California coastline and the Pacific Ocean.

While there are quicker and more direct ways of getting to and from Carmel, there isn’t a road more spectacular to drive along than the 17-Mile Drive making it one of the top things to do from Monterey.

7- Explore Old Monterey

Visiting Monterey State Historic Park is one of the things to do in Monterey for families and history lovers.

It has stunning centuries-old adobe structures that perfectly preserve the state and city’s past.

The picturesque lanes of Old Monterey are lined with historic residences and noteworthy sights and attractions to visit. And the compact size of the park makes exploring it on foot easy.

Formerly the capital of California, the entire neighbourhood of Old Monterey is now designated as a National Historic Landmark.

There are attractive gardens to explore and instructive displays and exhibits that emphasise the district’s history.

The park is also home to the Custom House, the oldest public building in California.

Monterey State Historic Park is at 20 Custom House Plaza, Monterey, CA 93940.

8- Wander Around Cannery Row

monterey cannery row
Exploring history and shopping in Cannery Row is another of the things to do in Monterey not to be missed. It’s an excellent place to pick up some souvenirs. Photo: Christina Pfeiffer.

Straddling Monterey’s waterfront is Cannery Row, the city’s trendy historic district is stuffed full of incredible attractions, shops and eateries for visitors to savour.

Once the epicentre of Monterey’s canning industry, the collapse of sardine stocks in the 1950s left many of the area’s warehouses empty and deserted.

Cannery Row’s fortunes turned around after the Monterey Bay Aquarium moved into the area, creating the Cannery Row we know today.

It’s a top spot to do some shopping or stroll along its waterfront, with a balance of chic cafes and intriguing historical displays.

Cannery Row is at Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940.

9- Picnic At Lovers Point Park

things to do in monterey bay yachts moored in the bay
Wandering around the marina is one of the things to do in Monterey California.

One of the lovely things to do in Monterey is to have a picnic at Lovers Point Park, which serves up some of the best views of the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay.

The 4.4-acre (1.8 ha) park is an excellent spot for picnicking, hiking, or lounging around all day.

The park’s location right on the water makes it a convenient point from which to launch a kayak or canoe to paddle out towards Monterey Bay.

If you prefer to brave the chilly waters of the Pacific instead of bobbing on top of it, rent some scuba gear and go for a dive to observe the area’s rich marine biodiversity up close.

Lovers Point Park is at 631 Ocean View Blvd, Pacific Grove, CA 93950. Get around by hiring an electric scooter for half a day. Guided by a GPS app, you’ll see Lover’s Point and a few other beautiful spots at your own leisure.

10- Visit the Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo

California’s oldest stone building, the Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo dates back to 1794, when it was used as a Royal Chapel by Father Junipero Serra and Don Gaspar de Portola.

Soldiers occupied the Cathedral to guard the region during the early days of the newly formed Spanish Presidio.

In 1849, it became California’s first Cathedral after Bishop Joseph Alemany chose it as the city’s diocese seat.

The Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo saw a lot of changes over the years, growing from a simple rectangular floorplan to a cross-shaped layout after transepts were added to the building in 1858.

Today, the building is in great shape after recent renovations, so paying a visit to this heritage site is one of the things to do when visiting Monterey.

Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo is at 500 Church St, Monterey, CA 93940.

11- Explore Old Fisherman’s Wharf

things to do in monterey ca fisherman's wharf
Wandering around the colourful buildings along the old boardwalk is one of the things to do in Monterey with kids.

A wholesale fish market up until the 1960s, Old Fisherman’s Wharf is not only one of Monterey’s most famous historical places to visit, but the area in and around the pier is a great place to stay too.

Although the fish market is long gone, Old Fisherman’s Wharf still keeps to its roots with excellent seafood restaurants to dine at, ranging from swanky to budget.

So eating fish and chips or clam chowder at Old Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the top things to do in Monterey. An excellent way to taste various food is to join a guided food tour, led by a local.

The wharf is also filled with lovely shops selling items like jewellery and souvenirs to sweets and chocolates.

With beautiful views across Monterey Bay, the Old Fisherman’s Wharf is an excellent destination to unwind after touring around Monterey.

Old Fisherman’s Wharf is at 1 Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey, CA 93940.

12- Explore The Serengeti Of The Sea

things to do in monterey and carmel California Sea Lions on Shoreline Rocks of Monterey Bay
Looking for sea lions and other wildlife is one of the best things to do in Monterey for wildlife lovers.

Stretching from Cambria all the way north to San Francisco, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a protected marine area that is impressive.

Known as the “Serengeti of the Sea”, the sanctuary has pristine beaches, tide pools and kelp forests and is a refuge for endangered marine animals.

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary supports one of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems, making it a great destination to visit or volunteer for conservation efforts.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is at 99 Pacific Street, Bldg. 455A, Monterey, CA 93940. Join a whale-watching tour in the sanctuary to see humpback, bluefin, grey whales and orcas.

13- Cycle The Monterey Bay Recreational Trail

One of the fun things to do in Monterey to get active while exploring is to cycle the Monterey Bay Recreational Trail.

Stretching for 18 miles (28 km) along the coast of Monterey Bay from Castroville in the north to Pacific Grove in the south, the Monterey Bay Recreational Trail is the best way to make sure you’ve experienced everything that makes Monterey such a unique place to visit.

The trail provides unbeatable views of the Pacific Ocean and connects various Monterey landmarks such as the Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row.

This allows hikers, runners and cyclists to effortlessly explore Monterey without worrying about traffic or parking.

14- Have Fun At Dennis the Menace Playground

Designed around the comic book character of the same name, the Dennis the Menace Playground is popular among local parents and tourists travelling with kids.

Erected in 1956 with the assistance of Hank Ketcham, a local resident and the creator of Dennis the Menace, the park has been a much-loved Monterey icon ever since it first opened.

With various activities for kids to interact with, such as a climbing wall, a suspension bridge, a pirate ship and a hedge maze, there’s no shortage of things to keep the kids busy.

Dennis the Menace Playground is at 777 Pearl St, Monterey, CA 93940

15- Step Back Into History At Colton Hall Museum

The historic Colton Hall Museum is one of Monterey’s and California’s most important historical treasures.

In Colton Hall, California’s constitution was drawn up by 48 delegates from 10 districts, ultimately leading to California’s entry into the USA as the 31st state.

After the state’s capital moved to San Jose in 1873, Colton Hall became a grade school before it was turned into the Colton Hall Museum in 1949.

You can observe exhibits detailing the history of California inside entirely free of charge.

Colton Hall Museum is at 570 Pacific St, Monterey, CA 93940.

16- Photograph Bixby Bridge

fun things to do in monterey Bixby Bridge and Pacific Coast Highway at sunset
Taking a ride out to the Bixby Bridge is one of the free things to do in Monterey that’s worth ticking off your list.

Undoubtedly one of the most photographed bridges on the West Coast of the United States, Bixby Bridge stands over 260 ft (79 m) above a rocky, near-vertical canyon in California’s Big Sur region.

While the bridge is often the first image that comes to mind when picturing Big Sur, the actual Big Sur encompasses a much larger area than just the bridge, stretching for 90 miles (145 km) from Carmel to Hearst Castle.

Built back in 1932 for a mere $200,000, the Bixby Bridge is one of the largest concrete span bridges in the world and draws over 5.8 million annual visitors with its sweeping, 360-degree views.

Driving the 18 miles from Monterey to Bixby Bridge via the famous Highway 1 is one of the top things to do from Monterey.

17- Visit The Dali Expo

The Dali Expo is a permanent exhibition of some of the most outstanding and unusual works, including original etchings, mixed media, lithographs, and rare sculptures, by famous Spanish artist Salvador Dali.

The expo was the first permanent exhibition of Dali’s work on the US West Coast, and visiting the expo is one of the must-do things in Monterey.

Dali was one of the 20th century’s most renowned surrealist painters who left a mark on the world of art.

Not only is the Dali Expo the very first of its kind on the West Coast, but it’s also the most extensive private collection of Salvador Dali’s works on display in the country.

So don’t miss seeing original Dali masterpieces right in the heart of Monterey.

The Dali Expo is at 5 Custom House Plaza, Monterey, CA 93940.

18- Camp At Laguna Seca Raceway

Named after the dry lake around which the raceway was built, the Laguna Seca has played host to many different sporting events since the track’s inception back in 1957.

Current annual motorsports events held at Laguna Seca include the Pre Reunion, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, the Sea Otter Classic and the IndyCar Series Championship.

While Laguna Seca is famous for high octane racing, the track also regularly hosts music festivals and other events.

Laguna Seca also allows for camping in a tent or an RV next to the track, so visiting Laguna Seca is a fantastic thing to do from Monterey for the entire family.

Laguna Seca Raceway is at 1021 Monterey Salinas Hwy, Salinas, CA 93908.

19- Explore Clinton Walker House

Often called the “Cabin on the Rocks”, the Clinton Walker house was built and designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1948.

Perched on rocks right on the beach in Carmel, just south of Monterey, the house is a perfect example of Wright’s Usonian style and shows off his affinity for organic architecture.

While the original plans included a cantilevered copper roof, Wright had to settle for blueish enamel shingles due to material shortages brought on by the Korean War.

Clinton Walker House was featured in the film “A Summer Place”, which was filmed in California despite being set on the East Coast.

Clinton Walker House is at 26336 Scenic Rd, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923.

20- Feel The Power Of Point Pinos Lighthouse

things to do in monterey this weekend Point Pinos Lighthouse
Exploring the Point Pinos Lighthouse is one of the things to do in Monterey to understand the area’s history.

The oldest continually-operating West Coast lighthouse, Point Pinos Lighthouse, was built in 1855 and still features its original prisms and lenses.

Initially powered by whale oil, the lighthouse was converted to kerosene in 1880 before being made fully electric in 1919.

The National Register of Historic Places-listed Point Pinos Lighthouse is open for the public to tour between Thursday and Monday and is one of the best places to soak up the Californian ambience during the time when the state first became part of the Union.

Point Pinos Lighthouse is at 80 Asilomar Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950.

For more California ideas, see:

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Christina Pfeiffer Travel Writer
Christina Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia. She has lived in three continents and her career as a travel journalist has taken her to all seven continents. Since 2003, she has contributed travel stories and photographs to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. She has won many travel writing awards and is a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.