40 Amazing Things To Do In Monterey, California (With Map!)

Are you ready to explore the best things to do in Monterey, California? Monterey is a beautiful city on the central coast of The Golden State. It is known for its abundant marine life, fresh seafood, beautiful rocky coastline, historical sites, and being home to one of the largest underwater canyons in North America.

The iconic blue water of the Monterey Bay draws millions of visitors each year. The city has significant influence from both Hispanic and Asian cultures. You will find opportunities to find explore history, culture, and nature in the city that simply can’t be compared to anywhere else in the world.

You will find this dreamy coastal town just two hours from San Francisco, making it a great day trip or weekend getaway if you are planning on spending time in the Golden Gate City.

With all of the amazing things to do in Monterey CA, you are sure to be ecstatic about your time spent in the city. Whether you choose to take advantage of the bay by going scuba diving, shopping on Cannery Row, or exploring the historical locations in the area, you will make amazing travel memories that you won’t soon forget.

Let’s jet off!

a mom and baby sea otter floating in the water

Monterey, California History

Monterey’s history started thousands of years before Europeans landed on the shores of this iconic California town. The abundance of fish and wildlife in the area drew people to the life-giving waters in town. Early village sites have been found in Monterey all predating the arrival of Spanish explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo in the 1500s.

In 1602, the first official European explorer to set foot in Monterey was Sebastian Vizcaino named the area Monterey Bay. He and his crew of around 200 had mass under an oak tree overlooking the bay to celebrate their safe arrival to the new land. Eventually, a mission was formed here as one of Monterey’s first buildings.

In 1776 Monterey was named as the capital of upper and lower California by Spain and the soldiers and their wives at the presidio in Monterey started to create a pueblo and to raise their families here.

During the 1800s the city grew and while in the 1820s Monterey had sworn allegiance to Mexico once Mexico gained independence from Spain, in the 1840s Commodore John Drake Sloat raised an American flag over the Custom House in Monterey claiming California as a part of the United States.

In the 1900s, the canning industry boomed, John Steinbeck wrote about Monterey which increased tourism, military presence was increased, art and cultural activities and locations were established, the Monterey Bay Aquarium opened, and environmental protection was placed to protect the natural wonders around the Monterey Bay.

Today, agriculture and tourism are big revenue drivers for Monterey.

Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions about visiting Monterey that you should check out before you go!

Your Monterey Questions Answered

Does Monterey have nightlife?

Totally! The nightlife in Monterey is buzzing! If you are out on Cannery Row at night, you are likely to hear music streaming out into the streets, see bright lights, and see unique and antique cars cruising down the street. (Even during the week!)

When it comes to clubs and bars, there are plenty!

What are the most popular things to do in Monterey with kids?

There are tons of kid friendly things to do in Monterey. The Monterey Bay Aquarium and Dennis The Menace Park are two of the most highly favored attractions. We will talk about several of the best things to do in Monterey in this post!

Are there free or cheap things to do in Monterey?

While California isn’t cheap, you can find tons of cheap and free things to do in Monterey like beaches, walking trails, museums, and parks. Cheap attractions and activities like nearby museums and ice cream shops are all around as well.

If I only have a few hours in Monterey, what should I do?

This is easy! We’ll answer this question in detail at the end of this post!

large Monterey canning company building and overpass, people walking across the street

How many days do you need in Monterey?

You can see the best that Monterey has to offer in three days. If you stay a little longer, you get to experience more of the Monterey Peninsula and try more of the incredible restaurants that the area has to offer.

When is the best time to visit Monterey?

The best thing about this lovely coastal town is that the weather is relatively pleasant year-round. Average temperature highs are in the 60s and 70s all year long!

However, if you plan on swimming during your visit, you will definitely want to visit during the summer.

What do people wear in Monterey?

Things are fairly casual in Monterey. While people do wear simple and elevated classics, especially in nicer restaurants on the waterfront, you will find sneakers, jeans, and fanny packs as well.

However you choose to dress while you are in Monterey, be sure to dress in layers. While you may be chilly walking down Cannery Row in the wind wearing your jacket, it can get hot and sweaty on the beach in the sun later.

Layers are everything when visiting Monterey, especially if you plan on going out into the bay on a boat during your visit.

fishermans wharf with water in the foreground and trees in the background

Things To Do In Monterey Map

40 Amazing Things To Do In Monterey, California

Monterey Bay Aquarium

As one of the best things to do in Central Coast California, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is an incredible site that you won’t want to skip over when you are visiting Monterey. Located on the rocky California coast, the aquarium sees around two million visitors each year!

What makes this aquarium different than many marine life attractions is that it exists for the purpose of conservation. The water in the tanks is pulled directly from the bay so that animals are given a life that is as similar to the bay as possible.

As a non-profit, they do perform countless tasks for the betterment of marine life and the ocean’s health every day. In fact, they have worked to restore sea otter populations, pass bills that support ocean health, transform fisheries around the world, and more!

There are so many breathtaking exhibits at the aquarium including an aviary and an area that is designed to look like you are underneath the famous wharf in Monterey.

photo from the top of staircase looking out large windows that show the bay below

When searching for the best things to do in Monterey, you will probably always hear someone suggesting the aquarium, and rightfully so! It’s even a favorite of Betty White who was a fan and donor of the aquarium and all the good work they do. So much so that instead of flowers at her funeral, she requested donations to the aquarium.

Consistently ranking among the top aquariums in the U.S., the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must for anyone visiting this lovely coastal town.

Old Fishermans Wharf

Among the best things to do in Monterey California is to visit the Old Fishermans Wharf. The wharf acted as an active fish market until the 1960s and today serves as not only a historical site but also a place to shop, eat, and sightsee.

You can find shops on the wharf that sell souvenirs, clothes, jewelry, and more. There are also restaurants and sweet shops where you eat or browse overlooking the pretty blue water of the Monterey Bay.

Plus, if you are visiting close to a holiday, you can enjoy the decorations on the wharf. Always outfitted with a festive dress, the wharf is a fun place to be around holidays year-round.

fishermans wharf, one of the best things to do in monterey

Coast Guard Pier

While this is one of the most family friendly things to do in Monterey, it truly is fun for all ages! A walk on the Coast Guard Pier is ideal for those looking to see sea lions up close. Although you can see sea lions and seals in many places in Monterey, the Coast Guard Pier allows you to stand just a few feet from them.

Sea lions hang around Monterey all months of the year but are not always lounging around the Coast Guard Pier. They tend to enjoy laying on the rocks lining the pier during the warmer months or when the sun is shining.

up close photo of a sea lion resting

Eat At Paluca Trattoria

Among the best things to do in Monterey for couples is to visit Paluca Trattoria. This mind-blowingly delicious Italian restaurant on the waterfront is home to a delicious and varied menu.

Plus, you may recognize this Italian joint from Big Little Lies as it was used as a filming location.

Here you will find everything from creamy butter clams and lobster ravioli to chicken pesto and puttanesca. Of course, an amazing restaurant like this wouldn’t be complete without an equally stunning wine selection as well. A large variety of sparkling, white, rose and red wines are all available.

spaghetti and meatballs on a plate with garlic bread

Dennis The Menace Playground

Visiting with kids? The Dennis The Menace Playground is one of the best things to do in Monterey with kids. This park is huge and has countless activities for children.

Large slides, bridges, spinning platforms and climbing bars, tunnels, and more are all there at the Dennis The Menace Playground. Kids’ eyes light up when they see this park!

Something to keep in mind is that this park is seriously huge and while there is only one entrance/exit some parents of really young children find it overwhelming. Just something to keep in mind if you will be visiting with little ones.

Enjoy The Food & Views at Lalla Grill

Monterey is jammed pack with crazy good restaurants and one you won’t want to miss while you’re there is Lalla Grill. With an incredible menu and expansive views of the bay, Lalla is easily one of the best restaurants in Monterey.

You’ll find loaded lobster nachos, shrimp and lobster enchiladas, linguine and clams, split bone rib-eye, and more! There are two locations in Monterey but for the best experience, the Oceanside location is ideal as its tall windows give you remarkable water views that you won’t soon forget.

Eating lunch while watching sea otters and sea lions play in the water as a group of kayakers go by or diving into a seafood dinner while you watch the sunset and lights line the coast is among the top things to do in Monterey.

National Steinbeck Center

John Steinbeck did wonders for tourism in Monterey County. You can visit the National Steinbeck Center which is about a thirty-minute drive from the Monterey Bay Aquarium where you can see all of the exhibits that have been dedicated to his life’s work and his memory.

If you are traveling as a family, you will be happy to know that admission to this museum is free for children five and under!

This center acts as both a museum and a memorial for this famous author. Steinbeck grew up in town where the center is located and you can find different sites dedicated to his memorial all throughout central coast California.

“Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.”

-John Steinbeck

“And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.”

-John Steinbeck East of Eden

You will want to spend at least an hour and a half to two hours here to really take in the information that is offered. Once you are done exploring the center, there are loads of restaurants and coffee shops around the center if you want to drop in for a drink or a bite to eat.

Walking around Salinas is a great town to walk around in because of its history and its beauty. It has a very classically California valley look to it that you will love to see and photograph, especially if you have never been in the area before.

If you are able to carve out some time on your trip to Monterey to walk around downtown Salinas, you won’t regret it!

Monterey Museum of Art

Of all Monterey Bay activities, this may be the best for art lovers. With beautiful art displays that showcase the past, present, and future of the diversity of California, you will be enchanted by the world displayed in the museum.

You can find free two-hour parking on the street nearby or find a spot in one of the parking facilities in the downtown area.

Making the list of the top things to do in Monterey, this museum has more to offer visitors than carefully cultivated visual arts. Children, students, and military members get in for free, making this a budget-friendly option for many types of travelers.

Lovers Point Park

Home to a top beach in the city and a beautiful rocky coastline, Lovers Point Park is among the best dog-friendly things to do in Monterey. While this location is actually in Pacific Grove, it is only a few minutes drive away and well worth the visit.

This beach has soft sand, perfect coastal and bay views, seal and sea lion watching, crystal clear waters near the beach, and deep blue water further out into the bay.

Around the beach, there is a walking and biking trail that is very popular. You can also walk out to the water’s edge on strips of land that reach out into the bay from the trail. You are almost guaranteed to see either seals or sea lions so keep an eye out while you are relaxing on the beach.

people biking on trail next to the bay, water crashing into rocks on shore
source:  gob_cu / Shutterstock.com

Visit The Secret Beach On Cannery Row

Actually called McAbee Beach, a skinny alleyway near Lalla Grill and a staircase that drops off into the sand will make you feel like you are accessing a secret beach that not everyone knows about. As one of the top things to do in Monterey, you should be sure to check out McAbee Beach if you are in the area.

It can be reached on Cannery Row from a couple of places. Other than the alleyway, you can also reach it from the other side of Lalla where you will see an old concrete wall with a painting of two fishermen. Start walking down to the water and you will find yourself on McAbee Beach!

Check Out Film Locations In Monterey

As you know, California is the most popular state for filming. There are loads of filming locations in and around Monterey. For film buffs, visiting these film sites is among the top things to do in Monterey!

Some of the earliest films to ever be made were shot in Monterey. Surf at Monterey and Hotel Del Mare were both filmed here in 1897. Other popular films that used Monterey as a backdrop include Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Basic Instinct, Mutiny on the Bounty, and Rebecca.

There are more than 190 filming locations in Monterey County. You can visit downtown Pacific Grove where Turner and Hooch was filmed with Tom Hanks, downtown Salinas where Bandits was filmed with Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Cate Blanchett, or South County where We Were Soldiers with Mel Gibson was filmed.

More recently, Palluca Trattoria was used as a filming location for Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, and Nicole Kidman to film Big Little Lies.

Go Paragliding

You can go paragliding in Monterey with Raven Wolf Sky Sports. Here you can paraglide off of the stunning sand dunes that are all across the Monterey coast. Here you can choose between a few options for paragliding.

You can go tandem paragliding. This offers extra safety for anyone who might be a little nervous about heading out above the dunes. This is a super cool experience that allows you to soar above the beach and see the Earth in a way that most never will.

There are also paragliding courses where you can learn how to become a paragliding pilot like basic skills, how to land, and more. Introductory classes are also available where you will spend the day training with an instructor on how to safely paraglide.

Paragliding is one of the most thrilling and adventurous things to do in Monterey. Adrenaline seekers won’t want to skip the opportunity to go paragliding in Monterey.

Go Whale Watching

Whale watching is super popular in the Monterey Bay. Going whale watching is also among the top kid friendly things to do in Monterey as well.

You may be wondering when is the best time to go whale watching in Monterey. Well, you can see whales in the bay most of the year, but you aren’t likely to see them during the winter months. The best time to see whales is March through November.

There are several companies in the area that give whale watching tours. There are different types of tours so you can choose the one that works best for you and whoever you’re traveling with.

Keep in mind, it is a lot colder out in the bay than it is on the coast so be sure to wear something warm and have something to cover your ears with.

whales coming out of the water to eat fish, birds flying overhead, whale watching, one of the best things todo in monterey

Take Scuba Diving Lessons

The waters in the bay are teaming with wildlife. The kelp forest provides a sanctuary for many sea creatures and the excellent visibility makes the bay a top scuba diving destination. Learning how to scuba in such a beautiful setting is one of the best things to do in Monterey.

While you scuba, you can see everything from sea urchins and starfish to sea otters and crabs. Below the blue surface of the water is among the best things to see in Monterey!

Aquarius Dive Shop offers dive classes, guided underwater tours, and gear rentals for visitors. They have been in operation since 1970 in Monterey and they have a huge presence in the dive scene around the bay.

Bamboo Reef also offers scuba lessons in both their pool and in the bay. They have locations in both San Fransisco and Monterey. Lessons come with equipment rental and there are discounts for students.

people in scuba gear walking into the water next to a pier and parking lot
underwater photo of starfish and kelp forest

Kayak In Monterey Bay

Touring the beautiful water in the bay is among the top fun things to do in Monterey. Single kayaks or double kayaks are both available for rent in the area. You can paddle alongside sea lions and sea otters, enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, and see the coast from a different perspective.

If going out alone seems a bit scary, you can paddle out with a guide as well. A guided tour is nice as well when it comes to learning about what you are seeing on your paddling adventures. You can even find kayak fishing tours!

There are several companies that you can rent from. Adventures By The Sea and Monterey Bay Kayaks are two of the most popular rental companies in the area. Monterey Bay Kayaks has been certified as Wildlife Stewards from Sea Otter Savvy and they have received many awards thanks to their unparalleled wildlife and paddling experiences.

Adventures By The Sea offers a Cannery Row Kayak Group Tours, Private Cannery Row Kayak tours, as well as paddle board rentals. If you are keen to paddle through kelp forests, see marine life sleeping on rocks along the shore, and playing around in the water, then be sure to add kayak rental to the top of your list of things to do in Monterey!

kayaks on water in the monterey bay, building to the right of the image, kayaking, one of the best things to do in Monterey bay

Rent a Swan Paddleboat In El Estero Park

One of the most unique things to do in Monterey is to take a large swan paddle boat out to explore the pond in El Estero Park. The water is a beautiful feature in Monterey that is surrounded by waterfowl, city views, a skate park, a playground, and more.

The large swan paddle boats are more expensive than the basic glittery paddle boats that they offer, so if you do have an option when it comes to budgeting with this activity. Rentals are available for half an hour or one hour.

For travelers looking to take wildlife photos during your visit, consider paddling out onto Lake El Estero. You will put yourself in a great position to take close-up photos of beautiful birds, turtles, and other wildlife.

Couples and fun-loving travelers will love this Monterey activity! If you are traveling with kids this is an especially exciting thing to do, placing it on the list of the best things to do with kids in Monterey.

photo taken on the water of paddleboats on a lake, trees to the right with a bird in one of them

San Carlos Cathedral

This stunning cathedral in Monterey is a great place to walk around for free, take pictures, and take a step back in time. San Carlos Cathedral is the oldest operating parish in The Golden State. It is also the oldest stone building in the state.

In 2006, the church began a restoration project which led to an archaeological dig that turned up many artifacts that are now displayed in the heritage center next to the church.

The present sandstone church was built in the early 1790s and as such, history-focused travelers and perhaps photo-focused travelers as well, will not want to miss this gorgeous building in America’s First City.

a historic mission basilica with a cross on top and manicured garden and lawn out front

Asilomar State Beach

When it comes to Monterey Bay things to do, Asilomar State Beach should be on your radar! The beautiful rocky coast and dune habitat along the Monterey Peninsula are parts of the appeal for many travelers visiting the area.

And Asilomar State Beach is a great place to see these natural features up close. There are many different beaches broken up by rocky outcroppings and land offshoots for you to explore.

Even referred to as the Refuge By The Sea, Asilomar is a celebrated area on the Monterey Bay that is known for its dune ecosystem as well as its architectural significance. Asilomar State Park was used as a young woman’s leadership camp in the early 1900s where many of its buildings were built by architect Julia Morgan.

wooden boardwalk next to the waters edge with a fence on one side

You can find parking all along Sunset Drive which runs alongside the beach. There’s also a lovely walking trail called the Asilomar Coastal Trail that you to follow as you explore the area and take in the sights along the beach.

Keep your eye out for the quaint little gazebo along the pathway. It is a great place to sit and rest while you enjoy the remarkable blue water and marine life playing below. The trail is a mixture of sand, wooden steps, and wooden boardwalks. You will see people of all ages and abilities along the trail.

This is one of the best things to do near Monterey!

two children looking out at the water from a gazebo on the waters edge, one of them is pointing to the left. asilomar beach, one of the best things to do in monterey

Point Pinos Lighthouse

A short two-mile drive from the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the pretty Point Pinos Lighthouse. One of the best Monterey activities is taking the drive to this fun little lighthouse.

First lit in 1855, Point Pinos Lighthouse is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the west coast. Remarkably, even the lens is original!

There is a small entrance fee which is reduced for children between seven and seventeen, while children under seven are free. The area around the lighthouse is beautiful and it serves as a learning opportunity as well.

two trees and a fence in front of a historic lighthouse on the Monterey peninsula

Monterey Mirror Maze

The Monterey Mirror Maze is fun for all ages! Whether you are 5, 35, or 55, the mirror maze is always a hit! As one of the best things to do in Monterey at night, be sure to add this attraction to your itinerary!

At the mirror maze, there is also a Laser Challenge. You can navigate the laser beams on your own or tackle the challenge with a friend. Either way, playing a spy in the laser challenge is one of the coolest things to do in Monterey.

Pro-tip: put on the special kaleidoscope glasses to make it even more difficult!

Monterey State Historic Park

If you are looking for places to visit in Monterey that offer you a glimpse of what life used to be like on the peninsula, you should check out the Monterey State Historic Park.

When California was under both Mexican and U.S. military rule, Monterey use to serve as the capital of California. It is here at the historic park where the official U.S. flag was first raised in California.

The park is a collection of historic buildings that holds significance for the city. You can take part in the Monterey Walking Path of History where you can see the site where Spanish explorers first landed, the nation’s last remaining whalebone sidewalks, California’s most historic homes, and more.

For history lovers, this is one of the best things to do in Monterey, hands down!

old building, California first theatre with a brick sidewalk in front and a man riving by on a bicycle

Del Monte Beach

One of the best things to do in Monterey is to visit Del Monte Beach. This picturesque beach is tucked away from all of the hustle and bustle, main streets, and attractions.

As one of the best dog friendly beaches in Monterey, be sure to check it out if you are visiting with your doggos! Also exciting, bonfires are allowed on the beach as long as you burn them in the designated rings.

If you have been looking for a sunset spot in Monterey, Del Monte is one of the popular viewing spots!

a wide empty beach with sand dunes on the right and waves coming in on the left, bird flying in the sky

Hike To Amazing Bay Views At Jacks Peak County Park

When people talk about Monterey attractions, you rarely hear someone suggesting Jack’s Peak, which is such a shame! Of all the stuff to do in Monterey, Jack’s Peak is definitely the most underrated.

This county park is 525 acres of wooded mountain area that offers hiking trails and picnic areas for visitors. Photography, wildlife viewing, catching a glimpse of the bay, and enjoying a picnic are all great ways to enjoy the park.

This is also one of the best free things to do in Monterey as you can spend time exploring the nature of Monterey County, save money by having a picnic instead of eating out, and you will get to see a view of the Monterey Bay that few visitors ever get to see.

view through the trees of monterey bay from atop a mountain

A few things to remember before your visit to Jacks Peak. The closing hours change depending on what time of year it is so be sure to check the hours of operation before visiting.

Second, you should keep in mind that this is mountain lion territory. It isn’t uncommon to see wildlife like mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, deer, and more in Monterey County. It’s important that you are aware of your surroundings while hiking and know how to respond if you encounter wildlife on the trails.

This information isn’t to scare you. After many visits to Jacks Peak Park, we have seen wildlife, but have never encountered it up close and personal, so you definitely shouldn’t let this deter you from visiting this beautiful park.

While there are some steep trails in the park, you will encounter people of all ages hiking in the park. Families with small children are frequently seen hiking the trails, so if you are traveling with little ones you can rest assured that the whole family can enjoy time spent at Jacks Peak!

two people walk along narrow path at jacks peak park, one of the best places to hike in monterey

Monterey County Youth Museum

On the subject of things to do in Monterey with kids, let’s take a look at the Monterey County Youth Museum.

Also one of the cheap things to do in Monterey for families, the museum is only ten dollars and children under two are able to enjoy it for free! The museum aspires to provide an environment where children can be curious and creative while growing their thrill for lifelong learning.

Whether you are traveling with a super young one who is still in diapers or an older child who is nearing their tween years, there are exhibits that suit the developmental age of most children.

The museum also holds different events throughout the year so be sure to check their website before you arrive to see if you can add any fun events to your itinerary. One of those events includes a 21+ games night where adults can enjoy drinks, board games, and food from local restaurants.

Drive The Pacific Coast Highway

You won’t find many who will argue with you about how amazing the Pacific Coast Highway is. From the world-famous McWay Falls, one of the only waterfalls in the world that drop into the ocean and beautiful hiking trails to delicious bakeries and iconic views, driving the PCH is something you won’t soon forget.

aerial photo of the ocean waves crashing into rocky coast and curving roads winding alongside the water

Monterey is a popular stop along the Pacific Coast Highway; you can easily hop onto the highway if you are staying in the city and start the beautiful drive north or south on the highway.

Taking the highway south will take you toward Big Sur and more of the most prominent and popular parts of this stunning drive. Depending on how much time you want to spend on the road, you can see sites like the Bixby Creek Bridge, visit the Big Sur Bakery, and see the Elephant Seal viewpoint.

rocky cliff above transparent blue water below, clear day

The drive on the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the best things to do in Monterey no matter what time of year you visit and no matter what type of weather you have while you are there. In the sunshine or in the fog, the PCH does not disappoint.

Driving this idyllic highway with picturesque views is one of the top things to do in central coast California! The winding road and crashing waves draw millions of road trippers every year.

The original goal of the highway was to connect Canada with Mexico. It was the small-scale endeavor at local levels that when combined created the beautiful highway that it is today.

In 1931 the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge was built and it now serves as a major recognizable symbol for the Golden State. As one of the major points on the highway, be sure to check it out if you get the chance!

If you are looking for places to hike along the trail, try out the Soberanes Canyon hike. Just shy of three miles, this hike is rated hard in difficulty and includes primitive wooden bridges, stairs to climb, and incredible views of wildflowers, redwoods, and of course, the bay.

If you make it down to Big Sur, you can stop by the Big Sur Bakery and art gallery. Here you can stretch your legs, grab something to eat, and shop artwork from local artists.

At the bakery, you will find everything from salads, burgers, and pizzas to pastries, coffee, and wine. The delicious food and drinks are the perfect entertainers for a relaxing sit on the patio in the sunshine.

There are bathrooms near the bakery as well as beautiful grounds to explore in the area. Hanging greenery, cacti and succulents, along with other beautiful flora and fauna make this an even more appealing stop along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Rent a Surrey or E-bike

Like to stay active while you travel? One of the best things to do in Monterey for active travelers is to rent a surrey or E-bike to explore the Monterey coast. Surreys make great options for those who want to pedal along with their travel companions, while bikes provide a more rigorous experience.

If you want to bike but aren’t sure if you want to put forth all of the efforts that it takes, consider renting an electric bike to give you a little extra oomph while you pedal.

Adventures By The Sea offers the best rentals in Monterey for anyone looking to rent a bike or surrey to explore the area. Keep an eye out while you are adventuring along the coast as you will likely get the opportunity to see sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, or one of the many bird species that call the bay home.

Melt Into Decadent Desserts at Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop

If your sweet tooth is acting up after dinner, head to Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop for something tasty! They have loads of chocolate flavors, coffee, ice cream, and hot chocolate to warm you up on chilly Monterey nights.

They have fun indoor seating complete with trendy and Instagrammable decor. Or you can sit outside on the heated patio adorned with flower-covered vines climbing the walls around the patio. This a great place to watch the world go by while you enjoy your hot chocolate or ice cream.

Sitting outside on this beautiful patio, enjoying your treats, and soaking in the sunshine and salty air is one of the best things to do in Monterey!

Take a Day Trip to Carmel-By-The-Sea

Carmel is a roughly fifteen-minute drive from Monterey and is a beautiful and super walkable city. Many parts of this lovely beach town will make you feel like you have stepped into a fairytale with unique architecture and food.

Walking the streets, trying some of the incredible restaurants in Carmel, and enjoying the countless art galleries are some of the best things to do in Carmel-By-The-Sea. One of the most popular shops to go into in Carmel is The Pilgrim’s Way Books.

The popularity of this shop comes from the secret garden behind the bookstore. A door in the back of the shop will take you to narrow walkways where you can explore bamboo gardens, succulent-lined walls, browse crystals and plants that are for sale, and see where the garden pathways take you.

This is a popular spot amongst those looking to get an Insta-worthy travel photo and for those who love to explore unique locations on their travels. While in the bookstore, there’s something for everyone. There is even a young adult and a children’s section.

Some of the other shops you can check out while you are in Carmel include a sock shop, a toy store, and a dreamy chocolate shop called All About Chocolate. If you are looking for unique souvenirs from your travels in Monterey County, Carmel-By-The-Sea is the place to find them.

The streets are so much fun to explore as there are hidden restaurants, shops, and galleries that can be reached by following alleyways and colorful staircases that you will find around the city. Photographers, foodies, and explorers will all love taking a day trip from Monterey to Carmel.

Carmel-By-The-Sea is a unique town on Carmel Bay that has some pretty interesting history and rules. For instance, did you know buildings in Carmel don’t have addresses? Residents and businesses have to get their packages and other mail at the post office.

Also, those walking the street in Carmel aren’t allowed to wear high heels! You can go to the city and get a permit giving you special permission to wear heels in town. This makes for a super unique souvenir from your travels!

Another weird rule that Carmel has is a rule about ice cream. Until Clint Eastwood became mayor in the 1980s, ice cream was illegal in Carmel. Super hard to believe, but it’s true!

While you are in Carmel, you should visit a restaurant or two. The restaurants in Carmel are all unique; there are no chain restaurants here! One of the most popular restaurants has famous Belgian waffles; it’s called the Tuck Box.

This fairytale-looking restaurant has a small dining room and an outdoor space where they serve American and European dishes. The freshly squeezed juices and country potatoes here are delicious!

If you don’t have much time to spend in Carmel-By-The-Sea on your day trip from Monterey, you can swing by a coffee shop in town to grab something to start your day before you see an attraction or two and make your way from Carmel to Monterey again.

Cafe Del Mare is a nice place for a quick coffee, hot chocolate, or pastry before heading to Carmel Beach to see the world-famous central coast California blue water.

The water here at Carmel Beach is shockingly blue and the sandy white beach is dog-friendly, making Carmel Beach one of the best beaches in California!

There is a trail that goes alongside the beach that showcases the beauty of the bay and the coastline. You can also walk or drive Scenic Drive which runs along the beach. On this road, you can see beautiful houses on the coast as well, including the famous Butterfly House.

If you only plan on making a quick stop in Carmel from Monterey, don’t miss seeing the remarkable light blue water on one of Carmels’ beaches; this really is one of the best things to do in Monterey County.

Check Out The Views From The Cannery Row Monument In Steinbeck Plaza

While you are exploring Monterey, you will have many opportunities to stop into one of the many shops for drinks, ice cream, sandwiches, or sweet treats to take away. You can stop by the monument in Steinbeck Plaza to grab a seat to enjoy whatever yummy things you have bought throughout the day.

There are benches and seating around the monument where you can get views of the bay, perfect for a midday snack or quick lunch.

The monument involves a water feature and bronze statues of some of the most notable figures in Monterey’s history. Standing at fifteen feet high and seventeen feet wide, the monument is quite large. You will see the depiction of Chinese fishermen, cannery workers, a famous marine biologist, and Flora Woods, a Monterey woman known for her generosity.

a monument with bronze statues on it is in between restaurants in front of the bay, a palm tree and flag are to the left of it
source: Ingus Kruklitis / Shutterstock.com

Check Out The Seals At Harbor Seal Lookout at Hopkins Marine Life Refuge

Wildlife viewing is among the top things to do in Monterey. A great place to see seals is at the Harbor Seal Lookout. The lookout is just two minutes from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and offers exciting views of harbor seals lounging on the warm white sand.

The blue water, rocky coast, and white sand are stunning on their own, add in the plump harbor seals, and you have yourself a must-see view! Since this lookout point is so close to the aquarium, it’s a nice pre or post-aquarium attraction.

There are picnic tables and benches located at the parking area near the lookout and there are also places where you can walk down towards the rocks that jut out into the crashing blue waves.

Eat at Ambrosia India Bistro

Looking for things to do at night in Monterey? A late dinner at one of the Ambrosia India Bistros is a must. There are two locations in Monterey, one on Cannery Row and one on Abrego Street. Beautifully decorated patios and dining rooms and incredible food draw in hungry travelers every day.

Ambrosia has won the award for being the best Indian restaurant in Monterey County according to the Monterey County Weekly, Carmel Pine Cone, and the Monterey County Herald.

Exquisite Indian food is passionately served at Ambrosia India Bistro, making it one of the best things to do in Monterey. The comfortable lounge and welcoming courtyard make for an incredible dining experience that goes beyond the meal.

You can start your meal at Ambrosia with delectable starters like vegetable pakora, samosas, crab cakes, or a mixed tandoori hor d’oeuvres platter. Then, move on to incredible vegetarian soups, chicken, seafood or lamb delicacies, and tandoori sizzlers, along with naan and rice.

Of course, what would your night be without diving into a dessert of Gajar Ka Halwa, Kesari Kheer, or Gulab Jamun as well? All of these delicious options along with beers, wines, cocktails, and mocktails are enough to keep you happy during your visit to Ambrosia India Bistro.

indian food sits in dishes on a table with a table cloth, ambrosia india bistro best Monterey restaurants

Make The Short Drive To Carmel Mission Basilica

A surprising amount of people ask about things to do in Monterey in Carmel. Carmel-by-the-sea is just a short drive from the city of Monterey and it is home to the historic and remarkably stunning Carmel Mission Basilica.

The grounds are beautifully cared for and create a gorgeous area for visitors to enjoy while they are there. Cactus, succulents, vining plants, and flowers surround the building making it a lovely place to sit and rest or take travel photos.

You are welcome to take a self-guided tour through the Basilica, museums, and the grounds or you can take a guided tour by appointment only. Keep in mind that this is an active church and as such there are often events being held that visitors have to work around.

outside of the carmel mission basilica, plants along the building and a walking path

Padre Junipero Serra arrived in Monterey by ship in 1770 and founded Mission San Carlos Borromeo the next year. When he decided to leave Monterey, he established another mission in Carmel.

A bit more on the history of the mission and of Junipero Serra. In 1985, Junipero Serra was declared venerable by Pope John Paul II and in 1988, he was recognized for his heroic virtues. Then, in 2015 Saint Junipero Serra was canonized at the National Shrine in D.C.

Today, the Carmel Mission Basilica is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the United States for religious travelers from all over the world.

entrance to the camel mission, door is open and there are plants along the outside walls

Monterey History And Art Association

Free for everyone under eighteen, the Monterey History and Art Association is one of the best things to do in Monterey!

Home to the famous Salvador Dali Exhibition along with historic local art, the art association is a treasure in Monterey that should be on everyone’s radar. With many fun and Instagrammable areas of the museum that go beyond the art pieces, this is a super fun place to be in America’s First City.

Rainbow staircases, lip-shaped seating, fun quotes on the walls, and more add to the experience of being at the museum. You will find the museum near the Old Fishermans Wharf where you can see more than 550 Salvador Dali works including lithographs, tapestries, etchings, photos, and more.

The Salvador Dali Exhibition at the museum was named as one of the “must-see exhibits” by USA Today. This lovely Monterey museum sets out to capture and display the rich history of Salvador Dali and provide enrichment for not only the neighborhood but for everyone who comes to visit as well.

Visit Fort Ord Dunes State Park

Looking for free things to do in Monterey? Fort Ord Dunes State Park is a great place to lounge on the beach, go biking or walking, see the natural beauty around Monterey Bay, and to watch the sunset. In fact, it is easily one of the top sunset spots around the bay!

One of the hundreds of California state parks, Fort Ord Dunes State Park is an off-the-beaten-path attraction near Monterey that offers a quiet and relaxing outdoor experience for visitors.

For those looking for ways to stretch their budget while in Monterey, a grocery store-bought picnic on the free beach at Fort Ord Dunes State Park is a great idea!

Plus, walking the paved trail is a great way to stay active while traveling. And the spur trail through the sand dunes down to the beach provides a bit of adventure to your day spent in America’s First City.

sunset at a beach, people walking to the left, one of the best things to do in monterey
sunset at fort ord dunes state park California

Events & Festivals in Monterey

One of the most exciting things to do in Monterey is to visit one of the free events and festivals that the town puts on each year. Some of the best events and festivals on the Monterey Peninsula include.

  • The WhaleFest
  • Monarch Butterfly Migration
  • PaddleFest
  • Carmel Art Festival
  • Artichoke Festival
  • The Good Old Days Street Festival
  • Monterey Car Week
  • Living History Day
  • Monterey Beer Festival
  • Lighted Boat Parade
  • Old Fisherman’s Wharf Holiday Decorations

Whalefest is an event that is held each year on the Old Fisherman’s Wharf and is focused on celebrating the migration of whales through the Monterey Bay and the protection of whales in general. There are a lot of activities on the Old Fisherman’s Wharf that are kid-friendly like painting, whale crafts, and more.

Then you have The Good Old Days Festival which has loads of vendors, food trucks, shopping for handmade goods and plants, live music, and activities for kids. You can find food and crafts from every part of the world while you are. From elevated street food and snow cones to South African woven baskets and laser-printed maps, you can find it all!

Lighthouse Books

Lighthouse Books is close to Cannery Row and visiting this bookstore is one of the most underrated things to do in Monterey. Here, you can grab a summer paperback to read on the beach or browse the first editions and older Steinbeck collections that they have here.

The small hallways and secret room in the back make for an exciting book-browsing experience and there are plenty of nooks and crannies that you can get lost in while you are visiting Lighthouse Books.

Eat at In & Out

A trip to California without a visit to In & Out? Don’t think so! This burger chain’s first location was opened in Los Angeles in 1948 and today it stands as an iconic symbol of California, especially among young people and on social media.

If you aren’t from the western United States, there’s a good chance you haven’t been to an In & Out before. Ordering a burger Animal Style with a side of fries and either a drink or a shake is a staple on most people’s California travel itineraries.

Visit the Larkin House Garden

The Larkin House is a National Historic Landmark in Monterey. It is a beautiful pink home that has two stories. It was built in a mud adobe style that you will see on many of the historic buildings in town.

Built during the Mexican Period by Thomas Larkin, this house has played and its builder made history in Monterey. The building acted as a home and a store and Thomas Larkin became quite the influential resident of Monterey.

Today, visiting the garden of this historic building is one of the best things to do in Monterey.

Old Capital Books

Old Capital Books on Alvarado Street is another one of the top things to do in Monterey that often goes overlooked. While many visitors may be focused on visiting the most popular tourist attractions, there are many other places to visit in Monterey that will make your time spent in the city even more memorable.

This bookstore has an excellent foreign language section, a small kids section, and of course, John Steinbeck books. The vibe in the shop is very laid back and you are sure to find yourself leaving the store more relaxed and grounded than when you went in.

If you are a book collector or even just an avid reader, it would be a shame to miss an opportunity to visit Old Capital Books.

Revival Ice Cream

Arguably the best place to get vegan ice cream in Monterey, Revival Ice Cream is really popular among visitors and locals alike. This small ice cream shop on Alvarado Street serves cute and creative ice cream dishes that are inspired by local flavors and topped with house-made toppings.

The Revival Ice Cream menu is packed with mind-blowing flavors and toppings. It’s home to the Bees Knees Ice Cream Monterey which is an award-winning flavor that has an organic base with beeswax, local organic honey, and a honeycomb candy that is made in-house.

Some of the toppings include torched marshmallows, hazelnut crunch, and brownie bites. If you want a super fun ice cream from Revival, order a waffle bowl with vanilla ice cream and then top it with brownie bites, chocolate chips, and toasted marshmallows for a S’mores bowl you won’t be able to stop talking about!

There is limited seating in the shop with only a few bar stools looking out onto the street. However, there is also plenty of patio seating if you want to enjoy that ever-pleasant central coast weather that everyone raves about.

Revival is by far one of the best things to do in Monterey so if you find yourself on Alvarado Street, be sure to stop by.

How to spend a few hours in Monterey: Cannery Row

Now to answer your question…

What if I only have a few hours to spend in Monterey? What should I do?

The answer, hands down, is to spend time on Cannery Row. While we covered a few things to do in this area, there is so much more.

Shopping, activities, restaurants, sweet shops, and souvenir shops are plentiful on Cannery Row, making it one of the best things to do in Monterey. There are also pretty street views and bay views to enjoy in the area.

Cannery Row was originally called Ocean View Avenue, but was renamed in 1958 after the famous John Steinbeck Novel. His Cannery Row novel was set in the Great Depression and was about the people in the margins of society.

Today, it is the top attraction in Monterey and you won’t want to miss out on a visit here while you are in town.

The unique shops are the coolest things about spending time on Cannery Row!

inside a shop, art and plates hand from the walls and two skeleton artworks sit on a bench

One of the most popular things to do in Monterey is to check out the shops on the Row, and Monterey’s Tasty Olive Bar is one of the coolest!

It’s here that you can buy flavored olive oils and balsamic vinaigrettes that you can buy. Once you step inside you can ask for bread that you can use to taste test the olive oils and vinaigrettes with.

They have great flavors like chipotle, cilantro and roasted onion, and lime olive oils.

There are also a plethora of sweet shops on Cannery Row where you can buy fudge, caramel apples, ice cream, salt water taffy, and more. The interior of many of these shops can add a lot to this experience on the row.

For example, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory offers a rustic wooden shop to taste test delicious chocolate in while the Dip N Dots shop offers an old-school seating area complete with a jukebox and memorabilia on the walls.

[Dip N Dots is actually one of the top places to get ice cream in Monterey!]

There’s a lot of variety in the shops on Cannery Row, making for an engaging experience as you explore this famous street.

two people sit at a table in a sweet shop, stairs in the middle of the picture to exit to the street and a juke box is to the right of the stairs
Dip N Dots Cannery Row Monterey CA
chocolate desserts are in a glass display case in a sweet shop
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Cannery Row Monterey CA

It is hard not to list all of the incredible things to do on Cannery Row, and things to do in Monterey in general, but one thing that can’t be ignored is the incredible candy shops on the Row.

Whether you are looking for rows and rows of every salt water taffy flavor that you could imagine, something elevated like flavored chocolate truffles, something international, or maybe something that reminds you of your childhood like powdered candy, you can find it. on Cannery Row!

rows and rows of candy are on display in a candy shop, best things to do in monterey

Troya Turkish Delight and Baklava has remarkable Turkish treats like fig and walnut Turkish delight (the best!), honey baklava, and much more!

You can grab a quick treat or pack a whole box to take with you to go. If you don’t have a long journey back home, this makes a great gift for your loved ones back home.

turkish delight is in a display case in a turkish sweet shop, lamps hang from the ceiling

Another popular spot to stop on Cannery Row is Rock N Roll Donut Bar. This sweet shop sure knows how to deliver the sugar!

You can find elaborately decorated donuts and fun flavors in this shop along with IPAs, drinks, milkshakes, and more. If you want an over the top sweet treat that is as Insta-worthy as it is tasty, you will want to head to Rock N Roll Donut Bar.

There’s also a trendy psychic shop called Mrs. Lauries on Cannery Row. You can get palm readings and card readings done. Visiting Mrs. Lauries is an interesting way visitors add some fun to their time spent in Monterey. Even if you don’t believe in psychics, it provides a fun travel memory and story to tell when you get home.

If you want something quirky and unique to take home with you from your time spent in the city, consider stopping by the Sock Shop on the Row. They have socks with everything you can imagine printed on them.

You will find children’s socks, socks with California sea otters on them, hiking socks, socks with popular show and movie characters on them, and more!

When it comes to dining on Cannery Row, there are lots of options. A couple of the most popular places to eat in Monterey, other than Lalla Grill and Ambrosia Indian Bistro, are the Salty Seal Brewery and Bubba Gump Shrimp.

The Salty Seal Brew Pub is instantly recognizable by its wooden exterior and the different countries flags flying outside. They serve up craft beers and classic English pub bites.

exterior of the salty seal brewpub one of the best restaurants in Monterey, flags fly outside the restaurant

Bubba Gump, on the other hand, offers incredible and expansive bay views in a fun and commemorative dining room. They also offer outdoor seating. If you want a relaxed place to eat with memorable views, head to Bubba Gumps!

If you are traveling with kids, Bubba Gumps will definitely work for you as family travelers. Their kid’s meals are served in fun paper boats and there are many kid-friendly items on the menus.

Plus, you can’t go wrong with these wide bay views that their deck and dining room offer. A meal with amazing views is one of the musts when it comes to things to do in Monterey.

[If you are looking for more amazing restaurants in Monterey you can check them out here!]

If you would rather grab a bite to eat quickly or grab something to go, Crepes On The Row is highly recommended! They have a variety of sweet and savory crepes for you to choose from.

For those looking for a quick savory bite, ordering the Monterey Special Crepe is one of the best things to do in Monterey.

The crepes come filled with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, and feta cheese. They also have other crepes like the smoked turkey and egg crepe, chocolate and strawberry crepe, and the lemon and sugar crepe. Salads, bagels, and other quick bites are on the menu as well.

If you care to venture a couple of blocks from Cannery Row, you will be greeted by a stunning and enticing used book shop. The used book store has rows and rows of tightly packed books for you to check out.

If you plan on relaxing on the beach, you can grab a book from the shop before lounging on the beach in the sunshine.

The shop has a lot of nooks and turns, as well as a secret room in the back for fantasy books. This is one of the coolest places to visit in Monterey so be sure not to skip over it when you are creating your Monterey itinerary.

As you walk around on Cannery Row, you will find there are many areas that remind you of the past. As an important fishing and canning town on the west coast, there are still momentos, architecture, and stories in Monterey that share this part of history with visitors.

You will see murals, pictures, and statues around Cannery Row that depict the canning past of the city as you explore this part of Monterey.

On Cannery Row and the surrounding streets, you really can’t beat the fun little alleyways, pretty flowers, staircases, pretty architecture, attractions, and shops that they provide.

If you are interested in travel photography or if you simply enjoy documenting your adventures for family and friends back home, you can’t be a stroll down Cannery Row and nearby streets.

This is especially true if you don’t have much time to spend in America’s First City and you are keen to see some of the prettiest locations that it has to offer. For those short on time, visiting the Cannery Row area is without a doubt at the top of the list of things to do in Monterey.

The Cannery Row area of Monterey is one of those places that are best explored on foot. The Monterey Coastal Trail runs from Marina in the north, down through Cannery Row, and to the end of the north side of the Monterey Peninsula.

Along the trail, you will find beautiful water views and you will likely catch a glimpse of some of the marine life that calls the bay home as well. Walking this tail is one of the top things to do in Monterey if you want to see the beauty that the area offers while enjoying the salty bay air.

If you will be on Cannery Row late in the day, check out the bridge that goes over the main strip. You can reach the bridge from the entrance across from Ghirardelli. The entrance takes you to more shops and in that shopping area, you will find stairs that will take you up to the bridge.

Looking down at the street below as the area comes alive at night under the flow of the shop lights is one of the best things to do in Monterey at night.

Things to do in Monterey: where to park on Cannery Row

There are parking garages near Cannery Row where you can pay to park, there is also a parking lot that offers paid parking for the whole day. These options are the most expensive places to park near Cannery Row.

You will find the cheapest parking along the street. You should download the ParkMobile app if you haven’t already so that you can park quickly once you arrive. You input the zone number and parking space number listed on the parking meters into the ParkMobile app to pay for parking.

If you can’t find parking on Cannery Row, no worries, you can park on the nearby streets and still access the area pretty easily on foot.

a parking meter on cannery row in Monterey California
street parking on Cannery Row, Monterey CA
photo of boats docked in the water on the right and the Fishermans wharf on the right

With such a visually stunning, history-rich, and exciting place to visit like Monterey, it’s easy to see why millions of visitors flock to this glorious coastal haven each year.

With all of the intriguing historical events that have taken place in the city alongside the cultural diversity that is present, Monterey has been given the nicknames The Language Capital of The World and California’s First City.

Foodies, history lovers, nature explorers, and city escapists all fall in love with Monterey. Being in such a great location on the central coast of California, it has so much to offer visitors.

No matter how you choose to spend your time in California’s First City exploring the best things to do in Monterey, you are sure to be talking about it for a long time to come!

Now that you have learned how to spend a day in Monterey, what do you think you will do first? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you!

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