Spending the weekend in Monterey should be on everyone’s California bucket list! This remarkable central coast town has everything you need for a relaxing and exciting weekend away. After living in Monterey for the past couple of years, I have created the ideal weekend away for someone looking for a varied and memorable weekend trip to this little slice of heaven.
You can dive into the exciting adventures that are to be had for you in the Monterey Bay, learn about the bay at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, indulge in wine and chocolate, eat international and local cuisine, shop at boutiques, smile and laugh at the mirror maze and Treasure Hunt, drive the Pacific Coast Highway, and much more during your weekend trip to Monterey.
I’ll show you the best things to do in Monterey, which restaurants to visit, where to stay, where to park, and all of the little details that you will need during your visit. After this, you won’t have to wonder what to do in Monterey!
Well, let’s dive right in and I will show you how to have the best Monterey trip in this dreamy bayside town!
Your Weekend in Monterey Questions Answered
Is Monterey Worth Visiting?
If you are wondering if you should actually visit Monterey, my answer is that you absolutely should! The blue water, the wild and rocky coastline, the marine life, the attractions, the seafood, the spas, and vibe make a trip to Monterey well worth it!
How far is Monterey to Carmel?
A lot of people want to visit Carmel-By-The-Sea while they are on the Monterey Peninsula. It’s roughly twenty minutes by car from Monterey to Carmel. There are a lot of exciting things to do in Carmel-By-The-Sea, so it is definitely something you won’t want to miss while you are on the Monterey Peninsula.
With all of the fun things to do in Monterey and Carmel, these two coastal towns really do go hand and hand. You can easily see them both during your three day visit to the Monterey Peninsula.
When is the Best Time to Visit Monterey?
Monterey has mild weather all year round. No matter what time of year you visit, it is never too cold or too hot. If you want to visit during the warmer times of the year, visit in September or early October. If you visit in the late fall or the winter you will be able to see the Monarch Butterfly migration and if you visit in the winter or spring, you are more likely to see the gray whale migration.
Best Things to do in Monterey
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 during your weekend in 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. The best day to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
When searching for the best things to do in for your weekend 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 Fisherman’s Wharf
Among the best things to do on your weekend in Monterey 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. This is a must do in Monterey CA!
Coast Guard Pier
While this is one of the most family friendly things to do on your Monterey vacation, 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 during your weekend 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.
Monterey to Carmel 17- Miles Drive
Seventeen Mile Drive is among the most popular places to visit on your weekend in Monterey. There is an $11.25 admission fee for driving this scenic stretch of road along the dramatic coastline of the Monterey Peninsula. There are loads of stops along this drive where you can get out and enjoy the natural beauty of central coats California.
This is by far one of the best things to do in Monterey with kids! With mind blowing tide pools like the ones along 17 Mile Drive, your kids will be occupied for hours while you sit back with a good book or simply enjoy the scenery. But, it’s not just tide pools, there’s a lot to see and do along 17 Mile Drive.
One of the must-see places along the 17-Mile Drive is Spanish Bay. Spanish explorers stopped here to camp in 1769 when they were trying to find the Monterey Bay based on a description of the bay from 1602. This is one of the beach beaches in Monterey County! There’s a lovely wooden boardwalk along the beach and benches where you can sit and enjoy the view of the waves coming in.
Something else worth a stop along 17 Mile Drive for is the Pebble Beach 17 Mile Drive Gingerbread House. This cutesy and unique house is a must-see for travelers who like to see the strange and unusual on their adventures.
Other overlooks and information stops can be found along 17 Mile Drive, including Fanshell Beach Overlook where you get views of a beautiful beach and see the pupping habitat for harbor seals. If you want to see wildlife while you are in the area, this is a must!
Monterey weekend events
One of the most exciting things to do in during your weekend 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 Peninsula include.
- The WhaleFest
- Monarch Butterfly Migration
- 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!
Hands down the best of the best things to do on your weekend in Monterey is walking Cannery Row. This is probably the most recognizable location in the city. This stretch of road was home to fish canneries in the early days of California and is now one of the top activities in Monterey.
There was a big canning boom and expansion due to demand brought on by the war from 1916-1918 and many more canneries and businesses erupted during this time. John Steinbeck wrote a book titled Cannery Row which was published in 1945. And over time, the row continued to gain popularity.
Today, Cannery Row is mostly restaurants and shops. There are several gift shops here where you can find a souvenir at a reasonable price. You could also grab a milkshake or ice cream to enjoy while you walk around.
Walking along here gives you a look back in history while seeing the effects of modernity on this historical road in California. Also, a great spot for taking travel pictures, walking on Cannery Row is among the top things to do in Monterey California.
Lovers Point Park
Home to a top beach in the city and a beautiful rocky coastline, Lovers Point Park is among the best swimming beaches in the area and one of the top things to see 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.
A chance to see thousands of Monarch butterflies? Yes, please! Visiting the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is one of the best things to do during your weekend in Monterey if you are visiting during the fall or winter. The sanctuary is roughly 5-10 minute drive from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and is well worth the drive!
The sanctuary is open seven days a week and is best visited in the winter months. The butterflies cluster together on Cypress, Pine, and Eucalyptus trees which is quite a site for visitors! They will only be in the area from mid-October to early March, so this is a must see in Monterey if you are visiting during this time.
Treasure Hunt: The Ride
Among the top indoor things to do in Monterey is the Treasure Hunt: The Ride. This underground attraction is a fun activity for your weekend in Monterey, especially if its raining or if you have kids.
The ride takes you down the stairs of a shopping center where it is immaculately decorated to look like a pirate ship. The employees are in character and talk to you about about your mission when you get underground.
You can ride in a little car and use a gun to shoot targets as you ride through the subterranean tunnels to find treasure and protect yourself from the ghost of Captain Bouchard and his crew.
Go Whale Watching
Whale watching is super popular amongst visitors spending the weekend in Monterey. Going whale watching is also really popular for family travelers to put on their Monterey itinerary as well, so keep that in mind if you are traveling with little ones!
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.
In my opinion, whale watching is the best of the best when it comes to Monterey CA tours. There are several companies in the area that give whale watching tours. There are different types of as well so you can choose the one that works best for you and whoever you’re traveling with.
Keep in mind, no matter what type of Monterey boat tours you take, 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.
Mirror Maze & Laser 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 with kids, be sure to add this attraction to your itinerary if you are traveling as a family!
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 during your weekend in Monterey.
Pro-tip: put on the special kaleidoscope glasses to make it even more difficult!
If you have a full 3 days in Monterey, I recommend you swinging by Lighthouse Books. This bookstore is close to Cannery Row and visiting is one of the most underrated things to do during a weekend 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.
Pilgrims Way Bookstore
During your weekend in Monterey, you will likely want to spend some time in neighboring Carmel as it is one of the top weekend getaways in Monterey CA. 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. Definitely one of the highlights of Monterey Bay travel for book lovers, this is a gem you don’t want to forget to pick up.
If bold briny blue waters and wide sandy beaches is something that appeals to you, you need to make your way to Carmel Beach. One of the best beaches in Monterey area by a mile, Carmel Beach can be seen from down on the sand or from Scenic Road.
Scenic Road is a famous road on the peninsula that gives you sensational views of the Carmel Bay. You can walk or drive this route to see the beach and surrounding areas. Or head on down to the beach where you can sunbathe, do some wildlife viewing, walk your dog, or simply enjoy the remarkable beauty of the area.
If you are looking for dog-friendly beaches in the area, it doesn’t get much better than Carmel Beach. Your dogs can be walked on a leash or if they are under voice-control, you can let them off the leash. This makes this beach one of the best things to do in Carmel if you are going to take a Monterey Bay day trip to Carmel.
If you choose to walk Scenic Road, there are benches along the path were you can rest. Parking can be found at the end of Ocean Avenue. Additional parking can be found along the street on Scenic Drive. One visit here, it is easy to see why this is widely considered to be one of the best beaches on the Monterey Peninsula. Don’t miss out on seeing this stunning beach during your weekend in Monterey.
Where to Eat in Monterey
Lalla Oceanside Grille
This new American bar and grill is one of the top places to eat dinner during your weekend in Monterey. There are two Lalla Grill locations in the city, one in the Del Monte Shopping Center and one on the famed Cannery Row in downtown Monterey.
By far one of the best waterfront restaurants in Monterey, Lalla has a large indoor dining room as well as a patio on Cannery Row. The dining room is sleek and modern and the large floor-to-ceiling windows offer massive views of the Monterey Bay.
If you aren’t a big drinker, you will be happy to know that Lalla has a fantastic mocktail menu that includes tropical refreshers, nojitos, and Maui fizzes. Consider starting your visit with the loaded lobster nachos; they are simply incredible!
I cannot recommend this restaurant enough. The vibes are incredible, the view is incredible, and the food is incredible; you really can’t go wrong. Even if you only have one day in Monterey, I recommend stopping by Lalla!
One of the best Monterey restaurants for couples on a weekend in Monterey, Paluca Trattoria has had some fame in Monterey recently as it was used in the drama series Big Little Lies starring Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, and Reese Witherspoon.
Other than being a great filming location, Paluca Trattoria also has the best Italian food in the Monterey Bay area. It sits on the lively Fisherman’s Wharf and serves boutique beer, wines, and espresso along with a Sicilian seafood menu. They serve Linguini Alla Arrabiata, Gamberoni, Ashelina Pomodoro, and more.
If you are looking for fun things to do in Monterey at night, consider adding a dinner by firelight on the Paluca Trattoria patio to your bucket list! The location right at the start of the wharf should put this Italian restaurant on your list of places to eat in Monterey with a view!
While looking for a delicious meal to start your day, consider making the short 10-20 minute drive to the Tuck Box. Visiting this fairytale like restaurant is one of the best things to do in Carmel-By-The-Sea and it is by far one of the best places to get breakfast in Monterey County.
Carmel-By-The-Sea is known for its fairytale-like cottages and buildings. These buildings are a part of what gives Carmel its charm. When you dine at the Tuck Box you are graced with striped awnings, European-style architecture, and a menu of classic American fare accompanied with a few European options.
You can get breakfast at the Tuck Box until around 11:30 and after that, some breakfast items will appear on the lunch menu as well, so all you brunch lovers will feel right at home here at the Tuck Box. Keep in mind that guests are served in a first-come first-serve fashion and no reservations are accepted.
On the menu, there are oats, Belgian waffles, omelets, Eggs Benedict, country potatoes, scones, fresh squeezed juice, salads, deviled eggs, and more. Beers from the Carmel Brewing Co. are served along with select English beers. There is an Afternoon Tea and Late Luncheon Menu as well.
Don’t miss this little gem during your weekend in Monterey! Even with just two days in Monterey, it is worth the short drive.
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 marshmallow, 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 places to get ice cream on your Monterey California vacation so if you find yourself on Alvarado Street during your weekend in Monterey, which you likely will, be sure to stop by Revival.
Pavel’s Backerei is a five-minute drive from the Monterey Bay Aquarium across from the Grove Market in Pacific Grove. One of the top bakeries in Monterey County a visit to Pavel’s Backerei is well worth the short drive from Monterey to the town of Pacific Grove.
This may be the only one of the bakeries near Monterey to be cash only. The vibe here is old school and the use of cash-only transactions adds to that experience. If you want to add Pavel’s to your Monterey itinerary, be sure to come with cash in hand.
The offerings at Pavel’s are huge. Large chocolate croissants, tarts, danishes, cinnamon rolls, and bear claws are all massive. The large portions and budget-friendly prices are things that keep locals and visitors returning time and time again.
When you walk into Pavel’s the large display case and containers of long skinny baguettes immediately show you what you can expect here. There are also appetizing sandwiches and lunch options for you here as well.
Once you leave Pavel’s Backerei, you can walk across the street to Grove Market which also has bakery items and food available by weight. You can grab a broccoli salad, spaghetti, chicken wings, or any of their offerings to take with you on the go.
This is a great place to buy snacks or a meal for a picnic in town. It’s also ideal for anyone looking to buy unique local products to take home as souvenirs. The market has been open since 1969 and has a typical small-town market vibe.
Rosine’s Restaurant offers the perfect mix of American cuisine with international favorites. So, you won’t be surprised to hear that it is among the top restaurants for brunch in Monterey. Decadent cakes, seafood dishes, coastal classics, and their iconic Hearty Homemade Beef Minestrone Soup are all available to your when you visit.
The Hearty Minestrone that is served here was featured in an episode of Diners Drive Ins and Dives (wow, there must be something in the water here in Monterey!), season 20, episode 2.
The breakfast menu at Rosine’s is served until 3pm, making it a great place for brunch during your weekend in Monterey. A family favorite offered here is the Chili Egg Puff. It is baked eggs, three cheeses, chiles, jalapeños, pico de gallo, and your choice of meat. If you want to try something special, check out the Chili Egg Puff!
Also on the menu are all of your brunch favorites like avocado toast, country potato skillets, biscuits and gravy, Eggs Benedict, steak and eggs, omelets, pancakes, waffles, and French Toast. Plus, theres an incredible Mimosa bar!
Where to Stay in Monterey
The Old Monterey Inn
For travelers looking for a homier option for their Monterey weekend, I think this bed and breakfast in Monterey will really seal the deal.
To say this cozy little inn is idyllic is an understatement. Old Monterey Inn is known for its charm. The vines climbing the building outside, the romantic design on the insides, and all of the charming features of this inn make it one of the best places to stay in Monterey.
This Monterey B and B offers massages, a lovely outdoor dining area, and lush gardens for you to explore. You can have breakfast delivered to your room here and you can enjoy complimentary hors d’oeuvres each day. The charm, attention to detail, and amenities are just what you need for your weekend in Monterey.
Old Monterey Inn is just a ten minute walk from the Monterey Museum of Art, Cotton Hall, the Monterey Moon Tree, and the Old Monterey Jail. Depending how much walking you want to do, this hotel may be best suited for those who will have a care while in town as it takes around twenty five minutes of walking to reach the Wharf and around forty minutes to reach Cannery Row.
You can check prices here: Booking.com
Monterey Tides is one of the most popular accommodations for Monterey vacations. Guests at this dreamy hotel can enjoy the outdoor heated pool that is opened all year around. There’s also a great restaurant at the hotel called Tides Waterfront Kitchen which is one of the best places for breakfast in Monterey.
This hotel is away from the hustle and bustle of the busiest areas of Monterey and offers you views of the bay and gives you quick and easy access to the beach as well. Plus, when you stay at Monterey Tides, you are only a ten minutes drives from the Old Fisherman’s Wharf. So, despite being away from busyness of town, you are still fairly close to the top attractions.
It would be a shame not to tell you a bit more about Tides Waterfront Kitchen as it is a huge part of what makes Monterey Tides one of the top places to stay for your weekend in Monterey. There is a casual vibe at the restaurant and they serve up bold meals in a dining room with sweeping views of the Monterey. The food, drinks, and decor here are all inspired by the California coast!
You can check prices here:Booking.com
Le Petit Pali at 8th Ave
Le Petite Pali at 8th Ave is among the luxury hotels on the Monterey Peninsula that will make your time spent on the central coast something that you won’t ever forget. Located in Camel-By-The-Sea this accommodation should be on every ones list of boutiques in Monterey County to stay at!
The aesthetics at Le Petit Pali really can’t be beat. The checkerboard floors, soothing sage, pink, burgundy color palate, and the umbrella spotted brick patio all create a dreamy vibe and help land Le Petit Pali on the list of top luxury hotels in Monterey.
When you stay here, you will have quick access to the top things to do in Carmel. You can walk to the best restaurants in Carmel, an exciting little bookstore with a secret garden, art galleries, and the beach all with ease when you stay at Le Petit Pali at 8th Ave.
If easy access to Carmel is important for you during your weekend in Monterey, look into booking a room at this Luxury hotel on the Monterey Peninsula.
You can check prices here:Booking.com
Seven Gables Inn
Seven Gables Inn on Monterey Bay is an book worthy bed and breakfast perfect for a Monterey Bay weekend getaway! Located in the Pacific Grove area, Seven Gables Inn is on the historic rocky shoreline of the Monterey Peninsula. The charming interior design and views make it easy to see why this boutique hotel in Monterey is so highly rated.
Seven Gables is a three story mansion that was built in 1886. In the main house, there are six rooms to choose from that all offer views of the Monterey Bay and are adorned with antique furniture and decor for a complete Victorian charm vibe.
Other than the main house, there’s also a guest house, beach house, jewell cottage, sea view cottage, carriage house, and the arbor and garden cottage. The variety of rooms, bay views, and antique features make this one of the best luxury hotels for your weekend in Monterey!
You can check prices here:Booking.com
Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa
The Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa is among the most romantic Monterey hotels. Right on the water on Cannery Row, this hotel is a stunner. Here, you will have remarkable views of the Monterey Bay and receive world-class service from the staff.
You couldn’t ask for a better location than at the Monterey Plaza Hotel. You are just steps away from the beach and from all of the shops, restaurants, and activities on Cannery Row, and you are about a ten minute walk from the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.
What really makes this one of the best places to stay during your weekend in Monterey are the amenities. You are given a lovely bathrobe and nightly turndown service to make your stay more comfortable. And you have access to a rooftop fitness center, the European Vista Blue Spa, an elevated dinner restaurant, a causal oceanfront restaurant, as well as the lobby bar and cafe.
You can check prices here:Booking.com
Merritt House Hotel
An incredible stay for your weekend in Monterey the Merritt House Hotel is what we all imagine when we hear enticing central coast cottage. If a stunning boutique hotel is on your bucket list of places to stay in Monterey, be sure to look into the Merritt House Hotel!
Each room here has its own fireplace and there is a relaxing garden and common room where you can enjoy the coastal atmosphere and carefully crafter designs at the hotel. Free breakfast is served here daily and you can read some of the most highly visited areas in town via a ten minute walk.
When you stay at the Merritt House Hotel, you get the best of both worlds. You can reach Cannery Row and Fishermans Wharf easily, but you are also back from the main strip a bit so you have grocery stores, museums, coffee shops, and other locations close by as well.
You can check prices here: Booking.com
If you prefer to stay in vacation rentals for your weekend trip to Monterey and are actively looking for Air BnB’s in Monterey, check this one out in nearby Sand city!
Now that you have learned about some of the best ways to spend a weekend in Monterey, I hope you feel well equipped to create your ideal road trip to California, quick romantic getaway, or perhaps a 3-day itinerary Monterey CA. Whatever your plans are for your time spent in Monterey, I’m here to help!
You can ask any questions about Monterey travel here in the comments and you can get more Monterey travel and California travel guides, inspiration, and travel tips by following California Wandering on Pinterest.
For guides and inspiration for traveling with kids, head to Gone With My Babies.