What To Do In Monterey California [beaches, food, hikes & more!]

Let’s talk about what to do in Monterey, California! This city is packed with cool shops, delectable restaurants, yummy sweet shops, historic sites, hiking trails, pretty views, scenic roads, and beautiful beaches. You will never be at a loss with all of the incredible things to do in Monterey, CA!

If you find yourself in Monterey looking for the best things to do, where to eat, where to find good coffee, where to drive, and where to go, we’ve got you covered! We will cover all of these topics, plus itinerary options, and more. You will be feeling like a Monterey pro once you’re done!

  • Beaches in Monterey
  • Museums in Monterey
  • Hiking in Monterey
  • Restaurants in Monterey
  • Ice Cream in Monterey
  • Bars in Monterey
  • Bakeries in Monterey
  • Free Things to do in Monterey
  • Best Things to do in Monterey
  • Luxury Hotels in Monterey
  • Places to Stay in Monterey
  • Monterey Itineraries
aerial photo of the town of Monterey with boats in the water off the coast

What To Do In Monterey California

Now, let’s go over the best of the best when it comes to planning what to do in Monterey, California!

Beaches in Monterey

If you have been wondering what to see in Monterey, the answer is the beaches! There are loads of great beaches in Monterey that you should check out while you are in town.

Whether you are looking for a kid-friendly beach, a dog-friendly beach, a beach with incredible calm blue water, or an expansive sandy beach where you can spend the day playing games, sunbathing, and jumping through the waves, Monterey has you covered.

San Carlos Beach

Visiting San Carlos Beach is the answer for what to do in Monterey for animal lovers. Easily one of the best beaches on the Monterey Bay, San Carlos Beach can be found at Reeside Avenue and Cannery Row. Scuba divers and those looking to see wildlife favor this beach.

Right next to the beach is the Coast Guard Pier. This pier is one of the most well known places in Monterey to see sea lions and seals. So, if the idea of sunbathing on a sandy beach while watching scuba divers and sea lions in the water, San Carlos is a must-visit!

Unfortunately, this is not one of the dog friendly beaches Monterey, so you doggos will have to skip visiting this bay gem. There is plenty of parking for this beach, but as you know, Monterey weather can be a little tricky with fog cover for days followed by a bright sunny day. On these sunny day, you can expect the parking lot to fill up pretty quickly.

When there are great weather days and you know others are going to want to be out enjoying the sunshine and pleasent temperatrues as well, head to San Carlos Beach earlier in the day to secure your parking spot. Parking is paid for by the hour.

If you haven’t already, download the Park Mobile app to pay for parking while you are at San Carlos Beach (like with most highly visited areas in the US, the Park Mobile app will be used for parking in the majority of Monterey.)

Beaches in Monterey are beautiful, there’s no doubt about that, but what makes this one so appealing, other than the obvious, is that there is also plenty of green space and picnic space. Picnic tables and a grass area make this a great place to have a picnic or throw a frisbee around.

a beach with a rock wall to the left and the waves to the right, partly cloudy day

McAbee Beach

Wondering what to see in Monterey CA? You can’t go wrong with a visit to McAbee Beach. In fact, when it comes to what to do in Monterey on Cannery Row, McAbee Beach is a must, especially if you are looking for beaches near Monterey Bay Aquarium.

McAbee Beach can be reached a couple of ways. One is via a skinny alleyway on Cannery Row 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.

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. At this famous Cannery Row mural, start walking down to the water and you will find yourself on McAbee beach in front of the buildings on Cannery Row.

Beaches in Monterey genuinely come in every shape and size. McAbee Beach is not a huge beach; it is actually quite small, but the crystal blue water and beautiful views draw heaps of tourists and locals down to the water from Cannery Row every day.

a small sandy beach with calm water with a rocky coastline to the right

Lovers Point Beach

When planning what to do in Monterey, a short drive to Lovers Point Beach in next door Pacific Grove should be on your itinerary.

The beach is located in Lovers Point Park where you will find beautiful rocky coastline and one of the best swimming beaches 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.

lovers point beach, what to do in monterey, calm waters, people laying on the sand, people walking in the water, a kayaker in the water.

Museums in Monterey

For those wondering what to do in Monterey, museums should be on your itinerary! Museums in Monterey come in every shape and size so there really is something for everyone. There are many free ones as well, perfect for budget travelers.

Monterey Museum of Art

If you plan on wandering around town on foot, check out the Monterey Museum of Art. This California museum is one of the top suggestions for travelers asking about what to do in Monterey for art lovers.

The museum is free for students, active military, and those who are eighteen years and under. And if you show up on your bike, you get 50% off your entrance ticket.

The collections here vary quite a bit. You can find artwork from California that was made before 1945, Asian American and Pacific Islander art, land and seascapes, and much more. They are frequently getting new artwork so even if you have visited before, you can enjoy new exhibitions on your next visit!

Cotton Hall & The Old Monterey Jail

Colton Hall and the Old Monterey Jail is the perfect for anyone asking around for what to do in Monterey for history lovers. Originally built as a public school and town meeting hall, CottonHall now displays a re-creation of the meeting room where California first constitution was draft in 1849.

One of the top museums in Monterey, you won’t want to miss out on the history at Cotton Hall. Adjacent to Cotton Hall, the Old Jail was built in 1854 and acted at the city jail until 1956. Even if you are only taking a day trip to Monterey, make sure to fit in a bit of history on your itinerary!

Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

Wondering what to do in Monterey with family? Consider driving a few minutes from Monterey to check out the Pacific Grove History Museum. If you are looking for cheap or free things to do in Monterey, this museum offers free admission the last Saturday of the month during the school year.

One of the best things to do near Monterey, this museum can easily be reached from downtown Monterey. Just one mile from the Monterey Bay aquarium, you can bike or walk from the aquarium.

The museum focuses on plants, animals, geology, and the cultural histories of the Monterey area. It has been open since 1883 (the same year that the Brooklyn Bridge opened) and it is one of the oldest natural history museums in the country. The collections here show a deep diversity of the flora, fauna, and historical artifacts of the central coast.

outside of the museum of natural history in pacific grove california, a flag pole is outside and there are stairs up to the museum

What To Do In Monterey California Cont.

Hiking in Monterey

Hiking is seriously overlooked when discussing what to do in Monterey CA. Let’s learn about some of the best places to go hiking in Monterey!

Jacks Peak County Park

Jack’s Peak County Park is home to one of the best Monterey Bay hikes. There are over eight miles of horseback riding and hiking trails here at Jack’s Peak Park where you can go through the winding pathways in the cathedral like forests before reaching spectacular ridge top vistas with Monterey Bay views.

Open all year around, hiking in Monterey is possible no matter what time of year at Jacks Peak. I know when I travel, epic views if one of my top bucket list ideas no matter where I’m at. If you are the same way, Jacks Peak has got you covered!

There are picnic tables here so bring a quick lunch with you or some snacks and you can enjoy a meal under the tree canopy. I see deer almost every time I’m picnicking here with my daughters so wildlife viewing is another plus of visiting Jacks Peak.

Even if you only have a weekend in Monterey, consider working a visit to Jack’s Peak County Park into your itinerary!

view through the trees of the monterey bay and the monterey peninsula at the bottom of a mountain

Asilomar Trail

No Monterey itinerary would be complete without some time for exploring the iconic rocky coastline of the Monterey Peninsula.

If places to hike in Monterey CA on the water peaks your interest, check out the Asilomar Coast Trail. This scenic stretch of coastline is a very popular destination on the Monterey Peninsula. Locals love walking their dogs by the water here as well!

The trails was founded in the 90s and it has successfully been a destination for those looking for a high quality recreational opportunity near the water. There is parking available long the road in sandy shoulders near the trail.

Hiking in Monterey is really at it’s best when you have spectacular water views and you have that on the Asilomar Coast Trail! The loud crashing waves put on quite a show up against the rocky coastline. You may also see some wildlife like seal lions, dolphins, seals, sea urchins, and more along this trail.

a wooden boardwalk trail curving along the rocky coast what to do in monterey

Carmel Beach Walk

A little different than most hiking trails in Monterey, Carmel Beach Walk follows along the seaside village of Carmel and offers stunning ocean views. The pathway, also called the Scenic Bluff Path, is 3.5 miles long and runs alongside Scenic Drive.

One of the top things to do in Carmel-By-The-Sea is to either drive along Scenic Drive or walk. If you choose to walk, you can see all of the sights just on foot as opposed to in the car. The water views here are mind blowing! It is some of the prettiest and bluest water in the area.

Hiking in Monterey County comes with so many different options, there truly is something to fit everyone’s needs. Since this trail is outside of the town of Monterey, you may be wondering, how far is Monterey from Carmel By The Sea? From the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it is roughly a twenty minutes drive to Carmel Beach.

a small sand path above a white sand beach in carmel-by-the-sea, flowers along the sand path

Restaurants in Monterey

Among the best Monterey CA things to do, checking out some of the incredible restaurants that the town has to offer is a must. Clam chowder and other seafood dishes are plentiful in Monterey.

You can also find loads of classic American options and international cuisine alongside the coastal specialities. No matter what you are looking for, this beach town has you covered! Here is a few of the best restaurants in Monterey!

Paluca Trattoria

When asked what to do in Monterey, Paluca Trattoria is the easy suggestion! One of the best places to eat 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 Monterey. 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!

seafood pasta on. around plate on a table, paluca trattoria

Crepes on The Row

For everyone interested in what to do on Cannery Row in Monterey, consider going to Crepes on The Row. It is the place to be for everyone looking for a quick breakfast near Monterey Bay Aquarium. This dreamy Cannery Row creperie has awesome crepes that you won’t want to miss!

If you want a savory brunch in Monterey, Crepes on The Row has your covered. Here, you can grab a crepe to eat as you walk the short remainder of Cannery Row to the aquarium. This creperie opens and starts serving breakfast in Monterey at nine in the morning which is an hour before the aquarium opens.

As you may have expected, both sweet and savory crepes are offered here. The sweet crepes range from lemon and sugar to caramel and apple. While the savory options range from cheese and smoked turkey to cheese, spinach and mushroom.

My favorite crepes here is the Monterey Special! This crepe comes with caramelized onions, sautéed spinach, feta cheese, and sun dried tomatoes. Super yummy!

outside of Crepes on The Row a crepe restaurant on cannery row in Monterey california

Wave Street Cafe

Calling everyone who is looking for breakfast in Monterey on Cannery Row!

An iconic place for breakfast on Cannery Row is the Wave Street Cafe. New American breakfast dishes are served here at Wave Street Cafe in the charming dining room that is designed in a European-bistro style, complete with an outdoor patio.

The cute building, design, and dining spaces make a visit here super desirable. Add onto that the incredible menu options and you will find yourself not wanting to leave the Wave Street Cafe as it is one of the top Monterey breakfast spots!

On the All-Day Menu at Wave Street Cafe is are classic breakfast favorites like oatmeal, breakfast burritos, eggs Benedict, egg scrambles, omelets, pancakes, and French Toast.

The classics are taken to the next level at this breakfast joint in Monterey. You can choose from a variety of omelets like The Denver, Garden Fresh, Bay Shrimp and Spinach, The Greek, or The Vegan omelet. Eggs Benedict are serves in unique ways as well. You can get a Norwegian, Irish, Vegetarian, Hawaiian, or Garden Eggs Benedict.

Ice Cream in Monterey

What would any explanation about what to do in Monterey be without talking about some of the best places to get ice cream in Monterey. All of the creamy goodness you could hope for can be found all around the Monterey area. Here are some of the best ice cream spots in town!

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 in town so if you find yourself on Alvarado Street, be sure to stop by. Plus, if you are looking for things to do in Monterey with kids, you can’t go wrong with a trip out for ice cream!

two cups of ice cream sitting on a table in front of a stack of books in front of a large window overlooking the street and sidewalk

Dippin’ Dots

If you are looking for ice cream on Cannery Row, head on into Dippin’ Dots! This classic American ice cream store is located in a retro shop complete with a jukebox and 50’s style decor. The vibe here is just as big of a visiting factor as the ice cream. If you like an old-school diner, you will love the vibes at the Cannery Row Dippin’ Dots.

All the classic Dippin’s Dots flavors can be found here. From Cookie and cream to rainbow and chocolate, you can find your childhood favorite flavors during your visit. They also serve Mariannes Ice Cream.

In fact, they have been serving this ice cream on Cannery Row for more than sixty-five years! If you want good ice cream in Monterey, head to Dippin’ Dots. Also in the shop are Calypso fruit drinks, old-school fruit sodas, and root beer.

When you visit this ice cream shop you will be right next door to a super fun and lively candy store called It’s Sugar Cannery Row. Here you can find novelty candy items and unique sweet treats like two-foot gummy worms the width of your arm, cereal that is all marshmallows, and huge candy bars. It’s worth a stop after your ice cream to pop on into a magical candy shop on the row.

If you find yourself with bad weather during your visit, Dippin’ Dots could be the solution; one of my favorite activities in Monterey is to spend a rainy day at an escape room, then finish up with ice cream!

what to do in monterey, dippin dots interior with retro decor and checkerboard floors.

Moon Scoops

Moon Scoops is the best place to get ice cream in Monterey County. This cool ice cream shop can be found less than ten minutes from the Old Fishermans Wharf in Monterey. The offerings here are mind-blowing! Delicious cookies, organic soft serve, and Italian Ice are all served here and the dining space is super photogenic and Insta-worthy.

If you find yourself on the outskirts of Monterey and you want some good ice cream in Marina, Moon Scoops is the way to go; It’s the perfect little Monterey day trip and doesn’t detract much time from your day at all.

Other than a simple cup of Italian Ice or ice cream, there are other fun options on the menu like shakes, floats, cookie smashes (ice cream sandwiches), and affogato.

Some of the incredible moon ice flavors (Italian Ice) include blue raspberry, lemonade, sweet mint, cola, brownie bark, pineapple mango, peach, mojito, and apple pie. The flavors are diverse and unique! You can also get a rootbeer float or a Moonblast float which are both delicious.

The Moonblast floats come with soft serve, fruit purees, and pop rocks! There’s a delicious Moonblast float that comes with strawberry soda, strawberry puree, and vanilla soft serve that is perfect for anyone who like strawberry shortcakes.

a hand holding a cup of three scoops of ice cream in front of a flower wall that has a neon sign on it that says i love you to the moon

What To Do In Monterey California Cont.

Bakeries in Monterey

A great addition to a Monterey travel itinerary, these bakeries are the answer to that pesky query, what to do in Monterey. You can find dreamy pastries, decadent cakes, and more in bakeries in Monterey.

There’s also some great bakeries in the surrounding areas on the Monterey Peninsula. If you want to take a day trip to Carmel from Monterey, you can find sensational bakeries there as well.

Paris Bakery Cafe

Wonder what to do in Monterey California no longer, bakery hopping is a fun (and delicious) way to spend your time in the city.

The Paris Bakery is a fantastic cake bakery in Monterey. Here you can find chocolate cakes, large fruit cakes and fruit galettes, and other pastries like flaky croissants and turnovers, fruity danishes, sugary cookies, and classic cupcakes.

Paris Bakery Monterey is a popular bakery in downtown Monterey. It is located near other points of interest that can be reached on foot. Boutiques, restaurants, shops, and the Monterey County Youth Museum are all nearby.

a bakery display case with cakes and pies in a bakery in monterey

Alta Bakery & Cafe

Alta Bakery Monterey is located in a restored Cooper Molera complex where they serve elevated New America cuisine. Visiting Monterey is made better by stopping at Alta Bakery and Cafe!

They also offer some of the best cakes in Monterey CA. So, no matter whether you are looking for sensational sweets, loaded toast, sandwiches, or something lighter, Alta delivers!

The avocado toast here is as delicious as it is beautiful. It’s topped with vegetables and edible flower petals for an Insta-worthy and rave-worthy creation that visitors love.

a wood fired pizza with arugula on it on a table

Pavel’s Backerei

Pavel’s Backerei should be on your list of what to do near Monterey. The bakery is a five-minute drive from the Monterey Bay Aquarium across from the Grove Market in Pacific Grove. One of the top bakeries in Pacific Grove a visit to Pavel’s Backerei is well worth the short drive from Monterey.

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.

bakery display case with sweets behind the glass

Free Things to do in Monterey

It can be kind of tricky when you are wondering what to do in Monterey and you are trying to plan your itinerary around budget-friendly destinations. Fear not, there are loads of free things to do in Monterey!

You may have also heard a lot about nearby Carmel which also has a lot of free attractions and things to see. If you have been pondering Carmel vs Monterey, Monterey has many more free things to do, but if you want to make the short drive to Carmel to check out some of the things to see and do there as well, it can help you stretch your travel budget.

Here are a few of the best free things to do in town.

Cannery Row

If you are planning a quick trip and have found yourself wondering what to do in Monterey for a day, the answer is easy, visit Cannery Row!

Hands down the best of the free activities in Monterey is walking Cannery Row. This is probably the most recognizable location in the city. This stretch of road in Monterey was home to fish canneries in the early days of California.

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 free things to do in Monterey.

view of cannery row from above, people walking across the street and cars on the road below

Path of History

Wonder what to do in Monterey no longer, the Path of History through the city showcases historic buildings and free museums that you can visit during your time in Monterey.

You start at the Customs House, then just follow the little yellow circle emblems in the sidewalk. They mark your path and take you to see many historical sites along the trail, 55 to be exact! The path is two miles long and goes through the Old Town Historic District.

Following along this path is one of the best free things to do in Monterey as it is a free walking tour that includes beautiful gardens and free attractions perfect for budget travelers in the city.

Plus, if you are visiting in October, the Monterey History Festival is going on in the historic district. At the festival, there are fun events like free Mexican cooking lessons, crafts, and performers. Some of the buildings along the path that are not always open will be opened for the festival.

Some of the top attractions on the Monterey Path of History include:

  • Cotton Hall Museum & The Old Monterey Jail
  • Pacific House Museum
  • Custom House Plaza
  • Larkin House
  • The first brick house
  • The first theatre

If you want to take a guided walking tour of the area, you can book a tour for only ten bucks and everyone under 18 is free!

two story historic home in monterey, a garden out front, large windows upstairs

Old Fishermans Wharf

Among the best things to do in Monterey CA 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.

If wildlife watching is on your itinerary for your trip, you can usually see some sea lions and harbor seals splashing around the wharf. You can also hear and see them off in the distance as well. Keep your eye out for the buoys in the bay, sea lions love to lay down on them and rest in the sun.

people walking on old fishermans wharf on fourth of july, shops on both sides of the wharf, what to do in monterey

Things to do With Kids in Monterey

For family travelers planning a trip to Monterey, be sure to check out the best things to do with kids in Monterey!

Rent a Swan Paddle Boat at El Estero Park

Through El Estero Boating, you can participate in one of the top Monterey kid friendly activities, renting a paddle boat! El Estero Park is a lovely place top be for families. It’s located on Del Monte Avenue and has a lot to offer families, and all types of visitors.

On El Estero Lake, you can take out different paddle boats for a half an hour or a whole hour. And while you are here, you will have a few options to choose from. Choosing between one of the regular paddle boats and one of the animal paddle boats is the biggest decision for you and your little ones.

The regular paddle boats come in different glittery colors and the animal paddle boats are either swans or ducks. You can expect to save some money by choosing a regular paddle boat as the swans and ducks are pricier. Nevertheless, this isn’t just a family activity, it is also one of the funnest things to do in Monterey for couples!

three people on a swan shaped paddle boat on the water

Explore Tide Pools on 17 Mile Drive

Exploring the tide pools in town is the answer to what to do in Monterey with kids. Seventeen Mile Drive is among the most popular road trips in California. 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!

up close photo of a tide pool, birds flying in the background

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!

This stunning site is one of the top things to do in Monterey with kids for a few reasons. First, while there is a small entrance fee, it is reduced for children between seven and seventeen, and children under seven are free. Plus, area around the lighthouse is absolutely beautiful and great for photography. Lastly, a visit here serves as a learning opportunity, which we know is very important to a lot of family travelers.

photo of a lighthouse with a flag flying outside on a cloudy day, flower pots around the lighthouse building, what to do in monterey

Best Things to do in Monterey

Let’s take a look at some the best things to do in town, including some of the most unique things to do in Monterey. Without a doubt, you will hear everyone recommending the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium when you ask about what to do in Monterey.

There is much more than just the aquarium though, bars, parks, and things that you can’t see or do anywhere else in the world can all be found in this dreamy seaside town. Here’s a few of the best things to do.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Easily one of the best things to do in Monterey, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is an incredible site that you won’t want to skip over while you are in town. 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.

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.

photo of aquarium with a tide pool beside and underneath it, people can be seen standing on deck overlooking the water

Alvarado Street Brewery

For everyone looking for things to do in Monterey at night, Alvarado Street Brewery is an exciting place to be. Here, you can find unique brews like the double IPA called DeLorean Dust, a West Coast IPA called Fins and Faultlines, and a hazy IPA called Escape From Here.

The menu here also includes delicious small bites like country poutine, pulled pork sliders, and shrimp ceviche. Of course larger dishes like pizzas, salads, burgers, steak, and pasta can be ordered as well. This is a great place to hang out and enjoy local flavors while you are in Monterey.

Point Lobos State Nature Reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is home to some of the best hiking trails in Monterey CA. A very popular attraction in Monterey County, the parking for Point Lobos fills up very quickly so you will want to be sure to get there as early as possible so you can get a good parking spot.

If you get there later, there is road side parking but it is not super close to the park so you will have to walk along the highway a bit before you even reach the entrance gate to the park. And this parking can fill up pretty quick as well.

For those looking for hiking in Monterey in the more popular areas, you will want to head to Point Lobos as this famous area is one of the most beautiful spots on the central coast.

The Point Lobos Loop Trail is rated as moderate in difficulty as it is 6.4 miles long and gains around 680 feet in elevation. The trail will show you the best that Point Lobos has to offer. You should be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen as most of the trail is exposed to the sun.

photo of ocean and rocky coastline with driftwood on the coast, point lobos, what to do in monterey

Places to Stay in Monterey

Where to stay in Monterey is an important topic to consider. After all, choosing ideal places to stay in Monterey can make your time spent on the Monterey Bay all the more enjoyable. Plus, deciding what to do in Monterey is a lot easier when your accommodation is in a prime location.

So, let’s find you a great place to stay!

Mariposa Inn and Suites

One of the unfussy, three star hotels in Monterey, Mariposa Inn and Suites gives you the best of both world. While they are there, you have simple rooms a laid back atmosphere with a fantastic seating area, fire pit, and pool outside.

Like most of the places to stay in Monterey, Mariposa has a fitness area and breakfast included in your stay. The rooms here have basic appliance like a coffee machine, microwave, and refrigerator.

Mariposa Inn and Suites is back away from the busier areas in Monterey. This gives you a quieter stay than you could get if you were near the Old Fisherman’s Wharf or Cannery Row. However, this does mean you have to travel a bit to reach the top attractions in Monterey .

From Mariposa, you are 1.2 miles from Dennis The Menace Park, 1.5 miles from the Old Fisherman’s Wharf, and 2.3 miles from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. So, this stay is better suited for those with a vehicle. If you want to be able to get around on foot, a stay closer to the coast between Cannery Row and the wharf is a better fit.

You can check prices here: Booking.com.

lounge chairs with towels on them next to an outdoor pool outside of a hotel
Source: Booking.com/Marisposa Inn and Suites

The Jabberwock Bed and Breakfast

Another unique accommodation option for those looking for romantic places to stay in Monterey, the Jabberwock Bed and Breakfast is among the most unusual stays here in the Monterey Bay area. This B and B definitely caters to a specific type of traveler. Budget and luxury travelers both will probably want to opt out of this one while travelers who love a good unusual stay will likely love The Jabberwock.

Antiques cover the shelves at this hotel, green carpet covers the floors, and history fills the halls. Unique wallpaper, a cozy sun room, and peaceful garden await you at the Jabberwock Bed and Breakfast. There are seven bedrooms, a yard with water features and a Bocce ball court, gourmet breakfast, and a wine and hors d’oeuvres offered each evening on the sun porch.

You can check prices here: Booking.com.

a steep road with a bed and breakfast on it, a flag pole out front, a lamp post out front
Source:Booking.com/The Jabberwock Bed and Breakfast

The Old Monterey Inn

For travelers looking for a homier option when visiting the Monterey Peninsula, 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 won’t soon disappoint.

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.

a hotel with vines growing up the side of it, a large tree  to the right and a green garden out front
Source:Booking.com/Old Monterey Inn

Luxury Hotels in Monterey

Luxury hotels in Monterey are easy to come by! Whether you are looking for a bed and breakfast, a boutique hotel, a resort, or a hotel spa, luxury is all around this bayside town.

Hyatt Regency Monterey

One of the top luxury hotels in Monterey CA is the Hyatt Regency. This highly-rated hotel is just two miles from the Monterey Peninsula Airport and has amazing amenities to offer guests. They have a lovely spa, free airport shuttles, heated outdoor pools, a gym, a full-service tennis facility, complimentary Tesla charging stations, and a golf course. The hotel also offers currency exchange services as well!

A bar and restaurant are also on site, perfect for those evenings when you don’t feel like heading back out into town. While you are there, you can enjoy a large array of spa services. A varied facials menu offers guests options like the Ultra Hydration Facial and the Hydro Facial.

Also on the spa menu here are hydrotherapy, waxing, body treatments, acupuncture and massages. Some of the massage options include Swedish massage, prenatal massage, lymphatic massage, Thai massage, foot baths, and more. For those looking for couples massage in Monterey, the Hyatt offers two spectacular couple massages; a couples Swedish massage and a couples deep therapeutic massage.

When it comes to the location of the hotel, the Hyatt Regency isn’t as close to the top attractions in town as many of the other places to stay in Monterey. It is a ten minute drive to the Old Fisherman’s Wharf and about thirteen minutes from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

You can check prices here:Booking.com

a one story hotel with a round drive way in front of it, a fountain in the circle
Source:Booking.com/Hyatt Regency Monterey

Portola Hotel and Spa

Arguably the best hotel in Monterey, for those looking to relax, the Portola Hotel and Spa is among the most idyllic luxury hotels in Monterey. When you stay at the Portola, you will be just a short five-minute walk from the Old Fisherman’s Wharf and just a mile from the historic Cannery Row.

When you arrive at the hotel, you will be greeted by a welcoming lobby with a beautiful glass ceiling and stunning design. The rooms are light and airy, many of them giving you views of the water. Portola also has one of the top spas in Monetery.

The spa here is the largest day spa in Monterey County. Monterey County Weekly has voted it the Best Spa more than five times and the Best in Skincare more than ten times. There are eleven treatment rooms here and a relaxing lounge where you can receive spa services like massages, body wraps, and facials. If you have been looking for Monterey spa packages, Portola is the place to be.

You can check prices here: Booking.com

inside of a hotel bar and restaurant, bar on the left with unique tile work, chairs, tables, and large columns on the right
Source:Booking.com/Portola Hotel & Spa

Monterey Tides

Monterey Tides is one of the best hotels in Monterey on the water. 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 luxury hotels 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.

a wooden deck with lounge chairs on it overlooking expansive views of the monterey bay
Source:Booking.com/Monterey Tides

What To Do In Monterey Itinerary Options

3 Day Itinerary Monterey CA: Monterey Carmel

Do you have enough time to spend three days on the Monterey Peninsula? If so, this three day Monterey itinerary will help you plan your next central coast adventure!

Day One:
Grab some breakfast before heading to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You will spend the late morning here, have lunch here, and spend the afternoon here. Then, spend the evening exploring Cannery Row. There are shopping options and you can also do an escape room, mirror maze, underground adventure ride, and more here. Dinner will also be here on Cannery Row. My favorite is Lalla Grille!

Day Two:
One day two you can grab breakfast in town before heading to the Coast Pier to see bay views and watch sea lions play in the water. Afterwards you can walk on nearby San Carlos Beach before visiting Old Fishermans Wharf. You can walk on the wharf, enjoy watching the sea life under the wharf, walk through the shops, have lunch and ice cream, and more before setting off on a whale watching adventure. You can also have dinner here when you return.

Day Three:
Today, you can travel from Monterey to Carmel to check out the top things to do in Carmel-By-The-Sea. Just twenty minutes by car, Carmel has beautiful beaches, a historic mission, fun shops, and more. You can have breakfast here before exploring and then have lunch here once you are done checking out the town. Then, travel back from Carmel to Monterey, stopping at 17 mile drive for the views and tide pools. Finish the day with a hike at Jack’s Peak Park and dinner in town.

carmel california, what to do in monterey, fairytale cottage like buildings on a day trip from Monterey
Editorial credit: Naeblys / Shutterstock.com

2 Day Itinerary Monterey CA: Monterey Big Sur

While you are researching what to do in Monterey, you will probably find yourself wanting squeeze Big Sur into your travel plans. If this is where you find yourself, but you don’t have much time to spend in the area, this 2 day Monterey Big Sur itinerary may be perfect for you.

Day One:
Spend day one fitting in all the top Monterey attractions like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, McAbee Beach, Monterey Coastal Recreation Trail (you can rent a bike or surrey for this,) Cannery Row, and Old Fisherman’s Wharf. If you want to, you can try to squeeze in a sunset whale watching adventure at the end of the day as well.

Day Two:
On day two, you will be traveling down the Pacific Coast Highway to enjoy the wild and rocky coastline along the highway all the way down to Big Sur. Monterey to Big Sur offers an incredible and memorable trip that you won’t be able to stop talking about for weeks to come! There are viewpoints, hiking trails, art galleries, bakeries, restaurants, and more on this road trip. For ideas for PCH stops you can check out my ultimate Pacific Coast Highway road trip guide!

curving road of the pacific coast highway along the pacific ocean near big sur

1 Day Itinerary Monterey CA: Monterey Pacific Grove

If you need a Monterey itinerary that is for just one day, don’t fret! You can still have loads of fun in just one day. I know it can be a bit daunting to try to see everything in a short amount of time but even a Monterey day trip itinerary can be quite exciting!

Start by parking at Old Fisherman’s Wharf Parking if you are traveling by car. You can pay for parking here via the Park Mobile app. Have breakfast at LouLou’s Griddle in The Middle on the Municipal Pier, walk out onto the Old Fisherman’s Wharf to enjoy the shops and sights, and take a whale watching boat tour from the wharf.

Enjoy lunch on The Old Fisherman’s Wharf after your whale watching excursion. Then, follow the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail to the Coast Guard Pier where you can watch sea otters, seal lions, seals, and sea birds around the pier. You can walk around at San Carlos Beach as well as it is right next to to the pier. If you visit on the weekend, you will likely see scuba divers here! Then, keep following this trail to to get to Cannery Row.

You can spend time in the afternoon exploring Cannery Row’s stores, attractions, and sweet shops before spending a couple of hours at the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. Afterwards, you will need to head back to your car at the Old Fisherman’s Wharf.

Lastly, head from Monterey to Pacific Grove to check out Lovers Point Park and beach before heading further out on the peninsula to experience the Asilomar Coast. It is like a mini PCH road trip for those who don’t have time to drive the PCH as this stretch of coast is particularly untamed with wild waves crashing up against the rocks on the coast. You can walk along the water or just enjoy the drive before heading to dinner in Pacific Grove to end your day.

a sandy path with wild flowers alongside it in front of the ocean on a mostly clear day, what to do in monterey

For everyone who was asking themselves what is there to do in Monterey, hopefully you feel educated and ready to explore the city for yourself. There is so much to do and see here and like most travelers, you will likely fall in love with the coastal charm.

So, what to do in Monterey? You tell us! What will you do first?

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