12 Best Things To Do In Monterey, California – Hand Luggage Only

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Brimming with a pristine coastline, picturesque Monterey is one of the gorgeous places in California to explore. What makes it even better is how many cool spots and the best things to do in Monterey there are. From foodie haunts, beautiful beaches to historic streets – Monterey has it all!

I visited Monterey on my second trip to California when road-tripping from Lake Tahoe, via San Francisco to Los Angeles. Along the way, I just knew I had to stop in Monterey.

I had the best time exploring this relatively small city and kinda wished I’d spent even longer in the surrounding area. It’s lovely.

So, to make sure you don’t have any regrets and make the most of your time, I wanted to share some of the top places to see in Monterey that I totally loved. This way, you can make the most out of your time in the city.

Wharf In Monterey

Take a look, below, at the best things to do in Monterey. Have a great time visiting California.

1.) Cannery Row

Best Things To Do In Monterey

Cannery Row is the street that runs along the beautiful shoreline of Monterey City and one spot you can’t miss whilst explore.

One of the best things to do in Monterey, Cannery Row gives a little glimpse of the city’s fish-packing history with its historic cannery buildings that line the street. Although the last of the canneries closed in the 1970s, there’s still a heap of things to see today.

Cannery in Monterey

You see, nowadays, Cannery Row is packed-full with boutique lodgings, Monterey Bay Aquarium and a heap of yummy spots to fill your tummy.

I loved Ghirardelli for their puddings. Just like the one in San Francisco, it was delicious!

Read more: Best things to do in California

2.) Old Fisherman’s Wharf

Best Things To Do In Monterey

Around a 30-minute stroll from the Monterey Bay Aquarium is another well-known spot to see, Old Fisherman’s Wharf.

Once a working wharf solely for the fishing industry, Monterey’s Old Fisherman Wharf is now filled with lots of little shops, restaurants and walkways to stroll through.

It is a shopper’s paradise and probably one of the spots that most visitors will go at least once. Kinda like the Time Square of Monterey! 😉

Fancy getting in the surf? Hop onboard one of the glass-bottom boat tours or venture out on a whale watching tour that you can book right on the wharf.

Best Things To Do In Monterey

If you don’t wanna ride the waves, take a chilled walk around the oceanfront. Here, you can spot the resident sea lions and otters that stay in the inner portion of the harbour.

Though, before arriving, I honestly didn’t realise how smelly they are; they stink!

Restaurant in Monterey

Afterwards, head on over to Aliotti’s Victorian Corner Restaurant for their yummy dishes. Their homemade pasta and ravioli is everything and more!

Read more: Best things to do in Lake Tahoe

3.) Monterey State Historic Park

Best Things To Do In Monterey

Being one of California’s oldest towns, Monterey holds a lot of historical structures which may date back as early as the 19th century. Now protected within the Monterey State Historic Park, Old Monterey was California’s previous capital!

The homes and buildings of Monterey State Historic Park are totally amazing to see and you’ll even get to see the lovely rose gardens, too.

Along your stroll, don’t forget to see the Custom House Cactus Garden and the First Brick House. Plus, you’ll be able to stroll the whalebone sidewalk and spot Custom House Garden which has some cosy views of Monterey Harbor.

Read more: Best things to do in Yosemite

4.) Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail

Best Things To Do In Monterey

If you fancy stretching your legs, join the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail that takes in some of the best spots.

At 18-mile in length, the route starts at the coastal point of Castroville and ends all the way over at the Pacific Grove.

Along the way, you’ll get to take a nosey around some key gems in Monterey that line the city’s shoreline. You’ll see the firm favourites within Monterey itself but it’ll also take in spots like the Lovers Point Park, too.

Oh, and don’t forget to stop at First Awakenings for a little afternoon pick-me-up. They make the tastiest Cinnamon Bread French Toast.

Read more: Best things to do in San Francisco

5.) Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Best Things To Do In Monterey

Exploring the coastline around the city is easily one of the best things to do in Monterey when driving. For me, one of the area’s best stretches of coastline is at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

With its picture-perfect vistas and towering granite cliffs, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is perfect to explore for a half-day trip.

If it’s a beach you’re after, check out Monastery Beach which’s easily accessed via the Cabrillo Highway or the Carmel Meadows trail.

17-mile drive in Monterey

If a hike is more your thing, check out the Pine Ridge Trail that traverses the park and rugged coastline.

Oh, and for the best sunset, head to Sea Lion Point.

Read more: Best road trip stops in California

6.) Monterey Museum of Art

The Monterey Museum of Art proudly recognizes California artists and their works. They really make an effort to place them under the limelight which is so amazing to see.

Visiting the Monterey Museum of Art lies along Pacific Street and is one of the best things to do in Monterey if you want to explore the local and statewide art that is housed inside. It celebrates and emphasizes photography and contemporary art while featuring artists such as Ansel Adams, William Ritschel, and Edward Weston.

Read more: Best beaches in California

7.) Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Best Things To Do In Monterey

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a protected area perched on the pristine coast between San Francisco and Cambria.

To put it simply, it’s a big area of oceanfront that’s protected for wildlife to thrive and It is considered one of California’s most impressive places for wildlife viewings.

You can easily explore Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary by driving down the coast by booking a whale watching tour (on the Monterey’s Wharf).

Typically, the summertime is best to spot whales in Monterey Bay but each year can be slightly different.

8.) Lovers Point Park and Beach

Monterey Coastline

Easily reached by following the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, Lovers Point is gorgeous to visit.

Apart from the awesome and mesmerizing views over Monterey Bay, the park is a great little spot for a picnic whilst hiking the coastline. If you fancy a dip, pop into ‘Adventure By The Sea’ outfitters and hire a kayak to head onto the surf.

If that’s not your thing, take a stroll over to Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. It’s around a 10-minute walk from the park and totally worth it.

Read more: Best things to do in Yosemite

9.) Farmers Market at Old Monterey Marketplace

Best Things To Do In Monterey

If you’re in Monterey on a Tuesday, then make sure to visit the weekly Farmers Market at Old Monterey Marketplace. Taking place every Tuesday on Alvarado Street, it’s the go-to place for some yummy local treats.

The marketplace serves heaps of street food and packaged treats to take home. Though, I always eat them before we leave!

From Mexican to BBQ; there’s a shed load of different spots to grab a bite. Oh, and check out the little Baker’s Alley for all the freshly toasted and baked goodies!

Read more: Best things to do in California

10.) 17-Mile Drive

Best Things To Do In Monterey

Beginning at Pacific Grove Gate and carrying on to the Del Monte Forest, the 17- Mile Drive is a great way to explore the coastline and little spots just around the headland between Monterey and Carmel Bay.

Now, you will have to pay an admission charge to drive the 17-miles at the gate. It’s something like $10 if I remember correctly but they will reimburse you if you spend $35 in the shops and foodie spots.

Along the way, you’ll get to take in the gorgeous coastline and stop off at Pebble Beach Market, too.

Beach in Monterey

Fancy staying overnight? Check into The Lodge at Pebble Beach.

Alternatively, take some time to chill at Carmel Beach that’s equally as gorgeous.

11.) Fort Ord Dunes State Park

Best Things To Do In Monterey

Just north of the city, visiting Fort Ord Dunes State Park is one of the best things to do in Monterey if you want to explore the unspoilt coastline.

From the parking areas, you’ll get to walk right through the dunes which open out onto the most amazing coastline.

On a calm day, you can easily spot whales (if they’re around) and it’s totally gorgeous to watch the sunset right from the beach itself.

Read more: Best things to do in California

12.) Carmel-by-the-Sea

Best Things To Do In Monterey

Just opposite Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea is well worth a visit when staying in Monterey or driving the 17 Mile Drive to Pebble Beach.

Once here, you’ll be able to visit the Carmel Mission Basilica Museum that’s totally beautiful inside and out. Getting hungry? Stop at Forge in the Forest for lunch; their San Francisco Style Fondue is so yummy.

Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey

Also, be sure to visit Cottage of Sweets and The Tuck Box building which’s almost 100 years old.

Best Things To Do In Monterey

They’re both like something out of a fairytale.

You can easily spot these (and more) by following a self-guided walking tour that’ll take in the towns most historic buildings.

Read more: Best things to do in California

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