Nestled along the idyllic central California coastline, Monterey, California, is a beautiful West Coast town in one of the most picturesque areas of the state. Visitors from Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area routinely make the drive to and through the beautiful town.
Is Monterey, California, worth visiting? The answer is yes for anyone who wants a peaceful and relaxing central California vacation. It usually takes a few hours of driving or a flight in a puddle jumper to the regional airport to reach Monterey. Still, the investment of time is well worth it if you’re looking for a serene and beautifully relaxing vacation.
Monterey is within an up-and-coming wine country region, and it’s also an excellent stop for a few days on a family vacation. Things to do in Monterey, California, with kids, include visiting outdoor venues like parks, trails, and beaches, and the community has more than its fair share of museums.
What is Monterey, California, known for?
If you’ve heard the name of the town before, it might be because of its association with celebrated writer John Steinbeck, who wrote the seminal novels “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden.”
Monterey is also famous for its incredible aquarium, which is, in and of itself, worth the drive.
- Most significant landmark – The Cannery Row Monument
- Best park – Lovers Point Park
- Best free activity – Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail
- Best activity for kids – Dennis the Menace Park
- Best activity for adults – Monterey Museum of Art
- Best food – Montrio Bistro Best nightlife – Segovia Tavern
- Best all-around accommodation – Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa
Best & Fun Things to do in Monterey, California
1. Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Address: 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940
Known well outside the confines of Monterey, the Monterey Bay Aquarium sits at the edge of Cannery Row, the neighborhood made famous in John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.” The aquarium is a nonprofit institution that focuses on preserving the regional marine life of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. From the first-of-its-kind kelp forest exhibit to the adorable sea otters, the aquarium is a nationally respected and beloved institution.
The aquarium opened in 1984 after marine scientists and residents spent years working to build and open the aquarium. The facility welcomed more than 10,000 visitors on its first day of operations. With its focus on kid-friendly exhibits and hosting student groups, it would quickly become one of the best things to do in Monterey with kids.
For fans of the “Star Trek” universe of films, the aquarium might look familiar since filmmakers used it as one of the important locations in the 1986 film “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Since the 1980s, the aquarium has built an incredible reputation for engaging in ocean conservation and promoting sustainable fishing.
Some of the most popular exhibits at the aquarium include The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, which opened in 2014, The Secret Life of Seahorses exhibition, which was featured in 2009, and the Juli Plant Grainger Animal Care Center for aspiring conservationists and veterinarians, which opened in 2018.
To visit the aquarium, get your skip-the-line admission ticket in advance.
See Related: Best California Road Trips | Your Ultimate Guide
2. Go Whale Watching
Address: 84 Fishermans Wharf, Monterey, CA 93940
The whales of the Pacific Ocean are famous around the Central Coast of California, and whale-watching tours routinely take to the waters off Monterey Bay. Monterey Bay whale tours are popular because there are quite a few whales that visit this part of the Pacific coast.
Not only can watchers see magnificent whales, but tour boats routinely pass by other species like harbor seals, dolphins, pelicans, and sea lions. Whale-watching tours run all year long; however, the best time to see the whales is March through November.
Peak activity tends to occur in July and August, but it’s possible to see whales in almost any month of the year. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to go whale watching, so if you’re in the area outside of prime viewing season, it’s still worth a shot to see the whales.
Pictures can only convey a small part of what it feels like to see a giant whale rise out of the water and create a tremendous splash. Seeing whales in person is an activity everyone should do at least once. It makes it easy to appreciate the importance of these majestic creatures to the ocean and the planet.
See Related: Where to Stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea
3. Take a Walk Down Cannery Row
Address: 765 Wave St. Monterey, CA 93940
Cannery Row began as the site of a large-scale sardine canning operation, and it would become infamous in the John Steinbeck novel “Cannery Row.”
The street was once called Ocean View Avenue but would change in the late 1950s to honor Steinbeck’s legacy. Today, Cannery Row is full of restaurants and is one of the most popular attractions in Monterey.
Many restaurants and hotels along the street reside in former cannery buildings, and various historical attractions are sprinkled throughout the tourist-friendly enclave. A few fishing companies still do business along the road, but most visitors to Cannery Row are tourists rather than businesspeople.
Several information boards appear along the road, too, which explain the colorful history of the neighborhood and the history of the famous canneries.
While strolling along the Row, don’t miss the Pacific Biological Laboratories building, which Steinbeck mentioned in his book. The Cannery Row Antique mall is also worth a visit.
Another sight along Cannery Row is the balcony at Dolphin Plaza. Take the stairs toward the water, where you’ll find a perfect platform for sea otter and dolphin sightings. The ocean along Cannery Row is part of the Edward F. Ricketts State Marine Conservation Area.
You can explore Cannery Row on a Monterey and Cannery Row Sea Car Tour. After an evening stroll around Cannery Row, consider checking into the convenient and comfortable Cannery Row Inn for the night. If however, you’re looking for a drop of luxury, book a room or a suite at the fabulous Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Big Bear, California
4. Scuba Dive at San Carlos Beach
Address: Cannery Row at Reeside Ave, Monterey, CA 93940
San Carlos Beach affords its visitors a lovely environment in which to relax, but it’s also where groups will depart for scuba diving adventures along the coast and near Cannery Row.
Named after a local canning company that once operated in the area, some of the most beautiful sights at the beach are just offshore, where scuba divers routinely visit.
Getting to the best spots for scuba diving means swimming about 40 yards from the beach parking lot, where the water reaches 30 to 40 feet deep.
Divers will see a small reef full of fish and other sea life. Experienced divers can swim a little farther to the large granite blocks along the breakwater. There, divers will see huge beds of anemones and a great variety of fish.
One of the most remarkable experiences for divers who venture out into the deeper water is the occasional brush with a sea lion. Usually quite timid around humans, sea lions are very comfortable in the water, and they often swim near and around human divers who dive into the bay.
Even if you’re not keen on getting outfitted in your scuba gear, San Carlos Beach is still worth a visit, if only for how beautiful the area looks on a bright, sunny California day.
After a long day at the beach, you’ll probably want somewhere comfortable to rest up. Try the nearby Portola Hotel & Spa. It’s just as stunning as the surroundings.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Barstow, California
5. Walk the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail
The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail runs 18 miles along the ocean between Castroville and Pacific Grove. Castroville is north of Monterey, and Pacific Grove is south of the town. In the distant past, the trail was a set of tracks for the Southern Pacific Railway.
When the trains stopped running in the area, several conservation groups got together to transform the tracks into a recreation area. Today, the trail is a beautiful path that winds its way along the ocean with great views and opportunities for bicycling, jogging, and walking.
Tourists and families can rent bicycles on which to ride the trail, as well as Surreys (aka Surrey Bikes), which are quadricycles that hold up to six people. Sea lions and otters are familiar sights along the route, and some visitors take a break from traveling the trail to rent kayaks.
The trail welcomes dogs but requires leashes for all canines. Travelers can get their parking fee reimbursed if they eat at one of the restaurants along the trail.
Walking the entire course takes about four hours, so it’s a great way to spend the day in Monterey when combined with a visit to Cannery Row, the Aquarium, or the beach. Plus Pacific grove is one of the most visually beautiful towns in the region.
Looking for things to do in Pacific Grove? Check out the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History to top off your walk!
See Related: Best Holiday Destinations for Couples
6. Visit the San Carlos Cathedral
Address: 500 Church St, Monterey, CA 93940
Built between 1791 and 1794, San Carlos Church is the oldest stone building in California.
The cathedral offers visitors a rare look into 18th Century California when Spanish settlers lived throughout the state and built several churches. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1960 as a National Historic Landmark.
The building underwent significant renovations in the early 2000s after parishioners raised money to restore it. Due to its age, the church started leaking badly, and tree roots were destroying the foundation. Previous work on the building was also impacting its structural integrity.
Interestingly, the restoration revealed several artifacts that enhanced modern-day knowledge about the Presidio of Monterey. Those artifacts are displayed in a heritage center located right next door to the church.
The heritage center is occasionally closed during some holidays, and the Catholic Holy Week, so it’s best to check in advance to see whether the heritage center museum is open for visitors.
Today, the cathedral remains active, with Catholic mass held several times each week. The San Carlos Cathedral is the oldest continuously operating parish in California. However, visitors of any belief may visit the church and enjoy its beauty.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Ojai, California
7. Play at Dennis the Menace Park
Address: 777 Pearl St, Monterey, CA 93940
Located in the El Estero Park Complex, Dennis the Menace Park has entertained generations of local kids, and it’s one of the fun things to do in Monterey with kids. The park complex covers 45 acres, and the park is next to a ballpark and a youth center.
First opened in 1956, Dennis the Menace Park was built via the generous donation of Mr. Hank Ketchum, who created the Dennis the Menace comic strip. Local groups also donated materials and labor to complete the park.
One of the park’s best features was the steam engine, but it’s no longer usable and is only on display today. However, the park remains one of the best spots for kids in the community. Not only is it the perfect place to take kids after they’ve sat in the car all day on a road trip to Monterey, but it’s also one of the easiest free things to do in Monterey, California.
Over the years, the park has undergone several renovations with new playground equipment and improvements. Dennis the Menace park is near a few concession and snack facilities, as well as a skate park and dog park.
See Related: Best & Fun Things to Do in San Diego, California
8. Take a Hike Through Jacks Peak County Park
Address: 25020 Jacks Peak Park Rd, Monterey, CA 93940
If you’re looking for an invigorating yet easy outing into nature, one of the best things to do in Monterey is visit to Jacks Peak Park. The park is open, generally from 8 am to 5 pm in the winter and fall and until 7 pm in the spring and summer.
Several miles of horseback riding trails and hiking trails, and the Skyline Self-Guided Nature Trail is an excellent way to see all the best natural features of the park.
For dedicated hikers who want some fantastic views of the forests meeting the Pacific Ocean, options include the Jack’s Peak and Skyline Trail or the Lower Ridge, Rhus, and Coffeeberry loop.
The Jack’s Peak trail is easy, and the Lower Ridge trail is moderately difficult. Several trails in the park are excellent for travelers with dogs since the trails are often just a mile or two long.
Mornings are best for a relaxed walk with the family dog, but you may want to wait until the afternoon when the marine layer burns off to get the best views at the top of the park.
Overall, the park offers 20 hiking trails that are also excellent for trail running, as well as three horse trails. The park doesn’t allow mountain biking on the trails.
See Related: Best Day Trips from San Francisco, California
9. Visit Del Monte Beach
Address: 132 Tide Ave Monterey, CA 93940
If you want to know where the locals go to the beach, you’ll want to put Del Monte Beach on your list of what to do in Monterey, California. The park is located at Del Monte Ave and Camino El Estero in Monterey and features tide pools, sand dunes, a paved bike path, and toilets.
Dogs are allowed at the beach as long as they stay south of the nearby resort hotel and remain on a leash. Parking is free, too, so visiting Del Monte Beach is excellent when you’re making a list of free things to do in Monterey.
In addition to relaxing and lounging on the beach, you can also walk the beach to find seashells, head to the water for bodyboarding or bodysurfing, or stroll around the tide pools to find loads of sea life. Seeing the tide pools is easiest during low tide.
If you get hungry, you can visit the resort hotel, which has a full-service restaurant for lunch or dinner.
If you’re riding, walking, or jogging the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, you’ll eventually pass Del Monte Beach. You can continue on the trail as it passes the beach and eventually reaches downtown Monterey.
See Related: Best Vacation Planners & Templates for Your Next Trip
10. Shop at the Old Monterey Farmers Market
Address: 98 Del Monte Ave, Monterey, CA 93940
If you’re on a road trip through California, some of the things you might miss while you’re on the road are fresh fruit and vegetables. The Farmers Market at Old Monterey Marketplace operates every Tuesday starting at 4:00 pm.
Located on Alvarado Street between Del Monte and Pearl, the farmers market has operated since 1991 and features all sorts of food, as well as arts, crafts, furniture, jewelry, and clothing.
Not only can you grab some fruit and vegetables for the road, which are an excellent alternative when you’re living off bags of chips and protein bars on vacation, but you can also find all sorts of prepared food.
Vendors serve Indian, Japanese, Korean, Mediterranean, Chinese, Russian, Yugoslavian, and Mexican food, among others.
Try to walk the entire farmers market before settling on what you might want to eat. The market is popular with locals and travelers throughout the year and usually gets around 10,000 visitors each week, so arriving early is helpful if you want to score some of the most popular dishes.
Organizers say you can “travel the world” in just a few blocks when visiting the Monterey Farmers Market.
For a side quest, experience the Scenic Half-Day Self-Guided Electric Scooter Tour and Monterey Half-Day Electric Bike Rental.
11. Walk the Streets of Old Monterey and the Path of History
Address: Alvarado St.Monterey, CA 93940
The National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized downtown Monterey’s Alvarado Street as a “Main Street Community.” Several local historical buildings like Colton Hall, the Cooper Molera Adobe, and the Stevenson House are within walking distance of Old Monterey on the Path of History.
One of the best ways to see all these historic buildings is to walk the “Path of History,” which features 55 historical sites spread out over two miles of Monterey.
The city has placed yellow tiles on the sidewalks, which you can use for a self-guided tour. You can also use the informational map published by the government of California for guidance.
Many of the sights you’ll see along the Path of History are some of the best Monterey tourist attractions. If you visit Monterey in October, you might want to attend the Monterey History Fest.
The festival features pirate reenactments, open houses of historic buildings, and a spooky yet educational historic cemetery tour. The festival also features a reenactment of the California Constitutional Convention.
Some of the buildings you’ll want to check out while walking the Path of History include Colton Hall, the Royal Presidio Chapel, Custom House, and California’s First Theater.
See Related: Best Things to Do in California
12. Witness California History at Colton Hall
Address: 570 Pacific St, Monterey, CA 93940
The first California Constitutional Convention was held in 1849 at Colton Hall, so the location is quite significant in California’s history. The building was initially built as a public school and site for town meetings. A sailor named Walter Colton built the house between 1847 and 1849.
Today, visitors can see a re-creation of the meeting room where 48 delegates signed the vital document. The California Constitution was initially drafted in Spanish and English and was adopted by a mix of European settlers and Californios, or Hispanics from California.
The state’s constitution featured some notable protections for its citizens that went beyond the federal Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
When visiting Colton Hall, most visitors also take a look at the Monterey Jail, which is adjacent to the hall. The jail was built in 1854 and operated as the city’s jail until 1956. Colton House and the jail are open almost every day of the year except select holidays.
If you’re walking the Path of History and visiting Colton Hall, you’ll notice a picnic area nearby where you can rest for a few minutes and have a few snacks. Colton Hall is located on Pacific Street, between Jefferson Street and Madison Street.
13. Ride the Monterey (MST) Trolley
Address: 19 Upper Ragsdale Drive, Monterey, CA 93940
The MST Trolley is worth a ride if only for how convenient it makes getting around Monterey. Monterey attractions see many visitors during the summer, and parking becomes challenging.
One of the best features of the trolley is that riding it is free, which makes it super easy to reach Downtown Monterey, Cannery Row, the aquarium, and Fisherman’s Wharf.
To board the trolley and take it to all the sights of Monterey, you’ll head to the Downtown Monterey parking garages at Del Monte Avenue and Tyler Street. Trolleys leave every 10 to 15 minutes from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. An all-day parking pass costs $12.00, but riding the trolley is free.
Not only can you get free rides on the trolleys, but you can also choose to ride the electric trolley, which means no pollution when you ride through town. The electric trolley is super quiet and makes almost no noise when it moves.
Note that the parking meters at the parking garages reset at midnight, so you’ll need to feed the meter again if you’re wandering around town after midnight.
The trolley system has some restrictions, too. It runs daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day but only runs on the weekend during the off-season.
You can book and join a Monterey: Guided Walking Food Tour.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Blythe, California
14. Visit Old Fisherman’s Wharf
Address: 1 Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey, CA 93940
Monterey was once a busy shipping port, and one of the shipping companies that operated in the area built the pier in 1846 to handle the shipments of lumber and fish that would frequently arrive. The wharf would eventually serve the area’s multi-million dollar fishing industry.
Today, the wharf is a busy tourist attraction with several seafood restaurants and pirate-inspired souvenir shops. The dock often feels like an old-world market with the kitschy souvenir shops and the old-school feel that most of the restaurant’s offer.
Some may even say Old Fisherman’s Wharf is a little dingy, but that just adds to its charm. It’s not shiny and new, and it might remind older visitors of their childhood and visiting busy tourist spots on family vacations for clam chowder and fish & chips.
Old Fisherman’s Wharf is an excellent place to get a seafood lunch, as well as check out the sea lions that congregate in the area. Sometimes, the wildlife gets so close you’ll see them lounging on the cement walkways at the water level.
Old Fisherman’s Wharf is a great place to stroll around with kids, but it’s also one of the best places in Monterey to visit for a slice of old California charm.
15. Explore Monterey State Historic Park
Address: 20 Custom House Plaza, Monterey, CA 93940
Another place to learn about the history of California and Monterey’s importance to the founding of the state is Monterey State Historic Park, which features several historic houses, scenic gardens, and guided walks. As the capital of California, Monterey has existed under Spanish, Mexican, and US military rule.
The park is an excellent stop for fans of Robert Louis Stevenson since the Stevenson House is on the park grounds and offers tours to visitors. Nearby, the Larkin House also hosts tours and teaches visitors about Thomas O. Larkin, an early and influential early California resident.
The parking lot closest to the park requires a fee, but if you visit on a day that’s not too busy, you can find free street parking. The historical sites throughout the park feature helpful informational placards, signs, and displays, making it possible to see most sites via a self-guided or cell phone tour.
The park occasionally hosts events for students and children, so it’s worth checking out the available activities if you’re traveling with kids. If you’re in the area for an extended summer vacation, you might see if the popular day camp has spots available.
See Related: Best Family Vacation Spots in the World
16. Stroll Through the Secret Gardens of Old Monterey
The weather of Monterey offers an ideal environment for gardens and flowers, and it’s one of the reasons several winemakers have moved to the region to grow grapes. In Monterey, the fruits of the idyllic climate are on full display at the Secret Gardens of Old Monterey.
The gardens feature wishing fountains, cozy walkways, and flowers that bloom in almost every season. As you wander around the paths, you’ll find the Memory Garden, Casa del Oro Herb Garden, and the Memory Garden, as well as several others.
The most popular garden is the Memory Garden, which was designed in the 1920s and is a popular venue for weddings and photographers. Several colors of roses grow in the garden, and it’s the perfect place to find some solitude in Monterey. The garden is located behind the Pacific House Museum.
Another beautiful garden worth a visit is the Stevenson Garden, which was also created in the 1920s. The garden was designed to imagine what a Mexican garden might have looked like in the distant past.
The Stevenson Garden is another quiet refuge perfect for strolling around after a day spent in the busier areas of Monterey, like the Old Fisherman’s Wharf.
17. Explore the Monterey County Youth Museum
Address: 425 Washington St, Monterey, CA 93940
If you have young children that aren’t quite ready to ascend the trails of Jacks Peak, you might try the Monterey County Youth Museum, which is located at 425 Washington Street in Monterey.
The museum opened in 1997 and initially operated in a building on Cannery Row. The museum owners eventually decided to move the museum to its more prominent location on Washington Street to accommodate expansion plans.
Even though the museum is geared toward very young learners, it’s still a place where older children might have fun. Exhibits like the play theater and the crafting area can entertain children up to ten, while the younger kids can wander around the tree house or play at the miniature golf exhibit.
The museum features eight different interactive exhibits with themes like the beach, sports, health food, and the theater.
Kids can also explore a play hospital, a treehouse, and a craft station. Since the youth museum is inside, it’s also a great place to visit during inclement weather or when the winds are a little too gusty to enjoy the beach.
The youth museum is also great for celebrating birthdays or gathering with friends. If you live reasonably close to Monterey, you might consider booking a child’s birthday party at the museum.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Plam Desert, California
18. Go Golfing at The Links at Spanish Bay
Address: 2700 17 Mile Dr, Pebble Beach, CA 93953
If you’re in the mood for golf, get your clubs ready and head to The Links at Spanish Bay. Encircled by sand dunes and close to the 17-Mile Drive, the course offers some seriously gorgeous vistas.
You might forget to swing as you gaze out at the towering Monterey Pines and the glowing white sands of Spanish Bay Beach.
Spanish Bay is a public golf course and hosts the TaylorMade Pebble Beach Invitational each year. The 18 holes of golf meander through some challenging yet rewarding features that blend in so naturally with the native environment.
The course sits on land once the home of a sand-mining operation. Course designers came up with the plans in the early 1980s and secured all the permits they needed to start building by 1985. Builders endeavored to protect the native dunes, wildlife, and plant life in the area.
If you’re visiting Monterey, you’ll travel to the west side of the Monterey Peninsula to 2700 17 Mile Drive. The course is in Pebble Beach, which is the town that sits right next to Monterey. The Links at Spanish Bay offer excellent golfing, as well as a beautiful venue for weddings and special events.
Looking for a day trip?
Check out Carmel, Monterey & Big Sur Full-Day Private Tour.
19. Go On a Wine Walk at Carmel-By-The-Sea
Address: Carmel, CA 93921
If you want to see an example of a beach town that’s luxurious, rustic, and cozy all at the same time, a visit to Carmel By The Sea is a must. Located about 10 miles to the south of Monterey, Carmel-By-The-Sea is a quaint village with beautiful historic homes and quiet streets.
The village has a beautiful, quiet beach and a significant number of luxury stores selling antiques, clothing, and other high-dollar items. If you want to go wine tasting or find a restaurant that offers wine pairings, Carmel-By-The-Sea is a great place to start your wine tour of the Central Coast.
The Carmel-By-The-Sea Wine Walk is one way to spend the day, and the town offers its visitors a free and convenient Wine Walk mobile guide that makes it super easy to find all the best wine pairings in the village. Carmel-By-The-Sea is incredibly walkable and welcoming for evening strolls.
A Carmel-By-The-Sea walking tour really is a unique experience along the Central Coast. The style of its cozy downtown feels European with its very un-Californian architecture. Some of the venues you’ll get to visit include Bar Napoli, Blair Wines Estate Tasting Room, and Dawn’s Dream Winery.
See Related: Best Beach Vacation Spots in the World
20. Visit the Monterey Museum of Art
Address: 559 Pacific St, Monterey, CA 93940
The Monterey Museum of Art displays more than 10,000 works in its permanent collection and focuses on California artists in its exhibits.
Around 20,000 people visit the museum each year, and curators bring in new art for temporary installations each year. Visitors can see anywhere from 15 to 20 exhibits during their visit.
See works by artists like the legendary Ansel Adams, as well as attend special events like art lessons for kids and talks on California artists. Some of the artists featured at the museum include Corinne Whitaker, Enrique Martinez Celaya, and Robinson Jeffers.
Ongoing and permanent exhibitions include one featuring William F. Ritschel, a German-born painter who lived in Carmel in the early 19th Century, and The Marble Gallery of California Art.
If you’re not from California and want to learn about the state’s artists, the Monterey Museum of Art is an excellent venue for immersing yourself in California art and the works of renowned artists.
If you’re traveling with children, check out one of the museum’s kid-friendly lesson programs. The museum also offers guided tours for adults and a free family fun day with art-related activities, and free admission to the museum.
21. Enjoy the 17-Mile-Drive
The 17-Mile Drive is a stretch of road along the Pebble Beach area that passes a variety of iconic coastal California vistas like white beaches, renowned golf courses, and seaside cliffs.
Starting at Pacific Grove Gate, the gated drive features 17 stops along the way, where you’ll drive through forests, walk along the beachside boardwalk, and see giant waves crashing against the jagged rocks of the coastline.
After entering through the gate to the 17-Mile Drive, you can follow the route with a map that features 17 self-guided stops.
Travelers pass the beautiful and famous Monterey cypress trees, as well as pass many named rock formations like Point Joe, which was the site of many shipwrecks in the past, as mariners mistook the area for the entrance to Monterey Bay.
The drive requires a fee at the start, but drivers can waive their fee by shopping at one of the stores or getting a bite to eat at one of the restaurants that drivers pass while touring the area.
The drive has many opportunities for wine tasting, pairings, and shopping. You can also take an e-bike tour of the 17-Mile Drive or a Self-Guided Audio Tour.
If you’re keen on experiencing all the best wines of the region, the 17-Mile Drive is an excellent way to spend the afternoon when paired with wine tasting visits to the River Road Wine Trail, Carmel-By-The-Sea, and Monterey.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Guerneville, California
22. Visit the Carmel Mission Basilica Museum
Address: 3080 Rio Rd, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923
The Carmel Mission Basilica features an active Catholic Church but welcomes all visitors who want to learn more about the early Spanish history of California. The mission was founded in the 1770s and was established as the Misión de San Carlos Borromeo de Rio Carmelo.
Today visitors can attend mass, learn about the history of the area, and see examples of early California art.
Several other missions were also established in the region around the same time, and they played a vital role in the European settlement of the Central Coast. After about 100 years, the Carmel Mission Basilica needed repairs, which started in the 1880s. The buildings would see more repair work done 50 years later in the 1930s.
Builders recently retrofitted the cathedral to survive an earthquake, and donations also helped restore the mission’s courtyard to its former beauty.
Not only is the mission an excellent place to visit to learn about California history, but the property features striking architecture and opportunities for photographs.
If you’re looking for a venue near Monterey for a marriage ceremony, the Carmel Mission Basilica is one option. If your visit is purely for fun and education, you might visit the mission store, which sells books, food, home décor, and souvenirs.
See Related: Things to Do in Irvine
23. Explore the Wine Country around Monterey
If you’re visiting Monterey and want to build an itinerary around wine tasting, you’ll find endless opportunities throughout Monterey wine country and Monterey County. Explorations begin at Big Sur‘s rugged shores, continue through Carmel and Pebble Beach, and conclude in Monterey.
The combination of warm weather, misty mornings, and rich soil creates incredible wines in one of the most beautiful environments in the world. It was a group of Franciscan Friars who first planted grapes near their mission in Soledad.
Over the next 200 years, those original vines would disappear, but the region’s reputation for growing wine grapes would grow.
You can find tasting rooms in Carmel-By-The-Sea, the Carmel Valley, Monterey, and the River Road Wine Trail. You’ll generally want to have about three days to explore all of these locations during a leisurely and relaxing itinerary. Monterey is an excellent choice for lodging during your wine tour.
If you take the River Road Wine Trail, you might visit the oldest producing vineyard in Monterey County, Chalone Vineyard.
Another option is the Hahn Family Wines Estate, which covers 650 acres of estate vineyards within the Santa Lucia Highlands. If you’d like to try wine from organic grapes, try a wine tasting at Odonata wines.
See Related: Best Places to Travel Alone in the World
24. Monterey Jazz Festival
Address: 2004 Fairground Rd, Monterey, CA 93940
Held every year since 1958 (with the exception of 2020 for obvious COVID-19-related reasons) the world-famous Monterey Jazz Festival attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year.
This 2-day music festival is held in the Monterey County Fairground and features around 50 toe-tapping musical acts to delight all sorts of jazz fans.
While the musical acts certainly take center stage, there is so much more to the Monterey Jazz Festival. There are also lectures, seminars, and workshops to attend as well as food trucks and stalls and tons of opportunities to purchase jazz-themed gifts.
Getting around Monterey, California
Like much of California, the best way to get around and see Monterey, California, is by car, particularly if you want to see anything outside the cozy town center.
Monterey Regional Airport, the closest airport to Monterey, is serviced by virtually all the major car rental companies like Alamo, Enterprise, Avis, and Hertz.
Alternatively, you can get a rental car organized ahead of time through Kayak.
If you’re not keen on driving, you can also visit Monterey using taxis, airbus transport, and the Monterey Trolley, which is part of the Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST) system. Monterey also has rideshare companies operating within its borders so that you can take an Uber or Lyft to your destination.
You can also ride bicycles in Monterey since the weather is very conducive to outdoor activities. Walking is also a popular pastime, as evidenced by the hiking trails surrounding the town.
For most travelers, a rental car will work best whether traveling with family or on a solo trip, but the town is easy to navigate on a bicycle or foot.
What are the best tourist attractions in Monterey, California?
If you only have a few hours or one day in Monterey, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium and take a walk along Cannery Row to see the shops. These attractions are famous well outside of Monterey. You’ll find food, parking, and several historic sites along the way.
What are some things to do in Monterey when it’s raining?
Monterey is an outdoor-focused community, but its small selection of indoor museums will help keep you occupied when it rains. Options include the Monterey Museum of Art and the Colton Hall Museum and Jail. Going on a wine tasting adventure is also an option, as long as the wine bars you visit are inside.
What are some fun things to do in Monterey?
Like many California cities, the best things to do in Monterey are outside. The beaches, parks, and trails are excellent ways to enjoy Monterey’s beautifully temperate, Mediterranean climate.
You can rent bicycles, bring your hiking shoes, or get dressed in your running gear for your adventure on the California coast.
What is the best thing to do with kids in Monterey?
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a hit with kids and adults. Kids will love the incredible jellyfish tank, and the aquarium is also home to some seriously adorable sea otters. Dennis, the Menace Park, is a solid runner-up for kid-friendly activities in Monterey.
- Free California Travel Guide: Printable Guide to Travel
- Best Places to Visit in Southern California & Things to Do
- Northern California vs Southern California: What’s the Difference?
Lock In Your Travel Now
Find Cheap Flights
Use Skyscanner to find flight deals. As my personal favorite flight search engine, Skyscanner scours websites and airlines across the globe, leaving no stone unturned to help you find the best deal possible. And if you really want to take your savings to new heights, pair Skyscanner with Going (Formerly Scott's Cheap Flights). With access to exclusive mistake fares delivered straight to your inbox, you'll be packing your bags and jetting off on your next adventure before you know it.
Travel insurance is a low cost way to ensure your travel plans go smooth no matter what's thrown at it. Cover yourself against illness, injury and theft, and protect the arrangements you've made with our flexible travel cancellation insurance. My favorite options for travel insurance are:
Book Your Accommodation
In order to capture the widest selection of properties and the best price, use Booking.com as they have the cheapest rates for guesthouses, hotels, luxury condos, B&Bs and so much more.
Want More Destination Ideas Direct to Your Inbox?
Be sure to join the ViaTravelers Newsletter for expert tips, tricks and inspiration for your next travel journey!
Discover the Best Travel Tools
Be sure to visit our page on our favorite travel resources to learn how you too can visit over 10 countries in year.