Monterey Travel Guide

USA  #2 in Best Day Trips from San Francisco
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Best Things To Do in Monterey

Whether it's your first or 10th time visiting the area, the stunning scenery along the 17-Mile Drive never disappoints. The beaches and coastal terrain  best found in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve  are also worth exploring. Follow one of the reserve's hiking trails and you're sure to encounter memorable views. Most everyone likes the aquatic displays at the Monterey Bay Aquarium as well. And those who visit Monterey regularly continue to indulge in the luxury of Carmel-by-the-Sea and still go out of the way to get a glimpse of the unforgettable views from the Pebble Beach Golf Links.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated June 18, 2019

  • #1
    Things to do in Monterey
    View all Photos
    #1 in Monterey
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Located south of Monterey and Pebble Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a humble seaside village with a few small shops and cafes -- at least that's the cover story. In truth, this pricey town has plenty of designer stores, gourmet eateries and upscale art galleries that cater to its wealthy residents (like Clint Eastwood). You'll find most shoppers and diners around picturesque Ocean Avenue, which leads to Carmel Beach.

    Many forego the town's activities in favor of catching some rays on the expansive dog-friendly beach. Recent visitors recommend taking a long walk along the shore at sunset or sunrise. For more information about Carmel-by-the-Sea, check out the town's website.

  • #2
    Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
    View all Photos
    #2 in Monterey
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    South of Carmel-by-the-Sea, the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve receives praise from almost everyone who visits. The dramatic rock formations rising from the ocean have most visitors gawking, while the cute creatures like pocket gopher and the southern sea otter keep the nature-lovers smiling. The reserve's 13 trails offer hikers both easy and challenging opportunities. The Cypress Grove Trail is especially popular due to its views of the rugged coast and the gnarled Monterey cypress trees that perch precariously on the seaside cliffs.

    If you like to dive, you're in luck. Point Lobos has 10 diving spots where you can swim through 70-foot-high kelp forests and various coral reefs. If you're lucky, you may catch site of passing seals and whales.

  • #3
    Monterey Bay Aquarium
    View all Photos
    #3 in Monterey
    Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Open Sea Exhibit best exemplifies how special the massive Monterey Bay Aquarium is. Sea turtles, stingrays, sharks, jellyfish and schools of fish have thousands of gallons of water to explore while visitors watch in awe. With 45 interactive exhibits featuring reptiles, octopi, birds, fish and invertebrates, as well as a variety of tours (some of which allow guests to feed some of the sea life), there is no shortage of things to see and do for the young and old at the aquarium.

    In the town of Monterey, the Monterey Bay Aquarium sits at the end of Cannery Row. Entry costs a staggering $39.95 for adults, $34.95 for teens ages 13 to 17, and $24.95 for children ages 3 to 12, but most visitors claim the sights inside are well worth it, with some saying it is the best aquarium they've ever been to.

  • #4
    Pebble Beach Golf Links
    View all Photos
    #4 in Monterey
    Golf, Recreation
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Golf, Recreation
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Golfers dream of playing at the Pebble Beach Golf Club, which is often considered to be one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world. With experts encouraging booking over a year in advance, the course is not something to do when visiting Monterey, it's the reason to book a trip to Monterey in the first place. 

    Despite the difficulty (and high cost) of obtaining a tee time, golfers' dreams can become reality with enough patience and persistence, not to mention planning. Those who were lucky enough to obtain a coveted slot described the experience as nothing short of magical, especially when completing their game; the 18th hole is particularly scenic.

  • #5
    17-Mile Drive
    View all Photos
    #5 in Monterey
    Recreation, Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Recreation, Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Tracing the rugged Pacific coastline, the 17-Mile Drive isn't just a road. The route offers breathtaking views of the ocean, hugging the Pacific coastline as it weaves through the Del Monte Forest. You can experience the natural wonders of Monterey and marvel at the multi-million-dollar homes along the coast.

    We highly recommend getting out of your vehicle and parking at the marked points of interest along the 17-Mile Drive. Don't miss getting a picture of the Lone Cypress, or taking a short stroll along the wooden paths that line the shores of Spanish Bay. For truly unforgettable views, stop at the Pebble Beach Resorts, home of the world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Links. The resort complex (where you'll find The Lodge at Pebble Beach, Casa Palmero and The Inn at Spanish Bay) features multiple restaurants for those feeling peckish on their journey. 

  • #6
    Old Fisherman's Wharf
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    #6 in Monterey
    Shopping, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Near Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Old Fisherman's Wharf is not the smelly, salt water-stained place it once was. Costly restaurants and souvenir shops now characterize this touristy harborside neighborhood. However, this is the place to go if you're interested in a whale-watching tours or a kayaking excursion on the bay.

    A quick stroll on Old Fisherman's Wharf affords panoramic views of the bay, not to mention the seals that sunbathe on the nearby rocks and buoys. While here, be sure to taste the clam chowder. Many of the restaurants serving it offer samples to passersby, so you can have the equivalent of a small cup by simply making sample rounds. For more information, check out the Monterey County's website.

  • #7
    Cannery Row
    View all Photos
    #7 in Monterey
    Shopping, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Anchored by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row is the epicenter of Monterey's tourism industry. Boutique hotels, shops and restaurants line this seaside avenue and attract thousands of travelers each year. But many recent visitors find the area overpriced and too touristy, noting that you can no longer detect the charms that John Steinbeck details in his 1945 novel Cannery Row.

    The best way to get back to Cannery Row's roots is to take a trip to the Cannery Row Antique Mall. Housed in an old canning company building, the mall is filled to the brim with Steinbeck-era trinkets. There is also the small McAbee beach, which affords panoramic views of Monterey Bay. 

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