Our visit to the central coast of California was part of our recent Pacific Coast Highway trip, but this gorgeous stretch of coastline really deserves to be its own destination. I loved Monterey and while we were only there for about a day and half, I fell in love with the people, the landscapes and the culture.
Let me first start by saying…..I admit it. I mostly did the touristy stuff. But I’m completely fine with it because, well, I’m kind of a tourist, so here we are. I loved Monterey regardless and can’t wait to make a trip back!
The world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is here, obviously, and is a must see. I’m always a little leery about aquariums, because while I do love marine life, I do not believe they should be on display just for show. It’s just not my style. I’ve been to several and I always make a point beforehand to research and make sure I am supporting a place that has the best interest of the animals at heart as well as contributing to conservation efforts. The Monterey Bay Aquarium, in my opinion, goes above and beyond. While I am not here to go on a tangent about my love for this place, I would encourage you to go, even if for nothing more than to stand out on the deck facing the ocean and look for whales. The employees and volunteers were very knowledgeable, friendly and after talking to a volunteer for a little while, she directed us to an employee who was able to help us spot whales from the viewing deck. Pretty amazing. This place is on the expensive side and will set you back $49.95 for an adult, $29.95 for kids under 12 and $39.95 for both seniors as well as students. It was our one splurge while in central California and well worth it. Word to the wise- this place can get packed. I recommend going early if possible, especially on the weekend. We got there before they opened and there was already a line down the sidewalk.
Cannery Row begins right next to the aquarium. It’s very interesting, but is mostly made up of specialty shops and restaurants. Although I generally try to stay away from chains while I’m travelling, when I saw they have a Ghiradelli, I just knew G and I would have to get a sundae. So of course we did. Ice cream overlooking the beach? Ummm yes please. That’s not even really a question….
After our sundae with a view, we took the trolley from Cannery Row to Fisherman’s Wharf, which again was kind of touristy, but hey why not?! It seems like there are a million places to get clam chowder here and they all happened to be giving away samples of it to lure customers. Try them all, choose your favorite and have lunch there!
We were very lucky while at Fisherman’s Wharf because there just happened to be the Cultural Festival going on at the same time. While it was small, it was beautiful and we were happy to be able to attend it. Check out events in the area while in Monterey, you might be in for a nice surprise!
After doing all of the touristy things we could find, we decided we needed a little break from it. So we did some exploring and came across Fort Ord Dunes State Park, which I had seen on our drive into town and was very curious to know more. It may sound strange, but there is something so interesting to me about sand dunes, I just love them! I have no idea why, I just do. So I was pretty happy to find these. And even happier to find that there were only a couple of other people on the whole beach! A very easy trail will take you through the sand dunes and down to the beach. We did not even attempt to get too close to the water as the waves looked pretty rough and the weather was pretty chilly so I figured the water would be freezing. But it was absolutely gorgeous and definitely worth the stop. Oh and the free parking is a nice little bonus too.
While in Monterey, you have to check out the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. Perfect for walking or biking, this trail is amazing. It stretches 29 miles and from Monterey, you can reach Pacific Grove to the south, which I highly recommend. The trail will take you to Lover’s Point Park, which has stunning views and lots of opportunities to see wildlife like otters, sea lions, and at the right time of year, whales! This was actually one of our favorite parts of Monterey and if we’d had more time, I would have loved to rent bikes and ride along the coast.
Grab a coffee at Water + Leaves in Fisherman’s Wharf. This place was a great getaway from the chaos of the wharf. With impeccable service, beautifully hand-crafted lattes and teas as well as a pastry case and outdoor seating, this place will feel more like a local’s hangout than a tourist trap. Love it.
If you have more time, we would’ve loved to bike the recreation trail, go kayaking in the bay and take a whale watching tour.
Do not disturb the wildlife if you come across them while exploring. We were there in the spring and there were lots of babies. Everywhere. View them from a distance but don’t get too close.
Transportation….Traffic can be a little crazy, especially around the aquarium. We found it best to just park our car and take the trolley everywhere. It’s free, and while the website says it only runs Memorial Day-Labor Day, we were there before Memorial Day and found that it was running on weekends as part of a pilot program that began last September. So keep an eye on the website to see if that’s an option for you. You can save some money on parking by parking downtown for $7, hopping on the trolley and taking it to the aquarium/cannery row, fisherman’s wharf and multiple other stops. You can check out the map here for more information. You can also opt to park right near Cannery Row which is the same area as the aquarium for $15, so decide what you’d like to see and plan accordingly. Or if you’re up for a little more of adventure, forget about a car and rent (or bring) a bike and ride the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail!