Visiting Monterey in California - a Guide to some of the Activities in and around this scenic Oceanside town

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January 27th, 2022

The town of Monterey in California is amongst the more picturesque towns along California's central coast south of San Francisco and not surprisingly, Monterey is an extremely popular travel destination in the region. It is located near the California-1 Pacific Coast Highway and makes an excellent place for a stop on a road trip up or down the California coast. With the breathtaking beauty of the surrounding areas around Monterey and the places and activities available for visitors in the town itself, Monterey has something to satisfy any kind of traveler passing through or staying a few nights.

I spent three nights in Monterey as part of my road trip up and down the California coast and though I had to share the experience with crowds of people all escaping somewhere in the town of Monterey, it was still and certainly one of the highlights of my entire road trip. So if you are looking for suggestions on how to spend your time on a visit to Monterey, this is my top things to do list for you to consider from my personal experience - in no particular order - but I consider all of these a must do and not having enough time during your own stay is the only acceptable excuse to skip some of these activities.

Walk down and experience Cannery Row

Monterey is a tourist town - people flock to visit from all over all year round - but in the past like so many coastal towns - fishing and canning was Monterey's lifeblood. No longer - but that doesn't mean a town shouldn't acknowledge and celebrate it's heritage and past - and Cannery Row is the heart of Monterey. Stretching alongside the shore, where once there were canning factories, there is now an abundance of shops, bars, hotels and restaurants catering to the visitors to the town and the street is a bustling hive of activity with enough variety to choose from, or simply walk past. There is a Steinbeck plaza by the wharf - named for the author John Steinbeck who wrote a lot about the places in the region. The plaza overlooking the sea makes for a scenic view point with it's Monterey Monument celebrating cannery workers. It is also next to the Wharf with it's own set of offerings to pick from. There are a few buildings and museums that hearken to Monterey's past incarnation amidst the hubbub of tourists. Don't forget to stop by the small public beaches that are here as well.

cannery row monterey california

Cannery Row in Monterey California

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A beach along Cannery Row

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The Monterey Monument workers in Holiday spirit at Steinbeck Plaza

Do Seventeen Mile Drive

This private toll road through the Pebble Beach gated community can be accessed just outside Monterey at it's sister town of Pacific Grove. The sheer breathtaking variety of scenic beauty to see see on this drive makes it one of the most iconic drives in America. From coastal cliffs to magnificent vistas of the rough and jagged Pacific coastline. From wildlife to enchanting and peaceful Cypress groves, including the famous Lone Cypress tree pictured here, this is truly a must do stop on a trip to Monterey. And of course, anything by the coast needs to have its share of beaches and there are some of the more pristine beaches to be visited along the road. The scenic sights aside - there are other adventures for those inclined - such as golfing. The Pebble Beach area is renowned for some excellent Golf courses.

17 mile drive guide through pebble beach in monterey california

The iconic Lone Cypress at 17 mile drive

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Spanish Bay Beach at 17 mile drive

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The restless sea - a point of interest along 17 mile drive

See the Marine Life at the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium

Just at the end of Cannery Row, is the impressive Monterey Bay Aquarium - once the largest Aquarium in the nation when it first opened - still among the larger ones with an array of aquatic exhibitions both large and small. See fish of all sizes - large Tuna, Rockfish and Hammerheads sharks all swimming freely at the Aquarium's massive open sea exhibit - and tiny fish you would struggle to spot in smaller tanks that dot the corridors. Aside from fish, the Aquarium has sections dedicated to other marine life - frolicking sea otters, coastal birds, penguins and even a Kelp farm. A visit does require making reservations in advance - as I personally discovered, the slots for the day tend to fill up very early in the day. Fortunately I had more time to in my stay to book a trip for the next day. It would have been a shame to miss this.

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The Jellyfish exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

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Rockfish at one of the larger tanks in the Aquarium

Eat Amazing Seafood

Monterey has some of the best sea food restaurants along the California coast and it isn't easy to stake that claim. Definitely visit some of the restaurants in the town. So many to pick from and some of the best are right on Cannery Row. I can personally recommend Chart House - where I had the most amazing Ahi Tuna anywhere - and Schooner's - located in the luxury Monterey Plaza Hotel and known for it's seafood towers. Both restaurants are situated along Cannery row but there are more choices in the town everywhere. Make reservations early though. These places get crowded and especially during holidays and weekends it becomes hard to get seated without one.

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Hike at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Often cited as the crown jewel of all California's coastal state parks and located a short drive south of Monterey along the California-1 highway, Point Lobos was my most favorite point in my entire road trip. Named for the sea lions that hang around the rocks off the shore in the reserve whose barks you will probably hear carried by the wind before you actually spot them, Point Lobos is a place of unique natural beauty with awe inspiring scenic vistas of the jagged Pacific coast. And how better to experience that than to walk or hike through some of the many trails that crisscross the park. From the scenic shoreline boardwalks that are accessible to most to the more challenging cliffside hikes, there is an option for everyone. Also not to be missed - the mystical Cypress grove - a sister wild grove to the one in 17 mile drive. Spend an hour or half a day - this is not something that should be missed.

things to do at point lobos state natural reserve near monterey california

The sea at Point Lobos

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At the Cypress grove at Point Lobos

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The trail accessible Bird Island at Point Lobos Natural Reserve

And that is my list - hope you found it useful and enjoyed the read.

And I hope you have a great time should you visit Monterey.