Top 10 Things to Do in Monterey, CA

Monterey, California (CA) is one of the most interesting coastal cities to visit. It boasts gorgeous seaside views, an abundance of marine life, and a fascinating history. Should you find yourself visiting and staying in Monterey, CA, you’ll find more than enough of things to do and see. Here are couple handful of suggestions.

Top 10 Things to Do in Monterey CA: School of Lionfish
School of Lionfish

Top 10 Things to Do in Monterey, CA

1.    Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium

To say that Monterey Bay Aquarium is great seems like an understatement. There are so many exhibits that blew me away. The staff is highly knowledgeable and the collection of marine life is nothing short of outstanding. It rightly deserves to be on top of the list of top 10 things to do in Monterey CA. The entrance fee is steeper than most at $39.95 for adults but definitely worth every penny. Don’t miss the jellyfish exhibit!

Top 10 Things to Do in Monterey CA: Jellyfish

2.    Walk Around Cannery Row

Popularized by John Steinbeck’s novel, Cannery Row is now one of the liveliest areas in Monterey. It has a number restaurants, one-of-a-kind shops, and lovely views of the Monterey Bay. Its proximity to the aquarium also makes this a favorite hangout for families. There’s a small beach just to the right of Canary Wharf.

3.    Examine the Buildings at Historic Downtown

Downtown Monterey has more historic buildings that any other city west of Santa Fe. As you walk along Alvarado Street, you’ll find Spanish-style mission buildings, adobe architecture, and a few of 19th century homes that have been converted to bed and breakfasts. On Tuesdays during summer, there’s also a farmer’s market on Alvarado Street.

4.    Hit the 17-Mile Drive Scenic Route

The 17-Mile Scenic Route makes it to the list of things to do in Monterey since the northern entrance to the drive begins just west of the aquarium pass Lover’s Point. Rugged cliffs, astounding natural beauty, and breathtaking scenes of the Pacific Ocean await as you cruise along the famed 17-mile Drive. Set aside three to four hours to complete the drive and thoroughly enjoy the gorgeous panoramas.

Top 10 Things to Do in Monterey CA: Lover's Point
Lover’s Point

5.    Try Scuba diving

The abundance of marine life at Monterey Bay makes it a prime spot for scuba diving. There are several schools like Bamboo Reef that offer lessons and dives for people that already have their licenses. If you’re traveling with a child aged eight to 13 years old, they too can experience scuba diving through the Underwater Explorers program.

Top 10 Things to Do in Monterey CA: Kelp Forest
Kelp Forest

6.    Test Your Knowledge of Birds

With fish comes birds and because Monterey Bay is home to schools of them, the birds understandably flock there as well. There are pelicans, seagulls, stilts, and puffins that roam the waters of the bay and the streets of Monterey itself. When you walk around the wharfs or on the beaches nearby, be mindful of their droppings and ensure not to feed them.

7.    Eat Fresh Seafood

Every restaurant you go to in Monterey will offer seafood, usually in the form of fish or crustacean. There are guaranteed to be fresh and prepared simply by seafood shacks that have been serving visitors to Monterey for years. Try the calamari at Loulou’s Griddle on the Middle located on the city’s Municipal Wharf or the clam chowder at the Old Fisherman’s Grotto on Fisherman’s Wharf.

Top 10 Things to Do in Monterey CA: Clam Chowder Bowl
Clam Chowder Bowl

8.    Go Whale Watching

The warmer waters of the adjoining Pacific Ocean, the Monterey submarine canyon, and the abundance of marine life allows and attracts deep water species near the coast. Monterey Bay is one of the few locations in the world where there are whale and dolphin sightings almost all-year long. There are confirmed blue whales, humpback whales, orcas, and gray whales sightings just this year alone. Head towards Fisherman’s Wharf where you can choose from a number of operators like Monterey Bay Whale Watch and Princess Monterey Whale Watching.

Top 10 Things to Do in Monterey CA: Fishing Boats in Monterey Harbour
Fishing Boats

9.    Walk or Bike the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail

This four and half-mile walking and biking trail begins right by Roberts Lake at the northern end and finishes south at Lover’s Point Park. The trail cuts through multiple recreational areas and follows the coastline occupied by the city. It provides the hiker access to public beaches such as Monterey State and Del Monte, Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row.

Top 10 Things to Do in Monterey CA: Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey, CA
Fisherman’s Wharf

10. Head to the Beaches

The water might be a cool 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit but that shouldn’t deter you from checking out the miles of golden sandy beaches in or near Monterey Bay. Near Cannery Row lies San Carlos Beach Park where there are footpaths and benches to sit and watch the sunset. Just to the east of the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club is Monterey Beach and Del Monte Beaches. From there, you can take a dip or stroll the miles and miles of sand that continue to the city of Salinas, some 11 miles north.

Quick note on swimming: The rip currents are particularly strong in these areas and the uneven underwater terrain can cause a sudden drop in depth despite being close to shore. Some beaches also do not have lifeguards on duty. In short, swim at your own risk.

Top 10 Things to Do in Monterey CA: Small Stretch of Beach
Small Stretch of Beach

About Iris A


Born in the Philippines, but grew up in Texas, Iris has been traveling and writing about her experiences for well over a decade. Her work has been published on well-known travel sites like Hipmunk (#hipmunkcitylove) and D Magazine Online Travel Club. She has been all over Europe, the US, and has recently started exploring Latin America. She loves trying local cuisine and visiting UNESCO deemed World Heritage sites. Her favourite city is New York, with London, following a close 2nd. You can follow her on Twitter @sundeeiris or through her travel blog, Traveling With Iris.

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