The cozy, seaside town of Monterey lays claim to several oversized attributes. Its namesake bay is home to one of the most diverse marine ecosystems on the planet—dubbed the Serengeti of the Sea—and its vibrant coastal landscape has been celebrated by John Steinbeck novels, and, more recently, as the fictionalized setting for Pixar’s aquatic adventure, Finding Dory. Plus, as a capital during Spanish and Mexican rule, Monterey is home to an impressive list of California firsts, including newspaper, public school, and theater, to name a few. Today, visitors can tour the past, explore the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and delight in its animated sea life.
What to See in Monterey, California
As fictionalized by Steinbeck in Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, the waterfront blocks of Cannery Row once teemed with sardine factories. Today, they’re abuzz with visitors, many of whom are there to see the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the city’s blockbuster attraction and a worthy introduction to the marine wonders of Monterey Bay. Newcomers are captivated by perennial favorites such as the sea otters and jellyfish, while regulars are drawn back by continuously rotating exhibits and special events including summer sleepovers.
Insider Tip: Monterey’s thriving sea life is a poster child for ocean conservation. Download the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app to learn how your menu choices can help safeguard fragile marine ecosystems.
Monterey State Historic Park
You needn’t be a history buff to appreciate the extraordinary heritage and significant buildings found in Monterey. The Monterey State Historic Park encompasses over twenty refurbished, Mexican and early American-era structures spread throughout downtown that are open to the public. Most house museums and interiors decked with era-appropriate furnishings, but the real treat comes from their hidden gardens with brilliant blooms and burbling fountains. Highlights include the Cooper-Molera Building, Old Whaling Station—note the front sidewalk made of whale bone—and Pacific House, whose tranquil setting once hosted the unfortunate spectator sport of bear and bull fights. Nearby Colton Hall isn’t officially part of the state park, but it’s worth a stop. The imposing, white-stone town hall is where California’s bilingual constitution was penned in 1849.
Insider Tip: While all are within walking distance of each other, not all historic sites are readily apparent. Pick up a map from the Pacific House or Custom House museums.
Old Fisherman's Wharf
Situated across from Custom House Plaza, the pedestrian Old Fisherman’s Wharf is one of two piers extending from Monterey’s rocky shoreline. Built in 1870, the original wharf—distinguished from a newer, nearby commercial fishing wharf—features shops, eateries, and dazzling views of clear bay waters. Stroll the lengthy expanse, sampling mini cups of clam chowder offered by the wharf’s many seafood restaurants, each claiming to serve the best.