12 Best Things To Do In Monterey (California): Top-Rated Attractions 2022
Monterrey is one of the top weekend destinations on the West Coast, offering a variety of activities, from swimming and sunbathing to picturesque parks, excellent museums, and restaurants.
Visit the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, explore the historic Fisherman’s Wharf, shop at Cannery Row Antique Mall, and enjoy the view from the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail.
Fun activities for families in Monterey, California, include the theme playground at El Estero Park and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary visitor center.
1. Monterey Bay Aquarium
Established in 1984, Monterey Bay Aquarium is a public aquarium located on a former sardine canning factory on Cannery Row. The aquarium has many large tanks and pools that showcase the marine life of the California coast and contain over 600 species of plants and animals. Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of Monterey, California’s best things to do.
Ocean’s Edge Wing features giant kelp forests that can be viewed on multiple levels throughout the building. The Open Sea galleries are teeming with sea creatures, including jellyfish, rays, and sea otters (the only marine mammal that houses the aquarium).
The Monterey Bay Aquarium remains one of the few aquariums in the world to showcase certain species such as sunfish and the giant bluefin and yellowfin tuna. A special tank called the Kreisel tank was built to contain the jellyfish, creating a circular flow of water to suspend them.
Address: 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, California 93940
2. Monterrey Museum of Art (MMA)
Founded in 1959, the Monterey Museum of Art (MMA) houses a collection of artwork from the 19th century to the present day, specializing in California Art.
The museum exhibits a permanent collection of more than 14,000 objects in various genres, including contemporary art, photography, and early California painting. The collection’s highlights include works by famous artists such as photographer Ansel Adams.
The museum offers a broad base of educational and community programs, workshops, art classes, summer camps for students and educators, and teaching programs.
Address: 559 Pacific Street, Monterey, California 93940
3. Cannery Row, Monterey, California
Monterey’s Cannery Row Historic District was introduced to the world through renowned writer John Steinbeck’s colorful stories and has since become one of the most popular vacation destinations on California’s central coast.
If you’re wondering what to do in Monterrey today, this is a great place to start exploring. Once the site of a sardine canning industry, today, the former cannery buildings are packed with restaurants, hotels, shops, and historical attractions.
Cannery Row is also home to several privately owned fishing companies based on the docks near the historic district frequented by tourists.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located at the north end of Cannery Row, while MacAbee and San Carlos Beach, which hold the row, are favorite places for kayaking and diving.
4. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is one of the most spectacular marine protected areas in the country and boasts some of the best wildlife views in the world.
A marine sanctuary stretches along the central coast from San Francisco to Cambria, displaying beaches, glistening tidal pools, dense seaweed forests, steep canyons, and underwater mountains full of marine life.
Experience the beauty of the sanctuary with a variety of outdoor activities and adventures, such as exploring the tide pools, fishing for salmon, snorkeling through the kelp forests, or kayaking along the shoreline while watching whales. If you are looking for fun things to do in Monterrey with kids, this place is a must-see.
Visit the interpretive visitor center at San Simeon or Santa Cruz, where you can enjoy a variety of interactive exhibits and informational programs about the sanctuary, with trained volunteers available to enrich and enhance your experience.
Address: 35 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, California 95060
5. Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail
The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail is a popular paved path that hugs the shoreline, following the old-fashioned South Pacific Railroad route.
Starting in Castroville in the north and stretching for 18 miles to Pacific Grove in the south, the Recreation Trail is for those looking to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise at the same time.
The path follows the coastal trail, which includes Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and many beautiful beaches, nature parks, and historic sites.
Take a walk on the trail or grab some bike-shaped wheels, inline skates, or the six-person canopy ATVs. If you’d instead follow the trail in other ways, rent a kayak, paddleboard, or surfboard and hit the water.
6. Fisherman’s Wharf Monterey
A historic Monterey pier that was once used as a bustling wholesale fish market until the 1960s, Fisherman’s Wharf is now one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
Locals refer to it as The Old Fisherman’s Wharf to distinguish it from the current trading dock. Fisherman’s Wharf is a vibrant hive of activity with an abundance of seafood restaurants, ranging from casual open-air clam bars to fine dining with spectacular bay views.
Some small souvenir and gift shops, art galleries, jewelers, and confectioneries restaurants.
Numerous tour companies offer whale watching and deep-sea fishing trips where the pilings, buoys, and boats moored from the pier remain favorite places to sleep for the giant sea lions that frequent the bay.
Address: 1 Old Fishermans Wharf, Monterey, California 93940
7. Monterey State Historical Park
Explore the history of Monterey with a visit to Monterey State Historic Park, home to a collection of critical historic homes and buildings that played an essential role in the heritage of the region.
Known as the “Monterey History Trail,” this fascinating area has no less than 12 buildings, including the Custom House, one of California’s oldest government buildings, and several houses that now serve as public museums offering guided tours.
Yellow tile markers mark the way through Monterey State Historic Park, where you will discover the history of California.
Walk the same streets taken by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1879, explore were Spanish explorers landed, and admire one of the last remaining whale sidewalks in the nation. End your stay with a visit to Monterey Customs, where the American flag was first raised over California in 1846.
Address: 20 Custom House Plaza, Monterey, California 93940
8. Monterey County Youth Museum (MY Museum)
The Monterey County Youth Museum (MY Museum) was established in 1997 to provide young children with an environment to explore, explore and learn through curiosity and creativity.
Located on Washington Street, the museum is ideally surrounded by the Monterey Sports Center and Dennis the Menace Park. It offers many practical, hands-on exhibits and exploratory shows aimed at children under 10.
Fun exhibits include “MY Day at the Beach,” “MY Hospital,” “MY BUILD HOUSE,” and “MY CREATION STATION,” which allow children to learn by exploring. The museum also organizes special events all year round and can be rented for birthday parties and other celebrations.
Address: 425 Washington Street, Monterey, California 93940
9. El Estero Park, Monterey, California
El Estero Park is a recreational park that stretches around Lake El Estero and is home to a variety of outdoor activities for locals to enjoy and a theme park for toddlers.
Winding around the lake is the El Estero exercise course, a broad trail where visitors can walk or bike around the lake and enjoy the beautiful natural scenery. The 1.2-mile ‘parcourse’ has three exercise stations around the lake, where users can get a balanced, full-body workout.
Designed by local skaters, Monterey Skate Park is a family-friendly facility open to all ages where skateboarders and inline skaters can test their skills. Meanwhile, anglers can delight in the abundance of trout, perch, and blackfish that fill the lake.
Anglers can fish at Lake El Estero’s fishing piers found on the Pearl Street Bridges. The park’s famous Dennis the Menace Playground is a firm favorite with young children, with several play structures, slides, a climbing wall, a hedge maze, and a giant adventure ship that will keep them busy for hours.
Address: 798 Del Monte Ave, Monterey, CA 93940
10. Monterey Jazz Festival
The Monterey Jazz Festival is the oldest in the world and takes place on 20 acres of magnificent oak-covered grounds in the city’s heart.
Fans can enjoy seven stages of live jazz entertainment, exhibits, an international shopping bazaar, food and beverage booths, movies, and interactions with the stars of the Festival.
Held annually in September for three days and two nights, this year’s Festival will feature world-renowned artists such as Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis, and Ambrose Akinmusire.
The Festival also hosts the Jazz Legends Gala. Every year on the eve of the Festival, the venerable Monterey Jazz Festival Jazz Legends Award is awarded to the leading participant in the jazz world.
11. Golden State Theater
The Golden State Theater is a beautifully restored Moorish-designed movie palace on Alvarado Street with a rich film and live performances history.
Ideally located in the heart of downtown Monterey amongst busy restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, the Golden State Theater was built in 1926 and was once the largest Theater in the area.
After falling into disrepair, the Theater was restored to its former glory. It now features a grand lobby and floating mezzanine, a thousand plush velvet seats, state-of-the-art sound, and a magnificent frescoed canopy ceiling that gives the feeling of sitting outdoors.
Today, the theater hosts world-class film festivals and concerts and can be booked for private functions and events.
Address: 417 Alvarado Street, Monterey, California 93940
12. The Farmers Market at Old Monterey Market
Established in 1991 and held throughout the year, The Old Monterey Farmers Market is located on Alvarado Street between Del Monte and Pearl.
Spanning three blocks in the city, the market is a bustling and vibrant community of vendors selling various wares, from handmade crafts, furniture, clothing, and jewelry to international food, certified organic produce, and fresh flowers.
Travel the world in a day as you browse stalls selling items worldwide and savor the food at kiosks serving Mediterranean, Mexican, Indian, Italian and local barbecues.
The Old Monterey Farmers Market also hosts some community events, like donating blood or adopting a pet, and live musical entertainment that can be enjoyed as you walk from one booth to the next.
Address: Alvarado St, Monterey, CA 93940
Frequently Asked Questions: Best Things To Do In Monterey
Is Monterey or Carmel better?
Carmel is more quaint village with beach access. Monterey is more family friendly working coastal/pier town. If it was a relaxing trip, I’d definitely pick Carmel- better food, better browsing, more picturesque.
Does Monterey have a downtown?
The main street of downtown Monterey is Alvarado Street, which is recognized as a “Main Street Community” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The street was named for Juan Bautista Alvarado who was the former governor of Alta California. Old Monterey is the heart of Historic Downtown.
How many days do you need in Monterey?
I would recommend taking a 4-7 day trip to visit and the surrounding area. We spent our first day in Monterey exploring the shore, eating as restaurants, and window shopping.
How long is 17 Mile Drive?
Allow about three hours to explore 17-Mile Drive, especially if you stop to take photographs or eat along the way. You can enter 17-Mile Drive through the four gates, where you pay the $10.50 fee and can pick up a map of the road’s iconic sites.
What is Monterey known for?
Facing wide Bay, it’s famed around the globe for its abundance of marine wildlife and uber-fresh seafood. Dinners of shrimp, oysters, and clam chowder can cap off days of sailing the Pacific in search of killer whales and dolphin pods.
Is Monterey California expensive?
Just like the rest of California is pretty expensive. In fact, it is probably more expensive than you expect, seeing as the prices in Monterey rival those in LA. Monterey is as much as 13% more expensive than the state average! In some areas, It is more or less equal to the rest of the state.