Monterey is one of the top weekend destinations on the West Coast, offering a diverse choice of activities, from swimming and sunbathing to scenic parks, RV parks, excellent museums, and wedding venues.
Visit the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, explore the historic Fisherman's Wharf, shop at the Cannery Row Antique Mall, and enjoy the view from the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. Fun things to do in Monterey, California for families include the themed play park at El Estero Park and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary visitor’s center.
1. Monterey Bay Aquarium
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Founded in 1984, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a public aquarium located on the site of a former sardine cannery on Cannery Row.
The aquarium has many large tanks and pools that display the marine life of the California coast and features more than 600 species of plants and animals.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best things to do in Monterey, California.
The Ocean's Edge Wing boasts giant kelp forests which can be viewed at several levels throughout the building, while the Open Sea galleries teem with an array of sea creatures including jellyfish, stingrays and sea otters (the only sea mammal that the aquarium holds).
The Monterey Bay Aquarium remains one a few aquariums worldwide to exhibit certain species like the sunfish, as well as the huge Bluefin and yellowfin tuna. A special tank called the Kreisel tank was built to hold the jellyfish, creating a circular flow of water to suspend them.
886 Cannery Row, Monterey, California 93940, Phone: 831-648-4800
2. Monterey Museum of Art (MMA)
© Monterey Museum of Art
Founded in 1959, the Monterey Museum of Art, (MMA) houses a collection of artworks from the nineteenth century to the present day, specializing in California Art.
The Museum showcases a permanent collection of over 14,000 objects across a variety of genres, contemporary art, photography, and early California painting. Highlights of the collection include works by famous artists like photographer Ansel Adams.
The museum provides a broad base of educational and community programs, workshops, art classes and summer camps for learners and educators, as well as docent programs.
559 Pacific Street, Monterey, California 93940, Phone: 831-372-5477
3. Cannery Row, Monterey
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The historic district of Cannery Row in Monterey was introduced to the world through renowned writer John Steinbeck’s colorful stories, and has since become one of the Californian Central Coast’s most popular vacation destinations. If you are wondering what to do in Monterey today, this is a great place to start exploring.
Once the site for a busy sardine canning industry, today former cannery buildings are packed with restaurants, hotels, shops, and historic attractions. Cannery Row also hosts several privately owned fishing companies based on the piers 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 bookend the Row, are favorite spots for kayaking and scuba diving.
4. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
© Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is one of the nation's most spectacular marine protected areas and boasts some of the best wildlife viewings in the world.
The marine sanctuary stretches along the central coast from San Francisco to Cambria in a display of beaches, shimmering tide pools, thick kelp forests, steep canyons and offshore seamounts teeming with marine life.
Experience the beauty of the sanctuary with a range of outdoor activities and adventures, such as exploring the tidal pools, fishing for salmon, diving among the kelp forests or kayaking along the shoreline as you watch for whales.
If you are looking for fun things to do in Monterey with kids, this place is a must-see.
Visit the interpretive visitor’s center at San Simeon or Santa Cruz, where you can enjoy an array of interactive exhibits and informative programs about the sanctuary, with trained volunteers on hand to enrich and enhance your experience.
35 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, California 95060, Phone: 831-421-9993
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5. Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail
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The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail is a popular paved path that hugs the coastline, following the same route as the grand old Southern Pacific Railway. Beginning in Castroville in the north and stretching for 18 miles to Pacific Grove in the south, the recreational trail is for those looking to enjoy the great outdoors and get some exercise at the same time.
The path runs along the waterfront trail, which includes Fisherman's Wharf, Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, as well as many beautiful beaches, landscaped parks and historic sites. Hike the trail or grab some wheels in the form of a bicycle, in-line skates, or the six person canopied quadricycles. If you prefer to follow the trail in other ways, rent a kayak, paddleboard or surfboard and hit the water.
6. Fisherman's Wharf Monterey
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A historic wharf in Monterey that was once used as an active wholesale fish market up 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 commercial wharf.
Fisherman's Wharf is a vibrant hive of activity with a plethora of seafood restaurants, ranging from casual, open-air clam bars to fine dining eateries with spectacular views of the bay. Nestled between the restaurants are some small souvenir and gift shops, art galleries, jewelry stores, and candy shops.
Numerous tour companies offer whale watching and deep sea fishing trips where the wharf’s pilings, buoys, and moored boats remain favorite sleeping spots for the large sea lions that frequent the bay.
1 Old Fishermans Wharf, Monterey, CA 93940, Phone: 831-238-0777
7. Monterey State Historic Park
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Explore the history of Monterey with a visit to the Monterey State Historic Park, home to a collection of significant historic houses and buildings that played important roles in the heritage of the region.
Known as the “Monterey Walking Path of History”, this fascinating area has no less than 12 buildings, including the Custom House, one of oldest government buildings in California, and several homes which now serve as public museums that offer guided tours.
Yellow-tiled markers mark the path through the Monterey State Historic Park where you will discover the history of California.
Walk the same streets taken by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1879, explore where Spanish explorers first landed, and admire one of the nation’s last remaining whalebone sidewalks. Finish your stay with a visit to the Monterey Customs House, where the American flag was first raised over California in 1846.
20 Custom House Plaza, Monterey, California 93940, Phone: 831-649-7118
8. Monterey County Youth Museum (MY Museum)
© Monterey County Youth Museum
The Monterey County Youth Museum (MY Museum) was established in 1997 to provide an environment for young children to explore, discover 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 and boasts a variety of interactive, hands-on exhibits and exploratory displays aimed at children under the age of 10.
Fun exhibits include “MY Day at the Beach”, “MY Hospital”, “MY Build a Home”, and “MY Creation Station”, all of which allow children to learn through discovery. The museum also holds special events throughout the year and can be rented for birthday parties and other functions.
425 Washington Street, Monterey, California 93940, Phone: 831-649-6444
9. Things to Do in Monterey, California: El Estero Park
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El Estero Park is a recreational park that wraps around Lake El Estero and hosts a variety of outdoor activities for locals to enjoy, as well as a themed play park for young children.
Winding around the edge of the lake is the El Estero Exercise Course, a wide pathway where visitors can hike or bicycle around the lake and enjoy the beautiful natural scenery. The 1.2-mile ‘parcourse’ has three exercise station clusters around the lake, where users can get a well-balanced and full-body workout.
Designed by local skateboarders, Monterey Skate Park is a family-friendly facility open to all ages where skateboarders and in-line skaters can test their skills. Meanwhile, fishermen can delight in the bounty of trout, perch and blackfish filling the lake. Anglers can fish off Lake El Estero's fishing piers which are located on the Pearl Street bridges.
The park's popular Dennis the Menace Playground is a firm favorite with small children, with several play structures, slides, a climbing wall, a hedge maze and a giant adventure ship that will keep them occupied for hours.
798 Del Monte Ave, Monterey, CA 93940, Phone: 831-646-3866
10. Monterey Jazz Festival
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The Monterey Jazz Festival is the world's longest running jazz festival and takes place on 20 acres of magnificent oak-studded grounds in the heart of the city. Fans can enjoy seven stages of live jazz entertainment, exhibitions, an international shopping bazaar, food and beverages stalls, films and interactions with the Festival's stars.
Taking place in September each year for three days and two nights, this year the festival will feature world-renowned artists such as Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis, and Ambrose Akinmusire. The festival also presents a Jazz Legends Gala, where the venerable Monterey Jazz Festival Jazz Legends Award is presented to a leading contributor to the world of Jazz on the eve of the Festival each year.
11. Golden State Theatre, Monterey
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The Golden State Theatre is a beautifully restored Moorish design movie palace on Alvarado Street with a rich history of cinematic and live performances. Perfectly located in the heart of Monterey’s downtown area amongst busy restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, the Golden State Theatre 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 boasts a grand lobby and floating mezzanine level, one thousand plush velvet seats, state-of-the-art sound, and a magnificent frescoed ceiling of a sky canopy that gives a feeling of sitting outdoors.
Today, the theater plays host to world-class concerts and film festivals, and can be booked for private events and functions.
417 Alvarado Street, Monterey, California 93940, Phone: 831-649-1070
12. The Farmers Market at Old Monterey Marketplace
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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, vibrant community of vendors selling a range of products from arts and crafts, furniture, clothing and handmade jewelry to international food, Organic Certified produce, and fresh flowers.
Travel the world in one day as you browse stalls selling items from across the globe, and taste food from kiosks serving Mediterranean, Mexican, Indian, Italian and local BBQ.
The Old Monterey Farmers Market also hosts some community events, such as blood donation or adopt-a-pet, and live music entertainment which can be enjoyed as you walk from stall to stall.
Alvarado St, Monterey, CA 93940, Phone: 831-655-2607
13. Things to Do in Monterey, California: Cannery Row Antique Mall
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Housed in one of the last remaining historic buildings from the 1927 Steinbeck era, the Cannery Row Antique Mall is the largest antique and collectibles mall on the Central Coast with over 100 antique dealers. The beautifully preserved building offers spectacular views over the bay and ocean.
Antique-lovers, market-goers and Sunday strollers will delight in the mall brimming with vintage rarities, ancient jetsam, and age-old flotsam on sale. Once you have had your fair share of antiques, relax over a cup of coffee and slice of cake at Café La Strada; Savor a wine tasting at the Pierce Wine Tasting Room or enjoy a meal at Schooners Oceanfront Restaurant, all within two blocks of the mall.
471 Wave Street, Monterey, California 93940, Phone: 831-655-0264
14. Things to Do in Monterey: Ike's Place
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Ike’s Place is a small eatery which has fast become a foodie sensation for its out-of-this-world sandwiches. Ike’s is famous for its whimsically-named sandwiches such as Ex-Roommate (bacon, chicken, artichoke hears and provolone) and We’re JUST Friends (avocado, halal chicken, pepper jack and zesty blaze).
Sandwiches are spread with a secret sauce which gives them their distinctive flavor and is soon to be patented. Head there for your fill but be prepared for the lines.
570 Munras Ave, Monterey, CA 93940, Phone: 831-643-0900
15. Colton Hall Museum, Monterey
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A landmark of Monterey, Colton Hall was originally built as a town meeting hall and public school. Today, it houses the Colton Hall Museum that provides visitors with a re-creation of the historic meeting room in which the first Constitution of California was drafted in October of 1849. The museum also features an array of exhibits about the early days of Monterey, which once served as Alta California’s capital. A place for enjoyment and learning, the Colton Hall Museum is the site of one of the first dedicated town halls and schools in California and is host to many events.
570 Pacific St, Monterey, CA 93940, 831-646-5648
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16. Things to Do Near Me Today: Cooper-Molera Adobe, Monterey
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The Cooper-Molera Adobe, located in downtown Monterey, is a place that aims to bring history “back to life.” A National Historic Landmark in the Old Town Historic District, the building dates back to the year 1827 and is listed as a National Trust Historic Site. Surrounded by a historic adobe wall, The Cooper-Molera Adobe consists of beautiful grounds and gardens, a barn complex, an adobe warehouse, a corner store, and two adobe homes set on approximately two and a half acres. The complex represents the city’s layered history of families who lived in Monterey and helped build the city.
506 Munras Ave, Monterey, CA 93940, 831-223-0172
17. Wine Tastin Tours - Ag Venture Tours, Monterey
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Ag Venture Tours is a small tour company that specializes in a variety of tours, from wine tasting and agricultural education to sightseeing tours of the Monterey Bay region of California.
They offer a variety of tours ranging from half day to full day trips, each of which can be personalized to your specific requirements. Wine tasting tours take visitors through some of Montery’s most beautiful wine country, including the Salinas Valley, Carmel Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains, while agricultural education tours explore the world famous Salinas and Pajaro Valleys. Sightseeing tours cover the Monterey Peninsula, from Pacific Grove to Carmel, as well as Big Sur or Santa Cruz.
Tours are led by friendly, professional guides with extensive backgrounds in the agriculture and wine industries and include transfers to and from your hotel or local residence. Tour rates include transportation in a comfortable vehicle, professional guiding, wine tasting fees, entry fees, winery tour, vineyard walk, and maps and literature on the area (Phone: 831-761-8463).
18. Adventures by the Sea
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Discover Monterey by land and sea with Adventures by the Sea. Offering a range of outdoor adventures that explore the Monterey Bay area, Adventures by the Sea is a recreational company based on the Monterey Peninsula that includes kayak and bike rentals and tours, family bike rentals, and stand up paddle board rentals and lessons.
As the company has five locations and shops throughout the area, Adventures by the Sea isa great place to begin your adventure. Kayak along the Monterey Bay coastline or mountain biking through the numerous trails around the peninsula. Friendly, experienced staff awaits at each shop to fit you out with the correct equipment and review the safety procedures before you take off (Phone: 831-372-1807).
19. Things to Do in Monterey: McAbee Beach
Located in the middle of Monterey, California’s Cannery Row, McAbee Beach is a scenic spot in the city near many hotels and restaurants. DUring the summer months and lower tides, there is plenty of sand for visitors to have fun in the sun. During higher tides, McAbee Beach becomes a small cove featuring smooth boulders, with still enough sand to remain a beach. Walking on the beach and shopping along the waterfront are popular activities on sunny days, as well as sitting on the rocks situated behind McAbee Beach. Kayakers and scuba divers also frequent the beach during the right conditions.
600 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940
20. Pierce Ranch Vineyards Tasting Room, Monterey
© Pierce Ranch Vineyards Tasting Room
A family-owned and operated business, The Pierce Ranch Vineyards Tasting Room is located in the San Antonio Valley appellation of southern Monterey County, near Cannery Row of Monterey Bay. This tasting room is where visitors can try some of the estate-grown, limited-run wines produced by the Pierce Ranch Vineyards. These wines have an emphasis on Portuguese and Spanish varieties. Typically open seven days a well, the well-decorated Tasting Room features wines like Verdelho, Albariño, Graciano, Cosecheiro, Tinto Cão, Malbec, Syrah, Petit Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Rosé. The Pierce Ranch Vineyards Tasting Room also occasionally hosts special events.
499 Wave St, Monterey, CA 93940, 831-372-8900
21. Rosine's Restaurant, Monterey
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Opened to the local Monterey community in 1980, Rosine's Restaurant quickly became a successful, popular dining establishment in the community. The restaurant established a great reputation with its satisfied customers by serving a delicious variety of award-winning and homemade desserts, hearty meals, and homemade soups. Rosine’s Restaurant is situated in downtown Monterey, California and has been a family-owned and operated dining spot for multiple generations. Visitors and local residents alike can dine at Rosine’s Restaurant during just about any time of day, breakfast through dinner, along with weekend brunch. Select cocktails, wine, and beer are available as well.
434 Alvarado St, Monterey, CA 93940, 831-375-1400
Attraction Spotlight: Monterey Bay Aquarium
The Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) is an aquarium and marine conservation center on Cannery Row in Monterey. Housed in what was once a bustling sardine cannery in its time, the Aquarium is home to more than 600 species of plants and animals, the center displays the marine life of the California coast.
Established in 1984, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is located on Cannery Row in what was once a former sardine cannery. After the collapse of sardine fishing in 1973, the cannery was taken dismantled and taken over by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Designed by Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis, the aquarium was built in honor of the work of marine biologist, Edward Ricketts (1897–1948) who specialized in describing communities of organisms. The aquarium honors Ricketts’ life works with a display of items from his personal library and other memorabilia.
The aquarium received initial financial backing from David Packard, the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, who also designed and built several exhibit elements at his forge in Big Sur, including the aviary and the wave machine in the Kelp Forest. The mission of the aquarium is to ‘inspire the conservation and preservation of the oceans’ and is currently directed by Packard’s daughter, biologist Julie Packard.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is home to thousands of plants and animals, representing over 600 species in various habitats and marine environments. The centerpiece of the aquarium is the Ocean's Edge Wing, a is a 28-foot-high, 333,000-US-gallon pool-like exhibit that showcases a variety of Californian coastal marine life and California Giant Kelp.
The largest exhibit in the Aquarium is the Open Sea exhibit – a 1,200,000-U.S.-gallon pool with huge single-pane windows that allow visitors to experience the deep ocean by almost being in it. One of the few aquarium exhibits to successfully house and care for ocean sunfish in captivity, the Open Sea also features large game fish, such as Yellowfin and Bluefin tuna, stingrays, sharks and other deep sea fish and animals.
The Black-Footed Penguin exhibit was opened in 2000 as part of the Splash Zone family galleries area and features a double story enclosure with nine breeding pairs of Black-Footed Penguins, as well as a variety of other penguin species that were rescued from Hurricane Katrina.
The Viva Baja! Special Exhibit showcases the colorful sea creatures that call the coast of Baja California home. The Viva Baja! Special Exhibit’s diverse terrestrial habitat also features tortoises, snakes, lizards, scorpions, and tarantulas which live in the region’s sun-scorched deserts. The exhibit also presents a section on the conservation of the area on both sides of the border and how to work is being done to preserve the region, and it’s animals, in particular, the vaquita, which is the most endangered marine mammal in the world. The Viva Baja! Special Exhibit also offers fun, interactive experiences such as a unique auditorium program that follows the migration of gray whales, elephant seals and brown pelicans to the protected beaches of Baja.
Tentacles Special Exhibit
The ‘Tentacles: The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, Squid and Cuttlefish’ exhibit features a dozen living exhibits that present a variety of tentacled sea creatures from Hawaiian bobtail squid and giant Pacific octopi to the smallest squid in the world. The section also includes an array of multimedia displays that highlight the features of these animals that set them apart from other creatures and an array of artworks that highlight 4,000 years of human fascination from tiles from Pompeii and Herculaneum to modern-day tentacle tattoos
The Monterey Bay Aquarium takes part in several conservation and research projects. The aquarium conducts research on Pacific bluefin tuna, great white sharks, sea otters, two of which it also houses from its Sea Otter Rescue Program, to better understand these species. Other species that are on the conservation list of the Aquarium include rays, cookie cutter and seven-gill sharks, ocean sunfish and Humboldt squid. The staff at the Monterey Bay Aquarium study these animals’ migration patterns, food requirements, population dynamics, and the threats they face in the wild to conserve the species. Other projects include the rehabilitation of shorebirds, a plover recovery program, and Seafood Watch, which offers helps consumers choose sustainable seafood.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium offers a variety of educational programs for educators and students of all ages, ranging from field trips and ocean explorer guides to classroom resources, games and activities, homeschool days, teen programs and project-based science programs.
886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940, Phone: 831-648-4800
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