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, kayaking, excellent museums, restaurants 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, California
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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
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, California 93940, Phone: 831-373-3337
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
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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.El Estero Park, Monterey, California
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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, Monterey, CA
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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, CA
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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.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.Phil's Fish Market
© Phil's Fish Market
Phil's Fish Market has been named as the world's best beach restaurant by BBC Travel, located within the heart of quaint Monterey County town Moss Landing. The restaurant and marketplace, which has been family-owned and operated for more than 30 years, has been featured on the Food Network and in national publications such as Sunset Magazine. A large menu of ocean-fresh fare is served up at lunch and dinner, including house New England and Manhattan-style clam chowders, spicy jumbo prawns, shrimp rolls, cioppino in bowls or bread buns, and a wide variety of grilled or charbroiled daily catches. The restaurant's most popular dishes are available flash-frozen for takeout or delivery, including shipping service. A full-service fish market sells locally-caught fish and seafood, along with flown-in fish delicacies from around the Pacific coast. Bluegrass music concerts are hosted weekly at the restaurant, showcasing local bands such as Bean Creek, Slide Road, and the Abbott Family Band.
Phil’s Fish Market & Eatery, 7600 Sandholdt Rd., Moss Landing, CA 95039, Phone: 831-633-2152
15.Ike's Place, Monterey, CA
© Ike's Place
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
© Restaurant 1833
Named for the historic building dating back to 1833 in which it resides, Restaurant 1833 is a stylish and sophisticated restaurant that serves locally sourced farm-to-table American fare in a chic, contemporary setting. The restaurant boasts seven different dining rooms, each of which pays homage to the characters that shaped the heritage of the old house and the role they played in Californian society at the time.
The menu is just as cosmopolitan as the décor, with appetizers such as crispy hen egg and charred octopus followed by entrées like pan-roasted rock cod and grilled New York steak. A well-curated wine list accompanies the creative menu of farm-table fare along with a a cocktail list served from a full-service bar, where patrons can enjoy a nightcap after dinner.
500 Hartnell Street, Monterey, California 93940, Phone: 831-643-1833
17.Wine Tastin Tours - Ag Venture Tours
© Ag Venture Tours
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.Cindy's Waterfront, Monterey, California
© Cindy's Waterfront
Cindy’s Waterfront is a casual, airy restaurant located at the Monterey Bay Aquarium that serves locally sourced, sustainable New American fare. Boasting a prime waterfront location in the heart of the aquarium, the spacious restaurant fills with natural light from its large windows that embrace spectacular views over the bay.
Napa Valley chef Cindy Pawlcyn creates a delectable farm to table menu of casual food that includes made-to-order burgers, wood-fired pizzas and fresh garden salads from ingredients sourced from Monterey Bay and the Central Valley.
Seafood dishes at the restaurant, which follow the Aquarium's Seafood Watch guidelines, include inspired seasonal dishes such as Monterey Bay Calamari and Cindy’s famous Clam Chowder.
886 Cannery Row, Monterey, California 93940, Phone: 831-648-4800
19 Best Things to Do in Monterey, CA
- Monterey Bay Aquarium, Photo: Courtesy of belyay - Fotolia.com
- Monterey Museum of Art (MMA), Photo: Monterey Museum of Art
- Cannery Row, Monterey, California, Photo: Courtesy of Chris - Fotolia.com
- Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary , Photo: Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
- Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail , Photo: Courtesy of Kristi - Fotolia.com
- Fisherman's Wharf Monterey, Photo: tenhi - Fotolia.com
- Monterey State Historic Park, Photo: Courtesy of pikappa51/Fotolia
- Monterey County Youth Museum (MY Museum), Photo: Monterey County Youth Museum
- El Estero Park, Monterey, California, Photo: Courtesy of rck - Fotolia.com
- Monterey Jazz Festival, Monterey, CA, Photo: Courtesy of Mr Twister - Fotolia.com
- Golden State Theatre, Monterey, CA, Photo: Courtesy of Jaroslav Machacek - Fotolia.com
- The Farmers Market at Old Monterey Marketplace, Photo: Courtesy of Jessica - Fotolia.com
- Cannery Row Antique Mall, Photo: Courtesy of Punkbarby - Fotolia.com
- Phil's Fish Market, Photo: Phil's Fish Market
- Ike's Place, Monterey, CA, Photo: Ike's Place
- Restaurant 1833, Photo: Restaurant 1833
- Wine Tastin Tours - Ag Venture Tours, Photo: Ag Venture Tours
- Adventures by the Sea, Photo: Courtesy of Belodarova - Fotolia.com
- Cindy's Waterfront, Monterey, California, Photo: Cindy's Waterfront
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of pikappa51/Fotolia