Last Updated on August 14, 2023
Located on the central coast of California, the seaside town of Monterey is about a two-hour drive south from San Francisco. My spouse and I love visiting this town considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in California. Known for its stunning coastline, breathtaking ocean views, historic Cannery Row, and Monterey Bay Aquarium, this coastal gem ranks high in importance to California’s history and culture.
Monterey was originally inhabited by the Rumsen Ohlone people and later became the capital of Alta California under both Spanish and Mexican rule. The city played a crucial role in California’s early history and was the site of the 1849 Constitutional Convention.
One visit and you’ll understand why so many who come to Monterey don’t just make it a “one and done” visit, rather returning time and again to savor a region blessed with such incredible natural and man-made wonders.
No visit to Monterey is complete without a rendezvous at its famous Fisherman’s Wharf.
Since being constructed in 1845, the pier has hosted whaling ships, Navy cutters and fishing boats by the score. Whale watching and other ocean activity booths still line the wharf. Harbor shops along both sides carry sea-inspired gifts, jewelry, clothing, and even a general store offering that timeless boardwalk treat, salt-water taffy.
But there’s no doubting the main reason people come to the wharf: fresh seafood.
For sale by fishmongers’ and the myriad restaurants, you’ll the best savory crab, lobster and mouthwatering fresh catches. The number one food Monterey is renowned for: thick, rich and ultra-delectable clam chowder.
Author John Steinbeck immortalized the gritty lives of the working class in his 1945 novel Cannery Row, when Monterey was undeniably the sardine capital of the Western Hemisphere. In Steinbeck’s words, “Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.”
Overfishing destroyed the sardine industry and the canneries are long gone, but the shells of these canneries still line the fabled waterfront as a testament to the consequence of the greed and excess that brought economic collapse to the area.
Cannery Row fell into ruin and was resurrected in 1968 by two restaurant managers with strong family ties to the fishing industry. Today, the area is vibrant and filled with tourists enjoying the Row’s lively restaurants, shops, wine-tasting rooms and breweries.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Cannery Row is home to a number of attractions, but its superstar has to be its world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. With an international reputation, this non-profit marine exhibit happens to be one of our favorites.
Located on the site of a former sardine cannery, the aquarium is like walking into and under a magical indoor ocean. Its mission is to inspire conservation of the ocean.
Home to over 700 varieties of marine animals from the Monterey Bay, its exhibits feature sea otters, sharks, rays, penguins and mesmerizing jellyfish.
The aquarium’s towering 28-foot-high, 333,000- gallon tank spectacularly displays California coastal marine life along with its giant kelp beds. Here visitors can view the underwater beauty of sea life in the kelp forest from several levels in the building’s interior.
Monterey State Historic Park
As history buffs, my hubby and I loved following Monterey’s “Walking Path of History.” The two-mile trail took us to the site where Spanish explorers first landed in Monterey in 1602 and the Custom House that taxed commerce coming into the port.
We meandered along the same streets that famed author Robert Louis Stevenson strolled in 1879. Twelve historic homes and buildings along this trail provide a fascinating journey through time.
The Monterey coast sports the largest U.S. national marine sanctuary with an impressive shoreline length of 276 miles. One of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems, the sanctuary is home to numerous mammals, seabirds, fish, invertebrates, and plants in this remarkably productive coastal environment.
The best way to experience this water wonderland is by kayak. Harbor seals swam alongside our boat as otters playfully rolled and frolicked nearby in the kelp beds.
The peace, serenity and sheer natural beauty brought to mind a quote by Henry David Thoreau, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”
The scenic beauty along the 17-Mile Drive which winds through iconic landmarks and offers stunning coastal views has become a major draw for visitors seeking picturesque landscapes.
Monterey is often called the northern gateway to the California’s famous Big Sur region. Considered one of the most stunningly beautiful coastlines in the world, it’s a national treasure for its vast undeveloped open spaces and spectacular vistas.
Stretching for 90 miles along the rugged coast, Big Sur ends at San Simeon, the home of spectacular Heart Castle. Before the winding, twisting shore-hugging route reaches its terminus, this California gem offers up an incredible number of awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, sometimes in the clouds, “we have to stop the car” views.
With its spectacular water wonderland, marine sanctuary, colorful flower-studded state parks and stunning panoramic vistas, Monterey has definitely been given nature’s most precious kiss.
Known as the “Butterfly Capital of the World,” idyllic Pacific Grove is located on the tip of the scenic, rocky, tree-shrouded Monterey peninsula. Just two miles from the city of Monterey, this town, with its Victorian mansions and vintage architecture, exudes an appealing ambience of charm, grace and timeless beauty.
Among its visitors are brightly colored orange-and-black Monarch butterflies who overwinter among the town’s Monterey pine and eucalyptus tree groves after an incredible 2,000-mile odyssey. These beautiful and delicately winged insect aviators arrive by the thousands beginning in October, peaking around Christmas, and departing by March each and every year.
Visitors here also love to tempt fate by venturing out on the massive rock formations overlooking the Pacific where at times dangerous powerful waves from ocean swells crash over the rocks. Lucky adventurers only get soaked.
A framed picture in a shop window read, “You have your brush, you have your colors, you paint paradise, then in you go.” I’ll bet that artist was thinking of Monterey.beachdininghistorynature