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8 Great Monterey California Activities (and Eats)

The Monterey California area offers some of the world’s most spectacular land and coastline. In fact, Robert Louis Stevenson called the Monterey Peninsula, “the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world.”

I was fortunate to live in Monterey California (and the adjacent town of Pacific Grove) for a few years and visit many times. Following are some of my favorite things to do and places to eat in Monterey California.

8 Great Monterey California Activities (and Eats)

I present this information in a timeline, from an afternoon arrival then covering a couple of days. A car is necessary to effectively follow this itinerary.

Butterfly Migration

In the winter, monarch butterflies migrate through Pacific Grove. It is phenomenal to see trees and bushes filled with thousands (millions?) of colorful butterflies. After visiting the Monarch Grove Sanctuary, if you have time, explore the Asilomar Conference Grounds. At this time of the year, sunset is around 5pm. About 4pm (or 1 hour before sunset whenever you visit), head to Vivolo’s for carryout clam chowder and a sourdough bread bowl. Drive along Ocean View Blvd to Sunset Drive (about 3 miles), find a nice place to park, and enjoy the clam chowder and a world class sunset.

Pacific Grove Monarch Bufferflies

Pacific Grove Monarch Butterflies photo via organicfoodtheories.blogspot.com

Lover’s Point

After sunset, drive back along Ocean View Drive and park around 17th Ave and Union St. Walk down 17th Ave (toward the bay) and around Lover’s Point Park. If there is extra time before your dinner at Pepper’s (reservation recommended), stroll around the quaint downtown Pacific Grove.

Pacific Grove

Pacific Grove photo via thevamoose.tumblr.com

Pacific Grove Lover's Point

Pacific Grove Lover’s Point photo via montereybayunderwater.com

Monterey Bay Coastal Trail

Start the morning with an oceanfront walk. Park near Central Ave and 1st St, walk along the coastal trail to Lover’s Point and back. You will see magnificent properties including Green Gables Inn and The Seven Gables Inn—perhaps you will stay in one of them. Have breakfast at First Awakenings in the American Tin Cannery; tip: if a nice morning, wait for an outside table.

Seven Gables Inn

Seven Gables Inn photo via thesevengablesinn.com

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Plan on spending the rest of the morning at the incredible Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is a short walk from First Awakenings. Park in Cannery Row Lot 7 if you cannot find a better spot. For lunch, leave the aquarium and walk along Cannery Row. Walk up Prescott Ave to Gianni’s on Lighthouse Avenue. Not in the mood for pizza? There are plenty of other dining options along Lighthouse Ave. After lunch, return to Cannery Row to shop and explore.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium photo via montereybayaquarium.org

Downtown Monterey

Spend the rest of the day in downtown Monterey. Younger children will love Dennis the Menace playground in El Estero Park. Explore historic buildings and sites in Monterey State Historic Park, including where Spanish settlers arrived in 1602. Something is always happening at Fisherman’s Wharf. Perhaps during a longer stay you will take a whale watching or glass bottom boat tour, rent kayaks, or go on a sailing or fishing trip. There are many places to have dinner but I like Sandbar & Grill on Wharf 2—not as touristy as at the main wharf.

Monterey kayaks

Monterey kayaks photo via portolahotel.com

Bike Ride

An easy bike ride from downtown Monterey, on the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, is Del Monte Beach and Monterey State Beach. Here you can play on the dunes, fly kites, and surf (or watch). Heading inland, ride on the Laguna Grande Trail along Laguna Del Rey. On Fremont Ave are several places to eat including The Breakfast Club.

Del Monte Beach, Monterey

Del Monte Beach, Monterey photo via waymarking.com

Scenic Drives

Drive toward the airport on highway 68. Turn right on Olmsted Rd and drive up Jack’s Peak. Jack’s Peak Park has excellent trails but today we will just enjoy the magnificent views of Monterey Bay. If it is a foggy morning, you will be above the fog. Going back downhill, turn right on Via Malpaso before highway 68. Turn right on Enlace Rd and continue (on Tehama Rd) to Carmel Valley Rd. Turn left and follow Carmel Valley Rd as far as you want, but at least past “the village.” There are several wineries to visit. Many car commercials are filmed on this wonderful tree-canopied, white fence lined road. Tassajara Rd is a good place to turn around (although continuing until it turns into Arroyo Seco is fun excursion for a longer day). Drive back toward highway 1 and, if you are ready for lunch I can vouch for Bistro 211 in Crossroads Center (but would like to try Tran’s Noodle House in The Barnyard). Next stop is the Carmel Mission, followed by lunch at Katy’s Place (if you did not eat earlier).

Jack's Peak, Monterey California

Jack’s Peak, Monterey California photo pvia seemonterey.org

Carmel Valley Road

scenic drive on Carmel Valley Road photo via udctours.com

Carmel Mission

Carmel Mission photo via fortwiki.com

Carmel and 17 Mile Drive

Next stroll the streets and explore the quaintness of the village of Carmel-by-the-Sea including—especially including—some time at the remarkable Carmel Beach. Leaving the beach, drive along Scenic Rd (it really is), stopping as much as you want. If you do not make any turns, you will end up on Carmelo St. Turn left on 4th Ave, which will turn into San Antonio Ave and then Carmel Way. Soon you will be at the entrance station to 17 Mile Drive. 17 Mile Drive traverses some of the world’s most prestigious properties and is one of my favorite drives anywhere. When I lived in the area (and was not traveling) I rode my bike along 17 Mile Drive on most weekends. Take time to stop at the Pebble Beach shops (watch golfers tee off and then walk the amazing 18th and 17th holes), Pescadero Point, Lone Cypress, Sunset Point, Cypress Point, Seal Rock and Bird Rock, and Point Joe. Near the Pacific Grove exit gate have dinner at Fishwife (reserve a table with view).

Carmel Beach

Carmel Beach photo via carmelbythesearentals.com

Lone Cypress

Lone Cypress, 17 Mile Drive photo via latimes.com

Restaurants mentioned (in order):

Vivolo’s Chowder House


First Awakenings

Gianni’s Pizza

Sandbar and Grill

The Breakfast Club

Bistro 211

Tran’s Noodle House

Katy’s Place


Other recommended restaurants:

Compagno’s Market and Deli

El Migueleno

Ferdi’s Creole Restaurant

Forge in the Forest

Tarpy’s Roadhouse

Troia’s Market

What are your favorite Monterey California activities?

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12 Responses to “8 Great Monterey California Activities (and Eats)”

  1. RoarLoud November 4, 2016 at 2:09 pm #

    I want to see the butterfly migration!

    • McCool Travel November 4, 2016 at 6:05 pm #

      I would like to see it again. Hey, I am going in December so maybe I will.

  2. Sarah Stierch October 22, 2016 at 12:23 am #

    Can’t wait to go back to Monterey! I’ll be returning next week to finally visit the Aquarium and see the butterflies. Can’t wait. Thanks for the tips!

    • McCool Travel October 23, 2016 at 5:24 pm #

      Have a wonderful visit, Sarah. I will be in Monterey in December and hope to find some new great things. Let me know what you discover.

  3. Ryan Biddulph January 12, 2015 at 3:10 pm #

    Carmel Beach looks stunning Charles.

    Thanks for sharing!


  4. agnesstramp January 10, 2015 at 9:04 am #

    Wow, it’s a beautiful place. No wonder why you fell in love with it!!! <3 Already added to my bucket list!

  5. FuninFairfaxVA January 9, 2015 at 9:30 am #

    Dinner at the Old Bath House at Lover’s Point was a wonderful treat. The restaurant closed but was remodeled and reopened as the Beach House in 2012.


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