Downtown Monterey CA – the best places to see

Monterey CA is located on the Pacific coast and is known for its stunning views and vibrant beach life. Just a two-hour drive from San Francisco downtown Monterey CA is home to a number of historical attractions, restaurants, shopping, parks, and cultural attractions. Besides the natural beauty of the ocean, mountains, and sunsets, you can enjoy live music, museums, parks, and history for all ages.

So pack your bags and get ready — it’s time to explore:

Visit Fisherman’s Wharf

Downtown Monterey CA - Fisherman's Warf
Fishermen’s Warf

Once a wholesale fish market, Monterey’s Old Fisherman’s Wharf is still a hub for marine activities. Here, you’ll see what seems like miles of sailboats, motorboats, and yachts at dock. One of the main tourist spots in downtown Monterey, CA, the wharf’s dining spots range from casual clam shacks to fine restaurants. Before dinner make sure to visit the old fishing dock and watch the sea lions basking in the sun or go on a whale watching tour to see the majestic creatures that call Monterey Bay home.

See the art of downtown Monterey CA

Picasso, Miró, Matisse — you have a chance to see the work of all three at the Monterey Museum of Art. Opened in 1959, the facility, which is focused on California art, is located in downtown Monterey CA, on Pacific Street and La Mirada. On Pacific Street, you can also see modern art and photography from well-known artists like John Adams, Armin Hansen, and William Ritschel. Finally, at the historic estate of La Mirada, you can walk through an ornate manor with a lovely rose garden.

Hike Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail

This trail is a popular paved path that stretches along the coast from Castroville to Pacific Grove. Divided into lanes, it is a favorite for walkers, runners, bikers, and the occasional skateboarder. After all, you’re in California! The views of the ocean, rocky cliffs, and dramatic clouds beg for selfie shots, but be careful about posing on the high cliffs. You can begin or end near Cannery Row, located in the heart of downtown Monterey CA. Finally, take your time on the trail, you’ll find several stops for shopping and eating along the way!

The best of downtown Monterey CA – Monterey Bay Aquarium

Jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Opened in 1984, this famous aquarium is located in a renovated sardine factory. The unique space features more than 600 species of marine creatures, some native to California. Pools and tanks display marine life in sustainable exhibits that invite you to interact with the wonders you encounter. Be sure to visit the kelp forest, where you’ll find brightly colored fish, sharks, snails, starfish, and green anemones. Finally, move on to the Splash Zone and make friends with the sea lions and a penguin or two!

Drive on 17-Mile Drive

The 17-Mile Drive is a scenic roadway beginning in Pebble Beach that winds along the Monterey coastline. The road is just over 17 miles long and connects California State Route 1 to Carmel-by-the-Sea. There are a number of pull-offs and photo ops along the drive where you can enjoy the views and take pictures. There are also several golf courses, restaurants, and hotels located along the drive if you’re looking for a place to stay or grab a bite to eat.

Monterey State Historic Park

Monterey State Historic Park is home to a variety of buildings from the past, including the Custom House (California’s first customs service), Pacific House (a hotel and meeting hall), and Larkin House (the home of Thomas Larkin, the “most powerful man in early California”). Take the main path to view some of the most historic buildings and homes in California. Other buildings in the park also include the first brick house in the state, a schoolhouse, and a blacksmith shop. Additionally, the park features a number of gardens, including Colton Hall Lawn and Garden and Casa Serrano Adobe & Garden.

The heart of downtown Monterey CA – Cannery Row

Downtown Monterey CA - Cannery Row
Cannery Row

The sardine industry dwindled in the 1950s, but Cannery Row continues as a popular tourist area (and a known reference in John Steinbeck novels). These days, you’ll find upscale boutiques and souvenir shops next to restaurants, bars, and museums. This is a great place to buy interesting food like pickled garlic, gourmet tomato sauce, and creative confections. Here you’ll also find Cannery Row Antique Mall, one of the largest antique stores on the Central Coast.

Stop by Point Sur Lightstation

Looking over the bay since the late 1800s is Point Sur Light Station and former Naval facility. A visit here is a trip back to a time when mariners feared shipwrecks and lonely watchmen protected them with flashing lights. Tourists are invited to take a three-hour trip around the facility, including a panoramic view of the ocean. Make sure to look for the steampunk-style lens and learn about the families who endured long periods of solitude in this mystical place.

Golden State Theater

Golden State is a movie palace with an impressive history. Built in 1926 and partially renovated in 2005, the theater’s Moorish and Italian Renaissance architecture is a sight to behold. Take the time to notice the elegant entrance lobby with a floating floor and the skylight adorned with botanical canopies. Once hailed as the largest theater in the state, the 1,500-seat theater is now a venue for live shows and performances.

Dennis the Menace Playground

Dennis the Menace, a mischievous comic book character, is the namesake of this colorful playground in Estero Park. With features like ramps, a sandpit, and a water spray area, the playground is designed for kids of all abilities. It also includes a field where families can enjoy a game of catch or Frisbee. The playground is not only a tribute to Dennis but to his creator Hank Ketcham who lived in nearby Carmel Valley. He was passionate about playing and creating child-like happiness.

Sunset at Lover’s Point

A perfect end to a day in downtown Monterey CA

No list of things to do in Monterey would be complete without the beach. The best place to catch a sunset is Lovers Point Park, a small peninsula that juts out into the bay. With some of the most memorable activities and sights that the Pacific coast has to offer, Monterey is the perfect place to relax and enjoy yourself. 

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