Written by Julie Boyd | Photography by Julie Boyd
Monterey is a beautiful seaside town known for its stunning views of California’s Central Coast, and abundance of marine life. While many people come to visit iconic spots like the 17-Mile Drive and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, there are also a few hidden gems in this coastal retreat. Here are our top five things to do in Monterey.
Walk the Path of History – I had no idea what an important role Monterey played in California’s past until I explored the historic district. Monterey served as the capital of California while it was under the control of Spain, and boasts many of the state’s firsts (public school, public library, printing press, newspaper, etc.). The path is about two miles long, and is distinguished by round, yellow markers on the sidewalk, which are easy to follow. You could easily pick up a map from your hotel, any one of the historic sites, or you can venture out and just explore. Even if you aren’t into history, it is still enjoyable to walk around and admire the contrast of old adobe buildings and 100+ year-old homes, to the modern construction.
TIP: As a book lover, my favorite find was the Stevenson House. You guessed it – the home of author Robert Louis Stevenson. 🙂
Explore Pacific Grove – If you want to avoid the crowds and cost of doing the 17-mile drive, driving through Pacific Grove is a nice alternative. Located on the tip of the Monterey Peninsula, Pacific Grove lends itself to classic views of rocky seashore, Victorian homes, and sprawling purple Ice Plants. If you want to get out of your car and explore, you can park along the side of the road for free, and easily connect to one of the many walking paths that takes you along the shore.
TIP: When Brian and I visited in the winter for sunset photos it was extremely windy and absolutely freezing cold. We only had jeans and sweatshirts on, so we didn’t last for long before we went running back into the car, aching for the seat warmers and heater to be on full blast. Check the weather and plan for the possibility of a strong wind chill!
Visit the Point Pinos Lighthouse – Located in Pacific Grove, Point Pinos is the oldest operating Lighthouse on the West Coast. This picturesque stop is nestled on top of sandy, grass-covered hills, and surrounded by towering cypress trees.
TIP: The lighthouse is only open for a few hours each day, so make sure you plan ahead if you want to tour the inside of it. Otherwise, you will be restricted to taking it in from outside the grounds only. http://www.pointpinoslighthouse.org
Go under the sea at the Monterey Bay Aquarium – This is just one of those things you have to do when you are in Monterey. Getting a peek at everything going on underneath the ocean is fascinating. Plus, you can die from the overwhelming cuteness that is the sea otter exhibition. The aquarium has tons of things to explore, so my advice is to arrive early to give yourself time, and to avoid crowds.
TIP: During chow time the sea life becomes more active, so check the schedule before you go to see what times they are doing the various feedings. I highly recommend the Open Sea Feeding. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/visit/daily-schedule
Sample Clam Chowder on Fisherman’s Warf – Another one of those touristy, yet must do things. Walking through Fisherman’s Warf is somewhat of a circus. However, if you can tolerate it for a bit, around dinner time each restaurant stands outside offering free samples of what they claim is “Monterey’s best clam chowder” in an attempt to lure you in to dine. It’s a fun, exciting atmosphere, and you might get some free grub out of it. Brian and I spent the money to eat at the snazzy Old Fisherman’s Grotto on our trip last year, but we both agreed that the chowder at Characters was just as good, and the casual atmosphere was more of our scene.