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6 Reasons to Visit Monterey, CA in the Winter

Monterey, California
Winter in Monterey, CA, is mild, meaning you can still take full advantage of the area's many activities.

Coastal destinations tend to be wildly popular during the summer months, but winter in Monterey, CA, has a lot to offer. Thanks to the ocean's moderating influence, Monterey’s weather is mild during the winter months, with typical highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s. Such mild temperatures mean the area’s many outdoor activities are still accessible and enjoyable, even during the depths of winter. In the case of rain, countless museums, theaters, galleries, tasting rooms, and cozy cafes beckon, meaning you’ll have no shortage of ways to keep entertained during a wintertime visit. 

Visiting in the off-season also offers unexpected benefits, like lower hotel prices, minimal traffic, less competition for restaurant or tasting room reservations, and fewer crowds at popular attractions. Planning a trip in the slower months of the year can also help small local businesses by infusing cash into the economy during the region’s downtime. You’ll put less stress on local infrastructure, reduce pressure on wild areas, minimize disturbances for wildlife, and can get a taste of what it’s like to be a Monterey local.

Read on for six reasons to visit Monterey, CA, in the winter:

Cool Weather Hiking

Hiking is one of those activities that is truly excellent year-round in a place like Monterey. The benefits of winter hiking are numerous, including refreshing temperatures, lush, green scenery, seasonal waterfalls, mushrooms galore (for those who find them fascinating), and minimal crowds. If you’re in the mood for a coastal stroll, hop on the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, a beautifully maintained walking and biking path that stretches nearly 18 miles from Castroville to Pacific Grove and follows the former Southern Pacific Railroad Line. You can start your stroll in downtown Monterey and follow the path into Pacific Grove and beyond, depending on your energy levels.

For a more traditional hike, head inland to Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley. This expansive, dog-friendly park stretches from the Carmel River at its lowest elevation to more than 2,000 feet above in the Santa Lucia Mountains. With numerous trails, you can choose your adventure and go in search of waterfalls, views, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

visit Carmel Beach
Enjoy the beauty of a winter beach day in Monterey or nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Beach Days Don’t Require Sun

Many of the visitors who come to northern California expecting hot, sunny beach days are sorely disappointed when they discover that, even during the summer, the coast is often blanketed in cool, wet fog. In the winter, with no expectation of warmth or sun, you can surrender to the beauty of a winter beach day. Monterey’s picturesque coastline is no less charming on a cloudy day, so bundle up, pack a thermos of hot chocolate, and head out for a winter beach stroll. Walk the long expanse of Del Monte Beach or watch the scuba diving lessons that depart from San Carlos Beach. Meander around Lovers Point Park and Beach in Pacific Grove, admiring the craggy shore, visit the iconic half-moon-shaped Carmel Beach, or watch the dramatic waves at Monastery Beach (it is not recommended that you swim here as there can be dangerous rip currents and undertow due to the shape of the beach).

wildlife in Monterey, CA
Monterey is a wildlife mecca, even in the winter months.

Wonderful Winter Wildlife

If you're in the mood for some wildlife watching, take a quick jaunt down the Coast Guard Pier in Monterey where you just might be lucky enough to get up close and personal with sea lions, sea otters, and sea birds. On a calm day, you can peer off the pier where you’ll see sea stars and other critters clinging to the submerged rocks.

For one of the most unique wildlife occurrences on the Monterey Peninsula, visit the Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary. This protected grove is the largest overwintering site in Monterey County for the endangered monarch butterfly. The sanctuary is free and open to the public from sunrise to sunset. The butterflies, which cluster together to form quivering masses in the cypress, pine, and eucalyptus trees, typically start arriving in the area in October and stay through the end of February before continuing their migration. If you visit, be sure to bring binoculars and a long lens for your camera if you hope to capture some lasting memories of the beautiful creatures. 

Cozy Cafes

There’s nothing better than whiling away a rainy afternoon in a cozy cafe with a steaming cup of coffee and a delectable pastry. Downtown Monterey offers a variety of sweet spots, including Alta Bakery and Cafe in the historic Cooper Molera complex, Ad Astra Bread Co on Alvarado Street, hip Captain + Stoker, Carmel Bakery at the Portola Hotel, French Parker-Lusseau Pastries, and down home Plumes Coffee House.

Indoor Fun

Who says fun and games are just for kids? If you need a break from wet, cold weather, there is no shortage of indoor fun to be had in Monterey. The whole family will have a blast bowling at Monterey Lanes or tackling an escape room challenge at Escape Room 831. Adults will have a blast blending their own custom wine at The Wine Experience. What better souvenir than your own proprietary blend! 

Looking for something a bit more relaxing? Enjoy a spa day at the InterContinental along Monterey’s historic Cannery Row or at Spa on the Plaza in the Portola Hotel & Spa. For a real treat, spend a few hours at Refuge, which features numerous pools of various temperatures, saunas, steam rooms, firepits, and no talking permitted.

Top-Notch Dining

Comfort food and warm hearty dishes rule during the colder months and Monterey has a host of top-notch restaurants ready to fuel your wintertime adventures. Stokes Adobe serves up handmade pasta, wood-fired pizza, and other hearty mains in a historic adobe downtown. Cella Restaurant, located in the Cooper Molera complex, offers a mix of veggie, meat, and seafood dishes featuring vibrant flavors and sauces. Don’t forget to order the bread (which comes from their sister property, Alta Bakery) and salted butter to start!

For a more casual experience, Monterey’s brewpubs do not disappoint. Pop into Alvardo Street Brewery, Dust Bowl Brewing Company, Fieldwork’s Beer Garden, or Peter B’s Brewpub for a happy hour drink or an easygoing dinner.

Responsible Travel in Monterey, CA

Where to Stay:

If you're looking for a spot in downtown Monterey, the Portola Hotel and Spa is a stylish, well-located, and eco-friendly choice. Upon check-in, you'll be ushered through the spectacular tree-filled lobby. Once you get settled, consider popping outside for a soak in the hot tub, grabbing a beer at Peter B’s Brewpub, or strolling down to the waterfront to look for Harbor Seals and Sea Otters. As a bonus, the Portola Hotel is one of the first LEED-certified hotels on the Central California Coast and they are committed to instituting sustainable practices in their hotel, spa, and restaurants.

Environmental Consciousness:

It’s easy to feel like the many small choices we make when we travel don’t amount to much, but at scale and over time, each decision can create a big impact. If you’re traveling to Monterey by car, consider renting an electric vehicle. Many hotels and restaurants provide charging facilities. If you’re flying directly to Monterey, catch a taxi downtown and spend the rest of your time exploring on foot or via bicycle - it’s a great town for car-free travel! 

California continues to struggle with on-and-off drought conditions, so be mindful of your water use when visiting Monterey; reuse your sheets, take short showers, and be aware when running the faucet. In addition, when exploring the waterfront or local parks, take care to tread lightly and follow all ‘Leave No Trace’ principles to ensure the plants and animals of the region are not negatively impacted by our recreation. Finally, whenever dining out, opt for vegetable-focused meals and sustainable, local meat or seafood. Many local establishments participate in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program which aims to provide consumers with guidance around “best choice” seafood options.


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