Travel Talk: Monterey, CA
Updated: Dec 27, 2019
A sweet little town with loads of coastal charm, a healthy dash of history, and endless outdoor activities.
Visitors come from near and far to soak up the sights, sounds, and coastal charm of Monterey, CA. Situated on the edge of the expansive Monterey Bay, Monterey is truly a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts and nature-lovers. You can spend your day sailing, fishing, surfing at Asilomar, scuba diving in the kelp forests, biking or jogging along the Coastal Trail, bird-watching, kayaking, and so much more. Yet, you don't have to take to the water to enjoy the breathtaking vistas. Opt for an easy stroll along the beach and you'll be rewarded with the calming sounds of crashing waves and picturesque shoreline views. Monterey is also a hub of marine science, research, and conservation, meaning you can learn a lot while having fun, too.
"Situated on the edge of the expansive Monterey Bay, Monterey is truly a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts and nature-lovers."
What To Do
Walk the Coastal Trail: Simple, free, and carbon-free, a walk along the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail is the perfect way to start your visit to the Monterey Peninsula. This well-maintained walking and biking path stretches approximately 18 miles along the coast from Castroville to Pacific Grove and follows the former Southern Pacific Railroad Line. If you're feeling energetic, enjoy a 2.3 mile walk from Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey to Lovers Point in Pacific Grove. Follow the path past Sister City Park and the Coast Guard Pier. If you're in the mood for some wildlife-watching, take a quick jaunt down the Pier where you just might be lucky enough to score some face time with a few sea lions, sea otters, and sea birds. Continue your walk through Cannery Row where the trail will eventually open up to picturesque vistas of Lovers Point State Marine Reserve. If you're visiting in the spring, make sure to pause at Hopkins Beach where you might catch a glimpse of harbor seals and their pups. Helpful volunteer docents from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary are often on hand to answer your questions and make sure the seals get the peace and quiet they need to bond with their pups. Resume your walk and follow the gently curving path past breath-taking coves until you reach Lovers Point Park. Fun fact: Lovers Point Park was featured in season two of the HBO show, Big Little Lies!
Hike: There are dozens of breathtaking hikes just south of Monterey in Big Sur, however, if you're looking for something a little closer to home, Jacks Peak Park is a nice alternative. You'll glimpse sweeping views of the town and ocean beneath you as you wind your way through scraggly California scrub and forest. If you go in the spring, you'll likely enjoy a nice array of wildflowers. The park offers about 8 miles of trails, so you can make a day of it if you'd like. Maybe even pack a picnic and enjoy a moment of quiet at the top of the ridge.
Learn Local History: If you're looking to brush up on some local history, stop in at the Monterey State Historic Park. From there, you can take a self-guided, walking audio tour around town that will introduce you to many historic sites and stories. It's a nice way to get a bit of exercise and see some of the hidden corners of Monterey.
Explore the Monterey Bay Aquarium: The Monterey Bay Aquarium needs little introduction. Perched on the edge of the Monterey Bay, the Aquarium offers an exhilarating and immersive experience. The exhibits are seemingly endless and you can learn about and observe hundreds of animals, from sea otters to moray eels to cuttlefish. New exhibits are installed regularly, so check the website to see what is available during your visit. It is worth noting that admission is expensive at $49.95 per adult, but you can rest assured that it is money well spent thanks to the Aquarium's robust Conservation & Science Program. Beyond simply giving visitors a chance to commune with marine wildlife, the Aquarium supports meaningful research and advocacy around issues like climate change, ocean plastics, fisheries, and more.
Sample Goodies at the Farmers' Market: What would a trip to the "Salad Bowl of the World" be without a visit to a local farmers' market? The Old Monterey Marketplace kicks off at 4:00pm on Tuesday evenings on Alvarado Street. Chat with the local vendors and growers to learn what's at peak season and sample their delicious offerings. Then, find the stall selling tamales and salsas and grab a couple for a casual dinner. I promise, you won't want to miss it! Other farmers' markets in the area happen throughout the week, so check this site for a comprehensive schedule.
Trivia at Sovino Wine Bar: If you're looking for an evening activity in Monterey, this sweet little wine shop has you covered with their weekly Monday night trivia. Teams of six or less are invited to join the fun and compete for cash prizes. Trivia starts at 7:00pm and lasts about 2 hours.
Shop at Lilify: Looking for a gift or special memento from your visit to Monterey? Swing by Lilify for lovingly crafted goods from artisans and makers of all types. Tucked away on busy Lighthouse Avenue, this cute little shop is easy to miss. But once you find it, you'll want to stay and browse awhile. You can even grab a cup of coffee from Bright Coffee which shares the space with Lilify.
Where To Eat
Cafe Lumiere: This cool, laid-back spot is popular with everyone from local graduate students to visiting businesspeople. It's got a modern, sleek vibe and killer food. You really can't go wrong with anything on the menu but their scones are excellent, the brunch bowls are filling and healthy, the Greek salad is just the right mix of tangy and salty, and the tiramisu is an absolute favorite. You can even grab a beer and hang out before catching a movie in the attached movie theater, the Osio.
Alta Bakery and Cafe: This hip new cafe snagged a spot in the recently redone historic Cooper Molera Adobe and offers extravagant-looking pastries and indulgent savory toasts (among other things) in a cozy, coastal setting. Take your pick from one of the little cafe rooms with local art on the walls or enjoy your goodies outside in the inner courtyard of the Adobe. Tip: look for their tartine of the day -- we shared a savory tartine with pimento cheese on top (which might sound strange but it was pretty darn delicious). After you eat, check out the thriving gardens and orchard in the Cooper Molera courtyard.
Montrio Bistro: After a full day of coastal exploration or local history lessons, duck into Montrio Bistro for happy hour. From 4:30-6:00pm, this upscale bistro in downtown Monterey offers well drinks, house wine, and beer for $5 a pop, as well as discounted cocktails and tasty nibbles. The sautéed mushrooms and crispy artichoke hearts are good options. Besides, you can't visit the Central Coast and not have artichokes!
The Crown & Anchor: For a casual, satisfying dinner, check out The Crown & Anchor. Sure, you probably didn't come to Monterey for it's British pub but it's definitely worth a visit. Here's why... This hole-in-the-wall pub has some of the best vegan curry wedges I've ever had. Imagine crispy potatoes soaking in a spiced coconut curry sauce, topped with fresh tomatoes, green onions, and a side of chutney. Pair that with one of their twenty beers on tap and you have yourself a seriously amazing, affordable, earth-friendly dinner.
Fieldwork Brewing Company: After dinner, meander down Alvarado Street and find a seat on the patio beneath a heater at Fieldwork Brewing Company. Fieldwork, whose sister brewery is located in Berkeley, CA, pours some intense and interesting IPAs, as well as countless other styles. It is BYOF, so grab some chips and guac from Chipotle next door if you're in need of a late-night snack.
Where To Stay
If you're looking for a spot in downtown Monterey, the Portola Hotel and Spa is a fun and convenient choice. Upon check in, you'll be ushered through the lobby (filled with living trees!) before receiving *warm* chocolate chip cookies from the Front Desk. Yes, you heard that right! Once you get over the excitement of your cookies, you might pop out for a soak in the hot tub or take a stroll down Alvarado Street. As an added 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 attached restaurants.