There isn't really a lack of things to do in Monterey, but if you're looking to get out of town for a day, this is great place to visit. Tons of wildlife, ocean tours, antique shops, restaurants...and a large power plant (try to ignore that).
Moss Landing is about 20 minutes north of Monterey on Rt. 1. Filled with antique shops and quaint cafes, the area is a nice spot to spend a couple hours on a rainy day. If you head up early in the morning, you can walk along the marina and purchase fresh seafood directly from the fishing boats.
On sunny, clear days, you can whale and bird watch from the National Reserve wetlands and take a kayak out on the estuaries nearby. Sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters swim up into the marina area and are easy to watch from the road and surrounding land.
If you're a fan of antiques, there are more shops here than you'll have time to see in one visit. The last week in July the town hosts an antique street fair (about $5 per adult). In December, the Moss Landing Holiday Crafts and Lights Festival offers holiday music, gifts and a Victorian costume contest.
The wildlife in this area is amazing. In Monterey you'll find plenty of sea lions and a handful of harbor seals. In Moss Landing you'll see more of these creatures, plus otters and interesting birds. Various tours are available to take you to areas where the animals hang out and are fun to do with kids.
There are some nice places to eat while you're in Moss Landing. Phil's Seafood and the Whole Enchilada are two of my favorites.
Moss Landing is the home of the research labs associated with the Monterey Aquarium as well as the moss Landing Power Plant. Nearby, you can wander around Elk Horn Slough and get some exercise while seeing some wildlife.
Don't go too far from downtown for a nice spot to see the Marina and the sea lions. Before you reach Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row, you'll find Commercial Wharf. The Wharf has a public fish market, but unfortunately we just missed it, showing up right after it closed.
The sea lions swim all around the wharf. I think they're used to people throwing fish scraps to them. This was a great place to walk around and get pictures of the sea lions up close. They didn't seem to mind us much and swam right up to the pier to look at us taking pictures of them.
At the entrance to the dock are 2 restaurants we really enjoyed, Sapporo (sushi) and London Bridge Pub. The area is much less touristy than the other piers, and the restuarants felt that way as well.
Visit the National Steinbeck Center in downtown Salinas, which is just east of Monterey via California Highway 68. This museum presents the life and works of Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck. I've read several of his books while in high school, and they were very enjoyable. Salinas is the birthplace of John Steinbeck. Visit the web site below for more information.
Take a walk around town. We kept stumbling on gorgeous little gardens, all open to the public. Behind old city offices, the original theater and next to the maritime museum are just a few of the places you'll find these tiny gems.
The flowers and trees offer fragrant scents and a gentle shade, a nice place to sit if you've been walking all day. One garden even contained a wide array of herbs in the center.
Built in 1926, this classic theater is still in use today. In 1929, it became the first theater to show talking pictures on the Monterey Peninsula. The décor in the lobby as well as the theater is worth a visit in itself. Check their schedule for performances.
Small parks can be found allover the Monterey area. If you travel through Fort Ord, towards Monterey, you'll exit the old base in Del Ray Oaks near the Frog Pond.
The area is a county Wetlands Preserve and covers a 17 acre wildlife sanctuary. There is a trail that surrounds the pond, offering a short walk through overhanging foliage and swampy terrain. Meadows and live oak woodlands can be wandered through as well. The trail is an easy walk and you'll usually pass folks walking their dogs along the way.
The Pond is well known as a great place for bird watching. The only access is pedestrian but there are areas to pull off a car on the surrounding roadways. The Frog Pond gets its name because it is home to the tiny Pacific tree frog (though I have yet to glimpse one).
Location: 650 Canyon Del Rey Blvd
Built from 1846-47 the tiny theater originally just provided lodging and booze for the rowdy sailors of the day. In 1850 local soldiers decided to produce plays to make money (so they could afford the Cannery Row spas!) and they made an astounding $5 per person per show. the theater is being renovated and is open on a very limited basis. There are some very beautiful and quiet gardens behind the main building which are open during the day.
The Coast Guard Wharf in Monterey is next to San Carlos Beach just east of Cannery Row. This area has plenty of public parking, a public boat launch, easy access to the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail, a restaurant and a deli, and several other stores including a dive shop. Out the wharf itself you can get some great views of the bay, close ups of the massive sea lions, and as the name implies--the Coast Guard.
The wharf was originally completed as a federally-funded 1700-foot breakwater in 1934. Later, the wharf was constructed on top of the breakwater, and the coast guard station here opened in 1946. The Coast Guard Wharf has a public boat ramp, and just east of the wharf is Breakwater Cover Marina with 70 boat slips. In the water between the Coast Guard Wharf and Fishermans Wharf are 150 privately owned moorings for a variety of boats.
Coast Guard Wharf is only about 1/2 mile from my house and when the sea lions decide to camp out here for the night, I can hear them like they are outside my window. I'm thinking about trying some of the tips on this page to keep them quiet. Besides being loud, they are also fat, stinky, & mean. The areas where they congregate smell like a zoo, & I have often seen one sea lion accidentally bump another only to be barked at and bitten.
In the spring the blue-throated Brandt's cormorants come to the breakwater at the end of the wharf to nest. These cormorants live along the west coast from Alaska to southern California with the greatest concentrations around Vancouver, San Francisco, and Monterey. These birds feed by swimming under water to depths of 40 feet to catch small fish. They must be vicious birds because they somehow take over the spot where the sea lions usually rest, relegating the sea lions to the lower rocks just above the edge of the water. It is said the sea gulls are a major threat to rob the nests, so the birds nest in pairs with one always watching the next.
Begun 1797, the Mission at San Juan Bautista was the 15th of the 21 Spanish missions in California. The current church building was built from 1803 to 1812, and today it hosts a small museum, gift shop, and an active church. You will also find a neat little garden with an amazing variety of plants and a cemetery out back, laid right beside the El Camino Real and almost on top of the San Andreas Fault.
SJB is just a tiny little town with a population of about 1,500 people. The entire downtown area is just about 1/4 mile wide by 1/2 mile long with most of the businesses centered on 3rd Street, just one block from the mission, the historic plaza, and the state park. The entire area along 3rd Street has a very old-fashioned wild west feel making for a very unique small town experience in a historic setting.
This little community has a wide variety of restaurants of all styles including Basque, German, Mexican, Italian, Steak, and even Chinese...very impressive for such a small town. There also numerous stores with arts and crafts, antiques, and other specialty stores.
In San Juan Bautista, sections of the original El Camino Real exist in their original location with a packed earth surface. Just below the mission is a small stretch of the road.
From Monterey, take Hwy 1 North to Hwy 156. Follow 156 east until you get to SJB (there is a 5-10 mile stretch where 156 follows Hwy 101).
The smallest cathedral in the US, this is also the oldest continually operating church in America and the oldest stone building in California. In its early years, it was the Royal Chapel for the Presidio after the mission was moved to nearby Carmel. The church was first built in 1770, destroyed by fire in 1789, and the current structure was complete in 1794. The statue of Mary over the door was created in 1794 and is the oldest non-indigenous sculpture in California. President Herbert Hoover (prior to being elected president) was married in this chapel in 1899, and was the the first American president to have been married in a catholic church. The Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo is listed as a National Historic Landmark. In 2007 restoration work, including seismic retrofitting, will begin as part of a multi-million dollar renovation project.
The blessed (and probably soon to be Saint) Junipero Serra, who originally founded this cathedral, is buried in nearby Carmel Mission.
San Carlos Borromeo, as it turns out, is the patron saint of ulcers, intestinal disorders, apple orchards, and starch makers.
The cathedral is located near the back corner of El Estero Park near the intersection of Fremont and Camino El Estero.
This place is amazing its right off the rec trail and nobody seems to know about it. Even on the craziest day on Cannery Row you go on down to the tea room and get to listen to great music, enjoy the heated bench and check out the cool stuff in the boutique. and then on some nights you you can even catch a show next door at the live music venue. Everyone i have shown this place to loves it! And the staff that works there is very knowledgeable about the tea and the products. its not a stuffy tea room but more of a hip cool place to go you see a lot of the artistic people and young health conscious people there. its the place to go if you want to meet the locals in the know!
If you're looking for something to do on a Friday night (not that Monterey won't have plenty) drive north to Watsonville. About 20 minutes from Monterey is the Ocean Speedway, a dirt race track. This was my first trip (see my video!) and I had a blast. Cars of a variety of eras and drivers of all ages compete for weekly titles. The highlight when we were there was the Sprint cars, speedy little open-wheel vehicles with giant spoilers on top. They did scare me a bit when they crashed, however, as they tend to do a complete somersault in the air.
It was chilly the night we went, so I would suggest bringing a blanket and heavy sweatshirt just in case (it got breezy). Wear sunglasses or some kind of eye protection during the races as you'll end up with dirt in your eyes - ouch! The noise wasn't bad (Nascar races are much worse) but if you travel with kids you'll probably want to give them ear plugs.
Beer, soda, bbq, hamburgers, hot dogs, popcorn and all the other kinds of carnival-type goodies are available if you want to get dinner while there. No outside alcohol is permitted inside the gates.
Visit the track's website for race dates and times. Ticket prices vary depending on the races going on.
On a red trolley you can be given two very different tour options. A wine tour of Carmel Valley Wineries in Monterey County. Or more unique, a ninety minute Ghost Tour of Old Monterey "Haunts". Both tours are fun and educational in their own ways and are led by a long time Monterey resident and historian.
My favorite little back alley in Monterey is the amazingly short one-way road called Houston Street. This tiny, rarely visited patch of asphalt houses two key historic buildings from Monterey's history, the stone Sherman Rose Inn and the huge Robert Louis Stevenson House, as well as a cool local dive bar called Alfredos. There is also a unique gun shop here called the Robert Ashmore Gunsmith and a few other tiny businesses. This area is one of Monterey's oldest streets, inside the old Spanish Presidio and just a few blocks from the San Carlos Cathedral.
Of the buildings on Houston, among the most interesting is an and boarding house where writer Robert Louis Stevenson lived and wrote during the fall of 1879. Originally known as the French Hotel, this large, white, two-story adobe was built in the 1830s. Stevenson stayed here while courting his future wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, and he wrote The Old Pacific Capital here. In 1937, the old hotel, now known as the Stevenson House, was purchase by the state and became a museum decorated with several rooms of the Stevenson's memorabilia, including books, manuscripts, keepsakes, and personal belongings. The building is open only during free organized tours on Monday, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Sherman Rose Inn (537 Houston Street) was originally a wooden cabin built in 1914, but was completely reconstructed in 1934. The current structure of local Carmel Stone was constructed and the cabin was raised to become the second floor, then enclosed with more stone. It was restored in 2004 by Roger Post and the Four Sisters Inns, and it now serves as this small chain of Inns' headquarters. Carmel stone (or Monterey Shale) can be seen throughout Monterey in such places as the Royal Presidio Chapel, Colton Hall, the bleachers at Monterey High School, the High Street gates of the Presidio, as well as nearby Alfredo's Cantina.
Alfredo's Cantina (266 Pearl Street) marks the northern entrance to Houston Street at its intersection with Pearl Street. This little Carmel stone dive bar is well known among locals as a cheap dive bar with few tourists.
Yes, I included the walking tour under my "things-to-do" tip, but I also include it here because the path covers many historic sites and gardens that the average visitor never visits. What tourist doesn't stop by the Custom House and Pacific House or wander down Alvarado on his way to see Colton Hall? Boring!
The hidden spots on the path of history offer some unique history, quiet gardens, great views, and best of all--solitude. The out-of-the way spots on the path of history are at the far ends where the lazier people seldom walk, and there are no bars and restaurants to draw guests.
My favorite hidden spot is the Lower Presidio Historic Park. Formerly part of the US Army's Presidio of Monterey, the city leases this land and is in the process of developing it into a bigger tourist draw. The main features here are the Father Serra Monument with its "million-dollar view" over Fishermans Wharf and the Bay, the Sloat Monument which honors the man who led the capture of Monterey, and the Presidio Museum. You can enter this park from downtown by taking Pacific to Artillery. From the Cannery Row area, take Lighthouse toward downtown and take the right on Private Bolio Road, then a quick left before the military gate.
Between the Lower Presidio Park and California's First Theater are several other hidden little spots worth peaking at...The O'Donnell Library (1876), Doud House (1850s), and Perry House (1860) are at the end of Van Buren Street near the new walking bridge to the Presidio Park. Just off of Pacific, in the same area are the Vizcaino-Serra Landing Site, Old Whaling Station (1847 ... not the Cannery Row Restaurant), and the First Brick House (1847).
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