No west coast road trip is complete without a pit stop (or weekend) in Monterey, California.
Driving down the iconic Pacific Coast Highway is a bucket-list item for many travellers to the USA. It’s got sunshine, epic ocean views and awesome clifftop stops along the way.
The most common route is between San Francisco and LA. Many people plan to do it in one day – and miss out on some of the best that California has to offer: the beautiful coastal towns en route.
I made several overnight stops on my own road trip south. My favourite? Monterey.
A world class aquarium
It’s no wonder this impressive aquarium is the number one attraction in Monterey. Located right on the ocean’s edge at Monterey Bay, it features some brilliant exhibitions, like the Giant Pacific Octopus, jellyfish, kelp forests, sea otters and penguins.
I really appreciated the aquarium’s strong focus on sustainability and marine conservation. Monterey’s once thriving sardine industry collapsed in the 1950s due to overfishing and climatic changes, and now the aquarium invests a lot into education and research. I loved that we could take a Seafood Watch brochure, which provides recommendations to consumers and businesses based on which seafood items are ‘Best Choices’, ‘Good Alternatives’ and which should be ‘Avoided’ in order to support healthy oceans. Such a fantastic idea – you can download the guides online based on which US state you’re visiting!
Ever been rocked to sleep by the sound of grunting sea lions? You’ll have the chance in Monterey (why don’t they have that as their tourist slogan?). While not exactly a peaceful lullaby, I thought it was brilliant and a pretty damn unique experience.
You don’t have to go far to see these adorably flubby creatures for yourself. They hang out along the rocks at the Coast Guard Pier and Fisherman’s Wharf. Grab a coffee, and take an early morning stroll to meet hundreds of your new best friends.
Check these kids out!
Stroll along Cannery Row
Once the centre of Monterey’s sardine-canning business, Cannery Row is now a popular strip of shops, restaurants and bars in converted factories. Sure it’s got gift shops and is kinda touristy, but if you’re visiting – you are a tourist!
My favourite? The Wine Crawl! Monterey Country is one of California’s largest wine producing regions, and if you’re short on time, a number of the best vineyards have tasting rooms on Cannery Row, all within easy walking distance.
Fresh local seafood
Where there’s sea, there’s usually good seafood. Monterey is home to some amazing seafood restaurants that serve fresh local catch, both casual and expensive. Try café-style Sea Harvest, waterfront Fish Hopper, upmarket Montrio which set in an historic firehouse, or even Cindy’s Waterfront restaurant at the Aquarium (though I find something unsettling about eating fish at an aquarium!)
Most of the local restaurants are part of the Seafood Watch program too!
Great food, coffee and cocktails!
Grab a brekkie or lunch at Wild Plum Café or make a morning visit to The Wharf Marketplace for fresh bagels and croissants. Here you’ll find 100 percent locally grown or made goodies including real Monterey Jack cheese, chocolate, olive oil, wine and seasonal produce. Monterey has a huge offering of fresh produce, with farmers markets hosted close by every day of the week!
Those not thrilled by seafood will have their pick of restaurants like Spanish tapas at Esteban, A Taste of Monterey Wine Market & Bistro, or cheap eats at Turtle Bay Tacqueria. It’s worth noting that most seafood restaurants also have plenty of menu options for landlubbers.
For nightcaps or happy hours check out Sly McFly’s for cheap beer, tequila and live music. Sample some local beers at Alverado Street Brewery, Cannery Row Brewing Company or craft beer destination Post No Bills. If martinis are more your style head to Lallapalooza and The C Bar.
Scenic 17-Mile Drive
The Monterey Bay area has unparalleled natural beauty, from the breathtaking rugged coastlines to the beautiful forests. It’s showcased in the 17 Mile Drive, which runs through Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach. There are turnouts along the way at the most historical and picturesque sites like The Ghost Tree, Bird Rock and Lone Cypress.
Set aside at least an hour or two. A drive around this baby will set you back a $10 fee (well worth it).
Share the water with otters, seals and sea lions.
Monterey’s year round temperate climate and waterfront location makes it ideal for water sports of all kinds. Take a sailboat tour of the bay, or if you prefer to steer your own ship I recommend hiring a kayak or SUP for a few hours. With any luck you’ll meet some local otters, seals and sea lions out there!
The animals and area are heavily protected by conservation laws so hopefully the sealife will be abundant for years to come.
Sleepy seaside vibes
Monterey is only a short drive from San Francisco, but world’s away in its energy. You won’t find any hipster suburbs, high rise apartments or megamalls here. Monterey is charming, quaint and picturesque. An old fishing village and it doesn’t pretend to be something else.
Say goodbye to city prices too, as hotels in the area are pretty affordable. Those wanting to throw their cash around can find some brilliant luxury accommodations too, such as Old Monterey Inn or The Inn at Spanish Bay.
Golfing in fancy places
Now I’m certainly no golfer – I’m firmly in the Unofficial Mark Twain Camp that it’s nothing more than a good walk spoiled.
BUT, personal tastes aside, Monterey is a great golf destination for those inclined. My uncle, who is a pro golfer, organises golf holiday tours for Aussies who want to fly here to play Monterey’s world class golf greens like Pebble Beach. Fancy that!
For picture-perfect scenery, fresh and delicious food and small town charm, Monterey is certainly worth a night or two stop on your California Coast road trip.
Have you been to Monterey California?
What are your favourite stops on the Pacific Coast Highway?
Share this post or save for later by pinning the below: