Monterey, on California’s central coast offers adventure and exploration, culture and food and sunny afternoons at the beach. The wide empty road, salt-tinged sea air and ornamental Cypress trees all work to create a unique and stunning environment.

a sandy path leads past a rocky shoreline lined with wild fauna with stately homes in the background in Monterey, California
Sea-side charm is palpable in Monterey, California © Chinaface / Getty Images

Monterey county is home to famous sights like 17-mile drive and the Spanish Bay golf course, charming towns like Carmel-by-the-Sea and Pacific Grove,  the world-class Monterey aquarium, and stunning State Parks and beaches, here’s where to see the best of the best.

Must-do in Monterey

Point Lobos State Reserve

While Monterey County is a fully customizable destination, you can’t miss Point Lobos State Reserve. This dramatically beautiful and distinctly California park boasts forests, sea cliffs, wild flowers and tide pools all in one place. Point Lobos State Reserve also has some of the most amazing views in central California (which is saying a lot) and it is accessible for all travelers young and old – with paved paths and adventurous hikes.

Golden light illuminates a rocky shore line with a cypress tree that has been blown into an odd shape in Monterey, California
Drive miles of epic views and dramatic shorelines near Monterey © Paul Giamou / Getty Images

17-mile drive

17-mile drive is another must-do attraction in Monterey. This iconic stretch of highway 1 takes you past some of California’s loveliest (and, of course, most elite) homes, as well as the breathtaking white sand Spanish Bay beach. Along the way are stands of ancient Cypress trees, and of course plenty of seals and sea lions.

For a special Spanish Bay experience, make your way to the Inn at Spanish Bay at sunset, when you can watch a bagpiper play along the sea cliffs every night of the year — a nod to the Scottish-style golf course.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Animal lovers (and kids) will want to make a stop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of America’s most popular aquariums. It’s a massive facility and a great place to learn about California’s marine ecosystems. The aquarium is at the end of Monterey’s historic Cannery Row, the city’s main tourist stretch.  From there, it is also easy to check out the Monterey pier and enjoy sea food or a sweet treat overlooking the water.

Watch more marine life in California

The sun highlights interesting architectural arches on Bixby Bridge as a car crosses with the ocean in the background near Monterey, California
The iconic Bixby Bridge is simply an unmissable landmark near Monterey © Paul Giamu / Getty Images

Bixby Bridge

Lastly, round out your visit to the central coast by making the drive to Bixby Creek Bridge, about halfway between downtown Monterey and the entrance to Big Sur. The bridge featured in films as well as stealing the show in dozens of car commercials. It’s a photographer’s dream—an architecturally striking bridge in a magnificent wild locale.

See all the top sights in Big Sur

Unexpected gems

Although Monterey is a famous tourist destination, there are plenty of places and activities to surprise you and keep return visits interesting.

Colorful veggies from the surrounding farms are the highlight of farmer's markets in Monterey, California
Monterey has an abundance of fresh produce and the near-daily farmer's markets are a local favorite © Zack_Tscharanyan / Getty Images

Farmers' markets

Monterey County has a bounty of agriculture nearby, and the farmers’ markets are incredible. There is one nearly every day of the week, but the one in Monterey on Tuesday nights is the largest. It has fresh produce, but also food stands from local restaurants and art vendors.


Beyond Monterey proper lie the quaint villages of  Carmel-by-the-Sea and Pacific Grove. They are both just a few miles from Monterey. Carmel is perfect for  window shopping, with boutiques, galleries and gift shops. Make a stop at the Tuck Box for an English style tea in a storybook-style cottage, or grab sandwiches from Nielsen market to eat alfresco; Carmel has a historic mission and several nice parks to enjoy a picnic. Downtown runs straight into the  town’s long, white sand beach, so you can end the afternoon there.

Check out Carmel’s art scene

A victorian mansion painted with blue and red details on a street corner in Pacific Grove near Monterey
Filled with lovely victorian mansions and incredible views, Pacific Grove is worth a peek © Chris Axe / Getty Images

Pacific Grove

Pacific Grove  is the less popular of the two, but it is a classic seaside village, complete with Victorian architecture and a tight knit community. The Lovers’ Point Beach in Pacific Grove has a great view, and right up the street is the Lovers’ Point book shop, which in addition to their awesome literary selection has a cafe with unique drinks (try the signature lavender latte). Pacific Grove is also home to Asilomar, a retreat center with hiking trails through forests and along sand dunes and sea cliffs.

twinkle lights sparkle above a street lined with wooden structures and people walking in Monterey, California
Nightlife in Monterey is just as fun as a day at the beach © Alan Copson / Getty Images

Where to eat & drink

Best eats

Monterey’s food has upscale dining in spades as well as casual watering holes. For seafood, the classic Sardine Factory or more rustic Monterey Fish House are both good options. The best sandwiches in Monterey County are without a doubt found at Mundo’s; make sure to try the Argentine tri-tip.  

Craft brews

Enjoy local brews and beer snacks at Alvarado Street Brewery or check out the Central Coast outpost of Bay Area brewery Fieldwork, which opened a beer garden in Monterey recently; both spots have great ambiance, and children and pets are welcome.  

Wine lovers

For wine drinkers, there are plenty of options on the Central Coast, which, although not as well-known for wine as Sonoma or Napa, produces plenty of world-class wines. Cowgirl Winery in Carmel Valley has a nice tasting room with a Western twist– it's located in a reclaimed wood barn, and also includes a boutique that sells local jewelry, gifts and, of course, cowgirl hats.  

Monterey is the setting for HBO's Big Little Lies, find all the filming locations here.

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