From about 1900 into the 1940s, Monterey bustled with sardine canneries. Today schools of tourists replace the sardines, and the industry's misfortune is the traveler's gain. Restaurants and hotels sit where there were once crumbling factories, creating a waterfront custom-made for visitors.
Even today, Monterey's waterfront has a rough-and-tumble feel, with the nicest waterfront views of all the towns on the peninsula.
It's also the most-touristed, with lots of t-shirt and souvenir shops. If you look just a little closer, you'll also find remainders from the Cannery Row era: bits of old equipment quietly rusting in an empty lot and a few workers' houses restored and set up to show how they lived.
Why Should You Go? Will You Like Monterey?
- Monterey is popular with families. It's also a magnet for scuba divers and kayakers, who enjoy the bay's calm waters and abundant wildlife.
- This former cannery town is most casual on the peninsula. It also offers some of the lowest-priced accommodations, especially in areas away from the waterfront.
- History-lovers will enjoy the Historic Park, the center of one of the oldest European settlements in California.
- Animal-lovers can go on whale-watching cruises or stay on shore to view the sea otters, harbor seals and sea lions that hang out in the kelp beds.
Best Time to Go to Monterey
Monterey weather is best in spring and fall when the skies are clearer and as a bonus crowds thinner. In summer (especially June), you're more likely to encounter fog and cloudy days when the foggy marine layer never clears.
Any time of year, Monterey is cooler than nearby inland locations, so bring an extra layer of clothing.
Hotels tend to fill up for the Monterey Jazz Festival, which is held the third weekend in September.
Great Things to Do in Monterey
Don't Miss: One of the most fun things to do in Monterey is watching sea otters, harbor seals and sea lions playing in the kelp forest. The best place in town to see them is from the outdoor decks near the Monterey Plaza Hotel. Walk past the dolphin sculpture and find a place to stand along the railing. A pair of binoculars will make this an even more fun experience.
Find more ideas in the guide to things to do in Monterey.
Annual Events You Should Know About
- Fourth of July Celebration
- Monterey Jazz Festival, September
- Big Sur Half Marathon, November. Hotels are likely to get filled up and the course runs along the scenic coastal drive, blocking it to automobile traffic.
- First Night, December 31
Year round, Laguna Seca Raceway hosts motorcycle and automobile races and the American Le Mans happens in May.
Tips for Visiting Monterey
- When you're checking the weather for your trip, check it for Monterey (not Carmel). It's surprising how different conditions can be in the two places and what might look to be a cloudy morning in Monterey might be sunny in Carmel.
- Get an early start and visit the aquarium first, before the crowds build up. If you're short on time there, here's how to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium in a hurry.
- During the festivals mentioned above and during the Pebble Beach golf tournament, it gets very hard to find a place to stay in Monterey. Plan far ahead or choose a different date.
- If you love watching Monterey's sea otters as much as we do, a pair of binoculars will help you see them better.
- Parking can be scarce on a busy day. Near Fisherman's Wharf, you can find an hourly lot and metered spaces. There are also paid lots near Cannery Row, or try your luck on the street (paying careful attention to the time limit in the spot you choose). If you're going to be in town for four hours or so, the cost of the parking lots and the meters is almost the same. Look for the free brochure "Smart Parking" (available in brochure racks) to get tips for finding a legal parking place.
- During the busier months, a free trolley service runs from the downtown transit center, Conference Center and Fisherman's Wharf to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and back, making it easy to park in one place and use it instead of running around looking for parking places.
Where to "Go"
Finding a restroom when you need one in a tourist area is often a challenge, but you can find plenty of places to "go" if you know where to look. Some of them include
- Fisherman's Wharf (near the end)
- On the jetty near the Coast Guard Station
- Along the path between Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row (just past the Coast Guard Station)
- At the aquarium, in the passageway labeled Member and Group Entrance. Open during aquarium hours.
- Wave Street between Hoffman and Prescott
On Cannery Row, the Fish Hopper offers a nice selection of breakfast items and has great outdoor seating right over the water. For more lunch-like fare, try Schooner's Bistro at the Monterey Plaza Hotel, with umbrella-shaded tables and views of the kelp beds. Surprisingly, it's quite reasonably priced despite being in one of the most expensive hotels in town.
Where to Stay
Find out what the hotel reservation sites don't tell you in the Monterey and Carmel Lodging Guide.
If you're on a tight budget, learn how to find a good place to stay, cheap.
Getting To Monterey
Monterey is on the Pacific coast at the south end of the Monterey Bay, just off Highway One. It's west of Salinas and 72 miles from San Jose, 113 miles south of San Francisco, 186 miles from Sacramento and 322 miles north of Los Angeles.
Monterey has a small airport that receives some commercial flights (MRY), but the nearest big airport is in San Jose (SJC).