Top Things to Do in Monterey, Carmel and Pacific Grove

The Monterey Peninsula towns of Monterey, Carmel, and Pacific Grove offer a lot of variety and lot of things to do.

This list is a summary of the cream of the crop, the very best things to do around the Monterey Peninsula. 

  • 01 of 08

    Monterey Bay Aquarium

    Jellyfish Swimming In Water At Monterey Bay Aquarium
    ••• Jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Navid Khajouei / EyeEm / Getty Images

    The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of California's most popular attractions. It's often rated as a top family destination in the U.S. It takes about half a day to tour at a leisurely pace and can sometimes be very crowded. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth your time.

    To get a better idea of whether this is an attraction that you'll love or hate, check the Monterey Bay Aquarium Visitor Guide. If you don't have much time, it's still easy to tour the Monterey Bay Aquarium in a hurry.

  • 02 of 08

    Point Lobos State Reserve

    Point Lobos Headlands in the Afternoon
    ••• Point Lobos Headlands in the Afternoon. ©2009 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Land and water meet in dramatic style at rocky Point Lobos, just south of Carmel. It's well worth a visit just for the easy hiking and shoreline views. But that's not all. It's also home a wide variety of fascinating creatures you can watch. And if you're a diver, you can do that at Point Lobos, too.

    Is it for you? Use the Point Lobos Visitor Guide to find out.

  • 03 of 08

    Downtown Carmel

    Shops in Downtown Carmel
    ••• Shops in Downtown Carmel. Marie/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Depending on your budget, you may do more window-shopping than buying in Carmel. But that being said, a leisurely stroll around town is a pleasant way to spend some time.

    It's fun to check out downtown Carmel's boutiques and art galleries anyway. And there's no extra charge for peeping into flower-filled courtyards and enjoying the sights. You can even walk a few blocks down to the beach.

  • 04 of 08

    Sunday Brunch at Mission Ranch

    The Mission Ranch Owned By Clint Eastwood...
    ••• Mission Ranch Dining Room. Jason Kirk / Getty Images

    My out-of-town visitors (and local friends, too) always enjoy Sunday brunch at the Mission Ranch. The food is reliably tasty, and the service is attentive. One of its best features is the views, which never fail to impress - and there's even a live jazz ensemble to keep you feeling mellow. 

    Oh - and did I mention that this is the place owned by actor and director Clint Eastwood? You probably won't find him there, but it's fun to know.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    17-Mile Drive

    Ocean View on the 17-Mile Drive
    ••• Ocean View on the 17-Mile Drive. ©2011 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    The 17-Mile Drive is well-known - and scenic. It passes some gorgeous scenery, over-the-top houses, and the legendary Pebble Beach Golf Links. It will take an hour or two to tour, depending on how many time you stop.

    To find out where the best entrances are, how to get a refund on your entrance fee and what you can see, check out the 17-Mile Drive Guide.

  • 06 of 08

    Whale Watching

    Lunge Feeding Humpback Whales
    ••• Lunge Feeding Humpback Whales. Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images / Getty Images

     Monterey Bay is one of the best places on the West Coast for whale watching, with the longest season in California. In fact, it more or less lasts all year. The only thing that changes is what you might see when you go out. It might be humpback whales feeding — or orcas pursuing a gray whale and her calf. Or even a rare beaked whale.

    Find our more about Monterey Bay Whale Watching in this guide.

  • 07 of 08

    Take a Harbor Cruise

    Taking a Harbor Cruise in Monterey
    ••• Taking a Harbor Cruise in Monterey. ©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    A harbor cruise on the glass-bottomed boat Mermaid is the best way to get a sea lion's eye view of the Monterey Bay. It might sound a little lame, but it's a simple pleasure, slowly going around the harbor area in a glass-bottomed boat. You'll get close to some of the Bay's animals and see the town from a different point of view.

    You don't need reservations, and the cruises go out about every half hour. Get more info at the Monterey Whale Watching website. That may sound like the wrong company, but they also do the harbor cruises.

  • 08 of 08

    Side Trip to Big Sur

    Big Sur Coastline
    ••• Big Sur Coastline. vgm8383/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

    Big Sur Village is about a half hour's drive south of Carmel. If you can't go further down the coast than that, take the trip to there and back. It's far enough to see in some pretty spectacular coastal scenery, including the Point Sur Lighthouse. To plan your trip, check out the Guide to Visiting Big Sur.

    If you continue another 10 minutes' drive past the village, you can enjoy a meal at scenic (and always busy) Nepenthe Restaurant. Here's why you might want to do that.