Top Things to Do in Monterey: An Intentional Traveler’s Guide

You’ve probably heard of the Bay Area, referring to San Francisco Bay. But did you know that there’s another bay area just a couple hours south along the coast?

And it’s arguably even better than its more popular cousin!

The entire Monterey Bay area is a wildlife sanctuary and makes the perfect peaceful home for sea lions, cormorants, seals, otters, whales, pelicans, and people too!

I absolutely fell in love with this little corner of California, and if you’re a nature/history/hidden gem lover like me, you will too!

These are my top recommendations for things to do in Monterey on your next adventure there:

Monterey Bay Aquarium

This aquarium really is all it’s cracked up to be. Enjoy incredible views of the bay, interactive exhibits to learn more about local wildlife, and see them in real life in their customized habitats.

Tickets are $60 for adults for a day and memberships are about $90. So if you’re thinking about going to the aquarium multiple times, consider just buying a membership! 

Keep in mind that there are more visitors in the mornings so consider visiting in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.

Fun fact: this is the aquarium featured in the movie Finding Dory!  

Rosine’s Restaurant

Stop in for an Italian meal or just for Rosine’s famous, delicious desserts!

Grab a pie, brownie, or GIANT slice of cake to-go from their front dessert display. You really can’t go wrong no matter what you order. 

Monterey Bay Kayaks

This was by far my FAVORITE activity that I did in Monterey! Book a private or part of a group tour and explore the bay with your guide.

They can answer any questions about the area, the wildlife, and give local recommendations for where to eat and what else to do in town.

Spot sea lions, cormorants, pelicans, seals, otters, and if you’re lucky, even whales!

Local tip: the wildlife are more active in the early mornings, so book a 9 am tour if you can! 

Old Monterey Inn

You have GOT to book a stay at OMI in Monterey!

This bed and breakfast is stunning, intimate, and filled with local history and charm. The innkeeper makes you feel right at home and can give you the best recommendations for local sights and activities.

Plus a gourmet breakfast is included every morning of your stay! I was delighted with the food, the service, and historical beauty of this inn.

Fun fact: the manor house is the home of Monterey’s first mayor! 

Check out my blog post all about my stay at the inn!

Old Fisherman’s Wharf

Immerse yourself in local food and fun at this classic Monterey hotspot! The wharf can get pretty crowded with locals and tourists, especially on weekends, but it’s definitely worth a visit.

The pier is lined with lovely restaurants offering dine-in or take out window options. Dive into a local tradition and pick up some clam chowder in a NorCal sourdough bread bowl! 

I tried the one from Old Fisherman’s Grotto (the best clam chowder I’ve ever had), but my local friends told me you can’t really go wrong with chowder from any restaurant on the wharf! 

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

This stunning nature reserve has the best classic Monterey Bay views. Hit the park in the morning before the fog rolls in to appreciate all the inlets, islands, and wildlife surrounding this little peninsula.

The walking trail has some steep parts and isn’t paved, so keep that in mind when setting out on your adventure.

If you park outside the reserve and walk in, it’s free! Otherwise there’s a $10 entry fee per car.

Local tip: don’t miss the whaler’s cabin along the trail! This little structure is still the original construction and is now a museum depicting the history of whaling and abalone fishing in the area.

Keep an eye out for docents (volunteer guides) along the trail who can tell you about local wildlife and history! 

Pfeiffer Beach

My new favorite beach and a MUST for your day trip down to Big Sur. 

This beach feels so secluded and peaceful. Definitely one of the highlights of my trip!

I loved the purple sand and beautiful rock formations – it feels like a scene from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie!

Entry fee to the beach is $15 per car. Arrive in the morning and on weekdays for this experience. The parking lot is small and once it’s full, cars are turned away at the gate to come again another day.

If you’re looking for a more easy going opportunity to just slow down in California, Monterey is the place for you! I loved feeling so connected to the history, nature, and culture of this beautiful area. There’s plenty to discover in a day or two or a full week of exploring!

For more tips and guides like these, check out my new Thatch profile! Thatch is the perfect website to find guides for hundreds of destinations around the world. The best part is the guides are written by locals and travelers who have actually visited each location.

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