Are you a first-time visitor to the breathtaking Monterey Peninsula? If so, you’re in for a treat as there many notable attractions to consider as you’re sightseeing through one of the world’s most beautiful regions. From charming seaside communities to picturesque marine sanctuaries, the Monterey Bay area attractions are guaranteed to provide you a lifetime of memories. So have your camera and walking shoes ready as you explore this magical destination along California’s rugged Central Coast.
Pebble Beach, CA 93953
If there is one lasting image that captures the essence of the Monterey Bay Area, it’s likely the Lone Cypress. After all, it’s a Monterey attraction known worldwide and among North America’s most photographed trees. Yet despite its landmark status, the Lone Cypress isn’t the most visited spot along this scenic roadway known as 17-Mile Drive. Indeed, that distinction goes to Pebble Beach Golf Links, consistently named the top public golf course in the country.
Pebble Beach Golf Links
Pebble Beach Golf Links has hosted several major golf championships, including the 2019 U.S. Open. What’s more, it will host the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open in July, with many other major championships already scheduled. Pebble Beach also hosts the PGA’s annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, bring in many of the world’s top players and well-known celebrities. In addition to world-class golf, is the luxurious Lodge at Pebble Beach, one of the most sought after accommodations in the Monterey Bay Area.
Other Points of Interest Along 17-Mile Drive
In addition to the Lone Cypress and the Golf Links, there are many other attractions along 17-Mile Drive. Take for instance, the five-star Inn at Spanish Bay, Restless Sea and Bird Rock. In all, you can enjoy spectacular views of Monterey Bay all along 17-Mile Drive. Of course, you’ll see all sorts of marine life, including sea lions and harbor seals. Of the five entrances to 17-Mile Drive, the two best to visit are the main gate at Highway 1 at Highway 68 or the Pacific Grove gate near Lighthouse Avenue.
Monterey, CA 93940
If you’re a first-time visitor to the Monterey Peninsula, Cannery Row is simply a must-see. Made famous by John Steinbeck, this was an important spot for the fishing and canned fish industry. In fact, at its peak, nearly 20 canneries were operating here while Monterey became known as the Sardine Capital of the World. Years after the canneries went out of business, Cannery Row became a major tourist destination along California’s Central Coast. The top attraction is clearly the Monterey Bay Aquarium and because of it, deserves a section of its own. However, there are many other points of interest, like the Monterey Canning Company boutique shops and Doc Ricketts Lab. That’s to say nothing of leading hotels like Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa and the InterContinental The Clement Monterey.
Dining and Additional Attractions on Cannery Row
As a family friendly Monterey attraction, you’ll also find many things to do, like bicycle tours, a mirror maze and more. As for dining, there are several spots to visit, such as Ambrosia Indian Bistro, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Chart House and Schooners. One other restaurant that also may be of interest to you is the world-famous Sardine Factory. The winner of multiple awards, the Sardine Factory became even more popular after its appearance in Clint Eastwood’s 1971 movie “Play Misty for Me” – filmed primarily along the Monterey Peninsula.
With fairytale-like buildings, art galleries and charming boutiques, Carmel is regularly called one of the country’s most beautiful towns. Moreover, it’s famously dog-friendly and one of the world’s finest coastal communities. With all this in mind, Carmel is yet another must-see attraction along the Monterey Peninsula and requires at least a half day visit. Among the recommended art galleries to visit are Titus Gallery and Steven Whyte’s Sculpture Studio. That’s to say nothing of the superb dining in Carmel, with recommendations like Anton and Michel, Grasing’s, Hog’s Breath Inn and Aubergine. As for hotel accommodations, you have standouts like L’Auberge Carmel, Coachman’s Inn, Cypress Inn and La Playa Carmel.
More Carmel Attractions
If you’re traveling with your furry friend, make sure to bring fido to the very dog friendly Carmel Beach. Carmel is also a great spot for wine tasting, with notable spots like Albatross Ridge, Bar Napoli, Galante and Talbott’s. In case you’re looking for cultural activities, consider the Sunset Center and historic Carmel Mission.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
886 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
It’s no secret that the Monterey Bay Aquarium is among the signature attractions of the Monterey Peninsula. Ever since its opening 1984, the Monterey Aquarium has been consistently ranked among the world’s best and for good reason. Internationally recognized for its research and marine conservation, the entire facility covers 3.3 acres, with sweeping views of Monterey Bay. Within the Aquarium are nearly 200 exhibits, featuring over 81,000 plants and animals representing 711 species. Among the highlights for you to see are the Kelp Forest, sea otters and penguins and the amazing jelly fish exhibits. Set in a historic cannery, the Aquarium also presents regular feedings to such creatures as sea otters, seabirds and penguins. Paid public parking is located nearby, including lots and metered parking.
Related: America’s Best Aquariums
Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail
If you love bike riding, then the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail might be your primary local attraction. A scenic, 18-mile stretch for hiking and biking, the trail follows the old Southern Pacific Railroad route between Castroville and the Monterey Peninsula. With the creation of this popular trail in 1986, it further extends beyond Cannery Row to picturesque Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove. Further along the road, you can see additional local attractions like Point Pinos Lighthouse and Asilomar Conference Grounds. If you didn’t bring your bike along, consider rental shops like Adventures by the Sea and Mad Dogs & Englishmen Bike Shop.
Monterey County Fairgrounds
2004 Fairground Road
Monterey, CA 93940
The County Fairgrounds is one attraction that doesn’t appear on every list of best local attractions, even though it should. Perhaps it’s because events are held weekly but instead scattered throughout the year. On the other hand, the Monterey County Fairgrounds does host its share of leading events. For one, there are recent events like the California Roots music festival and the annual Artichoke Festival. Then there are other big events like the Monterey Beer Festival in July and the annual Monterey County Fair in late August. However, the biggest event of the year at the Fairgrounds is the Monterey Jazz Festival. Now in its 66th year, it’s the world’s longest running jazz festival and certainly among its most famous. If you’re a rock music fan, you may also remember the Fairgrounds as the setting for the legendary Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. A precursor to the 1967 Summer of Love, the event helped further the careers of artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding.
Monterey State Historic Park
20 Custom House Plaza
Monterey, CA 93940
Mere footsteps from Old Fisherman’s Wharf is where you’ll find some of the city’s most important historical buildings. In more detail, this is the location for the Custom House, where the first American flag was raised in California and its oldest surviving government building. Other notable attractions are the Old Whaling Station and California’s First Brick House. Equally important are California’s First Theater on Scott Street and Colton Hall, a half mile away. Although it’s a bit of a walk from the Custom House, Colton Hall is notable as the site of California’s first constitutional convention. To put it another way, the 1849 convention at this Monterey Peninsula attraction helped lead California to become the 31st state of America in 1850
Old Fisherman’s Wharf
1 Old Fisherman’s Wharf
Monterey, CA 93940
Yet another major local attraction for you to visit is Old Fisherman’s Wharf. Originally built in 1846, its original use was for passenger and freight service and a docking area for fishermen. Today, it’s a popular spot for souvenirs, seafood dining and boat tours, particularly whale watching tours. In fact, there are four whale watching tour operators on site, including Princess Monterey Whale Watching and Discovery Whale Watch. Also at the wharf are nearly 20 restaurants, such as long-standing establishments like Domenico’s Fish Market & Deli and Old Fisherman’s Wharf. That’s not to mention retail shops like Harbor House Gifts and The Wharf’s General Store.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Carmel, CA 93923
Known as the “crown jewel of the California State Park system, Point Lobos is home to one of the state’s most important marine habitats. It’s also been described as “the greatest meeting of land and sea” in the world by a 19th century Australian poet, making it that much worthwhile. A popular spot for hiking and scuba diving and well known for its stunning natural beauty. Just minutes south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, it can get quite busy, especially over the weekends, sometimes making parking a challenge. However, its well worth the time and effort to see its most famous attractions. In case you go, don’t miss seeing the picture-perfect China Cove via the Bird Island Trail.
About the Author
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across over 20 CBS websites, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a reported digital audience reach of 489 million and 5.5 million monthly visitors. Additionally, his stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS News, CBS Radio, Engadget, NBC.com, NJ.com and Radio.com. He earned a Media Fellowship from Stanford University in 2012.