Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Monterey Bay, CA

  • Published 2023/02/16

If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Monterey Bay should be your first choice.

Sitting on the beautiful California coast, Monterey is a great place whose coastal location offers an abundance of activities that range from educational to adventurous.

Monterey Bay has everything you need for a great vacation, from its stunning beaches and scenic views.

It has so many things to see and do that you’ll never be bored while there; walk along the beaches and enjoy their scenic views or take part in the activities at local attractions.

You can also spend an afternoon at one of its many museums or art galleries, take advantage of its numerous hiking trails, go whale watching, or sit back with an ice cream cone while watching the seals on the rocks below.

It’s no wonder that it’s one of the most visited beaches in California.

Check out the 20 best things to do in Monterey Bay, CA.

Meet the Marine Animals at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Exterior of Monterey Bay Aquarium

Belyay /

If you enjoy seeing animals in their natural habitat, then Monterey Bay Aquarium is the spot for you.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a non-profit marine research and educational institution at the edge of Cannery Row in Monterey, California, that features different kinds of exhibits where you can view various species of sea creatures.

This aquarium is home to 80,000 creatures and plants, each with a unique tale to tell and an essential part to play in local ecology.

People observing the marine animals at Monterey Bay Aquarium

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The main attraction at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is its window into the ocean’s wonders.

You’ll see thousands of different species worldwide without ever leaving land.

Besides the exhibits, the aquarium also focuses on conserving wild African penguins, which are endangered due to loss of habitat, climate change, pollution, and overfishing.

Monterey Bay Aquarium also focuses on education and community outreach programs designed to inspire people to care about the environment through their daily actions.

Monterey Bay Aquarium's jellyfish exhibit

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Explore the Historic Monterey State Historic Park

California's first theatre at Monterey State Historic Park

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If you want to take in the history of Monterey, then you’re in for a treat at the Monterey State Historic Park.

The Monterey State Historic Park became a National Historic Landmark in 1970, so it’s no wonder that it has been referred to as the “walking path of history.”

Monterey State Historic Park features 17 historical buildings, including the Custom House and Old Fisherman’s Wharf, which are great examples of California’s vintage architecture dating back to the late 1800s.

The grounds of Monterey State Historic Park

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The different houses in the park showcase the cultural diversity of the people who once lived in the area.

Guides lead historical walking tours about these landmarks’ history, sharing the stories behind them.

The tour takes you through some exciting spots like the Pacific House Theater, built in 1869; the Customs House, where Commodore Sloat raised the American flag after capturing Monterey in the Mexican-American War; the Old Whaling Station Museum; and many others.

There are many beautiful things in this state park, so spend some time exploring before you head out.

Exterior of custom house at Monterey State Historic Park

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Go on a Roadtrip on 17-Mile Drive

Lone cypress tree at 17-Mile Drive

Lynn Yeh /

If you want to see the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay, then drive along the 17-mile scenic road that meanders through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on California’s Monterey Peninsula.

The road of 17-Mile Drive

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The drive provides access to some of California’s most beautiful beaches and golf links, including Spyglass Hill Golf Course, Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spanish Bay Country Club, and Cypress Point Club.

Highlights along the route include the Lone Cypress tree, Bird Rock, and numerous other attractions like the Spouting Horn blowhole.

The drive itself is one of the most spectacular in the world, but you have to pay a fee if you want to drive there.

Scenic view from 17-Mile Drive


Watch Outstanding Performances in the Golden State Theater

Exterior of Golden State Theater

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This historic theater is in Old Monterey, which was once a bustling Spanish pueblo during California’s early days.

The Golden State Theater opened in 1926 and still offers a variety of shows such as concerts, comedy shows, and movies today.

The venue spans 15,000 square feet with an Old World grand foyer and mezzanine; 1,000 great velvet seats; state-of-the-art acoustics; and the indescribable enchantment of a historical setting.

It is Monterey Bay’s most majestic entertainment palace.

You can catch a world-class performance or attend a film festival at the Golden State Theater.

Otherwise, you can organize your one-of-a-kind event and become a part of its history.

The Beach Boys, Tracy Morgan, and Jay Leno have performed at the Theater since its refurbishment and revitalization.

Visit the Old Fisherman’s Wharf

Welcome sign of Old Fisherman’s Wharf

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Located near Cannery Row, this historic wharf is essentially a giant outdoor museum.

It’s got all the usual attractions you’d expect from a waterfront attraction: food, shopping, and people-watching.

The wharf is a great place to watch the sea lions hang out on the rocks and listen to kids play in the sand.

The buildings of Old Fisherman’s Wharf

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You can rent bicycles or roller blades here and ride along Cannery Row—Monterey’s main street—for some exercise!

The wharf also has an incredible selection of seafood restaurants so that you can enjoy some of the freshest seafood in Monterey Bay with a beer in hand.

You’ll learn about all kinds of marine life and see some impressive sea caves and cliffs along the way.

If you’re not much for the outdoors, Old Fisherman’s Wharf is still worth checking out for its scenic views alone.

However, if you find yourself venturing outside, visit again when the sun goes down.

People touring the Old Fisherman’s Wharf

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Take a Stroll along Cannery Row

Entryway of Cannery Row

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Cannery Row is a prime tourist destination, which means you can expect to see more than a few vacationers.

There are so many things to do there, from fishing to kayaking, visiting the aquarium, and seeing the sea lions at the Marine Mammal Center.

Building at Cannery Row overlooking the ocean

Lynn Yeh /

Cannery Row is also a perfect location for those looking for a place with great seafood and an abundance of marine life.

Most of the restaurants here have views that overlook either the bay or the ocean.

Take in the historic buildings and sample some fresh seafood or other local fares at one of their many restaurants.

There are many things to do in Cannery Row, and it’s a beautiful destination to spend the day.

You have to know what you want out of your visit before heading there so that you don’t waste time trying to figure it out.

Night scene at Cannery Row

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Tour the Point Sur Lightstation

Scenic view of Point Sur Lightstation

Lynn Yeh /

The Point Sur Lightstation stands on a promontory that juts into the Pacific Ocean.

Point Sur Lightstation is a National Historic Landmark on the Monterey Bay coast of California.

The lighthouse was built in 1889 to warn ships about this dangerous point, and it offers visitors breathtaking views of the ocean and coastline.

Far view of Point Sur Lightstation

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The Point Sur Lightstation also offers visitors an opportunity to experience what life was like for lighthouse keepers and their families back in the day.

You can explore the area and see what makes this place unique; hike down to the beach or take one of the many trails near Point Sur Lightstation.

If you are looking for a fun day trip, visit the Point Sur Lightstation!

The lantern of Point Sur Lightstation

Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Spend a Day at the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Area

If you’re looking for a fun day trip or a weekend getaway, Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Area is the place for you.

The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Area is beautiful, with plenty of activities to keep you entertained.

Whether you’re into biking, fishing, or just taking a leisurely walk along the coast, you’ll find something to enjoy here.

The area is also home to various marine life, including whales, dolphins, seals, and otters that you can observe in their natural habitat.

One of the best things about the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Area is its accessibility.

You can drive right up to the coast and park your car or take one of the many hiking trails that lead down to the beach.

The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Area is a fantastic area to visit if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Relive History in the Old Monterey Jail

Exterior of Old Monterey Jail

Kristen (Krimp) Fuentes, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re intrigued by historic jails, then the Old Monterey Jail might satisfy your curiosity.

Built in 1854, this historic landmark is one of two original buildings left from Monterey’s Mexican period.

Old Monterey Hall is next to Colton Hall, and it features exhibits on its history and special tours of its grounds.

You can see what life was like for prisoners back then through exhibits about escapes, jailbreaks, and rioting inmates.

This historic landmark is unique in its vintage beauty and gives off some seriously cool vibes for anyone who loves the city’s architecture or history.

Enjoy the Day at Monterey County Youth Museum

You might not think much of the Monterey County Youth Museum, but it’s a great place to visit, especially if you have children.

Since 1987, Monterey County Youth Museum has provided children with learning opportunities and enjoyable experiences.

It has activities for all ages, and you can spend hours there playing with your kids and letting them learn about how things work.

There are plenty of interactive exhibits that invite guests to touch and experiment with all kinds of items.

Exhibits feature different themes, including math and science, nature, animal habitats, and arts.

Whether you’re alone or with friends and family members, don’t worry about getting bored at MCYM.

There are tons of opportunities for learning and engaging with the exhibits.

The museum offers more than enough reasons why it deserves a spot on your itinerary.

Try Different Activities in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Harbor at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

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As you might expect, a trip to Monterey isn’t complete without visiting the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center.

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) is the largest of all the national marine sanctuaries in the United States.

It extends from Marin County, just outside San Francisco, down to Cambria, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and stretches for 276 miles along the coast of California.

Scuba divers at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

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Different species live in or migrate through this stunning sanctuary every year, including seabirds and marine mammals such as whales and dolphins.

You can spot many of these creatures in their natural habitat on tours or boat trips arranged by MBNMS or other local tour companies.

In addition to protecting these animals and plants living within its borders (and those migrating through), MBNMS also offers education programs focused on conservation efforts throughout California’s coastal waters.

You can go kayaking, whale watching, fishing, or enjoy watching the spectacular views that Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary provides.

Sea lions information board at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Runner1928, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Play Golf at Del Monte Golf Course

If you love golf, then the Del Monte Golf Course should be high on your list of Monterey golf courses.

The Del Monte Golf Course, also known as the oldest course west of the Mississippi River, opened in 1897 and offers 18 holes of championship golf.

Charles E. Maud designed the course, also expanding the original layout to 18 holes in 1899.

It has hosted several national golf competitions such as the 1916 Western Amateur.

Your round on this 18-hole par 72 golf course will take you through wooded canyons and over creeks, with fabulous views of the bay.

This location also offers some of the most beautiful views you can find anywhere on a golf course, as it overlooks Monterey Bay.

With its stunning views, history, and challenging play, there’s no wonder why so many flock to Del Monte Golf Course every year.

Learn about Whaling History in Old Whaling Station

Exterior of Old Whaling Station

Logan Bush /

Situated in Heritage Harbor, the Old Whaling Station provides an opportunity to delve into Monterey’s whaling industry history.

David Wight, a Scottish adventurer, built the Old Whaling Station for his family in 1847.

The building was restored in 1980 into an attraction in Monterey.

The museum tells the story of the whalers from their heyday.

It explores the impact of this commercial activity on the region and what we can do today to ensure that whale populations continue to thrive.

Marker of Old Whaling Station

Logan Bush /

Check out the original 1847 Cooper-Molera adobe that is part of this property.

It’s now used for weddings and events but is also open for public viewing.

The house has some exciting exhibits inside showing how people used to live here in Monterey back in the 19th century.

The Old Whaling Station is the perfect place to experience the city’s history.

Interior of Old Whaling Station

Logan Bush /

Browse the Exhibits of the Monterey Museum of Art

Located in downtown Monterey, this art museum has something for everyone.

It is a can’t-miss for museum lovers.

There’s always plenty to do in this museum with two locations, one on Pacific Street and another on La Mirada Avenue.

The museum houses an impressive collection that includes over 2,500 works of art representing major artistic movements from the nineteenth century.

You can always discover something new at this museum, featuring two separate galleries—one with exhibitions that rotate throughout the year and one with permanent collections.

The primary collection boasts a variety of photography and artwork by famous artists such as Pablo Picasso and Edward Weston at the Pacific Street Building.

There are also exhibits featuring local artists at the La Mirada Avenue building.

The Monterey Museum of Art is an excellent place for travelers to take a break from the outdoor adventures of Monterey.

Bring Out Your Inner Child at the Dennis the Menace Playground

Colorful slide at Dennis the Menace Playground

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The Dennis the Menace Playground was named after Hank Ketcham’s famous comic book character.

The park is close to many shops, restaurants, and services and includes a playground, large grassy areas for socializing and playing sports, and picnic tables.

This playground features a play area that includes several types of slides, climbing structures, swings, interactive obstacles such as bridges and tunnels, see-saws, springy animals, and vehicles they can ride or pretend to drive around the grounds.

There are also benches throughout the park where you can sit back while your little ones play or enjoy your food from one of the many nearby lunch spots.

It’s also an excellent place for adults to reminisce about their childhood spent reading Dennis the Menace comics, and you can even pose for a photo on Dennis’ famous tricycle.

Enjoy an Early Morning Walk at Lovers Point Park

Purple flowers at Lovers Point Park

Kim McGrew /

If you’re a morning person, it’s easy to get lost in the amazing beauty of Lovers Point Park, especially at sunrise.

This stunner is packed with spectacular ocean views and the sight of marine mammals like seals and sea lions is simply beautiful.

The small rock formations here are also a beauty; making the park more attractive and inviting.

Welcome sign of Lovers Point Park

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You can take a walk along the coastline while watching the tides and taking advantage of the warm Monterey Bay weather.

Look out for friendly squirrels and give them some peanuts!

Lovers Point Park is located in Pacific Grove on Ocean View Boulevard.

People at Lovers Point Park

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Grab a Delicious Meal at Sandbar & Grill

Will you eat at a restaurant with top-notch food and spectacular marina views? Yes?

Offering fresh, mouthwatering seafood dishes, Sandbar & Grill is your place to chill and get stuffed with delicious food.

Many guests are raving about the restaurant’s clam chowder, sanddabs, and calamari steak, which you can pair with its tasty Bloody Mary.

Look out for cute sea lions and otters at the marina for entertainment!

Sandbar & Grill is nestled on Municipal Wharf 2.

Go Scuba Diving at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

A cove at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

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Assuming that you’re a certified scuba diver, there’s nowhere else to enjoy the deep than at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

The reserve features magical underwater attractions such as Whalers Cove, which is a favorite spot of divers.

Below, the same granite domes from above form an abundance of reefs and pinnacles.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve only allows a bunch of divers a day, so be sure to make a reservation ahead of time.

You’ll also see lots of wildlife here, including humpback whales, sea otters, and more.

Get Your Favorite Coffee at Captain + Stoker

Kickstart your morning at Captain + Stoker before setting off on your adventures in Monterey Bay.

Serving delicious, specialty coffees to keep you warm and stoked, the coffeehouse roasts beans twice a week in-house.

If you’re vegan, you’re in the perfect place for its vegan-friendly offerings, including an option to use plant milk for your coffee.

Also, the coffeehouse’s avocado toast, fresh sourdough bread, and peanut butter toasts are to be had!

Established in 2018, the owners of Captain + Stoker have had their fair share of tears and sweat before getting it stoked.

Stop by the coffeehouse in Monterey on East Franklin Street.

Go Fishing at Coast Guard Pier

The view from Coast Guard Pier

randy andy /

If you’re up for fishing, you can cast your line at Coast Guard Pier in Monterey.

When in season, you can catch salmon, cod, albacore, and halibut, which can make you a perfect meal for the day!

And as usual, you’ll love the wildlife here, including otters, sea lions, seals, whales, birds, and more.

Listening to their squeaks, barks, and growls while fishing is considered a perfect day in Monterey Bay.

So, don’t miss out on relaxing and fishing at the same time!

Head to Lighthouse Avenue to get to Coast Guard Pier.

Final Thoughts

Monterey is a great place to visit.

There are so many attractions in the area that you could go back several times and still find more things to do.

The natural beauty and rich history can be overwhelming at first.

Still, it is easy to get lost in the attractions available in Monterey.

There is something for everyone here, from outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and kayaking to whale watching!

No matter how long you plan to stay, you don’t want to miss out on all that Monterey offers.

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