Pacific Grove is a quaint Californian city on the Monterey Bay coast. It is known for its charming beaches, monarch butterflies, diverse marine life, purple ice plants, and aesthetically pleasing architecture. This coastal city is the perfect travel destination whether you’re looking for thrilling adventure or a relaxing vacation. The best time to visit Pacific Grove is in late spring when its entire shoreline is covered in pink hues by the magenta ice plants. Here are the 20 best things to do in Pacific Grove to jumpstart your planning.
Explore Marine Life at Monterey Bay Aquarium
Being one of the top attractions of the region, this exquisite aquarium welcomes millions of visitors each year. It dates back to 1984 and is located at the site of a former sardine cannery. It exhibits several thousands of diverse marine flora and fauna, such as Hula skirt siphonophore, Bloodybelly comb jelly, Blue whale, Broadnose sevengill shark, Monkeyface prickleback, Chambered nautilus, Dead man’s fingers, Pom-pom anemone, Giant Pacific octopus, and plenty more. The aquarium’s open sea exhibit features an enormous window looking into the ocean’s exotic underwater life. You can spot humpback whales, sea otters, and various other marine creatures from the aquarium’s ocean-view decks. It also features African penguins, a kelp forest, and coral reefs. Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-visit in Pacific Grove.
Water Adventures at Lovers Point Park and Beach
Lovers Point beach provides opportunities for countless recreational activities for you to spend a fun and refreshing holiday. Beat the heat by swimming in the cool blue waters or explore the underwater corals and aquatic life by scuba diving. Kayaking is very popular here and the consistent clean waves attract many surfers to this place. Enjoy an invigorating hike along the coastal trail from Lover’s Point to Castroville. You can meet new people by joining in for a fun game at the beach’s volleyball court. The park adjoining the beach features a children’s swimming pool, a restaurant, and a concession stand. The best time to visit is between April to May when the purple dew-flowers (Drosanthemum floribundum) are in full bloom.
Appreciate Beauty at Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
Every year in October, the monarch butterflies come to Pacific Grove from miles away for their winter migration. They hang in clusters from the eucalyptus, pine, and cypress trees of this sanctuary and wait out the winter. The climate of the sanctuary makes it ideal for them to stay here until February. Several tourists flock to this place to admire the thousands of brilliantly-coloured monarchs. Entry to the sanctuary is free and the ideal time to visit is between 12 pm to 3 pm. The laws of the region relating to the butterflies are very strict and aim to protect them. Visitors are allowed to watch and take pictures but touching and hurting the monarchs will lead to a USD 1000 fine. The sanctuary is open from dawn to dusk. Visit this place and appreciate the beauty of these majestic creatures.
Watch the Parade at Good Old Days Festival
The Good Old Days is an annual festival in Pacific Grove which takes place in April for two days. It is one of the biggest events of this region and includes musical concerts by 50 to 60 bands, dance competitions, quilt shows, a patriotic parade featuring vintage vehicles and live performances, a combat challenge participated by the region’s firefighters, amusement rides, mouth-watering food, funfairs, an arts and crafts exhibition by over 200 artists and artisans, and plenty more. Catch a glimpse of the local culture at this amazing event.
Buy Organic at Farmers market
Fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, flowers, nuts, and dairy items are offered for sale by the local farmers at this market. A majority of the products are sourced from organic farms. Works by regional artists and artisans are also displayed for sale here. This market is frequented by both tourists and local patrons alike and is open on Mondays from 3 pm to 7 pm.
Travel Back in Time at Point Pinos Lighthouse
This is a historical landmark that dates back to 1855. It is the oldest lighthouse on America’s West Coast that has been continuously operating till date. The original lens is still intact and the interiors of the building feature various exhibits including the furniture used by the lighthouse keepers during the 19th and 20th centuries. Tour the building and also enjoy stunning views of the Monterey Bay. Point Pinos is open to visitors from Thursdays to Mondays from 1- 4 pm.
Enjoy Nature at Carmel River State Beach
This beach is where the Carmel River marks the end its long journey to meet the seas. A giant lagoon is formed near the river’s mouth which attracts several beautiful birds. The beach is ideal for sun baking and bird watching. Its blue waters and white sands create a splendid contrast. Being a dramatic beach, going into the water is not recommended.
Discover Art at Pacific Grove Art Centre
Founded in 1969, this art gallery aims to make art more accessible to everyone by letting out their gallery spaces to artists at subsidised rates, offering free entry to exhibits, and providing low cost art classes. They organise a multitude of cultural events all year round to support and promote the creation on art. Stop by their gallery to look at some spectacular pieces of work. Exhibits are open from Wednesdays to Saturdays from noon to 5 pm and on Sundays from noon to 4 pm.
Enjoy Fireworks at Feast of Lanterns
This summer festival has been the tradition of Pacific Grove for over a century. It takes place in July and attracts myriads of tourists. During this time of the year, the entire town is beautifully decorated with countless kaleidoscopic Kongming lanterns. The festival features a pet parade, group yoga sessions, sand castle competitions, art shows, dance performances, a beauty pageant, fireworks at Lovers Point beach, a food court, and more. If you’re planning your visit in July, be a part of the festivities and spend a magical evening watching the fireworks.
Learn local history at Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History
This museum educates its visitors of the flora, fauna, geology, natural resources, and cultural histories of California’s Central Coast. It has a permanent collection as well as a biyearly rotating exhibition. The permanent display features several mounted regional birds and animals belonging to a broad array of species. A specimen of the extinct Passenger Pigeon can be found in this museum. Regional plants from over a 100 species are displayed at the museum’s garden. Its Annual Wildflower Show in April features over 700 species of local wildflowers.
Hike on the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail
Head out for a refreshing morning workout on this 18-mile waterfront hiking trail with scenic vistas of the coast. Stretching from Castroville to Pacific Grove, this path offers great vantage points to catch glimpses of numerous marine denizens, such as whales, otters, harbour seals, sea lions, and more. It is popular for hiking, jogging, and cycling. Stores around the trail offer rental bikes, surrey cycles, kayaks, surf boards, and other equipment for your various water adventures. Lovers Point Park, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, San Carlos Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, Fisherman’s Shoreline park, Monterey History and Maritime Museum are all located along this trail.
Explore 17- Mile Drive
17-Mile Drive is a picturesque oceanside road extending from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach. Its main highlights include The Lone Cypress, Bird Rock, Spanish Bay, Seal Rock, Cypress Point Lookout, the Restless Sea, China Rock, and Point Joe. The route provides great opportunities for viewing sea lions, harbour seals, whales, sea otters, pelicans, deer, dolphins, and plenty more wildlife. Bring along a nice picnic to enjoy at Seal Rock or Spanish Bay against stunning backdrops. Being one of the most scenic drives in the country, it is frequented by millions of visitors each year. A toll fee is applicable for entry to this privately-maintained road.
Monterey county is a world-renowned wine travel destination with close to 200 vineyards majorly producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. A Taste of Monterey is a very popular oceanside wine market and restaurant located on Cannery Row. They let you taste a variety of wines sourced from nearly 100 wineries of the region. Relish a glass of delicious local wine while appreciating the spectacular views of the ocean.
You can also try out the wines of prominent Monterey wineries at their tasting rooms located in Pacific Grove, such as Carmel Ridge Winery and Pierce Ranch Vineyards.
Visit John Denver Memorial
John Denver was a renowned singer and songwriter who lost his life when the aircraft he was flying crashed into the Monterey Bay. The John Denver Memorial is located a few yards away from the site of the crashing. It consists of a plaque on a boulder and a large driftwood with his name engraved on it. The surrounding area has great views of the ocean.
Watch the Sunset at Asilomar State Beach
Asilomar beach is popular for its hiking trails, tranquil atmosphere, and gorgeous sunsets. Being a dog-friendly beach, it is an ideal place to walk your pet. The waves here attract numerous surfers. Visit this spot for an evening stroll and watch the sun paint a kaleidoscope of pink, crimson, and purple.
Attend the Butterfly Days Festival
The Butterfly Parade takes place on the first Saturday of October every year. Dating back to 1939, this tradition aims to celebrate the return of the monarch butterflies to Pacific Grove for their winter migration. Children dress up as butterflies, bees, otters, clowns, farmers, and jelly fish and flock the streets of the town. The festival also includes live musical performances, art exhibitions, potluck picnics, book launches and signings, painting competitions, book readings by authors, garden tours, movie screenings, and plenty more.
Diving at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
This sanctuary lies in the offshore ocean waters parallel to the shoreline between San Francisco and Cambria. It features numerous beaches, kelp forests, underwater canyons, a seamount, and a broad array of birds and marine animals. Marine denizens of the sanctuary include over 30 species of mammals and more than 500 species of fishes. Being one of the largest marine sanctuaries in the country, it is a perfect place for wildlife viewing , fishing, diving, and kayaking.
Explore Downtown Pacific Grove
Downtown Pacific Grove is aesthetically very pleasing and features countless historic Victorian style buildings, boutiques, restaurants, bakeries, bed and breakfasts, antique stores, art galleries, and more. Explore the downtown streets and enjoy the views.
Pacific Grove has numerous vantage points offering great views of marine wildlife. Whale watching is on every tourist’s itinerary while visiting this town. Over 20,000 grey whales cross the California coast biannually. You can spot humongous blue whales between June to October. Humpback whales can be spotted from April to early December.
Pacific Grove is a popular wedding destination. The grand vistas of the Pacific Ocean, the Victorian style architecture, the historic lighthouse, and gorgeous sunsets make this a perfect place to plan your wedding. The town offers four scenic parks to organise wedding ceremonies, namely, Lovers Point Park, Point Pinos Lighthouse area, Berwick Park, and Jewell Park.