My Favorite 12 Things to do in Monterey, California (incl. Carmel, CA)

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My Favorite 12 Things to do in Monterey, California – Understand

Monterey, CA (not to be confused with the city of Monterrey in Mexico) is located right on the coast between San Francisco and Santa Barbara. Monterey (and the neighboring Carmel-by-the-Sea) is well-known for its picturesque coastline just north of the Big Sur coast. Monterey is the more industrial town, while Carmel boasts charming, Spanish-style buildings that will make you say, “Oh so cute” all the time.

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Things to do in Monterey Things to do in Monterey

Things to do in Monterey

Things to do in Monterey

Monterey is home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which was a bit of an inspiration for the ‘Finding Dory’ movie and is a somewhat a hodgepodge of pretty coastline, malls and an old fishing village.

The nearby Carmel, CA, is geared towards its residents and older travelers and if you are older than 60 it will likely become one of your favorite places fairly quickly.

My Favorite 12 Things to do in Monterey, California – Get Around

Things to do in Monterey

Picture courtesy of Visit California

There is Uber in town and it’s easy to hail a ride. However, you would be missing out on most of the fun as a rental car is the best option to get around. In summer it is a good idea to bring your bike to do the ocean trails. If you are a runner, this can also be an interesting option to soak up the ocean glory.

My Favorite 12 Things to do in Monterey, California – Sights

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium isn’t a terrible place and is somewhere that will get you (and your children) properly educated about sea life.

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Things to do in Monterey

Nevertheless, I have a few caveats for you:

  • The weekend crowds are menacing and will drain your spirits
  • The entrance is fee is an insane $49.95 per adult
  • You will have to fight for parking as well (or pay up)

So it is certainly not ‘good value’, but it’s likely that you’ll leave happy to get it off your ‘bucket list’.

17 Mile Drive

17 Mile Drive is one of the world’s most beautiful drives and I have done it dozens of times – in a car, on a bike and on foot. It stretches from downtown Monterey all the way into Carmel. Only the last section is part of a natural park (and you will be charged $10 per vehicle). I happily pay the $10 fee as there is so much to see along the drive.

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There’s a number of stops with good signage and the views are just incredible all along the water. Sunny days are the best, but even on cloudy (or usually foggy) days it’s still spectacular.

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If you can, go for a hike along the drive as well, so you can smell the seawater and have more time to take in the views.

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Carmel Beach City Park

This beach is as pretty as they come – a huge stretch of white sand with green trees in the background. Keep in mind that Californian waters are usually freezing (even in summer) and while it can be 90 degrees in the summer a few miles inland, it rarely goes above 65 at the beach.

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Point Lobos State Reserve

Point Lobos is located immediately south of Carmel; it’s a quick ride from town to the entrance. You will see the many cars parked along both sides of the road before you see the entrance. Why do people park outside? Because it saves the $10 entrance fee and it is a lovely nature walk to reach the rock of Point Lobos.

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The area stands out because of its beautiful rock formations, the pounding sea and the option to see marine wildlife. I saw sea lions, otters, dolphins and whales on a random winter afternoon. Bring a good zoom lens as most wildlife will be at least a mile offshore.

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Carmel City Walk

Carmel-by-the-Sea is such a beautiful little town that it’s a great idea just to park and randomly wander the downtown grid. There are small shops, art galleries, bed and breakfasts and tons of French-inspired cafes.

Things to do in Monterey

Things to do in Monterey

Things to do in Monterey Things to do in Monterey

My Favorite 12 Things to do in Monterey, California – Eat & Drink

While Carmel has a host of pricey restaurants, most don’t fit in the category of what I’m looking for. More often than not, the food is not fresh and the bill exorbitant. You largely pay for location.

Dametra Cafe

The only exception I would actively seek out in Carmel is Dametra Cafe, which serves decent Greek food in a white tablecloth environment.

Things to do in Monterey

Things to do in Monterey

The Cheese Shop

This cheese shop is hell-bent on letting everyone taste their products. The staff are uber-friendly and there is seemingly no limit on cheeses to try. There is also bread and wine and a lovely courtyard where you can enjoy a feast.

Things to do in Monterey

Picture courtesy of Jonathan P

Things to do in Monterey

Picture courtesy of theDangerz

Cannery Row Brewing Company

I admit this place looks touristy and I wasn’t ready to order any food here (it is also really expensive). But it sits in a pretty location and has tons of really tasty beers (all bottles, no home brew) at moderate prices.

Things to do in Monterey

Things to do in Monterey

Pavel’s Backerei

A proper German name for this bakery, although the bakery items are not necessarily German. The oversized pastries and sandwiches are not just huge but also cheap and delicious. What a place!

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The Poke Lab

There is clearly some renovation afoot in downtown Monterey, where The Poke Lab and its immediate neighbors on the same street server proper Asian cuisine. I like the fresh sushi bowl that The Poke Lab offers.

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Things to do in Monterey

Picture courtesy of Michelle M

Bright Coffee

This little place is new and I almost missed it since it shares the interior with a rather touristy pottery shop. That would have been a mistake as the staff here are friendly, the coffee is legit and the pastries are delicious and cheap. What more could you ask for?

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Things to do in Monterey

Picture courtesy of Chris K

My Favorite 12 Things to do in Monterey, California – Where to Stay

InterContinental The Clement Monterey

This is my favorite option and I have stayed there twice. It sits right on the water and while it looks historic on the outside, it is a proper new InterContinental on the inside. The staff are friendly and the location is fantastic.

Things to do in Monterey

Things to do in Monterey

Things to do in Monterey

Weekend rates often hit $500 as the mad Silicon Valley crowds descend to Monterey. Rates during the week are more moderate and often hit $150 in the off-season.

Monterey Marriott

While it carries the full service Marriott brand, this place isn’t great – too many roaming crowds and a building that definitely needs renovation. It’s more like an old run-of-the-mill Courtyard that charges way too much. Avoid if you can.

Things to do in Monterey

Picture courtesy of Marriott

Things to do in Monterey

Picture courtesy of Marriott

4 / 5 stars