Monterey; history and majesty for wintertime exploration

Monterey offers history, ocean majesty for wintertime exploration

In recent years we’ve been up and down the California coast from Santa Cruz to the far end of Big Sur, but had not spent any serious time in Monterey. Last week we changed that, with a three day visit. Here, Monterey Bay is the star, with sandy beaches and rocky coastline, stunning views and upscale visitor attractions matched to the area’s historic underpinnings.

Cyclists along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail in Pacific Grove.

Monterey was founded on June 3, 1770 and was capital of Alta California under both Spain and Mexico. During that time, the town boasted California’s first theater, public library, public school, public buildings and newspaper. 

In 1846 during the Mexican American war, the US flag was raised over the customs house, which you can visit today. Three years later, Monterey would host California’s first constitutional convention. Walk the Path of History (see website, below) where you will experience what life was like when the city was California’s capitol.

The old Custom’s House, adjacent to Old Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.

We found a variety of inexpensive, older but nice motels in Seaside, just north of Monterey. From here, it was just a few minutes to drive into Monterey and its many attractions. 

On our first afternoon, we did a walking tour of the lively Cannery Row area, with shops and hotels lining the ocean front. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is the featured attraction; known world-wide for its breadth of sea life and kid-friendliness. After our tour, we retired to a favorite restaurant, Schooners in the Monterey Plaza Hotel, for a light dinner and drinks.

Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey, decked out for the holidays.

Then we moved about a mile north for a short evening stroll of Old Fisherman‘s Wharf, lit brightly with a holiday theme and doing a lively business with restaurants and quaint shops. Most restaurants offer samples, so you can gauge where you might want to eat; several candy and ice-cream shops offer sweet treats and varied retailers sell wind-breakers, that can come in handy during this season.

The next day the cloudy morning morphed into a sunny afternoon and we drove through Monterey and into Pacific Grove, south along Ocean View Boulevard and Sunset Drive. Here the coast is rocky, featuring many places to pull off and explore tide pools and admire surf crashing into the rugged coastline (we elected to avoid the famed 17 Mile Drive due to the $10.50/car fee).

Ocean surf pounds Pacific Grove along Ocean View Blvd.

Doubling back, we took a walk, perfect for photo ops, along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, marvelous for hiking and biking. Monterey and surrounding communities are quite hike- and bike-friendly, and bike shops offer a variety of rentals.

That evening, we returned to Old Fisherman‘s Wharf, admired views of boats and a huge cruise ship in the harbor, and retired to dinner in Ablonetti’s, a fun restaurant on the pier, featuring “all day happy hour”; happily, their fish and chips and clam chowder were very good.

A cruise ship and private yachts in the Monterey Harbor.

Just south of Monterey, one of the world’s great road trips presents itself, following south along the California coast and through Big Sur, where tide pool exploration, elephant seal spotting and incredible scenery extends for 100 miles, culminating in San Simeon and theover-the-top Hearst Castle.

The Bixby Bridge, and a portion of the Coast Highway in Big Sur area.

For those into hiking and wildlife viewing, plenty of options present themselves. We drove 18 miles north to the Moss Landing harbor area, where we spotted a number of sea lions and several sea otters. We moved to the Moss Landing Wildlife Site, along Elkhorn Slough in an area that once functioned as commercial salt ponds. Alas, the highly recommended Elkhorn Slough Federal Estuarine Refuge was closed (on Mondays and Tuesdays), so we made a note to visit in the future with our kayaks.

Fort Ord, the old former Army fort, is now a national monument lying just east of Monterey. It offers miles and miles of hiking and biking trails in a very wild setting. Hikes, or cycling, into the Ord backcountry presents a pristine encounter with wild country and expansive, verdant views. Adjacent to the monument is Laguna Seca Raceway, active throughout the year with auto and motorcycle racing, bicycling and other events.

Cyclist on single track trail, Ft. Ord National Monument.

Monterey has birthed quite a brewpub scene and we made stops at Peter B’s Brew Pub in the Old Downtown Monterey area and the Dust Bowl Brewery, just off the Old Fisherman’s Wharf parking lot. Cannery Row Brewing and several more brew pubs can be found around town. In addition to Schooners Coastal Kitchen/Bar in the Monterey Plaza Hotel, we found two cute and good value restaurants, Abalonetti’s and the Crab House, both on Old Fisherman‘s Wharf.

For more information: Monterey Visitor’s Bureau,

Contact Tim at or follow at Happy travels in your world!

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