Things to Do in Monterey & Carmel
California’s 17-Mile Drive, said to be one of the world’s most scenic, is an essential Central Coast experience. Looping around the Monterey Peninsula, the private toll road offers stellar views of Monterey Bay and passes attractions such as the Lone Cypress, Bird Rock, the Del Monte Forest, and the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course.
One of the top aquariums in the US with a privileged location on California’s Pacific Coast, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is home to hundreds of marine animals and known for its dedication to ocean conservation. Highlights include some 200 exhibits and galleries featuring more than 600 species of marine mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and invertebrates.
Cannery Row is a proudly tourist-friendly strip running along the atmospheric Monterey waterfront. Once home to a series of bustling commercial sardine canneries, the famous waterfront street changed its name of Ocean View Avenue to its longtime nickname, Cannery Row, in 1958 to honor the 1945 John Steinbeck novel of the same name.
Set on California’s central coast, Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf is famous for its ocean views, resident sea lions and sea otters, and sourdough bowls of clam chowder. Souvenir shops, candy stores, street performers, and seafood restaurants line the seafront and, nearby, you can watch as trawlers unload the day’s catch at Fisherman’s Wharf II.
Hearst Castle, perched along California’s Central Coast, is the ostentatious creation of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan. This 90,000-square-foot (8,361-square-meter) estate comprises 165 rooms and 127 acres (51.4 hectares) of gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways—all now open to the gawking public.
Lovers Point Park is a picturesque green space in the heart of Pacific Grove that offers up plenty of outdoor fun, with easy access to ocean waves that are idea for swimming, surfing, kayaking and more. Travelers can rent bikes and cruise along the coastal drive where urban landscapes meet salty sea. Visitors can pack a picnic lunch and relax on stretches of sandy beach or break into a sweat at one of the popular beach volleyball courts. There’s a children’s swimming pool to keep the little ones happy and a lush green lawn is perfect for a game of Frisbee or unwinding in the shade of one of the park’s towering trees.
Located on Monterey Peninsula, Asilomar State Beach is scenic stretch of sandy coastline offering unparalleled Pacific views. Visitors enjoy the pedestrian Coast Trail, a dog-friendly beach, and self-guided walking tours. This mile-long beach is a local favorite for surfing, and it's a top spot for tide pooling.
Lighting the way for sailors for more than 150 years, Point Pinos Lighthouse is tucked into the picturesque shoreline of the Monterey Peninsula. The lighthouse still operates today, and its beacon reaches 17 miles out to sea. Visit to take in the scenic location, ocean views, and beautiful lantern room, complete with original lens.
A beautiful structure designed in Late Gothic Revival style, the Sunset Cultural Center is the Monterey Peninsula’s top spot for cultural events and performances. With two stages, an art gallery, and a meeting room, the venue holds a variety of events year round. Its iconic arched entry is the door to the home of the Monterey Symphony, Carmel Music Society, and Chamber Music Monterey Bay. Transformed from an old public school, the cultural center is regarded to have some of the most beautiful interiors and acoustics in the area.
With just over 700 theater seats, the theater maintains an intimate space that allows for close interactions with performances. Shows range from theater and dance to concerts and comedy. Run by a nonprofit organization, the venue brings some of the world’s best arts and live performances to the area in addition to supporting local performing arts groups.
Good fun for kids of all ages, Dennis the Menace Park is so named as it was deigned by Hank Ketchum, creator of the famously naughty comic strip character, who lived in nearby Pebble Beach. You can take your kids here to burn off some energy before visiting the more sober of Monterey’s attractions, and run around like a kid yourself – you won’t be the only one.
The playground is choc-full of activities including climbing structures (separated by age group), speedy slides, swings, a maze, climbing wall and suspension bridge. There is even a statue of the Menace himself to pose for photographs with. Park equipment is well maintained; there are plenty of seating areas to take a breather and best of all it is free to enter.
More Things to Do in Monterey & Carmel
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, on California’s Central Coast, comprises dramatic headlands, hidden coves, and scenic lookouts, plus 5 miles (8 kilometers) of trails and a rocky coastline full of tide pools. Explore the cultural history museum and spot wildlife, including sea lions, harbor seals, herons, and, in winter, migrating whales.
Part church, part museum, the Carmel Mission is a US National Historic Landmark in the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. It draws visitors who are interested in Spanish colonial history and architecture, religious pilgrims who come to worship, and those those who simply stop by while passing through Carmel.
The community of Pebble Beach, California, is best known for the Pebble Beach Golf Links and other high-end golf courses along the Pacific Coast between the towns of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s certainly a golfer’s heaven, but it also draws visitors for its coastal scenery and fine restaurants and hotels.
Big Sur, a stunning 71-mile (114-kilometer) stretch of California’s Central Coast, boasts epic views of the mighty Pacific and jagged, dramatic coastline. Running from the Carmel Highlands to San Simeon, the unincorporated area is very lightly populated—in fact it’s the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the lower United States.
Located in the heart of Monterey, Custom House Plaza is rich in history. It is named after the Spanish Colonial–style adobe Custom House, California’s oldest government building. The plaza is part of the Monterey Old Town Historic District, which is itself a part of Monterey State Historic Park and includes several other adobe structures.
Pour a crisp glass of white or savor a bold red at Wrath Wines in Carmel. This popular stop offers up delightful and diverse tastings, plus showcases some of the best flavors in California wines. Travelers can sample a flight at the Carmel Tasting Room, known for its expert staff, friendly service and wide selection, and enjoy the relaxed vibe of this destination. But visitors looking to soak up some California sunshine can also buy a bottle to go and gather snacks from the conveniently located Cheese Shop (next door) before picnicking at Carmel Beach, where epic views of the Carmel Bay and quiet Pebble Beach pair perfectly with a glass from Wrath Wines.