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14 Best Things to do in Monterey CA

California

A popular tourist destination, there are plenty of things to do in Monterey CA with kids. This includes visiting attractions like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Dennis the Menace Playground, and McAbee Beach. As for things to do in Monterey inside, head to museums like Colton Hall Museum and the Monterey Museum of Art.

Top things to do on Monterey Peninsula include hiking to the summit of Jacks Peak County Park for panoramic views across the peninsula. Monterey is also located 10 minutes drive north of charming Carmel-by-the-Sea, so naturally one of the top things to do in Carmel is to spend the day in Monterey. Next door to Seaside, a visit to Monterey also happens to be one of the best things to do near Seaside, CA. Keep reading this Monterey, CA blog post for more fun and unique things to do in Monterey, CA.

Monterey Bay Aquarium
By Jim G

1. Monterey Bay Aquarium

Located on the oceanfront, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s main mission is to inspire conservation of the ocean. It features 200 world-class exhibits and 35,000 marine animals, including a giant pacific octopus, an underwater kelp forest that’s home to leopard sharks and wolf-eels, the Open Sea Exhibit with sea turtles swimming alongside various fish species, the Sea Otters Exhibit, and the Sandy Shore and Aviary Exhibit. The aquarium also has a daily show and feeding schedule.

Old Fisherman's Wharf
By Felix Lew

2. Old Fisherman’s Wharf

A wholesale fish market until the 1960s, Old Fisherman’s Wharf is now one of the city’s top tourist attractions. It acts as the home base for a selection of local tour companies, offering everything from whale watching to sunset cruises to deep-sea fishing. Then there’s the plethora of family-owned fine dining and casual restaurants, which serve only the freshest local seafood. Old Fisherman’s Wharf is also known for its gift shops and old-fashioned candy stores.

Dennis The Menace Playground
By diane cordell

3. Dennis The Menace Playground

Located in El Estero Park (more on this unique park below), a visit to the Dennis the Menace Playground is one of the most family-friendly things to do in Monterey, CA. Dennis the Menace’s creator Hank Ketcham lived in nearby Carmel and was instrumental in the park’s establishment in 1956. The playground features multiple slides, a climbing wall, an adventure ship a suspension bridge, and a hedge maze with a further playground at its center.

Del Monte Beach
By Stephen Sanders

4. Del Monte Beach

Del Monte Beach is a quintessential Californian beach, with sand dunes, a wide white-sand shore, and waves that are perfect for surfers. Del Monte Beach is quite the hidden gem and a local secret, as it’s tucked neatly behind an oceanfront coastal housing community. Besides swimming and surfing, other things to do at Del Monte Beach include walking along the boardwalk trail through the sand dunes and enjoying a picnic at the provided picnic tables.

Colton Hall Museum
Courtesy of Wikipedia

5. Colton Hall Museum

Built in 1847 by Walter Colton, this California Historical Landmark was originally a public school and government meeting hall that hosted the state’s first constitutional convention in 1849. Today, people can visit the free Colton Hall Museum to view its exhibits and learn more about this historic event and what life was like in those early Monterey days. Adjacent to the museum is also Old Monterey Jail, which served as the city’s jail until 1956.

17-Mile Drive
Courtesy of Wikipedia

6. 17-Mile Drive

One of the most iconic things to do in Monterey, CA is to drive along the 17-Mile Drive. Although a fee is involved to drive through its exclusive neighborhood, it’s free for pedestrian traffic. There are 17 beautiful stops available along 17-Mile Drive, including Spanish Bay Beach, Bird Rock – a wildlife mecca home to birds, harbor seals, and sea lions, Seal Rock’s tide pools, Cypress Point Lookout, Crocker Grove, and the world-famous Lone Cypress.

Monterey Bay
Courtesy of Wikipedia

7. Monterey Bay

There are many beaches and coastal communities bordering Monterey Bay, including Monterey. Top attractions along the bayfront include Monterey State Beach, San Carlos Beach, and Del Monte Beach; Old Fisherman’s Wharf with its sightseeing tours and renowned seafood restaurants; and the aforementioned Monterey Bay Aquarium, which features 200 state-of-the-art exhibits. A great way to see the sights is by following the 18-mile Monterey Bay Coastal Trail that stretches from Castroville to Pacific Grove via Monterey.

Cannery Row
Courtesy of Wikipedia

8. Cannery Row

As the name suggests, Cannery Row is a waterfront street that was once home to a booming sardine-canning industry. Today, these historic and colorful old cannery buildings have been transformed into restaurants, local art galleries, and specialty shops to make Cannery Row the city’s premier lifestyle destination. Top things to do along Cannery Row include dining on the oceanfront outdoor patio at Monterey Plaza Hotel’s Schooner’s Coastal Kitchen and visiting Monterey Bay Aquarium with kids. 

Jacks Peak County Park
By Jacob Gomez

9. Jacks Peak County Park

Jacks Peak County Park is an outdoor lover’s paradise, with 8.5 miles of horseback riding and hiking trails through dense pine and oak forest towards panoramic viewpoints. The self-guided Skyline Nature Trail takes you to the summit of Jacks Peak and past Miocene epoch fossils. Rising 1068 feet above the city, Jacks Peak is the Monterey Peninsula’s highest point. A part of the Central Coast Birding Trail, the park’s also a great birdwatching destination.

El Estero Park
By monterey.org

10. El Estero Park

As mentioned, the Dennis the Menace Playground is located within El Estero Park. Surrounded on three sides by the unconventional U-shaped El Estero Lake, this is a great place to go paddle boating and fishing off the piers (fishing license required). The multi-use El Estero Park is also home to a skate park, picnic tables with barbecue facilities, the Frank E. Sollecito Jr Ballpark, the Monterey Dance Studio, and an exercise course with 18 stations.

Monterey State Historic Park
Apostolis Giontzis / Shutterstock.com

11. Monterey State Historic Park

Monterey State Historic Park is a collection of 17 historic homes and buildings located throughout Old Monterey. The two-mile Monterey Walking Path of History takes you past sites like the landing point for Spanish explorers in 1603, one of the country’s last remaining whalebone sidewalks, the aforementioned Colton Hall Museum, and the Customs House. Speaking of, visit the historic Customs House for more information and to purchase tickets for the regular hour-long guided history tours.

Monterey Museum of Art
Courtesy of seemonterey

12. Monterey Museum of Art

Established in 1959 as a chapter of the American Federation of Arts, the Monterey Museum of Art’s permanent collection has over 14,000 objects. Its focus areas are California art from the 19th century to the present day, Asian Art, and early American art. With two different facilities, the main museum on Pacific Street features eight galleries and presents 20 annual exhibitions, including thematic displays from their permanent collection, local artist presentations, and traveling exhibitions. 

McAbee Beach
By californiabeaches

13. McAbee Beach

McAbee Beach is found in the heart of Cannery Row. Sitting in a small sheltered cove backdropped by restaurants and hotels, its shallow and calm water combine to make it a great beach for families. McAbee Beach is also a popular diving spot thanks to a large kelp bed located just off its shoreline and a collection of underwater boulders. Scuba divers may spot otters and rockfish, as well as brightly-colored invertebrates covering the rocks. 

Point Pinos Lighthouse
Courtesy of Wikipedia

14. Point Pinos Lighthouse

Initially lit in 1855, Point Pinos Lighthouse is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the country’s west coast. Featuring all original features (from the building to the lens), the lighthouse is still an active aid to navigation used by the United States Coast Guard. Although you can take photos of its exterior every day, people can also visit Point Pinos Lighthouse and see its museum exhibits from 1 pm to 4 pm Thursday to Monday.

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