I did mention Monterey in a blog post I published last year – 5 Great Towns for An Overnight Stay along the Pacific Coast Highway. However, I do not feel that the short write-up in that post really did the fantastic little city justice. Therefore I have put to together this post to delve further into what it has to offer and why if you are visiting California and planning a road trip, you really need to include it in your itinerary, even if just for a day.
As a massive fan of the TV show Big Little Lies, which is set and filmed in Monterey, I was excited to see some of the places which had been used as backdrops in the show, the main one, of course, being Bixby Creek Bridge which can be seen in the opening title scenes. It is actually 18 miles outside of the city but easily doable if you have a car, with the journey taking approximately 27 minutes, traffic dependant of course. Or you could jump on the number 22 bus and take the journey for a mere $3.50.
However, if you have no interest in seeing the bridge and instead want to concentrate your stay to the centre of town, there is plenty to see and do to keep you occupied.
Originally the site of many sardine canning factories, Cannery Row is now the waterfront street that runs through the new part of Monterey. With a number of both boutique and souvenir shops, restaurants, hotels and attractions many of which are actually in old cannery buildings, the colourful street is somewhere you must visit and spend some time while in Monterey. Our hotel, the Monterey Bay Inn, was located at one end of Cannery Row meaning we were well situated to wander up and down the street at our leisure.
We enjoyed hopping in and out of the shops and picked up a couple of t-shirts and gifts for family and friends back home. We enjoyed a massive ice cream at Ghirardelli Chocolate & Ice Cream Shop while sitting out the back of the shop admiring the views of the bay, unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you see it) for the poor girl sat at the next table she also received an extra special something on her head from the seagull perched on the building above her!
For dinner, we headed to Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar located in the Monterey Plaza Hotel with amazing views out across the ocean. It was nice to get dressed up for dinner having spent the past view days living off BBQ in Yosemite National Park. Mr ESLT opted for a seafood dish whereas I chose a pasta dish, both of which were lovely, especially washed down with a bottle of wine. And the funniest thing – the waiter brought me a delicious dessert topped with a candle and wished me a happy birthday. It wasn’t my birthday but I just didn’t have the heart to tell him it wasn’t, he looked so pleased with himself.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
At the other end of Cannery Row to our hotel was the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Located overlooking the ocean the award-winning Monterey Bay Aquarium is somewhere for all the family to spend a day or at least a few hours. It is known for its regional focus on the marine habitats of Monterey Bay, making it not only a great place to witness the marine life but also learn more about the area. The aquarium first opened its doors in 1984 and has since been one of, if not, Monterey’s most popular attraction. With an adult general admission price of $49.95, it is not the cheapest day out, but it is a great, entertaining and educational one.
Sea Lions at the Marina
Sea lions are noisy – that is a fact. And for no reason either, they look like they are blissfully having forty winks and the next thing you know they are barking like crazy. Another fact is that they like to do it in the early hours of the morning! Yep evening with our balcony doors shut and the AC unit on full blast I could still hear them barking at each other at 3am on the Breakwater Marina a few minutes walk away. The thing is though, I love animals and actually loved hearing them chunter to each other from afar, so getting to see them up close, even though I had spent hours watching them in San Fransisco, was amazing.
We headed to the Breakwater Marina to find hundreds of them, all swimming, chilling out, climbing all over each other and of course barking at the top of their lungs. We were the only people there and we picked a good spot to observe them from. It was at that point a local lady came over and pointed out a tiny, weak looking sealion pup that didn’t seem to be moving. She informed us that she had contacted the animal rescue team to come and help him and that they were on their way. Well, time seemed to stand still and I wanted to do was head down to where he was and help the poor little guy.
Whilst waiting more and more people were gathering, all equally worried about the pub. The guys came from the animal sanctuary and scooped him up and put him in the back of their truck bound for The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito for treatment and rehab. Bless him, he did make it known he did not want to go with them, showing that he still had some fight left in him. Fingers crossed he made it and has been reunited with his friends in Monterey.
Dolphin and Whale Watching
One of the most popular things to do off the coast of California is taking a dolphin and whale watching tour and Monterey is one of the best places to take it from, as it is often referred to as the “Whale Watching Capital of the World”. There are lots of tour operators running regularly from the Old Fisherman’s Wharf, in fact, for the short time we were on the wharf we were asked at least half a dozen times by different operators if we would like to take a tour. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time, even though the tours are only a few hours long, as we had to hit the road and head to the next destination on our road trip, plus the weather was not that great, meaning it was quite choppy out at sea and I genuinely don’t think I could have handled it (wimp I know). It is a major regret now I’m home and looking back on my visit. Guess it’s a good enough reason to return?
Old Fisherman’s Wharf
Talking of Old Fisherman’s Wharf this is somewhere you must visit when in Monterey. It reminded me so much of a British seaside town because of the food stalls and souvenir shops, the only thing missing was the amusement arcades, especially the 2p machines, that I grew up playing on. However, there was still plenty to keep us entertained, as we wandered the around the wharf, dipping in and out of the shops looking for mementoes and gifts for loved ones back home.
One of the overpowering smells on the Wharf, apart from the actual ocean was seafood, all freshly caught and served that day from the food stalls I mentioned and also the numerous restaurants on the Wharf. One of the most famous dishes in Monterey and the surrounding California coastline is clam chowder served in massive sourdough bread bowls. Not my cup of tea, but Mr ESLT was salivating. Unfortunately for him he had just had breakfast and was not hungry enough to get one, he made up for it later in our trip though!
Another great draw and probably the main reason we visited the Wharf was that some of the scenes out of Big Little Lies were filmed there. If you watch/watched it, the coffee shop that the lead characters always meet at it is on the Old Fisherman’s Wharf and I thought it would be a great Idea for Mr ESLT and I to grab a drink there. Unfortunately, on the day we visited it was closed, so we were unable to, but I still got to see it from the outside at least.
With so many fun things to do, we really would recommend slotting Monterey into your itinerary if you are planning on visiting California, especially if you intend to drive the Pacific Coast Highway. There really is something for all the family and if you are a budget traveller or simply travelling on a budget then why not simply hit the beach? It’s fab little place and somewhere that I am glad we spent some time.