If you’re a fan of HBO’s hit TV show “Big Little Lies”, then you’re familiar with Monterey, California. Beyond being in the spotlight as the prime location that the series was filmed in (and based on), Monterey has long been one of the most popular tourist destinations in California.
In today’s travel guide, learn fun ways to spend 24-hours in Monterey, California.
From a newly renovated hotel in downtown Monterey to great local restaurants and breweries, below are several places we recommend visiting. Plus, discover some of our favorite spots to enjoy unparalleled Monterey Bay vistas.
About Monterey, California
Dating back to the 1700s when Monterey, California was first founded by Spanish settlers, the city eventually became part of the USA in 1849 after the Mexican-American War. In the year 2020, Monterey is celebrating its 250th Birthday, which is pretty momentous.
Throughout downtown Monterey, you can still explore many of the original buildings that were built hundreds of years ago, including City Hall (pictured above), Customs House Plaza, and other adobes throughout the area.
Set on California’s majestic Central Coast (just 2-hours south of San Francisco), this charming historic city has been featured in John Steinbeck books, has made its way into Hollywood movies (like Clint Eastwood’s “Play Misty for Me” and “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” featuring Jim Carrey), and lots of magazines and news publications. Aside from being seen on screen and in print, Monterey, California has also been a cherished place for residents and visitors alike.
Boasting miles of scenic walking trails that overlook the picturesque Monterey Bay, being home to one of the world’s best aquariums (the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium), and offering a range of activities to do (from recreational water sports like sailing and kayaking to boutique shopping and fine dining), there are so many compelling reasons to visit Monterey, California. Not to mention – Monterey hosts a number of popular events throughout the year, including the Monterey Jazz Festival, California Roots Music and Arts Festival, and other fun events.
Where To Go in Monterey, California
- Downtown Monterey (for shops, restaurants, and bars)
- Fisherman’s Wharf (for seafood restaurants, novelty shops, and water activities like Whale Watching tours)
- Cannery Row (for sightseeing, tourist attractions, the aquarium and more)
Where To Stay in Monterey, California
If you’re looking for a contemporary coastal hotel that is within walking distance to all types of attractions, from restaurants and wine tasting spots to outdoor activities, we recommend Portola Hotel & Spa (pictured below).
This recently renovated, award-winning eco-friendly hotel is located at the end of Alvarado Street (in downtown Monterey), next door to the Monterey Convention Center. Ideally situated for exploring Monterey, the spacious hotel offers pet-friendly rooms with ocean views and several popular restaurants, including an on-site brewery.
Connected with the Spa on the Plaza, which offers a range of luxuriating services (like facials and massages) and amenities (such as a swimming pool and hot tub), the property strives to provide a relaxing atmosphere for guests.
In addition to these features, the hotel also has a new Peet’s coffee shop (that serves both indoor and outdoor), as well as a renovated restaurant called Jack’s (which offers fresh seasonal cuisine).
The hotel is just a short walk away from The Sensory Garden (pictured below), Old Fisherman’s Wharf, the coastal recreational trail, and restaurants and shops in downtown Monterey making it the ideal location to explore the area.
Where To Eat in Monterey, California
If you’re looking for a casual dining atmosphere that you can bring your dog or watch a sports game on TV, head to Peter B’s Brewpub (pictured below) located at the Portola Hotel & Spa. This indoor/outdoor brewery and pub serves a variety of drinks and dishes (from craft beers to honey mustard chicken sandwiches). Plus, they even host regular Happy Hours and provide both kid-friendly and dog-friendly menus.
If you’re on the hunt for a fabulous coffee shop with decadent pastries, a range of teas and coffee options and even a waterfront view look no further than Water + Leaves (pictured below) which is located on Old Fisherman’s Wharf.
This upscale, modern coffee shop offers organic snacks, a variety of beverages, and a tranquil setting that encourages you to unwind and enjoy. In addition to both a cozy indoor space as well as a storefront patio (that overlooks the bustling Fisherman’s Wharf), the coffee shop also has a back patio that boasts harborfront views.
We highly recommend trying one of the Carrot Cake Cupcakes – they’re moist, flavorful and delicious!
When it comes to fun places to go for dinner (or a beer), we suggest Alvarado Street Brewery & Grill (pictured below) which is located in downtown Monterey. This highly popular casual eatery and brewery has become one of the most sought-after places to go since opening several years ago.
Since they have a back patio (which is called the “Beer Garden”), that is not only dog-friendly, but it’s lots of fun, as it offers family-style tables, which encourage you to mingle with other restaurant patrons.
Surprisingly, the restaurant serves outstanding food too. While many love their burgers (which are juicy and delicious), if you’re in the mood for something lighter, we suggest trying the Burrata Salad – it’s exceptional.
For brunch and lunch, one of the most desirable restaurants in Monterey, California is located near Cannery Row. With views of the Monterey Bay just beyond the rec trail, here you’ll find a quaint and charming indoor/outdoor restaurant called Wave Street Cafe.
With a romantic flower-filled trellis-covered patio, this enchanting eatery is a haven for both residents and tourists. Serving a variety of tasty fresh dishes (like eggs benedict, french toast, and oatmeal), it’s an idyllic spot for brunch.
Even when the weather isn’t picture-perfect, you can head indoors to dine at one of their cozy tables and booths. The beautiful European style bistro atmosphere makes you feel like you’ve been transported to another time and place, encouraging you to linger and lounge for a while.
What To Do in Monterey, California
Aside from fine dining, wine and beer tasting, and shopping, some of the most fun things to do in Monterey are to explore the natural surroundings. From walking or bicycling along the coastal recreational trail (pictured below) to hiking in the mountains above Monterey Bay, getting outdoors is always a good idea here.
From Fisherman’s Wharf to Lover’s Point, grab your camera and take a stroll along the beautiful oceanfront recreational trail in Monterey. Whether you go for a walk with the dog, hit the pavement with your rollerblades, or even jump on a bicycle, there are so many fun ways to enjoy this scenic trail.
If you’re in the mood the be more leisurely, take a relaxing stroll down by the harbor to look at the boats and take in the sights. Here you’ll see wildlife (like seals and birds) basking in the sun on the ragged rocks that perch out of the water. Plus, it’s a great place to take a family photo or get a selfie, since it’s such a stunning backdrop.
Last, but certainly not least, we recommend hiking above the trees at Jack’s Peak Park (picture above). Being the highest point above Monterey Bay, this dog-friendly county park is truly a fantastic place to see the views. With over 8 miles of horseback riding and hiking trails, as you meander through the park you’ll be able to see spectacular views of Monterey Bay, Carmel Bay, and even Carmel Valley.
As you can see, visiting Monterey, California offers you all kinds of fun activities and places to visit. For all these reasons and more, this family and pet-friendly city is a must-see when traveling through Northern California.
For more inspiring vacation ideas, check out the Travel section on Inspirations & Celebrations.
[Disclosure. Hotel accommodations c/o Portola Hotel & Spa. All opinions are my own.]