Traveling to Monterey, California soon? This quaint, coastal town is the perfect place to relax and unwind! Whether you are making this your main event or staying here to visit the Big Sur, this guide will outline everything you need to know before traveling to Monterey!
Monterey Bay is known for its LARGE Monterey Bay Aquarium, the hit TV show Big Little Lies (which, if you haven’t seen it, add it to your list!), whale watching and wine tasting! I spent two full days in Monterey when I did my Big Sur Road Trip, and I could have easily spent more time there!
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Where is Monterey?
Monterey is a coastal beach town in central California between Carmel and San Francisco. The town of Monterey is located on the southern tip of Monterey Bay, which is the largest marine protected area in the world. In those waters you can find humpback whales, sea otters, elephant seals, great white sharks and deep sea anglerfish.
Closest Airports to Monterey
The closest and most convenient airport is San Jose International, which is only a 1.5 hour drive away. The second closest airport will be San Francisco International, which is 2.5 hours away. If you are flying international, San Francisco will likely be cheaper but if you can swing it, I would highly recommend flying into San Jose so you can avoid the hectic San Francisco traffic!
Where to stay in Monterey
Monterey is a relatively small town and there is an abundance of Uber/Lyft to get you to where you want to go. The most popular spots for sightseeing and nightlife are all walking distance from each other: Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Downtown Monterey.
Downtown Monterey is tree-lined street (Alvarado Street to be exact) filled with restaurants, wine bars and karaoke bars! I personally liked downtown better (especially the prices), but Cannery Row & Fisherman’s Wharf are definitely something you should check out.
I would recommend staying somewhere in the middle of them so you can easily walk around to all three. I’ve outlined the best budget, average and luxury accommodations in the prime area of town below!
Budget: HI Monterey Hostel is located in a prime location, right next to Cannery Row on the water. For less than $50/ night, the price can not be beat! This hostel is a 30 minute, scenic walk to downtown or a 24 minute scenic walk to Fisherman’s Wharf.
Average: Colton Inn is an adorable place to stay with clean rooms, outdoor seating for breakfast, and fresh flowers on the railings. What I noticed about my time in Monterey was the abundance of small Inns! This inn is located a few blocks from downtown, 15 minute walk to Fisherman’s Wharf and a 30 minute walk to Cannery Row.
Luxury: Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa is pure luxury! Situated near Cannery Row, it has the perfect location and perfect views to match! This is a popular spot for weddings and events because every inch of this place is absolutely gorgeous. This plaza is located only a 15 minute walk from Fisherman’s Wharf and a 20 minute walk from Downtown.
Airbnb: If I ever have a group bigger than 2 people, I always stay in an Airbnb! I love getting that sense of living in a place when I travel. If it’s your first time using Airbnb, click here for a $40 credit to use towards your booking!
What to Pack for Monterey
On all my guides, I never want to bore you with a lengthy packing list, so I always give my top three recommendations on things you MUST bring on this specific trip!
Okay, if you’re a My Perfect Itinerary super fan, you know I recommend these on 99% of my guides. These things are AMAZING. They are the size of a ketchup packet and you can easily stick them in your bag or pocket without taking up too much room. These are perfect for re-applying your sunblock throughout the day! Click here to check them out!
It gets chilly at night (all of California really), so I would recommend packing yourself a light-weight cardigan to throw over your outfits. I usually bring one in black and one in tan so I have something that matches with anything I wear! Click here for a SUPER cute & beachy cardigan.
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Things to do in Monterey, California
Cannery Row is a waterfront area of Monterey that was formerly a sardine-canning factory. I know that doesn’t sound convincing, but the uniquely shaped shops are filled with wine bars (yes, MORE wine bars), beautiful restaurants with ocean views, and lots of shopping!
This is an extremely touristy area of town where you will see an abundance of souvenir shops and overly priced restaurants. If you are on a budget, I would recommend eating dinner along the adorable Alvarado Street (downtown) and then spending some time shopping and drinking local wine.
Wine Bar Hopping
While there are a few craft breweries in Monterey, you will quickly notice the overwhelming options of wine bars. They are seriously on every corner! A fun drinking game would be, “Take a sip of wine every time you pass a wine bar,” LOL.
Here are the ones I visited and why I would or would NOT recommend them:
This winery is located in Cannery Row, very close to the water. The tasting room was very modern and the service was excellent! I wasn’t a huge fan of the wine, and the tasting I thought was a little over-priced for the tiny bit they gave you. They have the wine stopper so they poor you the exact tasting amount (which is very small). I would skip this tasting and go to Sovino Wine Bar near downtown instead.
This was my favorite wine bar by far. Instead of a tasting, I got a glass of Chardonnay to enjoy with their amazing water-front view. They have comfortable couches that face the floor-to-ceiling windows, delicious appetizers and the wine was great! This wine bar is located in Cannery Row on the upper level, you should see plenty of signs leading to this popular spot.
P.S. Sorry for the low quality photo, I quickly snapped this on my I-Phone before a big party walked by!
This trendy wine bar isn’t just a wine bar! You can mix your own wine blend, create your own wine in their micro winery, buy wine from their “tap wall,” and design a custom wine label! This place is like an adult Disney Land!
My friends and I got a tasting and played board games in their lounge. The tasting was unique with the wine in testing tubes, which adorably fit the theme of this place!
The Wine Experience is located between Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf.
A Catamaran Cruise is a fun and popular excursion in Monterey Bay. There are a lot of piers where you will see large amounts of boats and tour companies. And it get’s better… there are some sunset cruises that are paired with local wine. I unfortunately did not have enough time to do this (and this felt a little too romantic to do with my friends hah), but it sounded like an amazing experience!
Whale Watching Tour
Whale Watching is one of the things that Monterey is most known for. If you are traveling between April – November, it is common to spot a few humpback whales in this area! There are many tours available, but I would recommend booking in advance because it is common for weekends to sell out.
Tours last 3 – 4 hours and will take you a few miles off the coast on a boat to see many different species of whales. I unfortunately did not get to do this, but I 100% plan to do this on my next trip to Monterey!
Fisherman’s Wharf is a small pier that is STUFFED with restaurants and shops. In my opinion, it is extremely touristy and over-priced, but all these restaurants have a very scenic view!
This is the area that is a good stopping point between Cannery Row and Downtown, or where you will meet on majority of your boat tours. Even though I think it is very touristy, it’s so close to everything that you should still see it for yourself!
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Monterey Bay Aquarium is located in Cannery Row, right on the water. This extremely large aquarium is home to sharks, sting rays, sea otters, penguins, jelly fish, turtles and so much more. For only $50.00, this is a fun way to learn about the Monterey Bay marine life, their ocean conservation efforts and education programs!
Day Trip to the Big Sur
On my recent 7 day California road trip, I spent a few days in Monterey and did a day trip to the Big Sur. Out of everything I saw on this trip, the Big Sur was my favorite day. The Big Sur is a coastal drive along the coast of California, just south of Monterey. You could easily drive to the best viewpoints and back in just 4-5 hours.
I wrote a detailed guide with TONS of beautiful pictures to inspire you to see this little corner of the world. You can check it out here!
Recommended Read: 10 BIG mistakes to avoid when traveling to Big Sur!
Like how I edited this photo?! Don’t forget to check out my one-click presets to take your photos to the next level!
That’s a wrap! I loved Monterey and would love to go back with my boyfriend to do more romantic things like catamaran cruises, spa days, and strolls on the beach. I loved how slow-paced it was there, with minimal traffic and lot of people walking. Plus, the endless supply of wine bars speaks to me like nothing else does, ha!
Looking for more California Itineraries? Here are some I think you would love!
- Unique Things you can only do in San Francisco!
- Big Sur Road Trip Guide
- 2 Days in Yosemite National Park
- 7 Day California Road Trip Itinerary
- 27 Things to do in Buena Park – A Perfect Girls Weekend!
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