Monterey is a beautiful city known for its wealth of marine life and delicious seafood.
Its rich coastal history also means it’s filled with points of interest of all kinds, so much so that it can be hard to pick what stuff to do among your options.
To help you out, here are our picks for the top 24 best and fun things to do in Monterey, California to add to your bucket list.
1. Cannery Row
Cannery Row is often considered the heart of Monterey tourism.
It’s a historic district that you may have heard of through the writings of John Steinbeck, namely his novel named after the location, released in 1945.
It’s among the best places to visit in the US and one of the most popular places to see across the Central Coast of California.
Once upon a time, Cannery Row was the location of the profitable and bustling canning industry – hence its name.
The same buildings used for cannery processes are mainly still being used today, turned into shops, hotels, eateries, attractions, and other locations.
Whether you’re looking for something fun to do or just want to go sightseeing, Cannery Row is sure to have what you seek.
Address: Cannery Row & Wave Streets, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
2. Monterey State Historic Park
The Monterey State Historic Park offers what is commonly referred to as the city’s “walking path of history”.
Walking along the path, which contains at least a dozen different buildings, lets you view a special set of buildings and homes with historical significance to this California city.
Many of these structures date back to the early years of the 19th century and are individually among the top most fun Monterey attractions in themselves.
As such, keep your eyes peeled for some of the most interesting buildings from the State Historic Park on this list!
Address: 20 Custom House Plaza, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
3. Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo
The Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo is California’s oldest building made from stone, built somewhere from 1791 to 1794.
It was used as a Royal Chapel by Monetary founders Father Junipero Serra and Don Gaspar de Portola and remained in its service after the Mission of Serra moved to Carmel.
The chapel was used primarily by soldiers that remained to guard the newly created Spanish Presidio.
In 1849, Bishop Joseph Alemany picked it at the city’s diocese seat, making it the state’s first ever cathedral, too, which is even more reason that it’s on the list of what to do in Monterey.
At the time, the Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo had a somewhat simple rectangular floor plan, but that was changed to a cross-shaped one in 1858 by the addition of transepts.
In 1921, an additional structure was made beside the cathedral to replicate the grotto of the Lourdes.
At the age of 215 in 2006, it was time for the Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo to get some repairs.
Its foundation had become damaged by tree roots, walls were steeped with moisture, and some of the alterations done over the years had wound up weakening it further.
Full restoration began and completed in 2009.
But the real treasure of the restoration is the artifacts revealed during an archaeological dig that occurred during the period of renovation.
They now sit in the heritage center beside the cathedral, which is just as much of a must-see if you’re visiting the cathedral!
Address: 500 Church St, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
4. Old Fisherman’s Wharf
In the past, it served as a wholesale fish market, only ending this occupation in the 1960s.
It is so named the “Old Fisherman’s Wharf” now as a means of separating it from another wharf around it, which functions as a commercial wharf for Monterey.
Despite no longer being a fish market, the Old Fisherman’s Wharf remains suitably themed, with a wide range of seafood restaurants that go from casual to fancy, all offering beautiful views of the bays of California.
There are also, of course, numerous local stores peppered throughout, selling candy, art, jewelry, and souvenirs.
Address: #1 Old, Fishermans Wharf, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
5. Monterey Bay Aquarium
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located on Cannery Row, where a sardine cannery once stood.
It opened its doors in 1984 as a public aquarium and now boasts over 600 different flora and fauna species, mostly native to California.
Pools and tanks show off some unique and fascinating marine animals and plants in accessible ways.
Some of the aquarium’s displays are particularly special, as it is one of the only in the world to host fish like the yellowfin tuna, sunfish, and Bluefin tuna.
There is also the famous Kreisel tank display that hosts jellyfish in a circular water flow that makes for a truly astonishing display.
Other notable displays in the aquarium are the huge kelp forests of the Ocean’s Edge and the wide array of sea creatures like stingrays and others in the Open Sea.
All in all, there are a total of 45 interactive exhibits that showcase octopi, invertebrates, birds, and more, with activities like tours to add to the experience.
It’s one of the most fun things to do in Monterey Bay!
Address: 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
6. Point Sur Lightstation
The Point Sur Lightstation rests on the coast of California on a large chunk of volcanic rock.
For centuries, it has sat 361 feet over the water, dutifully watching over the seas of Monterey and beyond.
The Point Sur Lighthouse was first suggested sometime in the 1880s due to a collision of a ship across the rock.
In 1886, construction began, and it was opened three years later.
Tenders of the lighthouse would live lonesome, quiet lives, and the building saw few visitors due to the treacherous route towards it.
Ironically, now that the lighthouse is automated (as it has been since 1972) and requires no minder, it has also become one of Monterey’s best and most loved tourist attractions.
It is considered a historic landmark and is the state’s only lighthouse from its time that is publicly open.
Address: Point Sur Lightstation, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
7. Monterey Museum of Art
The Monterey Museum of Art first opened in 1959 as a home to showcase a lovely art collection dating from the 19th century to now, with a focus on the art of California.
It has two different locations – one on Pacific Street and one also known as La Mirada.
Across both properties, the permanent collection has more than a whopping 14,000 items!
On Pacific Street, you’ll be able to view contemporary art and photography by big names such as Armin Hansen, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and William Ritschel, to name a few.
In La Mirada, you’ll walk through a gorgeous mansion with a delightful rose garden set on beautiful grounds.
The latter focuses primarily on rotating exhibitions.
Community programs, art classes, educational programs, summer camps, and docent programs are also hosted by this Museum of Art.
No matter what you’re heading there for this weekend, though, there’s no denying that it’s one of the places to visit that art aficionados can’t miss!
Address: 559 Pacific St, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
8. Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail
Looking for free things to do in this city in California?
The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail is one of the more famous things to see in the city.
Near the Southern Pacific Railway – and, in fact, taking its very route – the Coastal Recreational Trail hugs, as its name suggests, the coastline.
Stretching 18 miles, it starts at Castroville and makes its way towards Pacific Grove.
If you like getting some exercise in the great outdoors or just want a bit of a walk, the Coastal Recreation Trail is a great way to do so.
The waterfront sights are exquisite, as are the parks, beaches, and similar locations you’ll pass along the way.
You can skate, cycle, hike, or even rent some form of water transportation to explore.
9. Monterey Jazz Festival
If you’re in California at the right time, the Monterey Jazz Festival is one of the best things to do in Monterey.
Packed with exciting activities and events, it’s the longest-running festival for jazz music on the planet.
Spanning three days and two nights every September, it features multiple famous jazz artists in a lineup of amazing performances.
There is also a Jazz Legends Gala where the Jazz Legends Award is presented to an influential artist of the genre each year.
Aesthetically, this Jazz Festival is also quite the treat.
It is set in the heart of the city upon 20 acres of delightful, lush, oak-filled land.
Seven stages provide ceaseless talent and entertainment, films are ripe for viewing, stalls, and shops sell trinkets, beverages, food, and jazz memorabilia, and you might even get to interact with some of the attending jazz stars!
If you’re looking to spend more time and experience more thrill, here are some of the best places to go in California!
10. Colton Hall Museum
It was in Colton Hall that California achieved status as the 31st state of America.
It makes sense, then, that Colton Hall Museum is one of Monterey’s must-do sites!
Better yet, there’s no admission charge, so it’s one of the fun options for free things to do in the city.
In 1846, what was known at the time as Alta California was occupied by America.
Walter Colton, a well-known local businessman, was appointed Chief Magistrate of the district of Monterey.
He served in this job for three years and accomplished the first of the state’s public American buildings, which earned the name Colton Hall to honor his contribution.
It was in Colton Hall that the first constitution of California was drafted at a convention, with 48 delegates from 10 districts that held multiple debates regarding the state’s boundaries, the capital, and slavery, which would be forbidden in the state henceforth.
The constitution was signed on the 13th of October in 1849 and ratified exactly one month later – and then it traveled for three months to Washington DC to be approved.
While this travel was happening, Colton Hall was serving a new purpose as the state capital had shifted away to San Jose.
In 1873, it became a grade school and served many other purposes until it became what it is now – simply part of the city hall complex.
Its first floor boasts the simple offices for the Department of Planning and Building, but the second floor is home to the Colton Hall Museum.
The Colton Hall Museum was set up in 1949 and hosts a wide range of information and artifacts related to the creation of the state and its governance from then on.
Tours are freely available and attendants are always happy to answer questions.
Address: 570 Pacific St, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
11. Golden State Theatre
The Golden State Theatre is designed in such a way that you might not even feel like you’re in California anymore when you look at it!
Situated on Alvarado Street, it is built with Moorish design, restored since its original 1926 appearance, and is one of the best of Monterey attractions for entertainment and performance.
An opulent lobby, brilliantly rich frescoed sky canopy ceiling and beautiful floating mezzanine mark the luxurious atmosphere of the Golden State Theater.
It provides one thousand seats, all made from plush, soft velvet, and incredible acoustics that are purely state-of-the-art.
It’s the biggest theatre in Monterey, California, and hosts all sorts of events, like film festivals and concerts, as well as being available for private functions.
Address: 417 Alvarado St, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
12. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is an absolutely beautiful protected area that offers delightful wildlife viewings.
It’s one of the most impressive protected marine locations not just in California, but across the country.
The marine sanctuary stretches for quite some distance, from Cambria to San Francisco, so it’s not just a local city attraction.
Still, that just makes it even more worthy of being on your list of what to see with all its activities!
It’s truly a whimsical and beautiful experience, with relaxing shorelines, tide pools that shimmer in the sun, majestic canyons, wildlife-filled seamounts, and forests of lush kelp.
A range of different outdoor endeavors can be undergone at the National Marine Sanctuary.
Whether you want to kayak, dive, fish, or explore in general, this is a family-friendly location for everyone to enjoy!
Address: Monterey Bay, CA 93940, United States
13. Dennis the Menace Playground
Simply love the old comic strip character of Dennis the Menace?
Looking for a park area to relax in?
Whatever it is you’re seeking, the Dennis the Menace Playground is a fun option among Monterey, California’s many places to visit.
In 1956, this delightful playground was set up as part of the area of El Estero Park.
It was made with the approval and assistance of Dennis the Menace creator Hank Ketcham, who lived in Carmel and was very much a fan of play and childish joy.
The thoughtfully-made playground is nothing short of exciting, with a giant adventure ship, a suspension bridge, a hedge maze, a climbing wall, and multiple play structures fitted with huge slides.
There is even a steam engine that is authentic from Southern Pacific, dating back to 1924.
Though close watch is kept on the playground to ensure kids don’t get into too much trouble, this location is still a must-do for even the most mischievous of children.
It’s safe, thrilling, and packed with adventure – what’s not to love?
Address: 725 Pearl St, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
If you have more time, why not head to San Jose? Located a little over 71 miles from Dennis the Menace Playground, here are some of the best places to visit in San Jose!
14. Alvarado Street Brewery
Monterey – and California in general – is fairly known for its alcohol.
One of the best places to sample such beverages is at the Alvarado Street Brewery, which serves some of Monterey’s finest craft beer.
The Alvarado Street Brewery is family-owned by a beer-loving son and his architect father.
The combination of their strengths results in excellent, innovative brews set in a beautifully renovated former theatre.
It’s not just drinks served at the Alvarado Street Brewery, though.
Check out their Vietnamese lamb burgers, truffle-crawfish mac and cheese, pork belly pizzas, and Thai-curry mussels.
Not here for food?
Just drink their Delorean Dust and Mai Tai PAs on the relaxing outdoor terrace beer garden!
If you’re an alcohol-lover, a trip to Alvarado Street Brewery is certainly among the top things to do in Monterey.
Address: 426 Alvarado St, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
15. Monterey County Youth Museum
The Monterey County Youth Museum, set up in 1997, is located on Washington Street among a number of other interesting tourist attractions, including the previously mentioned Dennis the Menace Park.
It was designed to provide opportunities for children, primarily younger ones aged below 10, to learn about all sorts of different topics and exercise their creativity and curiosity.
The exhibits found herein are extremely unique and fascinating, made to be hands-on and interactive so as to encourage the most learning from even the shyest children.
Exhibits of all kinds bring you and your kids out of the state of California and – pardon the pun – into a state of learning.
MY Hospital, MY Creation Station, MY Day at the Beach, and MY Build a House are just a few examples of the great exhibits available.
There are also, occasionally, special events, and private functions can be held here if desired.
Address: 425 Washington St, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
16. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
If you’re fine with leaving Monterey for a little bit, the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is just 15 minutes away and is one of the places to go that’s well worth the trip while you’re in California.
It’s famous for its unorthodox, striking rock formations and granite cliffs that are spread throughout the oceanside, each one dramatic and dissonant to the many cute animals that live in its vicinity.
There are many activities you can partake in here, from taking photographs to observing nature and from scuba diving to getting a little exercise on one of its 13 trails, each one with different levels of difficulty to get through.
One of the most popular trails in the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is The Cypress Grove, known for Monterey cypress trees that dot the cliffs along the seaside and its stunning panoramas of the coast.
There are also ten different diving spots at the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, which kelp forests reaching 70 feet in height, beautiful coral reefs, and the occasional whale or seal if you’re lucky.
There are also tidal pools packed with marine life, caves to explore, ponds enclosed by stones, and headlands.
Address: 62 CA-1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923, United States
There’s no way you can leave Point Lobos State Natural Reserve without going to Santa Cruz! Located about 49 miles from this location, here are some fun things to do in Santa Cruz!
17. Sloat Monument
The Sloat Monument has an interesting history behind that makes it one of the best of Monterey’s places to visit.
But in order to fully appreciate the monument at all, you need to know a little bit about the person it was built for: Commodore John Drake Sloat.
Sloat played a key role in the war between America and Mexico in 1846.
At the time, he was the commander of four vessels of the US Navy, and he knew that due to how thinly the military forces of Mexico were spread in Alta California, the state could be easily taken by American forces.
Sloat began making moves towards the state as soon as possible, arriving at the beginning of July that year.
British ships were already there, interested in the state, and Sloat knew he had to act now if he wanted to press any advantage at all.
The town of Monterey was first to be landed on, and it was seized unopposed.
As the capital, this led to the surrendering of the rest of the state, making it officially a US state three years later.
In 1910, the Sloat Monument was built, and visiting it is now one of the best things to do in Monterey Bay, which it overlooks.
Next to it, Fort Mervine is established, taking after the name of the captain who first landed in the city.
The area is quite closely controlled, but the monument is still open for public viewing.
Address: Ewing Rd, Monterey, CA 93944, United States
18. Old Monterey Jail
Old Monterey Jail was in use for an entire century, during which no one ever escaped, despite its incredibly simple construction.
This is likely due to the iron and granite used liberally in its structure, with almost no wood used at all due to the builders’ concern with its integrity.
But why was it set up in the first place, and how did it end up as one of the things to see for tourists in the city?
As the county seat of the newly state-ordained California, Monterey found itself in need of a jail that could house a fairly substantial amount of people as the city grew and grew.
In 1854, the large building, stout in shape and intimidating in its stone appearance, was set up beside Colton Hall.
Windows were covered with iron plates, providing only very little sunlight through perforations for inmates, to keep it extra secure.
In 1935, some modern amenities were added, like concrete floors and systems for ventilation and heating.
In 1956, it ceased regular operations and it was officially closed in 1959.
Then, the year after that, it was opened to the public.
For those interested in history, it’s a must-see, and it gives you a harrowing glimpse into the life of the prisoners who dwelled here through recreated scenes.
It certainly wasn’t fun for them!
Address: 580 Pacific St, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
19. Montrio Bistro
It can’t be denied that eating good food is among the things many love about travel, and the Montrio Bistro serves up the very top of such the food that Monterey County, California has to offer.
It is housed in a building that can be dated to 1910 and was once a firehouse.
Brick walls lined with art make for an almost romantic but still family-friendly setting.
The Montrio Bistro has been in business for about two decades and specializes in sustainable offerings that change seasonally.
Their ingredients, ranging from produce to seafood, are all sourced from around Monterey, providing a dining experience that has the taste of California.
Some of the restaurant’s most loved dishes include king salmon with citrus risotto, boneless beef short rib that is Cabernet-braised, and other New American cuisines options.
You can also try out their great craft cocktails during happy hour, with good, discounted snacks!
Address: 414 Calle Principal, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
20. 17-Mile Drive
The 17-Mile Drive, situated on the Monterey Peninsula’s southern side, is one of the most rewarding activities that you can take at your own pace.
It’s a long road that you can drive through in order to view some of the most beautiful landscape views that the city and state have to offer.
The 17-Mile Drive runs from Pacific Grove Gate and past Del Monte Forest.
While technically not only a Monterey, California attraction given how far it stretches, it’s worth the trip if you have the petrol and time to spare.
With cliffs, beaches, forests, and historical spots littered about the path, there’s plenty for you to see and have fun with!
21. The Old Whaling Station
The Old Whaling Station is one of the more fascinating Monterey attractions.
The building itself was constructed as a family home by David Wight, a Scottish adventurer, in 1847, but after they left for the gold fields of California, it was left alone.
The Old Monterey Whaling Company then purchased it in 1855 and turned it into an employee residence and the headquarters for their company.
The Whaling Company ran a rather grisly business that involved killing whales at sea and bringing them on-shore to be processed.
Baleen, which is a bony filter in whale mouths, were used to make umbrellas and corsets.
Blubber was used as natural oil for maps or machine lubrication.
Bones were ground to turn into paving material or fertilizer.
No part was left spared.
Whale populations saw some decline in the early 20th century as whale populations also became jeopardized.
The International Whaling Commission attempted to moderate the industry but ultimately failed, and in 1986, commercial whaling was halted.
The Old Whaling Station now stands as a memory of the best years of this gruesome industry.
It is an official historical landmark owned by the state and, after restoration in 1980, it was opened to the public as a free attraction and museum of sorts.
It’s also, surprisingly, a popular wedding location.
Address: 391 Decatur St, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
Located a little over 230 miles from here is the beautiful city of Santa Barbara. Apart from luxury boutiques and beautiful buildings, here are some Santa Barbara attractions you shouldn’t miss!
22. The Custom House
The Custom House wasn’t built by Americans, but by the government of Mexico.
Set up in the 1820s, it was made to collect import taxes for traps, rice, sugar, tolls, coffee, and other forms of merchandise that passed through Alta California to places near and far, including American states, Russia, and England.
When Commodore John Drake Sloat claimed the state, he raised the US flag at the Custom House.
It then continued performing the same duties, but for America instead of Mexico, and it stayed pretty busy throughout its time.
Until now, the Custom House performs the same function, and its days are virtually the same as they would have been in the 1840s.
It’s open for public viewing and, if you’re looking for what to do, it’s a great option for some insight into the trade of the state and city.
Rice, beans, houseware, lanterns, and tools line different tables, all awaiting customs officers for inspection.
Address: Monterey State Historic Park, 20 Custom House Plaza, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
23. Casa del Oro
Casa del Oro, known also as the Joseph Boston Store, was one of the city’s first-ever general stores.
The structure was built by Thomas O. Larkin, the Consul of America to what was, at the time, Alta California, in 1845.
The building was leased by Joseph Boston four years later and he opened a merchandise store for general goods there.
Among other things, he sold coffee mills, soap, pans, brooms, silverware, walnuts, tubs, ham, and tea.
The Casa del Oro was also the site of the first-ever safe to be set up in the city – an implementation added because there were no banks in the town at all.
This is why the nickname Casa del Oro was earned and stuck, as it translates to “House of Gold”.
Miners from the surrounding gold fields would arrange for their found gold to be stored here.
Now, Casa del Oro is one of the city’s top places to visit, with the fun added attraction of the safe, sans golds, still remaining onsite.
The original desk used by Boston himself also remains.
The store continues its operations, with offerings like stationery, toys, candy, houseware, and more 1850s-themed items.
It is run by the Historic Garden League.
Address: M210 Olivier Street, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
24. The Moon Tree
At first glance, it can be hard to figure out why The Moon Tree is one of the best tourist attractions in Monterey, California.
You’ll soon learn, though, that visiting it might be one of the city’s most unique things to do!
The story begins in 1971, during the Apollo 14 mission.
Stuart Roosa, a Command Module pilot, brought hundreds of seeds in his own personal kit to the moon.
Before being employed by NASA, Roosa was a smoke jumper for the United States Forest Service, and he was conducting an experiment to see if space exposure would affect how the seeds germinate and grow.
The seeds chosen were Redwoods, Loblolly Pines, Douglas Firs, Sweetgums, and Sycamores, and they each had control seeds kept on earth for the experiment.
While conducting gravitational and radar experiments and photographing the moon, Roosa – and his seeds – did 34 full orbit turns over 33 hours.
He eventually returned to earth and the Forest Service wound up with 400 seedlings to use.
Some were planted but a huge many were given away to be planted in conjunction with the bicentennial celebration of America.
The Moon Tree is one of the seeds taken by Roosa.
It is a Redwood and is planted in this unassuming location.
Like many of the other seeds, there were no significant changes in its germination or growth compared to earthbound seeds.
The Moon Tree stands as a memorial to Roosa, who passed away in 1994.
Address: 536-570 Pacific St, Monterey, CA 93940, United States
If you have more time why not visit Orange County? Located about 365 miles from here, Orange County is famous for it’s Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort! Apart from that, here are some fun things to do in Orange County!
Start Planning Your Trip To Monterey
Monterey is simply jam-packed with exciting and fun locations.
With museums, historical sites, natural attractions, and marine life abound, you’re spoiled for choice in terms of where to go.
Whether you’re in town this weekend or further into the future, hopefully, this guide for where to go in Monterey, California will help you make the most of your trip and pick the very best spots!