Updated April 2018
California’s Monterey Peninsula has been referred to as the Circle of Enchantment and Fulfillment. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll understand why. It’s an area of rocky shorelines, steep cliffs, windswept trees and beaches, and water so blue it’s almost surreal. The Monterey Peninsula is the perfect place for anyone who loves natural beauty.
Located about five hours north of Los Angeles and two hours south of San Francisco on California’s Central Coast, the sublime scenery attracts artists, photographers, tourists, and locals, all of whom come for inspiration and renewal.
I spent four days exploring the area and barely scratched the surface. I met many interesting people, ate delicious seafood, and drank local wines. I got a front row seat for viewing local wildlife, like the playful sea otters who have been threatened with extinction. And, I took hundreds of photographs of the iconic coastline. There’s always one more shot to take.
It’s also an excellent place to discover the history of California, for Monterey was the original state capital. Exploration of the Pacific coast and California by the Spanish began as early as the 1500s. The first sighting of the bay has been credited to Juan Cabrillo in 1542. However, it wasn’t until 1602 when an expedition led by Sebastian Vizcaino sailed into the bay and went ashore. With a fleet of three ships, Vizcaino and his crew spent about a month in Monterey, but left in January without learning much about the area. It wasn’t until 1769 – 167 years later – that the Spanish once again sailed into Monterey Bay.
This (and more) I learned on a walking tour via the Monterey State Historic Parks. I highly recommend this tour for history buffs and anyone interested in learning about the first capital of California. Find more tour information here.
After a day touring Cannery Row, the Monterey Aquarium, or the historic buildings of the Monterey State Historic Park, take a walk around the harbor and Fisherman’s Wharf at dusk. Fisherman’s Wharf is a huge tourist attraction, and while today you find neon lights and seafood restaurants, these waters are some of the most historic in California! In 1770, Spaniard Gaspar Portola located the Monterey Harbor – and the city of Monterey was founded.
Following is brief synopsis, in photos, of a few of the things I love about Monterey!
5 Reasons To Love Monterey, California
1. The food. This is only a small representation of the delicious food I ate.
You might have expected me to list the scenery as the number one reason to go to Monterey, but to really know a culture, I think you have to try the food. There’s a strong awareness of the environment and sustainability in the food here.
I tried a new restaurant this trip – The C at the Hotel Intercontinental on Cannery Row. A beautiful light-filled room with ocean views, the C is a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of other restaurants on Cannery Row. I had the rock codfish tacos, with a glass of local sparkling wine from Monterey winery, Folktale.
Another not to miss place is the new Scales Seafood and Steaks at Fisherman’s Wharf. This is a family owned and operated restaurant that takes great pride in their sixty years history in Monterey. Along the back wall are some romantic booths to cozy up and enjoy the views of the harbor. The service is friendly and the portions are generous. I dug into the Sand Dabs, a a regional favorite I tried on my first trip to Monterey. I couldn’t wait to dig into them again. If you haven’t tried Sand Dabs, they are a small white fish, very tender and moist, with a savory buttery flavor. Very delicate and unique.
Following are photos from other fantastic restaurants around the area.
2. The Monterey Aquarium – an ocean-side aquarium receiving over 1,000,000 visitors per year. I especially like the jellyfish exhibit.
3. The people. I met so many people I hardly noticed I was traveling alone.
4. The scenery. Need I say more?
5. Moss Landing.
Moss Landing is located at the mouth of the Elkhorn Slough estuary, the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California outside of San Francisco Bay. One of the best things to do is to take a pontoon boat tour around the slough or, go kayaking, as I did, with Monterey Bay Kayaks.
During my private, ninety minute tour around Elkhorn Slough, I saw otters galore, slumbering California seals, a plethora of birds, and I touched a star fish! I went out in a two-seater kayak with my guide, who kindly did all of the steering (and most of the paddling), while I unsuccessfully tried to take video of sea otters. Though not an adrenaline-pounding adventure, it was still pretty dang exciting, as you really never know when those sea otters will suddenly pop up in front of you.
If you want to get off the beaten path, Moss Landing is the place. This somewhat Bohemian fishing village has a post office, several great restaurants, Phil’s Fish Market and the Haute Enchilada, a Shakespeare Museum (yes, really), and the charming Captain’s Inn. It’s definitely worth the fifteen minute drive north of Monterey.
WHERE TO STAY
Make the most of your time by staying in the historic heart of Monterey.
Casa Munras Garden Hotel and Spa is ideally located for exploring the culture of Monterey. The Inn, constructed in 1824, was originally a private residence built by diplomat Don Esteban Munras. The original residence was constructed of adobe bricks. A portion of this structure has been preserved and can be seen in the Marbella meeting room.
I adored this charming hotel with lush gardens, updated, tasteful furnishings, and convenient location. Within a few minutes walk is Parker Lusseau (a French patisserie), a delightful Japanese tea shop, and many other adobe structures of cultural significance. You can walk to the Fisherman’s Wharf, the Monterey State Historic Park, and the heart of the cultural area.
My room was on the second floor of a small casita with about sixteen rooms. There were many modern touches like the pattern in the coverlet on the bed, but the mahogany desk and Spanish tiles are true to the original heritage. The king size bed with luxury linens and the gas fireplace in the room made it hard to leave. Winter evenings are chilly, even if the days are sunny, so the fireplace was very welcome.
Esteban, the house restaurant and bar features live entertainment that attracts both locals and guests alike. I’d love to go back for one of the jazz events in the spring and summer. A true delight, and an affordable luxury, Casa Munras is on my list of favorite Monterey experiences.
700 Munras Ave.
Captain’s Inn – Moss Landing
Located on the Salinas River tidal creek and surrounded by marshland, the charming Captain’s Inn is true to its name, featuring a nautical theme in every room. Be sure to have a look at the room with the fishing boat, which forms a headboard and footboard. Very fun! You can get some amazing sunsets there too, so to take your camera.
8122 Moss Landing Road
WHEN TO GO
Winter is off season and a great time to go. In fact, you may even see more sunshine than you do in the summer. January through March in California is off-season, which means no crowds and less traffic. People have time to engage with you. Dungeness crab is the fresh catch of-the-day and if you like crab, what could be better? The whales are migrating up the coast, and the weather is not too shabby, either.
I’ll be writing a lot more about Monterey, both here on Adventures of a Carry-on and other travel sites. If your plans are taking you to Monterey this year, follow along!
Have you been to Monterey? What was your favorite Monterey experience?
Want more? Check out this article with 5 More Things To See on the Monterey Peninsula.
My time in Monterey was sponsored by See Monterey, however, I maintain creative freedom to write about that which I believe will be useful to my readers.