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Monterey Vacation Ideas for Planning an Itinerary

Monterey sits on California’s Monterey Peninsula, which juts out into an enormous marine reserve twice the size of Yellowstone. This is a destination that loomed large in the hopes and dreams of the city’s early whalers and sardine workers, and in the imaginations of the writers and artists who followed. With many places to visit, Monterey is the perfect coastal hideaway to plan a romantic weekend escape, family vacation, or solo adventure. Watch our Monterey video to get some great vacation ideas for your next trip to one of California’s most inspiring destinations.

Ideas of places to Visit in Monterey

While the neon signs and aroma of fresh seafood of Cannery Row and Old Fisherman’s Wharf vie most loudly for visitor attention, ensure your travel itinerary includes more than just the waterfront tourist strip. Monterey and its nearby shores offer a feast of historical and natural attractions. Discover a city of California firsts, from the state’s first theater, to the hall where delegates thrashed out the state’s first constitution. A Monterey vacation is incomplete without exploring some of the most stunning coastal drives and hiking trails in the USA. Join us as we explore the best spots and attractions to visit in and around Monterey.


Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo Monterey

Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo

(1:10 in the video) Begin your sightseeing tour of Monterey at the site where the city was born. Plan a visit to the Cathedral of San Borromeo, one of the oldest continuously running churches in the USA. Built in 1794, this church rises over the original presidio, built by the Spanish when they arrived here in 1770. As the oldest stone building in California, history buffs and Spanish colonial architecture lovers will want to be sure to include it on their itinerary.


Colton Hall Monterey

Colton Hall

(1:24 in the video) In 1846, the U.S. flag was first raised over Monterey, ending the chapters on the city’s Spanish and Mexican history. Allow an hour or two for a trip to Colton Hall and make the most of this fascinating historical site, where delegates from all over California came together to thrash out the state’s first constitution.


Monterey Historic State Park California

Monterey State Historic Park

(1:44 in the video) When planning a vacation to Monterey, be sure to set aside a few hours to explore the Monterey State Historic Park. The park’s self-guided walking tour is a fantastic addition to any nature-lover’s itinerary. Follow its 2-mile track which takes in many of the city’s oldest adobe and brick buildings, and retells the stories of the mariners and whalers that once called this rollicking port home.


Cannery Row Monterey

Cannery Row

(2:09 in the video) No Monterey itinerary is complete without a visit to one of California’s most popular attractions, Cannery Row. The processing plants that once steamed and canned billions of sardines each year have long been replaced by restaurants, bars and shops. Many vacationers plan to visit this gentrified precinct because of the enduring popularity of John Steinbeck’s classic novel Cannery Row.


Monterey Bay Aquarium California

Monterey Bay Aquarium

(2:45 in the video) In a fitting twist, Cannery Row’s largest processing plant is now home to the acclaimed Monterey Bay Aquarium. Although it’s not the world’s largest aquarium, it’s certainly one of the most impressive, so set aside a day to make the most of one of the city’s most popular attractions. Kids especially won’t want to miss feeding time at the sea otters’ pool, where rescued sea otters chow their way back to good health on fresh clams.


Old Fishermans Wharf Monterey

Old Fisherman’s Wharf

(3:24 in the video) Just a short stroll from Cannery Row, the salt-encrusted timbers of Old Fisherman’s Wharf have also had a modern makeover. Plan a trip here and sign up for a fishing charter, join a whale-watching cruise, or just drop anchor for the evening in one of the many restaurants that have been serving up the freshest seafood for generations.


Monterey Peninsula Walking Trail

Monterey Peninsula Walking Trail

(3:43 in the video) The Monterey Peninsula Walking Trail is a great vacation idea to combine a little exercise and some of Monterey’s best attractions into your itinerary. Following the former tracks of the Southern Pacific Railway, the Monterey Peninsula Walking Trail takes in the floral displays and ever-shifting sands of Del Monte Beach and the Fort Ord Dunes State Park as well as the sheltered beach of Lovers Point Park..


Point Pinos Lighthouse Monterey

Point Pinos Light

(4:23 in the video) Lighthouse lovers will agree that the Point Pinos Light should be on every visitor’s itinerary. Explore the fascinating on-site museum, then step back in time as you enter the cozy parlor where a piano-playing lighthouse keeper entertained Robert Louis Stevenson when the wandering writer visited in 1879.


Asilomar State Beach Monterey

Asilomar State Beach

(4:40 in the video) Looking for things to do on the water? No vacation to California is complete without exploring the coast. Rent a long board and take on the legendary waves of Asilomar State Beach. A wetsuit is a must-bring on this trip! The currents here rise from deep in the Monterey Canyon and the waters are the coldest (but arguably the prettiest) on the peninsula.


17 Mile Drive Monterey

17-Mile Drive

(4:56 in the video) Besides its amazing beaches, Monterey is home to some truly spectacular stretches of asphalt. If you’re after more vacation ideas, be sure to add a couple of road trips to your Monterey itinerary. From Pacific Grove, cruise one of the USA’s most scenic roads, 17-Mile Drive. Follow this stunning toll-road as it winds down the coast, stopping to take in Monterey Peninsula attractions such as the Lone Cyprus, the ghost trees of Pescadero Point, and the acclaimed fairways of Pebble Beach.


Point Lobos State Park California

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

(5:44 in the video) Some of California’s top natural attractions are an easy drive from Monterey, so try to add a couple of extra days to your Monterey itinerary; trust us, you won’t be disappointed! Plan a trip to the southern end of Carmel Bay and explore the windswept bluffs and sheltered coves of the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Considered the crown jewel of the California State Parks system, many suspect this dramatic headland inspired the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure classic Treasure Island.


Big Sur California

Big Sur

(6:00 in the video) For many, the highlight of their trip is the two-hour drive down Highway One through Big Sur. The drive through Big Sur is considered one of the world’s great road trips, and as you pause at attractions such as Bixby Canyon Bridge, Point Sur, and McWay Falls you’ll soon be nodding in agreement.


Inspiration for traveling to Monterey

Monterey has inspired the works of artists including Ansel Adams and Salvador Dalí, and writers such as John Steinbeck and Robert Louis Stevenson. If you’d like a little more inspiration after watching our Monterey video, check out our Monterey photo gallery to see even more jaw-dropping imagery from this incredible destination.

But why stop in Monterey? Our photo gallery features incredible imagery from all over the world to inspire your future vacations and travel adventures. We’ve also posted hundreds of destination travel videos from all over the globe to help you choose and plan your next escape.

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This article was originally published on July 24, 2019. If you’d like to stay updated on new videos of the beautiful destinations that our planet has to offer, subscribe to Expedia’s YouTube channel.

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