12 Things to Do in Monterey County

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The Monterey Peninsula is a quaint coastal region along Highway 1 in Central California. From the 17 mile drive through Pebble Beach to the enchanting food, wine and art galleries in Carmel there are so many diverse things to see and do that it can be overwhelming. Below is a small sampling of some top rated activities and places to go that will give you a lifetime of memories.

Places to Eat

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Image Source: Yelp
Village Corner Bistro
6th Ave and Dolores St
Carmel, CA 93921
(831) 624-3588
TripAdvisor: 4 Stars, 286 Reviews

Eat where the locals eat! Village Corner Bistro has been a favorite for over 60 years. Located in downtown Carmel this Mediterranean style bistro features elevated comfort food. Sit indoors or out on the patio where your pooches are also welcome. Insider tip: Known for their breakfast entrees, try the Crab Benedict that is large enough for two.

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Image Source: Yelp
Red House Cafe
662 Lighthouse Ave
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
(831) 643-1060
TripAdvisor: 4 stars, 617 reviews

Look for the red Victorian to taste American cuisine with a new twist. For breakfast, the smoked salmon on a potato pancake will jumpstart your day (and don’t forget to wash it down with a mimosa). The dinner menu includes small plates for a lighter fare. The wine list, while not extensive includes some must try regional wines from Paso Robles and the North Coast. Insider tip: Don’t forget to order one of their signature oatmeal cookies.

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Image Source: Yelp
The Sardine Factory
701 Wave Street
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 373-3775
TripAdvisor: 4 stars, 621 reviews

A foodie destination since 1968. The wine list alone is impressive, including over 1,800 domestic and international labels. A must-have is the abalone bisque that was served at President Reagan’s Inauguration. For a special occasion, request a table in the Captain’s Room whereas if you’re just stopping by, the Conservatory is more laidback. Insider tip: Get there between 5:00 and 6:30 p.m., to try their fixed price $33 “Early Dinner” menu.

Wineries to Try

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Image Source: Yelp
Wrath Tasting Room
Carmel Plaza
Ocean Ave, Carmel 93923
(831) 620-1909
TripAdvisor: 5 stars, 12 reviews
Reservations: Not required

Wrath is known for its small production single vineyard Pinot Noirs, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Syrah. With a spacious tasting room and eclectic music selection, this tasting room makes for a perfect break from exploring downtown Carmel. Insider tip: The Cheese Shop next door has an amazing selection of cheeses that you can bring into the tasting room and make your own wine and cheese pairing.

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Image Source: Bernardus Winery & Yelp
Bernardus Winery
5 W Carmel Valley Rd
Carmel Valley, CA 93924
(831) 659-1900
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 34 reviews
Reservations: Not required

Go a little further into Carmel Valley to continue your wine tasting. Bernardus produces wines from 100% sustainably farmed vines. A must try is their signature Bordeaux blend, the Marinus. Order a glass of wine, sit out on the patio, and relax. Located in the village of Carmel Valley, it’s well worth the visit. Insider tip: The winery was previously a Bank of America building, but you won’t get a corporate vibe when entering their doors.

Enjoy the Outdoors

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Image Source: Yelp
Asilomar State Beach
Beach Trail Asilomar
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
TripAdvisor: 5 Stars, 489 Reviews

Put on your hiking shoes and explore more than 105 acres of sand dunes, forest, and rugged coastline trails. Pick up a hand held audio player at the visitor center and choose from the many self guided tours. Don’t forget to bring your camera, the views around you are incredible. Insider tip: Pack a picnic and park along the coast to watch a spectacular sunset.

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Image Source: Yelp
Monterey Bay Aquarium
886 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 648-4888
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 7,043 reviews

Plan the entire afternoon for a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There are 34 major galleries with over 550 species of sea life. Stroll along the ocean view decks to spot birds, sea otters, and humpback whales. If you are ready for lunch, check Cindy’s Waterfront. The menu is designed by one of California’s top chefs, Cindy Pawlcyn. Insider tip: To avoid the crowds in the summer, go later in the day for the “Evenings By the Bay,” which is included in your admission ticket. You can stroll through the exhibits with a glass of wine and listen to musical performances.

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Image Source: Facebook
Monterey Jazz Festival
2004 Fairground Rd
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 372-5863

Kick of your shoes and party like it’s 1958. The longest running Jazz festival in the world is scheduled annually on the third weekend of September. It’s three days of music, food, festivals, education, and exhibitions. There are eight stages and approximately 500 musicians from the “up and coming” to “old classics”. Outside food and beverages are not allowed, but the vendors provide authentic local cuisine. Insider tip: Don’t miss the performance by a select group of Berklee College music students. You could be witnessing the next big jazz star!

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Image Source: Yelp
Jacks Peak County Park
25020 Jacks Peak Park Rd
Monterey, CA 93940
(888) 588-2267
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 52 reviews

Jacks Peak offers hiking trails, horseback riding, picnic areas, birding, and some of the best views of Monterey and Carmel. Choose from eleven trails that range in length and difficulty or take the Jacks Peak Loop for the best views of the Monterey Bay. Insider tip: Stay on the trails. There is a lot of poison oak in the area.

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Image Source: Yelp
Bamboo Reef Scuba Diving
614 Lighthouse Ave
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 372-1685
TripAdvisor: 4 stars, 7 reviews

If you really want to get away from the crowds, go scuba diving. The Monterey Submarine Canyon and the beautiful kelp forests in the Monterey Bay will transform you to a majestic underwater world. Bamboo Reef offers customized dive packages and guided underwater dive tours. If you have never dived, they offer lessons and rental equipment. Insider tip: Each month they offer a beach and boat “fun dive” that includes lunch.

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Image Source: Yelp
Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Reserve
1700 Elhorn Road
Watsonville, CA 95076
(837) 728-2822
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars 132, reviews

Monterey is one of the top sites for birdwatching on the west coast with over 340 species living or passing through. Start at the visitor center to get a trail map for your hike, drive, or boat tour. If you are visiting on a weekend, opt for a hiking tour with an expert guide. Insider tip: Check out the “Early Bird” guided bird watching tour the first Saturday of every month at 8:30 a.m.

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Image Source: Yelp
Farmers Markets
Monterey is known as the “Salad Bowl of the World”. If you want to mingle with locals and tourists alike, go to the Old Monterey Marketplace on Alvarado Street. There are international food vendors, goods from around the world, local musicians—you can even donate blood and adopt a dog from the SPCA. Insider tip: Get there early to find parking. Over 10,000 people can be here during the summer months.

Looking to spend more than a weekend on the Central California Coast? Use our Complete Guide to Monterey County for an unforgettable trip.