History: Monterey, California sits over a hundred miles south of San Francisco. It’s a small quaint city of about 30,000 which anchors a larger metropolitan area including the towns of Seaside, Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove, and Carmel. Well known for its golf courses, seaside mansions, and outstanding coastal scenery the city got its start when a Spanish presidio and mission were established in 1770. By 1821 Monterey became the capital of the Alta California province under a newly minted Mexican republic which broke from Spain.
Things to Know: The Monterey State Historic Site has a number of buildings mostly concentrated around Custom House Plaza which offer self-guided tours. Pick up a brochure at the Pacific House. There is also a museum with free admission. Follow the bronze markings on the sidewalks, known as the Path of History, which takes you on a self-guided walking tour. The best way to see Monterey is with the sidewalk underfoot. Park the car and get out and walk, it’s small enough, with the exception of maybe driving to Cannery Row about .75 miles to the north. But even that’s walk able with enough time and energy and there are things to see along the way.
Monterey Sea Life: Scenic Monterey County is one of the richest ecological regions along California’s central coast, as proven by the diverse species that call it home. Sea Otters, harbor seals, and sea lions inhabit much of the stretch of the Monterey peninsula and are easily spotted from points close to shore and especially those with sheltered coves. This makes Monterey an ideal spot to view these creatures as the city is not accidentally situated in a cove within Monterey Bay. The offshore area provides federally protected Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest of its kind in the United States and it covers a section of the ocean that extends out to sea for 30 miles and along the coast for about 276 miles. Kelp forests are the most celebrated aquatic plant life and they can grow to towering heights beneath the water’s surface.
Place to see the popular sites: Start at the Monterey State Historic Site which is just behind Portola Plaza along the waterfront. Much of the Monterey Old Town Historic District, an eclectic assortment of Spanish colonial and early Anglo-American buildings, is found within the Monterey State Historic Site. Walking the Old Town is easy because of the bronze medallions that self-guide the visitor. Known as the Path of History, these sidewalk inlayed markers can be followed or you can simply make your own path. Whatever path you choose, proceed first to Fisherman’s Wharf to get views of the ocean and often provided gratis at the entrance to various restaurants. A bit far, Old Custom House, a beautifully restored building, and one the city’s oldest, which dates from 1827. Colton Hall is also located on Pacific Street at the Civic Center and it was in this building that California’s first state constitution was written in 1849. Other honorable mentions worth a look in Monterey’s Old Town are the Larkin House known for its distinctive and eclectic Monterey colonial style. About a ten to fifteen minute walk from Colton Hall, there is famous Carmel Mission which is located about five miles south in the town of Carmel.
About midway between Cannery Row and Custom House Plaza there is the entrance to the Presidio of Monterey an active U.S. Army installation which houses the Defense Language Institute. There is a gate open to visitors who can access the Presidio of Monterey Museum and the monument in Lower Presidio Park which has great views of the city and bay. After a short walk, you will come to Cannery Row, a blessing with mixed reviews. The alternative to the high varieties of glitzy retail outlets, luxury hotels, and seafood restaurants.
Enjoy the ocean views and otter watching from numerous seafood restaurants that line the sea cliffs before taking in perhaps California’s most famous aquarium, it too built in the remains of an old cannery, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Aquarium highlights marine life, both mammal and fish, of the waters off northern California in general and Monterey Bay in particular. You will also see the Spirit of Monterey Wax Museum and Steinbeck Plaza.
Best Time to Go: Summers are very crowded in general and weekends in particular. Summer weather can also be foggy as warm air on land collides with cooler ocean air forming coastal fog. Winter can bring intermittent rain with cooler temperatures.