Located on the southern end of the pristine Monterey Bay, the town of Monterey is a favorite destination for those traveling along the coast of California. Historic buildings with thick adobe walls dot downtown, while the formerly squalid sardine canneries on Cannery Row have long ago been replaced by shiny shops, restaurants, bars, and the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, which was the inspiration for the aquarium in the new Pixar film Finding Dory. Meanwhile, bountiful kelp forests teeming with sea life create rust colored patches on the cerulean blue bay that begs for exploration by scuba divers, snorkelers, kayakers, and stand-up paddleboarders.
This Monterey County city of the same name has a history as rich and deep as its popular seafood stews, known locally as cioppino. Way back in 1770, the Spanish founded a mission and a presidio in Monterey. The city was an important outpost for the Spanish and then the Mexican government within the sprawling territory of Alta California before Monterey and the rest of the region was claimed by the U.S. in 1846.
Though Monterey’s political importance eroded in the state after the Gold Rush, the seaside city has occupied an important place in California’s consciousness due in part to the novels of John Steinbeck, the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, and its popularity with travelers.
Start your day in downtown Monterey like a group of longtime Monterey fishermen would, with an espresso or cup of local favorite Acme coffee at Cafe Lumiere. The coffee shop also has freshly made pastries, breakfast sandwiches, and other hot items that pair well with the caffeinated drink of your choice.
Photo by Stuart Thornton
The Monterey State Historic Park is a collection of old adobes, former government buildings, and residences of early prominent Monterey citizens that are scattered about the city’s downtown. Begin by getting a primer on Monterey’s history at the free museum within the Pacific House—a few blocks from Café Lumiere toward the water—a structure that dates back to 1847. Another fine introduction to the state historic park is available through the guided walking tours, which are available Thursday through Sunday at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. for $5 a person. Whether or not you opt for a tour, be sure to take in the last of Monterey’s whalebone sidewalks in front of the Old Whaling Station and the tranquil Memory Garden (pictured above), a flower-filled oasis behind the Pacific House that was designed by Frederick Olmstead Jr., son of the landscape architect who designed New York City’s Central Park.
Photo by Stuart Thornton
Having opened in January of this year in the center of downtown, The Poke Lab frequently has a line outside its door during lunch and dinner. It’s worth the wait for the casual eatery’s raw fish salads (pictured above) that are made to order. The signature bowl (spicy tuna, ahi tuna, salmon, and avocado on a bed of sushi rice, brown rice, or salad) is a rainbow of colors and flavors.
Walk off lunch with a stroll along the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, known locally as the “Rec Trail.” This paved path goes along the Monterey Peninsula’s shoreline and offers fine views of the region’s marine life. Make sure to detour off the trail to the Coast Guard Pier located at the southwest end of the harbor to view a colony of harbor seals up close.
Almost exactly in the middle of the trail and up a few blocks is the Alvarado Street Brewery & Grill, relaxing and casual enough for a post-hike pint, whether or not you stop at your hotel first. Reflect on Monterey’s past and toast to its present at the Alvarado Street Brewery & Grill, which refashioned a former movie theater into a spacious, modern brewpub with a newly opened beer garden. An adventurous order is a five-ounce of one of their spicy pepper beers with a pint of their Minesweeper IPA as a chaser.
Walk a matter of feet away to the long-running Montrio Bistro. Within a brick, former firehouse, chef Tony Baker does a wide array of appetizers along with some meat heavy entrees like the “Baker’s Delight,” a 40-ounce rib eye. Also in a brick building (and a few blocks from the brewery), the Melville Tavern is a newcomer that goes for a comfy, unassuming beer and burger joint feel. The green chile cheeseburger is a winner, while the weekly $3 beer and wine specials will make your Monterey money last a bit longer.
Following dinner, opt for a concert at the Golden State Theatre, an almost 100 year-old venue with Moorish castle flourishes, or an independent film at the Osio Theater, where you can purchase a craft beer or a boozy slushy made with soju to sip on during the feature. Then enjoy a nightcap at The Crown & Anchor, a British pub where Jon Hamm was seen celebrating after the filming of Mad Men’s last episodes in nearby Big Sur. All of these spots are within blocks of each other.