For anyone who has not yet visited the Monterey Peninsula, you may be surprisingly overwhelmed upon your arrival at the many places to see and things to do in this sweet little coastal town. We’ve lived here for nearly four years and are constantly helping our couples get the most out of their trip with our suggestions!
We certainly don’t know it all and are always finding new favorites ourselves, but here is our current must-do list for Monterey.
1. Drive Big Sur!
Big Sur is one of the most stunning coastlines in the entire world. From Monterey, you’ll expect to drive about 2-3 hours round trip without stopping (of course, depending on how far south you want to go). I usually recommend a good turnaround spot is at McWay falls. However, there are so many things to do in Big Sur, which is why we’ve compiled a separate post with our top Big Sur Travel Tips Here.
2. Love boats? Go Whale Watching!
Whale watching in Monterey is well worth your while, with sightings nearly year round (even from the shore!) The trip out to Monterey Submarine Canyon is about an hour by boat and puts you in the middle of dolphins, killer whales, blue whales, otters, seals, and more! We are constantly seeing marine wildlife from the shore, too if boats aren’t your thing.
3. Monterey Bay Aquarium
Most aquariums may seem gimmick-y or boring or high priced for how small they are. Not this one. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a world-renowned aquarium, sitting happily in our Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The tickets are about $50 a piece and you can expect to spend about 2-3 hours there on average, for your first time. We highly recommend planning your visit in the morning or mid-morning, allowing for a little break in the crowds. Recognize the aquarium? Possibly because Monterey Bay and the Aquarium is what inspired the aquarium on Finding Dory!
4. Refuge Spa in Carmel
This is probably the most wonderful hidden gem in the entire peninsula. Refuge is America’s first co-ed relaxation spa. They offer an amazing thermal pool spa environment that I am personally obsessed with and highly, highly recommend to anyone wanting to unwind with a few hours to kill. Admission is about $50 per person, and provides you full all-day access to their entire property with a cedar sauna, 6 medium-hot pools, 4 plunge pools, relaxation areas, eucalyptus steam rooms, and serene campfire lounge areas. Simply bring a bathing suit and a good book, and you can get lost in this adults-only paradise. The best part? They don’t allow talking. You can whisper and obviously coordinate with your partner, but the only real noise you’ll hear is the babbling of their many waterfalls, the local birds and a rustling of the light breeze as it rolls across the trees in the valley. They recommend giving the entire experience about a 2-3 hour window, but I could probably stay here all day.
5. Visit Carmel By The Sea
Carmel By The Sea deserves its own guide/tips section, because it’s honestly just beautiful and so unique. The stunning bohemian arts community shares its longstanding history through stunning architecture, beautiful beaches, and some of the most lovely shops and restaurants in the entire area. You can’t go wrong with any of the dining options here, and the best way to enjoy the city is to park and walk through it entirely. You’ll find one of a kind brands and shops, local and international brands, delicious worldly inspired cuisine, and some extremely friendly people. Bonus? Carmel is the most dog friendly city in America so you can bring your furry friend if you are traveling with them! The entire Monterey Peninsula is actually extremely dog friendly, with a majority of lodging, retail, and dining options offering dog accommodations. Some even say Monterey is more dog-friendly than kid friendly!
If you’re simply driving through or only planning a short trip here, you simply must view our stunning beaches, the Big Sur Coastline, and experience some of the most delicious worldly-inspired food. There are also endless Golf Courses that are world-renowned, many annual car events (especially the world famous Car Week) and many convenient nearby cities and attractions. Expect to see beautiful coastline (but don’t plan on swimming, the water is usually quite cold), redwoods, cypress trees, unique wildlife, and year-round mild temperatures of about 70 degrees with a light sea breeze.