Guide to California's Monterey Peninsula

Take your time wandering and soaking up the scenery

The Monterey Peninsula is a picturesque slice of the Central California coast, known for its striking landscapes and opportunities to enjoy nature. Over the course of a day, you can see otters float by in Monterey Bay, watch the waves crash in Carmel-by-the-Sea, hit the links in Pebble Beach and catch a spectacular sunset from the beach in Pacific Grove.

Things to do on the Monterey Peninsula

A display showing jelly fish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California

The Monterey Bay Aquarium will celebrate 40 years in 2024

(Image credit: Catherine Garcia / The Week)

The Monterey Bay Aquarium brings the ocean inside, giving visitors an up close look at sea otters, penguins, sharks and fish — lots and lots of fish. The aquarium's immersive exhibitions are educational and entertaining, designed to teach visitors about marine life while hopefully also sparking an interest in ocean conservation. The newest exhibition, "Into the Deep: Exploring Our Undiscovered Ocean," is a glimpse into a relatively unknown world and features creatures most people haven't seen, like the bone-eating worm, the basket star, the elephant fish and the massive Japanese spider crab.

The Restless Sea in Pebble Beach, California

The Restless Sea's turbulent nature is likely due to submerged rocks

(Image credit: Catherine Garcia / The Week)

The 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach is both serene and breathtaking, winding its way through some of the most beautiful sites on the Monterey Peninsula. You'll want to take your time driving this route, which meanders along the coastline and through forests, and stop at the 17 points of interest. Highlights include the Restless Sea — this stretch is as turbulent as its name suggests, with waves crashing against the rocks in dramatic fashion — and the Lone Cypress. This iconic Monterey cypress has been standing guard above the ocean for an estimated 250 years and is one of the world's most photographed trees.

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The Lone Cypress, a Monterey Cypress tree visible on the 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach, California

The Lone Cypress, estimated to be about 250 years old, is a symbol of Pebble Beach

(Image credit: Catherine Garcia / The Week)

Monterey County has 26 public and private golf courses, with the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill Golf Course and the Links at Spanish Bay all on 17-Mile Drive. If boating is more your thing, book a whale watching tour. They are offered year-round in Monterey Bay, with dolphin and porpoise sightings almost guaranteed. When it comes to whale spottings, viewings depend on the month, as gray whales pass through from December through June and humpback whales from March to November. Orcas and blue whales also make occasional appearances. 

A humpback whale tail is visible above the surface of Monterey Bay in California

Humpback whales are often spotted in Monterey Bay

(Image credit: Eva Hambach / AFP via Getty Images)

Each beach on the Monterey Peninsula has its own strength, with scuba divers going to McAbee Beach in Monterey to see the kelp forests and surfers heading to Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove to catch some waves. Asilomar is also popular with kayakers and walkers who like to hit the 3/4-mile Asilomar Coast Trail. Dogs are welcome at the white-sand Carmel Beach, which also has a scenic pathway that wanders past majestic Monterey cypresses.

Where to eat

Seafood and produce are in abundance across the Monterey Peninsula, and Wild Fish in Pacific Grove tailors its menu based on fresh catch from local fishermen and farmers. The crispy calamari with chile-lime aioli is a good way to start a meal, and though it's listed as an appetizer, the Salt Spring Island mussels in a white wine, garlic, butter, and tomato broth is hearty enough for a main course. (Be sure to use the delicious grilled sourdough bread to soak up all that broth).  

Italian and French cuisine collide at the quaint Casanova in Carmel. The dishes have both contemporary and rustic elements, and local specialties like Castroville artichokes are key ingredients in plates like the thistle-loaded risotto. 

The Sardine Factory has been a staple on Monterey's Cannery Row since 1968, thanks to its boat exterior and creative seafood dishes. Favorites include the abalone bisque, cioppino and Parmesan-crusted calamari steak with prawns and scallops. There are several rooms to dine in, but the bright and airy Conservatory is the most popular choice. 

Where to stay

The exterior view of the yellow Seven Gables Inn in Pacific Grove, California

The land for the historic Seven Gables Inn in Pacific Grove was purchased in 1877 for $250

(Image credit: Kirkwood Collection)

The Seven Gables Inn on Monterey Bay embraces its history. Built in 1886, the boutique property is made up of seven Victorian houses, including a main three-story mansion filled with intricate stained glass windows, antique furnishings and objets d'art. On arrival, guests are greeted with a glass of Champagne or sparkling apple cider and given an overview of their accommodations.

All of the well-appointed rooms have ocean views, but the elegant Breakers Room goes all-in with its proximity. The water is right there, and it almost feels as though you can reach out and touch it. Couches and chairs are arranged to take full advantage of the stunning scenery, and windows can be opened to let in the breeze. The rooms don't have televisions, and they aren't missed. The waves are your entertainment, and the sound of them crashing against the rocks the soundtrack. 

The view of Monterey Bay from the Breakers Room at Seven Gables Inn in Pacific Grove, California

The view from the Breakers Room

(Image credit: Catherine Garcia / The Week)

In the morning, breakfast is served in the charming Beach House, which has its own commanding view of the surf. The promise of adventure means that many guests don't linger, but those who do stick around can borrow binoculars and gaze into the sea, searching for otters and other wildlife. It's a soothing way to start the day.

Catherine Garcia was a guest of the Seven Gables Inn

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