Monterey State Historic Park (20 Custom House Plaza, 831/649-7118, www.parks.ca.gov , daily 10 a.m.–5 p.m., free), usually called Old Monterey by locals, pays homage to the long and colorful history of the city of Monterey . This busy port town acted as the capital of California when it was under Spanish rule, and then later when the area became part of United States territory.
Today, this park provides a peek into Monterey as it was in the middle of the 19th century—a busy place filled with dock workers, fishermen, bureaucrats, and soldiers. And yet it blends into the modern town of Monterey as well, and modern stores, galleries, and restaurants sit next to 150-year-old adobe structures.
Free guided tours of several of the museums and adobes are offered most days; a walking tour of Old Monterey takes place at 10:30 a.m. on Monday–Wednesday and on Friday.
It’s tough to see everything in just one visit to Old Monterey. If you only get to one spot on your first trip, make it the Custom House (Sat.–Thurs. 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Fri. 10:30 a.m.–4 p.m.). It’s California State Historic Landmark Number 1, and the oldest bureaucratic building known to still stand in the state. You can spend some time wandering the adobe building, checking out the artifacts on display, or even just looking out the upstairs window towards the sea. Also on the plaza is the Pacific House Museum (Fri.–Wed. 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Thurs. 10:30 a.m.–4 p.m.) with exhibits of Native American artifacts.
There are 10 other buildings that comprise the park; most were built with adobe and/or brick between 1834 and 1847. These include: the Casa del Oro; the Cooper-Molera Adobe (525 Polk St., guided tours Fri.–Wed. 3 p.m.); the First Brick House; the Larkin House (510 Calle Principal, guided tours Tues.–Wed. 11:30 a.m. and Sat.–Sun. noon); the Old Whaling Station; the Pacific House; the Sherman Quarters; and the Stevenson House (530 Houston St., guided tours Mon. and Fri. 2 p.m. and Sat.–Sun. 10:30 a.m.), the former residence of Robert Louis Stevenson.
Famous artists, writers, and military men have stayed in some of these spots, most of which have long histories playing several different roles. Look down as you walk to see if you’re stepping on antique whalebone sidewalks. And be sure to take a few minutes to admire the many beautiful gardens surrounding the adobes, which are lovingly maintained by local groups.