Time in Monterey should be spent exploring the bay itself, whether by visiting the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium or heading out in the water on a kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or whale-watching vessel.

Day 1

After an early arrival in Monterey, take a leisurely walk around the Monterey Harbor on the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. Be sure to head out on the Coast Guard Pier if you want to view some harbor seals and sea lions up close.

Grab a quick lunch of fish tacos at Turtle Bay Taqueria or a fine Greek salad at Epsilon before heading over to Cannery Row to spend the afternoon taking in furry sea otters and swirling jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Recall all the cute critters over a happy hour beer at the nearby Cannery Row Brewing Company or enjoy a cocktail with a bay view at the C Restaurant & Bar. Head a few blocks up the hill for an elegant seafood dinner at The Sardine Factory, a steak at the Whaling Station, or a more casual dinner with tiki drinks at Hula’s Island Grill.

Cannery Row, Monterey.

Cannery Row, Monterey. Photo © Stuart Thornton.

The Jabberwock Inn offers a quiet bed-and-breakfast experience a few blocks up from Cannery Row, while the Spindrift Inn is perched right on McAbee Beach with sweeping panoramic bay views. Budget travelers can bed down at the HI-Monterey Hostel, conveniently located just a few blocks from the aquarium.

Day 2

It’s time to experience Monterey’s amazing marine life firsthand. Mornings are the best time to hit the water, before the wind comes up. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from Monterey Bay Kayaks and paddle out into the bay from nearby Monterey State Beach. Or head underwater by scuba diving or snorkeling off Monterey’s Breakwater Cove, one of the best beginner dive spots in the state.

Another way to experience the bay is to secure a seat on a whale-watching tour leaving from Monterey Harbor. During the winter and spring migration, gray whales swim right off Monterey’s coast. Pack a sandwich from Mundo’s Café or from Parker-Lusseau Pastries & Café.

For dinner, opt for seafood at the Sandbar & Grill on the Municipal Wharf or creative New American fare at the Montrio Bistro. Enjoy a nightcap on the outdoor patio of The Crown & Anchor or sip a beer at Alvarado Street Brewery.

Day 3

Begin the day with a breakfast near the water at LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle, a microdiner perched on the Municipal Wharf, or First Awakenings, located a block from the aquarium.

Monterey is chock-full of historic buildings. The Monterey State Historic Park has historic adobes and old government buildings scattered around downtown that are well worth visiting. The Custom House and Pacific House Museum located around Custom House Square are good places to start. On weekends, guided ours of the park provide an overview of the area’s history.

View of Lover's Point.

View of Lover’s Point. Photo © Stuart Thornton.

Fans of old Victorian buildings should head to nearby Pacific Grove and take in its quaint downtown along Lighthouse Avenue. Be sure to detour down to Lovers Point Park for its views of the curving bay.

Stay in Pacific Grove for dinner. Passionfish is known for serving sustainable and tasty seafood, while the Jeninni Kitchen & Wine Bar showcases Mediterranean-inspired small plates and entrées. Or head to Il Vecchio if you’re craving Italian food.

Day Trip to Salinas

Break a sweat and then crack open a bottle of wine on a day trip around inland Monterey County. Start by embarking on the hour-long drive to the country’s newest national park: Pinnacles National Park, a wonderland of rock spires, sheer walls, steep canyons, and caves. The park’s west end, the closest entrance from Monterey, provides access to a handful of trails. One recommended hike is the Juniper Canyon Loop, which goes up to the impressive High Peaks.

Cool off afterward by crossing the Salinas Valley to reach the River Road Wine Trail, a string of wineries in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Post up on the outdoor deck at Hahn Winery Tasting Room for views of Pinnacles rising in the distance as you sample pinot noir and chardonnay.

Head to Salinas for dinner. Choose between upscale European fare at Patria on Main Street or go for hearty Italian food at the family-friendly Gino’s.

Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Monterey & Carmel.