Scenic ocean road linking Monterey & Carmel, USA

Things to do in  Monterey & Carmel

Of Monterey and Men

Marine life, literary legends, and gorgeous coastal scenery make Monterey an essential California Central Coast destination. Perched on the edge of the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, the Monterey Bay Aquarium offers visitors an up-close glimpse at Pacific sea creatures, while nearby Cannery Row boasts tourist-friendly shops and eateries along a street immortalized by writer John Steinbeck. One of the other top things to do in Monterey is travel along the rocky, windswept coast and world-famous golf courses of the stunning 17-Mile Drive, which connects the city to the upscale enclave of Carmel-by-the-Sea, known for its boutiques and fine dining.

Top 15 attractions in Monterey & Carmel

17-Mile Drive

California's 17-Mile Drive, said to be one of the world's most scenic, is an essential Central Coast experience. Looping around the Monterey Peninsula, the private toll road offers stellar views of Monterey Bay and passes attractions such as the Lone Cypress, Bird Rock, the Del Monte Forest, and the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links.More

Cannery Row

Cannery Row is a proudly tourist-friendly strip running along the atmospheric Monterey waterfront. Once home to a series of bustling commercial sardine canneries, the famous waterfront street changed its name of Ocean View Avenue to its longtime nickname, Cannery Row, in 1958 to honor the 1945 John Steinbeck novel of the same name.More

Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf

Set on California’s central coast, Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf is famous for its ocean views, resident sea lions and sea otters, and sourdough bowls of clam chowder. Souvenir shops, candy stores, street performers, and seafood restaurants line the seafront and, nearby, you can watch as trawlers unload the day’s catch at Fisherman’s Wharf II.More

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is known for its dedication to ocean conservation. It’s among the top aquariums in the US and has a privileged location on California’s Pacific Coast. Highlights include around 200 exhibits and galleries featuring more than 600 species of marine mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and invertebrates.More

Big Sur

Big Sur, a stunning 71-mile (114-kilometer) stretch of California's Central Coast, boasts epic Pacific Ocean views and a jagged, dramatic coastline. Running from the Carmel Highlands to San Simeon, the unincorporated area is very lightly populated—in fact, it's the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the lower United States.More

Hearst Castle

Perched along the California Central Coast, Hearst Castle is the ostentatious creation of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan. This 90,000-square-foot (8,361-square-meter) hilltop estate comprises 165 rooms and 127 acres (51.4 hectares) of gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways—all open to the public.More

Asilomar State Beach

Located on Monterey Peninsula, Asilomar State Beach is scenic stretch of sandy coastline offering unparalleled Pacific views. Visitors enjoy the pedestrian Coast Trail, a dog-friendly beach, and self-guided walking tours. This mile-long beach is a local favorite for surfing, and it's a top spot for tide pooling.More

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, on California’s Central Coast, comprises dramatic headlands, hidden coves, and scenic lookouts, plus 5 miles (8 kilometers) of trails and a rocky coastline full of tide pools. Explore the cultural history museum and spot wildlife, including sea lions, harbor seals, herons, and, in winter, migrating whales.More

Carmel Mission

Part church, part museum, the Carmel Mission is a US National Historic Landmark in the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. It draws visitors who are interested in Spanish colonial history and architecture, religious pilgrims who come to worship, and those those who simply stop by while passing through Carmel.More

Dennis the Menace Park

Slides, a climbing wall, a maze, and other features invite active play at this Monterey landmark. The park was designed by Hank Ketcham, the creator of the mischievous character the playground is named for. While the 1924 steam train that kids once scrambled over is now fenced off, there’s still plenty of fun to be had here.More

Point Pinos Lighthouse

Lighting the way for sailors for more than 150 years, Point Pinos Lighthouse is tucked into the picturesque shoreline of the Monterey Peninsula. The lighthouse still operates today, and its beacon reaches 17 miles out to sea. Visit to take in the scenic location, ocean views, and beautiful lantern room, complete with original lens.More

Sunset Cultural Center

For live performances, arts events, and cultural happenings on the Central Coast, Carmel's Sunset Cultural Center is a premier destination. The building features two stages and gallery space, and hosts events throughout the year. From comedy and rock to dance and theater, the diverse programming offers something for everyone.More

Lovers Point Park

Located in Pacific Grove, Lovers Point Park is a beautifully landscaped community park offering ocean views and extensive amenities. Popular with locals and visitors alike, the park and adjacent beach are ideal for a variety of activities, including sunbathing, picnicking, swimming, surfing, kayaking, fishing, beach volleyball and more.More
Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach

The community of Pebble Beach, California, is best known for the Pebble Beach Golf Links and other high-end golf courses along the Pacific Coast between the towns of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s certainly a golfer’s heaven, but it also draws visitors for its coastal scenery and fine restaurants and hotels.More
Custom House Plaza

Custom House Plaza

Located in the heart of Monterey, Custom House Plaza is rich in history. It is named after the Spanish Colonial–style adobe Custom House, California’s oldest government building. The plaza is part of the Monterey Old Town Historic District, which is itself a part of Monterey State Historic Park and includes several other adobe structures.More

Top activities in Monterey & Carmel

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All about Monterey & Carmel

When to visit

The best time to visit Monterey and Carmel is in spring and early summer when the weather is loveliest and festivals take center stage. The Monterey Wine Festival and Artichoke Festival are usually in June. Whale-watching season is nearly year-round, but gray whales swim through the bay in the peak season from December to May. For the annual Christmas in the Adobes, historic homes come alive with volunteers dressed in 19th-century attire, period music, and dancing.

Getting around

Two legendary roads, the Pacific Coast Highway and 17-Mile Drive, skirt the ocean near Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea. Driving these roads is the most scenic way to get around—and one of top things to do in Monterey. The Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST) bus system provides reliable service to Watsonville in the north and Big Sur to the south. Visitors in central Monterey can use the free MST trolley, which runs from downtown to the Monterey Bay Aquarium from late May to September.

Traveler tips

Instead of prioritizing the more touristy Monterey Aquarium and Mission Carmel, check out the hidden courtyards and passageways in Carmel—dozens are scattered throughout the fairytale downtown. Some, like the Secret Garden Passageway, wind through shops and gardens while connecting public streets. Others, like the Court of the Golden Bough and Seven Arts Court, are less like conventional passageways and more like European middle-age courts anchoring artist studios, libraries, and theaters.

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People Also Ask

Is Monterey or Carmel better?

Both Carmel and Monterey are beautiful seaside communities. Carmel is a quiet village with a gorgeous sandy beach, plus art galleries, wine tasting rooms, and quaint shops. Nearby Monterey is a little busier, and popular destinations there include a historic fish cannery, Old Fisherman’s Wharf, and the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium.

What can you do in Monterey in one day?

In one day, you can visit some of Monterey’s top attractions, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, and the Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf. To see the best of the town’s coastal scenery, add a trip down nearby 17-Mile Drive, a winding road that takes you past sea cliffs, sandy beaches, and forests.

How do you spend a day in Carmel?

With one day in Carmel, start by walking the Scenic Bluff Path along Carmel Bay to Carmel Beach, a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) stretch of sandy coast. Then check out the historic Carmel Mission, browse Ocean Avenue shops, and stroll through the town to see some of Carmel’s whimsical, century-old “fairy tale cottages.”

Is Carmel, California worth visiting?

Yes, Carmel is worth visiting. It has a gorgeous natural setting at the edge of a sandy beach, and nearby 17-Mile Drive is among California’s most scenic trips. Carmel itself is full of quaint charm, from Ocean Avenue shops to fairy tale cottages and the 18th-century National Historic Landmark Carmel Mission.

What is Carmel famous for?

Carmel is famous for its white-sand beach, which stretches 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) along a scenic lagoon. One of top things to do in Carmel is the 3.5-mile (5.6-kilometer) Scenic Bluff Path, which begins at the beach’s northern edge and has great views as it winds past Carmel Point to Carmel River State Beach.

What is the best month to visit Carmel, California?

Carmel is a year-round destination with a Mediterranean climate. Winter brings mild, cool weather followed by a lush, sunny spring. Summer usually means morning fog and warm afternoons. For many locals, the bright days and cool nights of September, October, and November make these some of the most beautiful months.

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