Monterey, California is a charming little beach village located about 2 hours south of San Francisco and 45 minutes north of Big Sur, California. The unparalleled beauty of the coastline in this region, especially along the iconic 17-Mile Drive, is one of the many reasons that visitors have been drawn to the area for decades.
When it comes to leisure and recreation, Monterey is a great destination for kayaking, fishing, whale- and dolphin-watching, surfing, and more.
But most recently, however, Monterey, California has exploded in the pop culture milieu as the alluring setting of Reese Witherspoon’s popular HBO drama, Big Little Lies. (Unlike many contemporary California TV shows, which claim to be set in coastal California but are usually filmed in Canada or Georgia, Big Little Lies was actually filmed in Monterey.)
In the TV series, as in real life, Monterey has an inexplicable sense of place. In addition to the beautiful coast; fabulous restaurants, cafes, and shopping; and wonderful spa, leisure, and recreation opportunities, it’s also famously the site of Jimi Hendrix’s iconic 1967 performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. (One of the decade’s most consequential music events, which also introduced the world to Janis Joplin.)
Monterey, moreover, has a rich cultural history: Ansel Adams photographed the landscape, and John Steinbeck did his best writing here– as did Henry Miller.
Ultimately, the below Monterey Travel Guide has everything you need to know about what to see, eat, and do in this timeless and trendy California beach town.
Today, there’s still a certain relaxed etherealness to the area, which is why it’s perhaps fitting that the local tourism hashtag for Monterey is #YourPlacetoDream.
The Best Things To Do in Monterey, California
Below, we spotlight the best things to do, see, eat, and discover in Monterey, California– as well as many of the famous destinations featured in the Big Little Lies series. It’s a magical place to wander and explore– especially if you’re a fan of what has quickly become the most famous TV show ever filmed in town.
Ultimately, this Monterey Travel Guide might be Big Little Lies-approved, but this beautiful beach town has enduring merit on its own. There’s a lot to love about Monterey– as any local can tell you.
So, bookmark this list for easy reference later. There’s so much good stuff here to explore!
Alta Bakery + Cafe (For Amazing Coffee, Pastries, and Flower Garden)
Alta Bakery + Cafe is a charming little open-concept bakery and indoor-outdoor cafe that serves amazing coffee and pastries.
Located at the Cooper Molera Adobe on Munras Ave, Alta Bakery + Cafe is a must-stop for foodies visiting Old Monterey. (I love going here en route to the Monterey Trail, Fishermen’s Wharf, or Cannery Row.)
We love the open-air garden and outdoor seating area! It’s one of my favorite places in historic Old Town Monterey and such a quintessential part of the community. And the chocolate pudding, cookies, and foodie gems like miso-glazed doughnuts, creamsicle mousse olive oil cake, Reuben croissants, and pine n’ huckleberry lattes are all fantastic!
They also have gourmet sundries available for takeaway, like house-made sweet and salty rye chips and “rusted” chocolate tools packaged in cute little bags. These make the perfect souvenir. If, that is, they last long enough for you to take them home. 🙂
The bakery’s chic glass case is home to a number of drool-worthy items worth noting. Try Cal’s famous carrot cake cookie or the positively sinful flourless chocolate brownie.
They also have excellent sandwiches, bread loaves for sale, and other classic cafe food like avocado toast, salads, and garden herb mimosas.
Outside in the same complex, you’ll find Cella Restaurant and the Barns at Cooper Molera– great event spaces that are just lovely to gaze upon and wander around during the day.
In Big Little Lies, there’s a tense scene that takes place here between Adam Scott’s character, Ed, and Madeline’s ex-husband. In the course of that conversation, the ex calls Ed a, ahem, “snidefuck”. (^ In real life, Alta Bakery is just as popular as the numerous extras in the background of this scene suggest. So, you can imagine this was pretty awkward.)
I love Alta Bakery’s chocolate buckwheat cookies and seasonal pastries like the lemon lavender tart. The epic house-made chocolate pudding in a jar with cream is also a rare find that never disappoints. It’s such a quaint and charming concept!
Above all, however, I love and strongly recommend trying the Peanut Butter Banana Latte (my go-to order).
No matter what you order, be sure to take your coffee, tea, chai, matcha, or mocha out for a stroll in the garden, past the Diaz Adobe and rustic barn event space.
^ There are gorgeous dahlias, roses, and artichoke flowers blooming here for most of spring, summer, and fall, and they all smell fantastic. Wandering or reading amongst the blooms is absolutely lovely on a crisp coastal morning.
Monterey Bay Aquarium (For A Whimsical Afternoon)
Monterey Bay Aquarium is a classic Monterey Attraction that’s rivaled in name recognition by perhaps only Pebble Beach. (More on that, below.) It is THE go-to Monterey tourist attraction, but it’s also a great hub for animal lovers and conservationists in general.
Go here to see the absolutely adorable otters, magically fluorescent glowing jellyfish, enigmatic stingrays, leopard sharks, and more! Whether you’ve got kids or you’re a kid at heart, it’s a whimsical place for the entire family.
The super-popular sea otter pool draws people from all over the country.
As far as Big Little Lies goes, the aquarium makes a number of appearances. Shailene Woodley’s character, Jane, and her son Ziggy go here before Jane tells Ziggy that he has to go see a child psychologist. Later, in Season 2, Jane works here!
Also, when the husband to Laura Dern’s character, Renata Klein, mentions her “being on the board of the aquarium,” this is the one he’s talking about.
And finally, fans who really look for easter eggs in the show will note that the mascot of the kids’ elementary school is an otter– as in Otter Bay Elementary School. This, too, is a reference to the aquarium and the associated local attractions.
Lula’s Chocolates (A Charming Local Gem)
Lula’s Chocolates is known for sea salt caramels, nut clusters, toffees, truffles, and butter cremes, all of which are made right here in Monterey.
The Big Little Lies characters once gather together here in a scene scripted for the series. (And lucky for them, Lula’s supplied chocolate to the entire set!)
The shop is also called “MJ’s Chocolate” in the background of an FBI scene that appears in the show. But, I think it’s meant to represent Lula’s, as Lula’s is THE go-to chocolate shop in the area.
Visit their factory store in Monterey for the quintessential experience. (They also have locations in Carmel and Santa Clara). Caramel lovers adore Lula’s!
Explore Cannery Row + Fisherman’s Wharf
John Steinbeck’s historic Cannery Row is a charming piece of local Monterey culture. The name comes from all the fish-canning facilities in this part of town, which have since been converted into seafood restaurants, hotels, and locally-owned shops.
(^ Many of the neighborhood’s original warehouse signs, however, remain intact. See, for example, Sardine Products Co. Inc’s elevated cargo platform, which is still painted in the original cursive.)
Touristy but photogenic, this area is also home to several art galleries and a lovely, wildflower-lined, ocean-front trail that winds between Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf. (More on that, below.)
Fisherman’s Wharf, as the name suggests, is a touristy but rewarding wharf lined with carnie-style souvenir shops, cafes, entertainment stops, and restaurants. Overall, Fisherman’s Wharf is very touristy, but like Coney Island, the kitsch can have its appeal.
Specific Places to Check Out
Loulou’s Griddle in the Middle, for example, is a nice old-school diner on Wharf 2 of Fisherman’s Wharf, with generous portions and affordable prices. (Guy Fieri once featured it on his Food Network show, if that’s any indication of the vibe.)
Paluca Trattoria, as another, more refined example, is a pet-friendly restaurant on the wharf that serves cool, unique local delicacies like Monterey Bay calamari, hand-breaded and fried with pesto aioli. Be sure to try it if you can!
Otherwise, the smoked salmon linguini, lobster ravioli, and wild prawn bruschetta are absolutely excellent. The popularity and iconography of its location, meanwhile, is likely why the Big Little Lies crew filmed so many coffee shop scenes here in Season 1 of the show.
Paluca Trattoria, moreover, is the real-life location of Blue Blues, the fictional seaside coffee shop where Madeline, Jane, and Celeste hang out for the first time.
The opening montage of the show’s intro song also features overlay scenes of Fisherman’s Wharf and the surrounding boats. It’s an iconic spot synonymous with Monterey.
Meanwhile, ocean lovers should note that deep-sea fishing and whale watching tours launch from Fisherman’s Wharf daily. If you want to get out on the water in Monterey, it’s one of the best places to start.
When exploring Fisherman’s Wharf, also be sure to stroll along the water and enjoy the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail. This meandering pedestrian path is lined with beautiful wildflowers and interesting flora– including blooming cacti.
^ In the spring, it’s a good place to see iconic California poppies swaying in the breeze while drinking in the beautiful sightlines. (It’s also great for biking!)
Ultimately, starting your day at Alta Bakery + Cafe before strolling Alvarado Street to Fisherman’s Wharf, and then meandering along the Monterey Bay trail is a morning well-spent! Combine these bucket list items into a single day and you’ll be sure to have a quintessential Monterey experience.
Breakfast at Old Monterey Cafe
Create your own omelet at this iconic local cafe, or order a drool-worthy Southwest breakfast burrito. Old Monterey Cafe, moreover, is easily the best breakfast spot in Monterey.
In addition to diner-perfect pancakes and old-school french toast, they also serve excellent shoestring hashbrowns and utterly voluptuous stuffed Belgian waffles bursting with fruit, chocolate chips, pecans, or whatever you’d like to fill them with.
Everything here is made to order and delivered with endearing breakfast-joint hustle until they close in the late afternoon. They open at 6:45 AM and the place is always bustling.
Whether you’re a traditionalist who likes simple eggs and toast or an experimental foodie who always wants to try new flavors, Old Monterey Cafe has something for you. (This is why, in addition to the charming Old Hollywood decor, they’ve been voted “Best Breakfast in Monterey” by locals for ten years running.)
If you’re staying downtown and want a hearty breakfast or a jet-lag cure, this is the Monterey breakfast spot for you. Get it while it’s hot!
Alvarado Street Brewery and Grill (For Burgers + Beer)
Located in the middle of Alvarado Street– the quaint “main street” in the heart of Monterey– this 5,000 square-foot brewery serves classic California pub cuisine.
Alvarado Street Brewery and Grill is known for everything from “Double Double” vegan burgers to chorizo queso fundido, along with a rotating cast of house-brewed drafts like Minesweeper IPA. Vegetarians and carnivores alike can enjoy the burgers here, and that’s part of the charm.
^ Ultimately, though, this is a lively, can’t-miss spot for craft beer lovers. Go for lunch in their industrial-chic beer garden and order the Alvarado Burger for the classic experience.
And if you simply love burgers, make this place a priority. It’s fun and it always draws a crowd.
Cruise The Iconic 17-Mile Drive
17-Mile Drive is a famous scenic route that winds along the coast of Monterey, California, and showcases some of the area’s most serene vistas. You may have heard about this scenic drive in previous searches for fun things to do in Monterey– and with good reason. It’s absolutely gorgeous!
From the white sand beach dunes surrounding Spanish Bay to the dramatic coastal cliffs and lush greenery of Del Monte Forest, the backdrops here are as stunning as they are rugged.
This drive around the Monterey Peninsula also passes two of the area’s most iconic sights. The first is the 18th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links on Stillwater Cove (one of America’s most famous golf courses). The second is the Lone Cypress, a picturesque cypress tree that grows wistfully from a stand-alone granite cliff off of the coast in Pebble Beach. (<— It’s supposedly one of the most photographed trees in America!)
Overall, there are many places to hike, beach walk, and picnic along the coast. You can easily make an afternoon of this outing. (It takes about 3 hours to make the drive, assuming you stop and take pictures and explore, etc.)
For nature lovers, I also recommend hiking the short, accessible Bird Rock Trail if you want to get an intimate look at the landscape’s native plants, flowers, birds, sea lions, brown pelicans, and sea otters.
Visitors can access 17-Mile Drive through any of the four main gates off of Highway 1, in Carmel, and Pacific Grove. There is a small toll to enter. (About ~$10 per vehicle.)
FYI: Admission to 17-Mile Drive is complimentary for guests of The Lodge at Pebble Beach, The Inn at Spanish Bay, and Casa Palmero– three of the area’s most iconic and luxurious resorts.
The drive is also great for cyclists and serious bikers who want to ride along the coast! Either BYOB (bring your own bike) or ask your hotel about rentals.
Sample Fresh Seafood at Wild Fish
This hot sustainable restaurant found a home in Santa Cruz before opening in Pacific Grove. At Wild Fish, wild-caught seafood is always the star.
The menu changes daily and features only the best local and organic produce. From gorgeous tuna tartare to fluffy shrimp risotto to perfect seafood scampi, Wild Fish is a must for seafood lovers.
We love the sustainable mission and the artful presentation here. There’s a creative story behind every dish– from the crudo to the crabcakes. Ultimately, everything is super fresh and always presented with finesse.
Wild Fish is also a great place to go for whole Dungeness Crab, for those who seek that out. (It’s sort of a cult thing among shellfish lovers.)
Wine Tasting in Monterey County (Specifically Try Pinot Noir)
Pinot Noir from Monterey County is some of the best in the world! It’s also possible to find lesser-known varietals like Albariño in this region.
- Bernardus Winery – At this gorgeous, sunny tasting room, be sure to sample the signature Bordeaux-style blend and award-winning Chardonnay.
- Boekenoogen Winery – Signature Pinots, nice patio, and great location in the heart of the Santa Lucia Highlands.
- Hahn Family Wines – Bring a picnic and enjoy your wine with a sweeping view!
- Wrath Wines Tasting Room – You’ll often see Big Little Lies characters drinking wine in various scenes. Wrath was one of the labels that sent wine to the set. Ultimately, their signature Pinot Noir is one of the most awarded wines in the region. They also do an excellent rosé and they even have a cute winery cat!
Sample Some Revival Ice Cream
Revival Ice Cream is the best! This unique Monterey ice cream shop serves locally sourced, handmade, organic ice cream in seasonal foodie flavors like Fig Leaf, Nuts + Fluff, Olive Oil, and Brown Sugar Cinnamon. I love it.
They also have dairy-free options in fun familiar flavors like Cold Brew Coconut, Chocolate Praline, Tangelo, and Cucumber Mint Mojito, for people who want something lighter and more refreshing.
The menu changes regularly with the season, but it’s always intriguing. Oh– and they also serve amazing ice cream sandwiches and homemade ice cream pops!
For a real treat, try their award-winning “Bee Knees” flavor. It’s made with Burnt local honey, honeycomb candy, bee’s wax, and bee pollen. Otherwise, be sure to try their homemade honeycomb candy, which is usually available for separate purchase.
Also, they don’t take cash. Plan accordingly!
Sleek Dining at The C restaurant + bar
InterContinental at The Clement Monterey is located next to the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, in the heart of John Steinbeck’s historic Cannery Row. The refined menu is always delicious, but the waterfront views are the real draw here.
Featuring outside ocean-top seating, executive chef Matt Bolton’s menu focuses on eco-friendly, sustainably sourced seafood. They even work in partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.
Examples from the menu include Monterey Bay red abalone with artichoke dressing as well as lobster risotto and pan-seared day boat scallops. They also serve Monterey Cioppino, a tomato-based style of fish stew that originated in San Francisco, which features a variety of fresh fish and shellfish. If the views weren’t enough to convince you, the nuance of flavors here simply screams “vacation by the sea”.
We also love the crispy calamari (which isn’t overly heavy or oily) and the tender, super-fresh seasonal ceviche.
Above all, be sure to save room for dessert, which always features delightful inventions like “Milk & Honey Toast” made from warm buttery caramelized brioche served with house-made milk ice cream, honeycomb candy, and huckleberry jam finished with a healthy drizzle of meadowfoam honey from local Carmel Honey Company. Whew! Suffice it to say, these people know what they’re doing.
Late-Night Munchies at Nacho Bizness (For The Charming Novelty of It All)
The Nacho Bizness window is Monterey’s most fun homegrown fast-food establishment, specializing in– you guessed– nachos.
They make their signature dairy and vegan cheese sauces in-house, which is partly why they have a rabid late-night following. In addition to the sheer novelty of it all, the other reason for this nacho shop’s popularity are the cool, worldly, trend-sensitive specials.
Take, for example, the Waffle Fry Nachos; the Hawaiian Plate Lunch nachos; the Thai Green Curry Nachos; the Filipino Pork Adobo Nachos topped with chicken lumpia and sweet chili sauce; or the Musubi Nachos, made with wasabi jack queso, Oaxaca cheese, teriyaki glazed Spam and roasted nori pico. (<— So good!)
They also have more mainstream pairings like BBQ Chicken Nachos and Carne Asada. Plus, all nachos can be made into burritos for those so inclined.
Also, you always have the option to add mac n’ cheese as a topping. Yes, mac n’ cheese. Foodies: add this cozy little nacho shop to the top of your list!
Golfing at the Iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links
When it comes to golf, Pebble Beach is something of a holy place. Home to many a U.S. Open over the years, Pebble Beach is considered the No. 1 public golf course in America, located on the lovely 17-Mile coastal drive.
For golfers who want to play on one of the world’s most gorgeous greens– and one of the first professional courses to be made accessible to the public!– it’s a Bucket List destination.
But Pebble Beach isn’t just a destination for golf lovers, that is. Between the iconic Pebble Beach Resorts— The Lodge at Pebble Beach, The Inn at Spanish Bay, and Casa Palmero— the on-site spas and restaurants are all fabulous.
Ultimately, there’s a reason that these seaside escapes on the Monterey Peninsula have been attracting peace-seeking visitors for over a century. The service is excellent and the aesthetics here are unparalleled.
Don’t Miss The Excellent Restaurants + Spa
At Stillwater Bar & Grill, for example, you can enjoy the area’s finest California Coastal Cuisine– including super local, sustainably caught seafood– alongside breathtaking views of Stillwater Cove and the 18th hole at Pebble Beach.
Or, sip incredible cocktails before an open-air fire with sweeping ocean views at The Bench, which features an eclectic mix of wood-fired artisanal specialties. (We love the signature burger, the “bread balloon”, and the spicy chicken sandwich. Meanwhile, the salads– from the California Chopped to the delightfully rustic BLT Salad– are always excellent. Enjoy as a refreshing lunch on a sunny day overlooking the green!)
Round out your visit with a booking at The Spa at Pebble Beach for a truly incredible experience. To imbue a distinct sense of place, the spa offers treatments that incorporate plant extracts, herbs, and minerals that are indigenous to the Monterey Peninsula. (A detail that I love.)
^ Try a calming CBD-infused Anti-Stress Facial, or experience one of their signature Flotation Wraps. We like the Espresso Limon Slimming Treatment, which involves being wrapped in a blend of South American coffee oil, Italian lemons, and Madagascar cinnamon while enjoying a relaxing foot massage. (<— Even cooler than it sounds!)
For golfers, they even offer player-specific treatments like the Golfer’s Foot Renewal (a massage specifically dedicated to feet and lower legs) as well as sports massage and post-golf therapy massage. This assists in recovery by focusing on tired forearms, neck, lower back, and hips.
Ultimately, the Spa at Pebble Beach is one of only a few spas to win a Forbes Five-Star Luxury Award. And with good reason: like the resort complex itself, it leaves nothing to be desired. Even repeat visitors never want to leave!
Sunset Walk at Asilomar State Beach
Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove is a popular spot for sunset walks and surfing. Just remember that central coast beaches can be chilly, even in the summer!
There’s a well-maintained coastal walk that curves around the water’s edge. It’s a nice place to walk and take in the salt air. (Especially if you’re looking for a quieter spot away from tourists.)
This is also a good beach for bird waters. Be sure to look for colorful starfish and sea anemones in the tide pools!
Haute Enchilada Cafe, Gallery, & Social Club
Located about ~20 minutes drive from Monterey in Moss Landing, California, this adorably quirky and colorful restaurant serves some of the best homemade Mexican food in the region.
The folksy artist vibes and transporting gallery garden at The Haute Enchilada Cafe are just a plus. In addition to great food, the art gallery and social club has 5,000 square feet of intriguing sculpture, ceramics, textiles, jewelry, and colorful decor.
We love their grilled artichokes and shrimp, as well as the Peruvian empanadas and Peruvian causa with prawns.
The pork belly tacos, burrito bowls, and huitlacoche (aka black corn truffle) enchiladas are all reliably excellent. We also love the Pescado Cubano (grilled catch of the day encrusted with pistachio and pumpernickel, served with plantain croquettes stuffed with cotija cheese, black beans, and drizzled with avocado tomatillo salsa and cream). The food here is super satisfying.
Best of all, the restaurant works with organic and sustainable ingredients. They even fry their corn chips in organic bran oil! (<—A subtle detail that makes me so, so happy.)
Gluten-Free and Vegetarian Friendly
There are also plenty of gluten-free and vegetarian options. Consider, for example, the excellent Chile Relleno Trotsky, the Roasted Veggie Polenta, or the Relleno de la Paz.
(^ That last dish is a roasted chile pasilla pepper stuffed with a caramelized onion and plantain mash, pumpkin raisin pipain mole sauce, and cashew cream. In addition to being gluten-free, this dish is also vegan. So yes– the food is excellent, and there truly is something for everyone.)
Also be sure to check out the amazing aloe, dahlia, succulents, and cacti in the gardens on your way out! The charm is in the details. Keep your eyes open.
Ladies, Shop These Two Alvarado Street Boutiques
- Grace Lifestyle Boutique features the kind of stylish, trendy statement pieces that you might see any of the Big Little Lies characters wearing on a casual day. Think: amazing light-washed jeans, zodiac constellation gold/diamond necklaces, cashmere sweaters, and the like. They also stock thoughtfully made candles, pillows, and other basic homeware accouterments. Once, I walked in here and the theme song from Big Little Lies— Michael Kiwanuka’s “Cold Little Heart”– was literally playing over the sound system. It doesn’t get more authentic than that!
- Bliss Boutique, meanwhile, has beautiful striped linen dresses and very cute rompers. The collection here is small but the silhouettes here are streamlined and flowy like resort wear. This is the typical Monterey style. Perfect for cocktails at Pebble Beach! 🙂
Upscale Dining at Sardine Factory
When it comes to dining in Monterey, Sardine Factory is a historical landmark with a relatively classy ambiance for a city that is often casual by default. Located on Cannery Row, this upscale dining establishment also has one of the best wine cellars in California. Oenophiles, take note!
Try the Ahi Tuna Salad– a perennial fan favorite– or any of the elegantly-plated fish dishes for the quintessential experience here. The menu tends toward refined, and they have cozy loungers, vaulted ceilings with lots of greenery, and occasional live music. (In this way, the dining room sort of reminds me of the tea room at the Plaza Hotel in NYC.)
For over 50 years now, Sardine Factory has hosted world leaders, movie stars, and sports icons from all over the world. Here, they’ve enjoyed classic items like the “World-Famous Abalone Bisque” (enhanced with bacon, chives, and Madeira wine) as well as Pacific Coast sanddab. (<— A uniquely local fish.)
Ultimately, if you’re looking for a romantic dinner date spot in Monterey, this is a good go-to restaurant. And yes: you’ll want to save room for the tiramisu. It’s easily the best around.
Happy Girl Kitchen
This combination market and restaurant stocks a famous collection of jams and pickled vegetables, many of which are featured on the Big Little Lies set. (In the show Celeste and Madeline had Happy Girl products stocked in their kitchens, for authenticity.)
Happy Girl Kitchen also has an excellent vegetarian cafe and deli, which is worth noting, non-meat eaters!
The food here is organic and local, and everything– from the signature avocado toast to the popular frittata– is made from scratch. They also offer plenty of vegan and gluten-free options within their wide assortment of house-made baked goods, salads, soups, and snacks.
Buy some of their Sangiovese Grape Shrub or Meyer Lemon Lavender Spritzer for a truly local souvenir that tastes of the place. (Monterey, California, that is.)
Otherwise, be sure to explore their fun selection of seasonal ferments– bread n’ butter zucchini pickles, anyone?– and look out for unique regional creations like Olallieberry Jam (a rare find that will appeal to foodies). All of Happy Girl’s pickles are preserved with local organic apple cider vinegar, by the way.
They also make the best darn quince jam and summer apricot jam around! (<— Think of these preserves as the rustic central coast counterpart to Jessica Koslow’s jam empire down at Sqirl in LA.)
The Salvador Dalí Exhibit at Monterey History & Art Association
Located just a 2-minute walk from Fisherman’s Wharf, the Salvador Dalí Exhibition hosted by the Monterey Art and History Association is the largest private collection of Dalí works on the West Coast. And I know what you’re thinking: random, right?
However, the artist and his wife Gala actually spent 8 years in Monterey, from 1940 to 1948. During this time, he went through a period of experimentation, rejecting modernism and “connecting with other artistic traditions”, to quote the museum.
Today, Dmitry Piterman’s collection of Salvador Dalí artwork has found a welcome home in the former Museum of Monterey. This permanent exhibit includes original etchings, mixed media, lithographs, and rare sculptures that comprise the largest private collection on display in the United States.
^ These works have previously been exhibited in Belgium and Spain, where the iconic twentieth-century surrealist artist spent his life.
Art lovers should be sure to check out this remarkable collection, which visitors often miss. You usually only see this caliber of globally-renowned artwork in Europe or cities like New York and LA. As such, it’s one of Monterey, California’s truly unique gems.
Shop The Local Farmers’ Markets
California produce from the central coast region is almost unparalleled in quality. Below are some of the area’s best farmers’ markets located in and around Monterey, California.
- Monterey Peninsula College Certified Farmers Market – Fridays, 10 AM to 2 PM year-round
- Del Monte Certified Farmers Market – Sundays, 8 AM to Noon, May-October
- The Farmers Market at Old Monterey Marketplace – Tuesdays, 4 PM to 8 PM, year-round
- Downtown Salinas Certified Farmers Market, Saturdays – 9 AM to 2 PM, year-round
What To Buy in Monterey, California
Monterey County, Salinas, and Carmel valley boast some of the best agricultural land in California, which is to say, America.
Thus, the artisan food, wine, and skincare products that come out of this region make excellent souvenirs. Buy wine at any of the local vineyards detailed above, or shop local skincare like Rx Pebble Beach (available at the resort spa and on-site boutique).
Martinelli’s Apple Juice and Cider are also based just outside of Monterey. Their products can be found and sipped locally. Foodies also love the cute little honey packets sold by Carmel Honey Company, available at most local specialty food shops and markets.
Visitors to Monterey should also look for Lula’s Chocolate and Happy Girl Kitchen products (both detailed above), as well as Big Sur chocolate, locally-roasted coffee, and saltwater taffy. For those so inclined, pearls and local art from Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row also make lovely, unique Monterey souvenirs.
The Origins of Monterey Jack Cheese
Also, fun fact! Monterey Jack cheese originated in Monterey, California. In the 1700s, Mexican Franciscan friars in Monterey, California started making this semi-firm, creamy mild cheese from aged cow’s milk.
Eventually, an entrepreneur named David Jack realized its commercial value. He started marketing it as a uniquely “American” cheese and selling it all over California. Eventually, people started calling it “Monterey Jack’s cheese”, which eventually got shortened to Monterey Jack.
Not surprisingly, Monterey Jack pairs beautifully with Pinot Noir– the wine variety that the Monterey region is known for. Look for it at any of the local farmers’ markets, above!
Other Useful Things to Keep In Mind
- Remember to bring SPF and sunglasses! The central California coast of Monterey is very bright, and the sun’s rays bounce off the coast like no other. Afternoon driving is nearly impossible without shades– to say nothing of the sunburn that can result from golfing, surfing, or hiking all day without protection. A hat may also be a good idea if you plan on spending the day outdoors (when the weather is this good, you’ll want to spend most of your hours outside).
- Julia’s Vegetarian Restaurant – Those who love Co-ops will love the quirky, hearty, homey food at Julia’s Vegetarian Restaurant, one of the best vegetarian restaurants in Monterey. While the digs are a little more eclectic than what you’d typically see in Big Little Lies, the food has incredible charm. The establishment sources ingredients largely from the chef’s own farm. Overall, Julia’s is ideal for vegetarians and vegans, but carnivores will love it, too!
- First Awakenings – Speaking of no-frills food, First Awakenings is another fun, casual breakfast spot in Monterey that’s located in a former factory with a cute outdoor patio. They do great pancakes and omelets, and have mastered the art of toasting and buttering English muffins.
- Car break-ins don’t happen with anywhere near as much regularity as they do in San Francisco— but there have been a few isolated incidents. Be sure to secure valuables and, if possible, remove them from your car every time you leave.
- Other Notable Monterey Golf Courses – In addition to Pebble Beach, there are also several other beautiful golf courses in and around Monterey, for those who want to make a weekend out of it. Avid golfers should check out the Pacific Grove Golf Links, which is so affordably priced that people often refer to it as “the poor man’s pebble beach.” Or, spend a day on the Laguna Seca Golf Ranch, with its majestic oaks and excellent on-site restaurant. It’s all super beautiful. You’ll never want to leave!
- Finally, for fitness lovers: Toro County Park in Salinas is good for hiking and trail running in and around Monterey. Find more info here.
Related: 14 Cool Real-Life Spots from “Emily in Paris”.
Headed to SoCal next? Visit our critically-acclaimed Travel Well section for a mix of practical and fun insider guides, from Where To Get The Best Brunch in LA to What To Do After a Car Break-In in San Francisco.
This was a fantastic and detailed article! Thank you for these local gems! My wife and I are heading to Monterey for the first time from Long Beach tmrw morning for our two year and this got me even more excited for the weekend adventure!! Thank you again!!