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Monterey – California

We do not remember days, we remember moments.”
– Cesare Pavese

Lone Cypress Tree, Monterey, CA
Lone Cypress Tree along 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach

Monterey is one of California’s most popular destinations. The world-famous Monterey Peninsula offers unparalleled coastal and Pacific Ocean views – and spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Tour the famous 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach. Its scenic coastal route hugs the rocky coastline between Carmel and Pacific Grove, offering visitors some of the best views on the planet. See the famous Lone Cypress Tree (pictured above), one of the world’s most photographed trees and enjoy breathtaking landscapes, vistas and ocean views. Monterey is also home to world-famous golf courses, wineries and tasting rooms – and some of the most beautiful nature trails in the country.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, considered to be one of the best (and largest) aquariums in the world. Located on historic Cannery Row, the aquarium overlooks Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The popular aquarium houses hundreds of exhibits and thousands of marine animals and plants.  See everything from sharks and stingrays, to sea otters and African penguins. The aquarium’s mesmerizing “Jellies” (or as we call them Jellyfish) exhibit is one of our favorites. There’s a lot to explore so be sure to allow plenty of time to wander around the aquarium. Take an informative Behind-the-Scenes Tour. Daily Penguin and Sea Otter Feedings are also fun to check out. Expect crowds at weekends and peak tourist times, especially during busy Summer months.

Jellyfish at Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, California
Jellyfish at Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey

More Fun Monterey Attractions

Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf

Visit Monterey’s historic Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck’s novels. Stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf, see the sea lions or take a fun Whale-Watching Tour. Go sailing in Monterey Bay. Hike, bike or kayak and explore the scenic Monterey shoreline and coastal trails. Play golf at some of the best golf courses in the world. Enjoy a fun day of wine-tasting in Monterey’s Wine Country, a world-class wine and grape-growing region. Nearby attractions include Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel Mission, Monarch Butterflies in Pacific Grove, Point Lobos State Reserve, and Big Sur.

17-Mile Drive – Pebble Beach

The 17-Mile Drive can be accessed from five Entry Gates located along different parts of the 17-mile loop: Highway 1 Gate, Samuel F.B. Morse Gate, Country Club Gate, Pacific Grove Gate, and Carmel Gate. Pick up a detailed 17-Mile Drive Map. Follow the marked route (and scenic markers) as the road winds its way through Del Monte Forest and along the spectacular Monterey coastline, ending near the ocean in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Along the way, you’ll see magnificent homes, elegant resorts and world-famous golf courses – The Links at Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill and the world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Links. Vista points along the way offer spectacular views of Monterey Bay, its stunning coastline, Santa Cruz Mountains and Del Monte Forest.

Top 7 Favorite Spots for Picture-Taking Along the 17-Mile Drive

There are 21 Points of Interest listed on the 17-Mile Drive Map. If you don’t have time to see all of them, here are our Top 7 favorite spots for picture-taking along the route:

  1. Lone Cypress Tree – the legendary tree stands overlooking the rocky coastline and Pacific Ocean. It’s a beautiful sight, no matter what time of day. However, sunsets are really spectacular!
  2. Bird Rock – it’s a must-see, especially if you like birds, harbor seals and sea lions; there are hundreds of them!
  3. Ghost Tree – when you stop at Ghost Tree overlook, you’ll see right away how this area got its name.
  4. Spanish Bay – get a great view of surfers riding the waves. The scenic area features a short narrow boardwalk along the coast. Take a leisurely stroll, walk your dog and enjoy magnificent views of the Monterey coast.
  5. The Restless Sea – See firsthand why this area is called “The Restless Sea.” Its vista point ocean views are spectacular! Watch surfers in nearby Spanish Bay as they navigate their way through the crashing waves.
  6. Point Joe – Point Joe overlook has beautiful ocean and coastal views.
  7. Fanshell Overlook – famous for its small white sandy beach. It sits on one side of the scenic coastal overlook; crashing waves can be seen on the other side. Closed during harbor seal pupping season April 1-June 1.
Monarch Butterfly, Pacific Grove, Monterey
Monarch Butterfly, Pacific Grove

Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary – Pacific Grove

Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary is a “must-see” for butterfly lovers. Tourists flock to the outdoor sanctuary every winter to see thousands of beautiful butterflies clustered on pine, eucalyptus, cypress and redwood trees, in Monterey’s Pacific Grove. It’s about a 5-10 minute drive from Cannery Row in downtown Monterey. The Monarch Butterflies arrive at the Sanctuary in October, where they overwinter (wait out the winter season) until late February, before joining in the spring migration.

The best time to see the butterflies is when they are at their most active between 12 noon and 3pm on sunny days. When the sun shines on the trees, you can see them fluttering in large clusters. A docent is always on duty during this time. During a recent visit around 1:30pm on a warm sunny day, the trees and sky were teeming with butterflies – a magical sight! Butterflies can only fly in temperatures of 55° and above; under 40° they can’t move at all – 50°-55° is a preferable micro-climate. (Temperature reflects where the butterflies are, not the ground temperature.)

Bring binoculars if you have them (there is a telescope on the sanctuary grounds if you don’t), so you can get an up-close view of these beautiful Monarch and Viceroy Butterflies. Both Monarchs and Viceroys look almost identical, however there are subtle differences. Viceroys have a horizontal black stripe going across its hindwings (lower set of wings) and they’re also a bit smaller in size. They’ve evolved to look like the poisonous Monarchs so predators will avoid them too!

Book Monterey Sightseeing Tours, Day Trips and Fun Things To Do

Take a 3-Hour Monterey Bay Whale-Watching Tour. Keep an eye out for humpback whales, dolphins, sea otters, and seals. Explore the streets of Monterey and Pacific Grove on a 2-hour Sea Car Tour. The 2-seat GPS-enabled vehicle navigates itself as you tour Fisherman’s Wharf, Lover’s Point and Cannery Road. Take an educational Guided Walking Tour of Monterey and learn more about this historic area. Tour the magnificent 17-mile drive on a fun 3-hour Electric Bike Tour. This is a fun tour for the whole family!

Find Monterey Sightseeing Tours, Day Trips and Fun Things To Do

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The Best Time To Visit Monterey

Its year-round temperate climate (mild during the summer and cool during the winter) makes Monterey a great place to visit anytime of the year. Note that mornings can be foggy, especially during summer months. Dress in layers. FYI, it rarely rains between April and October.

September and October are typically Monterey’s warmest months. Although during one of our visits in mid-January, temps reached a balmy 80!