The Best Things To Do in Monterey & Carmel, California

Find the best things to do in Carmel & Monterey, California. Avoid the tourist traps and find everything including hotels, restaurants and activities.The Monterey region is my favorite in all of California and maybe even anywhere. I’ve fallen in love with the little towns that surround the region including Monterey, Carmel-By-The-Sea, Pacific Grove, Soledad (Wine Country) and Marina. They have just about everything I look for in a destination: beautiful beaches, delicious wine, savory food and plentiful of things to do.

The region is one of the best places to combine nature’s beauty and a luxurious getaway. It’s also a can’t miss stop when you’re driving along the Pacific Coast Highway. If you’re taking the road trip don’t skip my PCH road trip guide

Note: Some tours, passes, accommodations and meals were provided at no cost to the author. All opinions remain my own. You’ll find affiliate links in this post which allow me to continue to improve Traveling Nine to Fiver. I hope this article is useful for you. 

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Where to rest your head

Vendange Carmel Inn & Suites

24815 Carpenter St, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

Carmel’s only wine-themed hotel is a unique twist on bed and breakfast styled spots you find gathered around Carmel-By-The-Sea. You’ll find the rooms decorated by different local wineries. It’s a perfect place to spend a relaxing night or two with cozy beds and a patio or deck off each room to enjoy a bottle of wine at. The hotel sells local wines that you’d normally only find in tasting rooms. It’s a reasonable walk or short drive to downtown and a perfect place to explore the local wine walk from. Read more about the only wine hotel in Carmel hereFind the best things to do in Carmel & Monterey, California. Avoid the tourist traps and find everything including hotels, restaurants and activities.

Edgemere Cottages

San Antonio Ave, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93921

The perfect bed and breakfast tucked right about Scenic Drive. Relax in the cute cottages they offer during your evening, then join the hosts for a delicious breakfast in the morning. Just one block off, the beach and not far from the main drag, the Edgemere Cottages are an ideal place to stay in Carmel.

Road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway. Tips and tricks for traveling Big Sur. What to do in Cambria and Carmel on the PCH.

Hyatt Regency Monterey

1 Old Golf Course Rd, Monterey, CA 93940

A great property tucked just up the hill from downtown Monterey. You are out of the main area, but only a couple minutes drive away. You have everything including two pools, a fire pit lounge with jazz music on the weekend, a top notch golf course, quality restaurants and a spa. They also often run Priceline Express Deals when they aren’t booked up, we’ve stayed for as low as $90 (excluding tax & fees). Learn more about those here.Find the best things to do in Monterey, California. Avoid the tourist traps and find everything including hotels, restaurants and activities.

Lover’s Point Inn

625 Ocean View Blvd, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

A simple hotel in a great location with some perks. Rooms start at $145 (or less on deal sites) and many include partial ocean views. The property is just off Lover’s Point Beach and a breathtaking one-mile walk to the Aquarium and Cannery Row. It may be a two-star hotel, but it had everything we needed and I would have rated it a three. Additionally, for the AT&T Pro-Am if you stay there you get the free Pacific Grove shuttle to the course.

Mariposa Inn & Suites

1386 Munras Ave, Monterey, CA 93940

I am pretty sure this property used to be an iffy motel and someone came in and did a lot of upgrading. While the front of the property isn’t much to look at the rooms and amenities were everything we needed. It has all be updated. Even though it was near a busy street we had no problem with noise, the beds were large and the pool and fire pit were great. Easy access to both Monterey and Carmel. We again got a great Priceline Express Deal on the room, only $80.


Traveling to Monterey Soon?

Above are a few of my favorite places to stay in the Monterey & Carmel area.
Learn more about and book more fantastic hotels in Monterey on Booking.com, Priceline, and TripAdvisor.


MY FAVORITE EATS

Baja Cantina & Grill

7166 Carmel Valley Rd, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

Good Mexican food in a quirky building. I wasn’t sure about this spot but met some co-workers here when we had an event in the area. From the second I saw it though, I was impressed. It is a cute spot with Southwestern flavors and some very Monterey twists to their food. Such as the quesadilla with artichoke and shrimp.Find the best things to do in Monterey, California. Avoid the tourist traps and find everything including hotels, restaurants and activities.

Carmel Belle

San Carlos St, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923 (It’s inside the little shopping plaza)

In Carmel, it is not easy to find a casual spot without too much of a price but Carmel Belle is just that. They have some delicious salads and sandwiches that a prepared with fresh local ingredients and most have a good twist in their flavors. They also make fresh juice that was very refreshing after all the walking we’d been doing.Find the best things to do in Monterey, California. Avoid the tourist traps and find everything including hotels, restaurants and activities.

The Crown & Anchor

150 W Franklin St, Monterey, CA 93940

If you are in the mood for pub food this is it. You will walk down the stairs and feel as if you’ve stepped into an old ship. You might feel out of time, but the food is exactly what you’d expect out of a good British pub. Make sure to try their fish and chips.

Fandango

223 17th St, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

Looking for a romantic dinner, this is the spot for you. It is built into an old house and has a fine dining but quirky feel to it. The menu is a blend of French and Italian. Their salads are delicious, the pasta melt in your mouth and their entrees are always pleasing. You can get away without spending too much, but we tend to splurge on a couple courses and a bottle of wine. Don’t forget dessert, I love their chocolate mousse.Find the best things to do in Monterey, California. Avoid the tourist traps and find everything including hotels, restaurants and activities.

Flaherty’s Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar

6th Ave, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

From their appetizers to the dessert, and of course, the entrees in between, you’ll enjoy every bite you come across at Flaherty’s. You can either sit on the casual oyster bar side of the restaurant or in the main room to get two different feels of the place all with the same amazing menu. Swing by for a bottle of wine and some oysters or enjoy your entire evening working your way through courses. My two favorites were the grilled oysters and the lobster bisque. Find the best things to do in Carmel & Monterey, California. Avoid the tourist traps and find everything including hotels, restaurants and activities.

Forge In the Forest Restaurant 

Junipero St, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

Tucked up a little hill from the main drag in Carmel, this is a great spot to have a casual appetizer or dig in and enjoy their farm-to-fork offers. Carmel is filled with Italian food which isn’t the best option when you’ve got a gluten-free guest along, but Forge offered a wide array of options for us to enjoy. We sat inside the small bar room with a firepit, or you can enjoy their patio on a nice evening. From the half-bottles of wine available to the delicious entrees, we enjoyed every bite.

Gianni’s Pizza

725 Lighthouse Ave, Monterey, CA 93940

You’ll feel like you’re in a New York Italian spot. The pizza is delicious, the wine is good and served in way too small glasses, and the staff is great. Build your own pizza or pick one of theirs. Don’t forget to order some garlic breadsticks or you will regret it.

LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle 

Municipal Wharf No. 2, Monterey, CA 93940

A perfect diner with beautiful views of the bay since it’s situated on one of the piers and great for breakfast or lunch. They are famous for their giant pancakes that I think would take four people to finish just one. On top of that their french toast hits the mark and last time I was savoring over the breakfast burritos. They switch to lunch at 11am, but that is okay since it might be even better. I had the best tuna melt I’ve ever eaten, and I am a serious connoisseur of tuna.Find the best things to do in Monterey, California. Avoid the tourist traps and find everything including hotels, restaurants and activities.

Pepper’s Mexicali Cafe

170 Forest Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

Some straight up hole in the wall Mexican food without being too much of a hole in the wall. Their enchiladas and fajitas are especially good. Their tacos are a bit of a different style with a large flaky deep-fried flour tortilla, but they were good as well.

Red House Cafe

662 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

Another restaurant built into a cute old house. Stop by for breakfast before you start your day and enjoy one of their benedicts in a relaxing environment.

For more places to eat around Monterey click here. 

THE BEST PLACES TO GRAB A DRINK

Taste of Monterey

Monterey Canning Company, 700 Cannery Row kk, Monterey, CA 93940

Hidden in what looks like a lackluster shopping mall you will find a wine bar with delicious local wine and one of the best views you can find on the bay. Try some Hahn, Wrath, District 7 or one of the other great wines from the region. You can try a flight at the bar with a view heading south or you can sit and relax with a glass or more tailored flights in some very cozy chairs facing out to the open water. Overall, you have an 180-degree view of the bay. Also don’t forget to try their baked brie!Find the best things to do in Monterey, California. Avoid the tourist traps and find everything including hotels, restaurants and activities.

ACTIVITIES AND ADVENTURES TO TRY

Go Whale Watching with Fast Raft

Morro Bay, CA

The Monterey Bay area is a great place to go whale watching. Depending on the time of year you can see humpbacks, gray whales, blue whale, and even Orcas. On top of that, the bay can be filled with dolphins, sea lions, and otters. On top of being the perfect location to witness a variety of marine mammals (my favorite type of wildlife), Monterey has a unique way to whale watch with Fast Raft. Different from other whale watching companies you’re on smaller and very fast craft. Don’t worry smaller actually means a more stable boat. It also means you are closer to the wildlife and on a tour of a maximum of six instead of sixty. Find the best things to do in Carmel & Monterey, California. Avoid the tourist traps and find everything including hotels, restaurants and activities.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940

Take the chance to get under the sea at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. A great experience for any age to spend a day watching marine life and learning a little more about the ocean just outside these doors. I can gush on about this place, and I did in this post.Find the best things to do in Monterey, California. Avoid the tourist traps and find everything including hotels, restaurants and activities.

Carmel Wine Walk

A great way to wine taste without leaving town is the Carmel Wine Walk. You can explore downtown Carmel-By-The-Sea and visit many of the 14 wineries on the list. The $65 pass gets you nine tasting, which is a steal as most in the area are $10-15. Two of my favorite spots were Galante Vineyards  and Silvestri Vineyards.

17 Mile Drive

Various Entry Points 

A great place to start a road trip or spend your entire day, I’ve done both and love it. Make sure to take a walk on the beach and check out the18th hole at Pebble Beach. Some breathtaking views as you wind through the cypress trees.Find the best things to do in Monterey, California. Avoid the tourist traps and find everything including hotels, restaurants and activities.

Wine Tasting in Carmel Valley or Soledad

Various Locations

The Monterey region makes some delicious wines from both regions. You will find wineries with views even more beautiful than Napa or Sonoma. The wines are rich and full of flavor. The valleys get heat bringing the grapes in one direction and the coast keeps the cool fog allowing a completely different flavor profile. Learn about some of my favorites in this post.Find the best things to do in Monterey, California. Avoid the tourist traps and find everything including hotels, restaurants and activities.

Cannery Row

Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940

It might be a tourist trap, but it is still worth wandering by. Take some time and wander around the souvenir shops, hang out on the little beach, grab some clam chowder and finish with a Ghirardelli Sunday overlooking the bay.

Golf – Go Play or Watch a Tournament

Various Locations

This region has some of the top course in the world. Pebble Beach and Spyglass have some of the best views you can find anywhere, let alone on a golf course. They might be pricey but if you’re a big golfer they are worth playing. Otherwise, you can find some of the public courses or up in Carmel Valley for cheaper, but still quality, alternatives. Not interested in playing? Keep an eye out for the tournaments in the area, especially the At&t Pro-Am, read a here on why you should attend.

Walking Carmel By The Sea

Whether you are looking for cute shops, tasty bistros or art galleries, you will enjoy wandering the streets of Carmel. Stop at by a few before you wander down to the beach. While you can wander straight down to the main part of the beach its even better to take the trail on Scenic Road. It is a block before you hit the beach and turn South. You can walk the trail with beautiful homes and views of all angles of the bay including back to pebble beach, or you can head down to a spot on the beach that is quieter than the main entry point.

For more information about Monterey & Carmel check out these great books on Amazon including Day Hikes On the California Central CoastFodor’s Northern CaliforniaLonely Planet Pacific Coast Highways Road Trips, and Lonely Planet Coastal California.

Find the best things to do in Monterey, California. Avoid the tourist traps and find everything including hotels, restaurants and activities.

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  • Love Monterey we did all the attractions and loved it. The 17 mile drive was a blast just to see the oldest Monterey oak tree and the pebble beach golf club.

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  • Tonya Denmark

    This is high on my California road trip list! Saving this list for when I can make it out there! Thanks for the detailed post.

  • Jenna

    We’ve been to California a few times, but never to the Monterey area. Would love to head there on our next visit–it looks like a great area! The Edgemere Cottages look adorable and the restaurants look fantastic, especially the Baja Cantina & Grill and the LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle–I can’t believe the size of that pancake!! Thanks for sharing so many great recommendations–there are so many great things to do in the area–can’t wait to check it out sometime!

  • The 17 Mile Drive beach walkway looks beautiful. We’re always a fan of a good walk in the sea air so would like to do the drive along there stopping at the different spots.

  • Laura Lynch

    We’re going to Carmel in May to do the wine walk. I’m still decided on where to stay, so this is great timing. You have some really great recommendations. I mean, that pancake is enormous!

  • Carol Perehudoff

    Really great guide. If I had my choice I’d stay at the Hyatt Regency Monterey, do the wine walk and eat at some of the casual restaurants. I’ve been to Carmel only once and barely remember it, so I’d like to do it again.

  • Monterey looks amazing. Great guide! Good picks of restaurants! Would love to try the wine tasting and the wine walk. ?

  • Antonette Spaan

    Thanks for the inspiration! It’s breakfast time here in Holland but your post really made me hungry for something better than a peanut butter sandwich 🙂

  • I’ve heard a lot of great things about this underrated area of California! I hope I get the opportunity to visit as soon as I get to visit the US. The idea enticed me because wherever there’s good wine, I’m always sold. The area also looks like it has so much character. I bet it would be cool to meet new people here! Thanks for sharing!

  • We took the family on a road trip a few years back and drove from LA to San Francisco. We stopped along the way and spend the night in Carmel By the Sea and took the kids to Monterey for the day. The food in Carmel was amazing.

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