WRITTEN BY Rachael Medina
Rachael Medina is the staff writer and content manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests of Humboldt C…See full bio
Home to the longest coastline of any county in California and the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast, Monterey is no stranger to adventurous spirits.
Monterey is widely known for its expansive coastline and the iconic 17-mile Drive, offering sweeping views of California’s cascading cliffsides and undulating sandy beaches dotted with horseback riders. While it is easy to see why the county receives praise for its majestic scenery, its forests of cypress trees, wine trail, national parks, and many other attractions mustn’t be overlooked. With temperatures averaging a pleasant 65 degrees year-round, this coastal community serves as the perfect host for outdoor recreation of all kinds. From skydiving, to camping or rock climbing, this county will quell your curiosity if you venture to explore it.
If a sense of history is what you crave, Point Pinos Lighthouse in Pacific Grove ought to be your first stop. As the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast, Point Pinos Lighthouse has provided navigation to sailers for over 160 years and is the perfect place to look across the great expanse of Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
After exploring this coastal treasure, stop by the Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary (if visiting between October and February). The sanctuary is the migrational home of a special generation of monarch butterflies that, on average, live six times longer than previous generations. This incredible attraction does not charge for admission but emphasizes the importance of maintaining the environment and treating the butterflies with respect.
To continue exploring the best of Monterey County, drive southeast to Monterey’s historic Cannery Row. Established in the cannery industry in 1902, this district survived economically during both world wars and earned the title of "Sardine Capital of the World". The sardines from Monterey were particularly attractive due to their lengths, which were, on average, three times longer than those of the sardines imported from Norway. The burdensome fishing practices during World War II, however, led to the eventual decline of the industry in Monterey only five years later. Today, Cannery Row is a popular destination, with more than two dozen restaurants, tasting rooms, hotels, shops, and the beloved Monterey Bay Aquarium. Known for its diversity of sea life and expert researchers, Monterey Bay Aquarium—one of the most famous and largest in the world—is an absolute must-see in this county.
While there are plenty of opportunities for family fun throughout every season in Monterey, one of the quirkiest and most unique annual events, the Artichoke Festival, comes around in June. This celebration of California’s official vegetable is complete with food, wine tastings from award-winning wineries throughout the state, and live entertainment. Along with the availability of artichokes prepared in every way imaginable, the festival offers practical skills through cooking demonstrations and farm tours, as well as a farmers market brimming with produce to complement the artichoke dishes of your dreams.
Should you find yourself in Monterey for just the weekend, we recommend visiting the historic Cannery Row and the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, kayaking along Monterey Bay, and stopping by the quaint town of Carmel-by-the-Sea to check out the art galleries and incredible eateries before the sleepy town closes up shop around 6 p.m.