A Weekend in Monterey

I spent last weekend in the Monterey Bay area of California’s central coast. This has long been one of my favorite places, and having the chance to experience some other sides of the Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur region taught me a few things that I hope will help you when you plan a weekend or a week in Monterey. And you should, because really, it’s pretty special.

Weekend in Monterey, California

1) Spring = babies. It might be the best time to visit.

I had never visited Monterey in the spring, instead opting for winter when the weather is sunnier, but spring is a great time to be there because there are baby seals everywhere! The entire way from Monterey to Big Sur follows the coast, so just about every patch of sand had a mom and baby harbor seal. Some beaches were full of seals, including the beach right down the trail from the Monterey Aquarium.

Remember that moms are protective of their young and are easily alarmed at this delicate time. If a mom gets concerned, she may retreat…this situation makes it very easy for mom and baby seals to get separated, which means bad news for the baby. Keep your voices down, don’t get too close, and be respectful at all times!

Weekend in Monterey, California

A harbor seal and her pup at Point Lobos State Reserve

2) Point Lobos State Reserve deserves at least half a day

This place is so beautiful and interesting that it deserves at least half a day. Plan to hike for a couple of hours in the morning, stop for a picnic lunch, and continue on so that you can see all parts of the reserve (they are all different) and all the animals.

Start at the trail that leads to the right just past the reserve’s entrance; this trail quickly takes you to Whaler’s Cove and continues to some rocky outlooks, up plenty of stairs, and past wildflowers in the spring. More on Point Lobos here.

Weekend in Monterey, California

3) Get out on the water!

In my previous visits, I had not gone out on the water, but this time I quickly realized what I’d been missing. A morning ride on the Fast Raft small boat included tons of sea lions, birds, and four pairs of moms with their babies on their chests. This guy popped up right next to our boat and started eating the crab’s legs but then had to defend his lunch from two persistent seagulls.

Weekend in Monterey, California

4) Ask locals where the best views are

There is so much to see and do in the Monterey area that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the options. I find that the minimum number of days here should be three, and even then I’d be missing a lot. Asking locals for recommendations helps narrow the options down; without a local’s guidance, I would not have known about A Taste of Monterey and its extraordinary view.

This wine tasting bar has a 180 degree view of the Bay and serves wine from around 30 wineries in Monterey County. You can see seals and sea otters from the tables. It’s right next to the aquarium, and I’d recommend heading there to relax after the busy aquarium.

Weekend in Monterey5) No visit to Monterey is complete without a drive down Highway 1

Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, yet we don’t always leave time for this spectacular drive down the Big Sur coastline. After the views on this last visit, I was reminded of just how exhilarating the drive down the winding highway and across Bixby Bridge is.

Weekend in Monterey, California

6) There is always something interesting happening at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of our oceans, and I believe they do a very good job of balancing education, conservation, and show. The special exhibits are always fantastic, and the new Tentacles exhibit is definitely worth a visit. This is the first ever exhibit of cephalopods (octopus, cuttlefish, squid) because they are hard to show–their short lifespan (6 months to 2 years) makes it difficult to include them for an extended period of time. Plus, they’re feisty and often don’t get along with other animals.

Weekend in Monterey

Cute cuttlefish at the new Tentacles exhibit of cephalopods

I will be publishing one of my big “30 Things” guides to the Monterey Bay area, but in the meantime, tell me: have you been to the Monterey Bay area? What are your tips or favorite experiences for a weekend in Monterey?

Disclosure: I was a guest of the Monterey Convention and Visitors Bureau, but all opinions are 100% my own; plus, I’ve loved Monterey for years!

You might also enjoy these posts about the Monterey Bay area:

6 Reasons to Love the Monterey Peninsula

Asilomar State Beach

The Monterey Bay Aquarium

Carmel-by-the-Sea in Photos

The Carmel Mission

Carmel by Night



  • Pal says:

    I’ve only been there once in my life, but really have to say the whole Northern California region is one of my favorites in the world. Always a wee bit jealous when I see all the great sites and the fantastic nature you have around you -). Enjoy!
    Pal recently posted..King’s Day: The Netherlands Turning OrangeMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Well, I feel the same when I see your posts about all the cool stuff happening in Amsterdam and beyond. 🙂 But yes, this region is truly beautiful. Not so much where I live because I am in the hot, dry, flat valley, but all around is wonderful.

  • Brianna says:

    I have yet to visit Northern California but I know it would be a place I would absolutely love. The scenery looks stunning and I know from a friend’s nature photography site about the wonderful opportunities to view wildlife. I also try to get out on the water when possible, you get a completely different perspective of your destination.
    Brianna recently posted..Misadventures in the Mayan city of TikalMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Yes, I’m sure you would love it! And good point about getting out on the water when possible. I am more likely to take long walks along the coast but am so glad I tried something different. It was a highlight of the trip!

  • Hi Jenna,
    I live in the UK and one of the places I have always wanted to visit is California and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I will one day. Its been with me for so long. My favourite marine creature is the Jelly fish, and I would love to scuba dive in a Kelp forest and I think Monterey would be the ultimate place to come and fulfill this goal. Thanks for the post!
    Janice Stringer recently posted..Do You Have to Come Back When You Go Travelling?My Profile

    • Jenna says:

      I love hearing that. 🙂 I think you will love it. I also admire your choices–I don’t feel comfortable scuba diving (did it once and enjoyed it but probably won’t do it again), but as you mentioned, this is an interesting place to do it!

  • Beautiful pictures, Jenna. I go to the Monterey area a couple times a year, but you made me realize it’s rarely during spring. And this is the worst part: every time I visit, I promise myself I’ll get on the water (via kayak)…but still have yet to do it! As you suggested, the landscape of Point Lobos and Big Sur are so marvelous, they really do warrant their own visit. When the weather is good, I really like renting a bike and pedaling out to Asilomar Beach. Truly stunning views every inch of the way along a flat and (mostly) dedicated bike path. And Monterey has a cool but under appreciated collection of historic buildings & gardens (akin to CA missions) downtown that immerse you in Old California. And here’s an insider tip: you don’t have to pay for the 17 Mile Drive if you buy food or drinks from the resorts at Pebble Beach (which are located within its boundaries). Cozying up around the blazing fire pits of the Inn at Spanish Bay with a drink while watching the sun dip into the Monterey Bay is pretty awesome.
    Garrick Ramirez recently posted..Hidden Gardens of MontereyMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks for the ideas. I also like the historic part of Monterey. I have never had drinks or a meal in Pebble Beach. Something to do next time. 🙂

  • I’d like to spend more time in the region. We went six years ago and spent just one night in Carmel. So just enough time to dabble in everything. We briefly drove down to Big Sur (amazing), enjoyed walking Carmel, and then just drove around briefly at Monterey. I need to get back with our son.
    Lance | Trips By Lance recently posted..One Family’s Journey to Temporary Residence in IrelandMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      It’s really a paradise for traveling families. So many cool things to do for those who like to explore.

  • I had not been to that area before but I will definitely return. I wish I had checked out the Taste of Monterey. It looks like a great place.
    Jeff @ Go Travelzing recently posted..Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip – Monterey to Big SurMy Profile

  • noel says:

    Wonderful guide and highlights, loved your beautiful photographs of the area Jenna
    noel recently posted..A visit to Primosten, Croatia – Travel Photo Mondays #41My Profile

  • Love the views and the wine at A Taste of Monterey!
    elaine schoch recently posted..15 Things to know about Monterey, CAMy Profile

  • I love your pictures! Monterey/Big Sur is one of my favorite places in California, though I’ve only been there a couple of times. What a great capture…the otter with the crab!!
    Anna | slightly astray recently posted..Foodie Friday: Attack of the Monster SandwichesMy Profile

  • Cassie says:

    Cuttlefish are kinda cute 🙂
    Cassie recently posted..For Travel Inspiration, Throw a Round-The-World Dinner PartyMy Profile

  • This is a nice overview of Monterey’s charms, and of course I love your appreciation of the natural wonders here. For folks who have half a day for whale watching, don’t forget that Fast Raft offers small boat ocean safaris out of Moss Landing, a charming village 25 minutes north of Monterey. There are also large boat whale watches out of Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf and out of Moss Landing. Moss Landing is quiet and off the beaten track, with some great restaurants as well as galleries and antique shops. Kayaking in Elkhorn Slough or taking a narrated cruise up its quiet waters is a great way to round out a day that starts with humpback and blue whales out in the open on Monterey Bay. Of course, I’m a little biased! Thanks so much for mentioning Fast Raft.

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks so much for this insider information! I have heard only wonderful things about Moss Landing but haven’t been there yet. I really enjoyed meeting you and being on one of your boats. It was a great experience!

  • Katie says:

    I just got back from a week in Monterey. My parents renewed their wedding vows on Pebble Beach and our whole family got to spend the week exploring the area….I fell in love! What a gorgeous part of our country, I can’t wait to return!
    Katie recently posted..El Salvador Surf Lodge StoryMy Profile

  • Audrey says:

    We were just down in Monterey, and our kids LOVED the Dennis the Menace park. It’s a child’s dream!

  • Another great way to get out on the water is by sea kayak. We haven’t taken our kids yet as they are still a bit young though we will probably venture out with our 6-year-old soon. My husband and I have gone a few times ourselves and it’s totally worth it. It’s the best way to get up close and personal with some amazing wildlife!

    • Jenna says:

      I have heard that and was just reading a blog post about that very experience a couple of days ago. Definitely something I want to do next time. The wildlife there is so amazing, and I’ve envied the people I see out on the water every time I’m in that area.

  • Chris says:

    This is awesome! Thanks for the information. Would definitely share with out client visiting Northern California

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *