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Monterey County Cities and RegionsMonterey County is a study in contrasts. From its dramatic coastline to its fertile farmland, from its stunning beaches to its sun-kissed valleys, from its Victorian houses to its vibrant wharf, Monterey offers the visitor a wealth of experiences. Artists and writers have painted, photographed and written about its breathtaking cliffs and agriculturally rich valleys—valleys that supply fresh veg and salad greens to the entire nation. Monterey abounds with a variety of fascinating sea and land creatures as well.
Year-round, outdoor activities vie with cultural events, farmer's markets and luxury resorts for the visitor's attention. A tour of Monterey's flourishing wineries is a pleasantly visual and gustatory experience. The people of Monterey County have a diverse and lively past. Come and explore the contrasts of Monterey, "one of the most beautiful meetings of land and sea in the world."
The rugged beauty and mystery of Monterey has called to people of diverse cultures from all walks of life for over three hundred years. The famous, the infamous, artists, artisans, writers, those in search of wealth and those in search of adventure—all have been lured here by a quality unique to this place. That quality has been expressed in the works of John Steinbeck, Ansel Adams, Francis McComas and others.
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was the first European to discover Monterey Bay. While high seas prevented him from landing, he nonetheless claimed the land for Spain in 1542.
Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan priest, whose role in California history is both fascinating and controversial, made the area the ecclesiastical capital of Alta California, while General Gaspar de Portola immediately began to build the first of four California presidios. Father Serra eventually selected a site near the mouth of the Carmel River to construct the second of California's 21 missions. In 1776, months before the English colonies declared their independence, Juan Bautista de Anza led a party of 240-odd soldiers and settlers, many of whom were women and children, to Monterey.
The missions were the center of early Californian life, until 1822 when Mexico declared its independence from Spain. Monterey became the capital of Alta California and huge ranchos were established.
Commodore John Drake Sloat of the US Navy took Monterey in 1846 without a fight, and Monterey became the center of California politics. Three years later, the Constitutional Convention met in Colton Hall and considered the issues that lay before them. Would the state be a free state? Would women have the right to vote? What would be the geographic boundaries? Six weeks later they had laid the foundations for the 31st state. On October 13, 1849, Monterey became California's first capital.
Processing plants at Moss Landing and in Monterey rendered the whales to produce oil. Immigrants began to arrive from Asia and the sea gave up its wealth to the burgeoning fishing industry.
Just as the sea had provided for the native people, so it did for those seeking hard but steady work. Though the whaling industry disappeared, the sardine industry arose in its place. All kinds of people came to work here. Many were rough and tough characters, like the ones immortalized by John Steinbeck in Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, but the sea could not sustain the industry. The sardines disappeared. By the 1950s, Cannery Row was a ghost town of empty warehouses and canneries.
After the earthquake of 1906, many artists, writers and musicians moved to Carmel to escape the devastation of San Francisco. Others were drawn to Monterey County for equally compelling reasons.
The weather in Monterey County varies significantly depending upon the time of year, the time of day and the area visited. The coast is consistently mild, with an average temperature of 57 degrees F. year-round. Warm clear days and cool nights characterize the spring and autumn months, with a distinct rainy season between November and April. Summer tends to bring fog, especially early and late in the day. Inland temperatures tend to be more extreme with higher temperatures in the summer.
Early autumn is the coast's sunniest time of year, but inland areas are much sunnier throughout the year. Dressing in layers is advised since the variations in climate are so great. Generally, light- to medium-weight clothing is appropriate, but jackets and raincoats are a good idea in winter.
Tours are a great way to see our county and discover what makes it unique. Book a tour with one of the many tour operators in the area: there are sea tours, garden tours, sunset tours, even agricultural tours, and many more.
Walking tours are the most delightful way to experience our rich Spanish heritage. Occasionally, tours feature guides dressed in costumes of the period, regaling visitors with tales of old Monterey and details of historical interest. Monterey State Historic Park offers two different guided tours which include some of Monterey's oldest and most important buildings. A self-guided Path of History tour begins at the Maritime Museum Visitor Center with a 20-minute film shown three times every hour. Round yellow tiles designate the path that meanders through gardens and by buildings from Monterey's colorful past. In Carmel, the Carmel Heritage Society and Carmel Walks both offer fascinating guided walks.
When your county is larger than the state of Delaware, with hundreds of acres of state and county parks, wine grapes, and 99 miles of beautiful coastline, it stands to reason you’d have some great self-drive tour opportunities. In addition to the detailed itineraries you can explore by clicking the links below, here’s a quick outline of what you might do with one, two or three days here in Monterey.
With so much to see and do, you’ll need to choose whether to go out to sea or drive inland to the hills. Either way, you should start at the rocky shoreline between Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row in Monterey.
After breakfast, make your way to Cannery Row, immortalized by John Steinbeck in his well-loved novel. Anchoring one end of the famous street where the sardine was once king is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the world’s finest. You can then walk (or bike, or rollerskate, or surrey) towards Fisherman’s Wharf, departure point for a veritable fleet of whalewatching boats. Cruises run between two and four hours, depending on which whales you’ll be watching: different species visit us almost year-round.
When you return to shore, you can explore the Path of History in Old Monterey, viewing Colton Hall, where California’s state constitution was drafted in 1846, Pacific House, Custom House, and the Monterey Maritime Museum. Weather not great for boating? Walk the Path of History now, then drive inland to Salinas, the county seat, to visit the National Steinbeck Center. It covers the works — novels, movies, essays and more — by the controversial author, and introduces visitors to the many-faceted world of farming in the new Agriculture Wing.
With just a little more time to spend, your sightseeing opportunities widen dramatically. Spend the first morning on Cannery Row, visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium and learning about the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary at our doorstep. Ramble the Recreation Trail over to Monterey, and spend the afternoon out whalewatching or, if the weather discourages voyaging, go walk the Path of History through Old Monterey. Start at Custom House and Pacific House Museum, both near Fisherman’s Wharf, then go on to visit Cooper-Molera Adobe, Casa Serrano and Casa Soberanes.
On Day Two, drive the beautiful coast road connecting Monterey to Carmel, passing through ‘Butterfly Town USA’ — otherwise known as Pacific Grove — and Pebble Beach, renowned for its superb golf courses and the picturesque 17-Mile Drive. Dawdle Carmel’s leafy streets to investigate innumerable art galleries, antique shops and quality boutiques, or play on its silvery, dog-friendly beach before lunch.
In the afternoon, head up Carmel Valley. This is the sunniest part of the coast, equally highly regarded for its sunsoaked golf courses, horseback riding and hiking trails, and wineries. At Laureles Grade, you can choose to go straight on to Carmel Valley Village for more wine-tasting and antiquing, or go over the hills to Salinas and the National Steinbeck Center.
Now you’re really ready to combine sightseeing with relaxation and recreation. (But remember, there’s so much more, you’ll still have to make some hard decisions — or just come back another time!). Again, start your stay by learning more about our wonderful bay at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row, then follow it up with an afternoon in Old Monterey (the Maritime Museum is a fascinating place to start), or out whalewatching.
The next morning, take the coast road through Pacific Grove (known as ‘America’s Last Hometown’) and Pebble Beach, passing Seal Rock, Pebble Beach Lodge and immaculately kept golf courses on 17-Mile Drive. Explore Carmel, taking time before lunch for its art galleries, antique shops and boutiques. Leave Carmel by way of Mission San Carlos Borromeo; third of the chain of missions founded in the 1770s, it houses a magnificent bronze sarcophagus honoring Father Junipero Serra, sculpted by artist Jo Mora.
Spend the afternoon roaming Big Sur on and off Highway One, perhaps America’s most scenic auto route, with high windswept hills perfect for hiking or horseback riding to one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Day Three is prime-time for relaxation and refreshment. You might start the day with a round of golf: some of the best — and sunniest are located in Carmel Valley. Not a golfer? How about a body-wrap or massage at one of the many elegant spas in the area? Spend the afternoon in Carmel Valley Village doing some wine-tasting and antiquing.
Traveling with the family? Choose the Salinas Valley instead. You can begin with the National Steinbeck Center’s educational (but so much fun!) galleries, including its new Agriculture Wing, and stroll Salinas Oldtown’s mellow Main Street. Then head for The Farm to learn about organic veggies and strawberries or Wild Things animal training center, to meet Josef, the model for The Lion King. Bring a picnic along, and everyone can enjoy a visit to one of the many wineries lining the Salinas Valley, a great way to toast to your Monterey County vacation.