Why Monterey Should Be Your New Favorite Travel Destination

With arts, beaches, nature, and great food, Monterey, California may be the perfect city. Click to read why Monterey should be your new favorite travel destination! Grab Your Moment and GO!| http://passportandplates.com

Guess who finally made it to Monterey? This girl! It’s one of those places that most Californians visit at least once, but it took me over 20 years of living in California to get over there. Better late than never I suppose.

I had an amazing time in Monterey, and am already planning my visit back. Even though I was there for a whole weekend, I didn’t even come close to seeing everything I wanted to. The Monterey tourism website says to #GrabYourMoment, but in reality you need to grab a LOT of moments to see all there is to offer.

But first, an extra exciting announcement: I’ve partnered with See Monterey to show you all the great things there are to do in Monterey County. PLUS they’re giving away tickets to the world-famous Monterey Aquarium! Keep reading to find out how to enter.


First of all, where is Monterey?

Monterey County is located in Central California, about 5 hours north of Los Angeles and 2 hours south of San Francisco (by car). Officially, it includes Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, Carmel Valley, Salinas Valley, Moss Landing, Marina, Sand City, Seaside, Del Rey Oaks and Salinas.


So why should Monterey be your new favorite travel destination (even if you don’t know it yet)? Well simply put, it has something for every type of traveler. Don’t believe me? Well, read on…


For the outdoors lover:

Monterey County offers an endless number of hiking trails, camping spots, beaches, and outdoor activities to help you chase your adventure moments. You don’t have to spend a single minute indoors if you don’t want to!

With arts, beaches, nature, and great food, Monterey, California may be the perfect city. Click to read why Monterey should be your new favorite travel destination! Grab Your Moment and GO!| http://passportandplates.com

  • Hike and rock climb at Pinnacles National Park. Pinnacles is every rock climbers dream, with spectacular rock formations caused by the remnants of an extinct volcano. If you’re lucky, you may even spot the famous California Condor, the largest land bird in North America.
  • Go whale watching from Cannery Row. Some of the world’s best whale-watching can be done in Monterey. Go on a tour with the professional marine biologists of Princess Monterey Whale Watching, or try your luck on your own by renting a kayak from Adventures by the Sea. You’re almost guaranteed to spot some sort of exotic wildlife!
  • Scuba dive at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. If scuba diving is more your speed, then don’t miss the unparalleled diving experience at Point Lobos, where large and diverse fish populations reign. This is also a great place for hiking, so come and make the day of it!

Even though I didn’t hike when I went, I spent almost all my time walking outside! There’s just too much scenic beauty to be seen. 


For the literature lover:

John Steinbeck fans rejoice! Transport yourself to the setting of your favorite Steinbeck novel by visiting one of these three places, and bask in the ultimate literary moment.

With arts, beaches, nature, and great food, Monterey, California may be the perfect city. Click to read why Monterey should be your new favorite travel destination! Grab Your Moment and GO!| http://passportandplates.com

  • Dine at the Pine Inn: Rumor has it that a few famous writers, including Steinbeck and Upton Sinclair, frequented this inn, built in 1889. The antique furniture and décor will transport you back in time, so bring your notebook and get inspired!
  • Drive through Los Laureles Grade: Drive through the charming Los Laureles Grade in Carmel Valley, the road featured in John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven. 
  • Immerse yourself in history at the National Steinbeck Center: What better place to learn more about the award-winning novelist than in his own hometown, at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas? With exhibits spanning a variety of mediums, this is the best place to experience Steinbeck’s literature brought to life.

The only John Steinbeck location I made it to was Cannery Row, but I definitely want to visit the Steinbeck Center on my next visit! It’s no secret that I’m a bookworm. 


For the ocean lover: 

Surf, sand and sun more your style? Monterey has got you covered, with miles and miles of scenic beaches for you to grab life’s nature moments.

  • Experience the ultimate beach day at Lovers Point in Pacific Park. The picturesque Lovers Point has something for all ocean lovers: swimming, boating, surfing and even picnicking. With features like a volleyball court, grills, and picnic tables, this might be one of the best beaches in Monterey County! The best part? You can walk here from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the views are stunning.
  • Ride big waves at Asilomar State Beach. If your idea of an amazing beach day is one spent doing water activities, then look no further than Asilomar State Beach. Here you can surf, kayak, or even fly a kite. Don’t forget to check out the sea life in the tidal pools as well!

I love a good beach, and once I realized that I could walk to Lovers Point from Cannery Row, I changed my plans and opted to spend a few hours there. As you can see, the views are truly spectacular! 


For the arts and culture lover:

There is no shortage of galleries, theaters, or beautiful historical buildings in Monterey, but I’ve highlighted a couple of my favorite discoveries. We could all use more cultural moments in our lives!

With arts, beaches, nature, and great food, Monterey, California may be the perfect city. Click to read why Monterey should be your new favorite travel destination! Grab Your Moment and GO!| http://passportandplates.com

  • Get lost in a new world at The Forest Theater Guild. Bring a picnic and plenty of blankets and snuggle up at Carmel’s only nonprofit outdoor theater. This is a fun way to spend a cozy evening while supporting the local arts community. Be sure to make reservations in advance!
  • Soak in beautiful architecture and history at the California Missions. Monterey County is home to three California missions: San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, and San Antonio de Padua. Fun fact: San Carlos served as the headquarters for Saint Junipero Serra, who founded nine of today’s California Missions. The architecture alone makes it worth a visit!

So much to do and so little time! Unfortunately I didn’t spend enough time in Carmel to visit the Missions or the Theater, but…next time! 


For the foodies (like me!): 

Fellow foodies, don’t fret! Monterey is every food lovers’ paradise, with farm to table restaurants, fresh seafood, and a wide range of cuisines. I’m all about the making sure my trips are filled with foodie moments, and this way you can too.

  • Explore the history of sardine canning at Cannery Row. Cannery Row, once a laborer area home to the sardine-canning business, has transformed into the ultimate tourist destination, complete with shops, hotels, and restaurants. With plenty of dining options, come for the food and stay for the ambiance.
  • Experience the ultimate ingredient-driven cuisine at Aubergine, the award-winning restaurant at L’Auberge Carmel. The eight-course tasting menu changes daily and the balance of innovation and flavor has earned the restaurant plenty of culinary awards over the years.
  • Eat your way through Carmel. Get to know Carmel via your stomach by taking a guided tour with Carmel Food Tours. They offer both breakfast and classic food tours, and both are guaranteed to leave you with a happy stomach and newfound perspectives on the history of Carmel.
  • Cook your food and eat it too at Stone Creek Kitchen. At Stone Creek, you’ll find a wide variety of cooking classes for all levels and interests. If you don’t have time to take a class, stop by anyway. They offer seasonal meals for lunch and dinner, plus plenty of gourmet gift options for any food lover.

Restaurants: I ate at a mix of restaurants while I was in Monterey, but the two I recommend most highly are Vivolo’s Chowder House for clam chowder and Monterey Fish House for fresh seafood! 


For everyone (seriously):

Some places are so amazing that they’ll impress just about everyone. These are my favorite kind of experiences because they turn into lifelong memories.



  • Cozy up to the marine life at The Monterey Bay Aquarium. No visit to Monterey is complete without at least a few hours spent at one of the state’s best aquariums. With over 35,000 creatures, this is the best way to get up close and personal with some of the world’s most striking marine life.
  • Cruise along the 17 Mile Drive. With a coastline this beautiful, what better way to experience Monterey than with the 17 Mile Drive, the scenic coastal road stretching from Pacific Grove to Carmel? Be sure to bring your camera, and prepare yourself for frequent stops. Tip: There’s a toll road payment to drive on the road, but if you spend at least $35 at a Pebble Beach Company restaurant, they’ll remove the fee. Make sure you snag a photo of the Lone Cypress, one of the most photographed trees in North America.
  • Gawk at the purple sands of Pfeiffer Beach. This is not to be confused with Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park nor Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (both of which, incidentally, offer spectacular hiking trails and waterfalls). At Pfeiffer Beach, you can find stretches of purple sand! If this isn’t something that will impress everyone, then I don’t know what to say.
  • Soak in the culture with one of the many events and festivals. Monterey County offers events year-round for everyone to enjoy – plan your visit around food, music, or even whale-watching festivals. Check the website when planning your next trip!

I managed to do both the 17 Mile Drive and the Aquarium, but holiday traffic prevented me from hunting for purple sand…this time. 


Getting there:

The best part about Monterey County is its location. While flying into Monterey Regional Airport (MRY) is the quickest way to travel, the real thrill of getting to Monterey is by car. While the most direct route will only take you five hours, the scenic route along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) will have you wishing the road trip wouldn’t end. If you’d rather let someone else take the wheel, the Amtrak Coast Starlight will take you directly from Los Angeles to Salinas. From there, you’re one quick bus transfer away from Downtown Monterey.


Where to Stay:

Luxury option:

If you’re looking for somewhere luxurious and in the center of town, look no further than the Portola Hotel and Spa.  It’s less than a 5 minute walk from Fisherman’s Wharf and a 20 minute walk to both Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which makes it the perfect central location for exploring. My room was incredibly spacious and comfortable – I had such a hard time getting out of bed in the morning! The room had everything I could have wanted and more: complimentary fruit, chocolate, and water on arrival, a gorgeous balcony with a view of the harbor, a giant flat-screen TV and perfect shower water pressure (important!). The hotel itself also has a restaurant, gym, and pool. It’s worth noting that the neighboring Conference Center and Portola Plaza are currently under construction, but this just means that an awesome new expansion is coming very soon! Neither parking nor WiFi are  included in the rate, but are available for an additional charge. Although I usually don’t stay in luxury hotels on my travels, I was incredibly pleased with my stay at The Portola. You can book it here here (affiliate). #TreatYourself


Budget option:

If you’re ballin on a budget, then I recommend the Discovery Inn (affiliate) in Seaside. It’s a small, family-run place located about 4 miles from Fisherman’s Wharf. You’ll need your car (or an Uber) to get around. That being said, it’s a pretty comfortable stay. The rooms are basic but clean, and have everything you’d need including a mini fridge and tub. There’s also free WiFi and parking, which is a major #win if you ask me. It doesn’t have any extra frills, but is a great option if you’re looking for a budget place to stay that isn’t too far from Monterey.


I had the best time in Monterey and am so excited to go back! Special thanks to See Monterey for inspiring me to go. If you live in California and haven’t been yet, GO! You’re missing out on a great California gem.


The Giveaway [Ended. Winner TBD]

Now that you’re pumped up to visit Monterey, enter the giveaway to win a pair of tickets to the Monterey Bay Aquarium! Visit the See Monterey site and watch the #GrabYourMoment video. How would you #grabyourmoment if given just one day in Monterey? Answer in the comment section. You could win a pair of tickets to the Monterey Aquarium and create moments of your own! See Monterey will be selecting the winners sometime next month. Tickets will expire on 7/31/16.


Tell me: What are your favorite spots in Monterey County? Is there anything I missed that I need to add to my itinerary? Share in the comments below!

With arts, beaches, nature, and great food, Monterey, California may be the perfect city. Click to read why Monterey should be your new favorite travel destination! Grab Your Moment and GO!| http://passportandplates.com

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  • I stayed in Monterey during my road trip up the California coast earlier this year. Unfortunately, that was where I crashed on my longest day of driving, and I had to get to Napa by lunchtime the next day. So, I didn’t really get to see Monterey outside my hotel. But, I did do the 17 Mile Drive, which was well worth the $10 entrance fee. Highly recommend it to you when you go!

    • Sad that you didn’t get to spend too much time there but hopefully you get a chance to go back sometime soon! I’m really excited to go and thanks for that tip about the 17 Mile Drive – I’m definitely going to do it now! 🙂

  • Sounds like an awesome place to visit, especially as we are keen climbers and love the outdoors. Will definitely be on our list of places to visit once we travel to that side of the US!

    • Yes, there are TONS of spectacular hikes with gorgeous views out there. I hope you get a chance to make it to the west coast soon!

  • Tara

    We adore going to California but have never made it to Monterey. I have got to change that, so much to see and do, great post!!

    • I’m a California girl myself so I’m a bit biased when I say it’s the best state :p. But yes, it’s definitely worth considering for your next visit 🙂

  • Christina

    I really enjoyed Monterey when we visited a few years ago. It has so many sites to visit. You can have a great time inside and outside. Our favourite was the Monterey aquarium for sure!

    • I can’t believe it has taken me this long to visit – crazy! But I’m definitely visiting the aquarium – I’ve only ever heard good things about it!

  • Chantell Collins

    I had no idea Monterey County included to much! And so many great places! We visited Big Sur on our recent road trip from Seattle to Dallas,and although we drove down the Pacific Coast Highway and stopped off in Big Sur – we missed Monterey. I have been once before and remember enjoying a delicious bread bowl of Clam Chowder. I have heard so many great things about the aquarium and would love to go back and explore more. Thanks for sharing!

    • Surprisingly me neither! I knew about the aquarium an have heard great things about Big Sur, but ended up discovering a HUGE list of things to do! That’s awesome that you were able to stop in Big Sur though – the photos I’ve seen look so gorgeous! Also bread bowls are SO good.

      Thanks for entering the giveaway – the aquarium is considered a must-see so I hope you win one of the tickets :).

  • Buddy The Traveling Monkey

    I have a lot of military friends that are stationed in Monterey and they all love it. I’ve always wanted to visit, since it looks so nice. I didn’t realize there was also so much to do!

    • It’s crazy how much there is to do here! I initially thought it was just a weekend getaway spot, but quickly realized that I could easily spend a week or more here. You should definitely visit when you get a chance 🙂

  • Vyjay Rao

    Monterey seems like the place for me! great outdoors, ocean and Steinbeck locales all rolled into one is indeed an irresistible package.

  • Lara Dunning

    I visited Monterey as a kid. I would love to go back as an adult and see the sights. Love your beach shot!

    • Thank you :). And yes, I often find I appreciate places so much more as an adult. I hope you get a chance to visit again soon!

  • I am a huge fan of picnicking so I would go to the beach and picnic. Also, that eight course tasting menu sounds fabulous. So much to do!

    • Picnics are SO great, especially with scenic views and good weather! Definitely worth a visit for next time you’re in California 🙂

  • Kate Carter Hickey

    A giveaway!! Man – I wish I could participate. I’m a huge Steinbeck fan. I haven’t been to Carmel since I was 8 or 9 years old. I wonder how much it has changed.

    • Shame you can’t participate :(. I’m with you – I read so much Steinbeck in high school that it might be a crime not to visit Salinas. I hope you get a chance to revisit soon!

  • Luxury Travel Diva

    I always enjoy reading your posts, personality just shines through! I’m a foodie so love to read about delicious meals and a picnic is always a good idea!

    • Thanks so much! 🙂
      And yessss I’m SO excited to picnic and eat my way through the county – the seafood is supposed to be spectacular. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Stephanie Rose

    Purple sand is on my bucket list. I’m doing pink sand next month. And I love aquariums!!! I have a cousin based in CA so I might need to visit and then head off to Monterey. What a great and informative post.

    • Oh whaaaat, where is there pink sand??
      The Monterey Aquarium is supposed to be one of the best in the country so you should definitely visit when you come to California next :). Glad you liked the post!

      • Stephanie Rose

        I’m going to Barbados but a few other places also have pink sand. Maybe Bahamas?!? The sand in Barbados is pink because of crushed animal she’ll that is ground by the waves and mixed in if I recall correctly! I can’t wait to see it!!

  • We never seem to make it farther south than San Francisco, but the aquarium has been on our list for a really long time. Thanks for the tips. I’m pinning for our next California road trip.

    • I know the feeling! Somehow I’ve never made it here despite constant drives between Southern and Northern California! Sounds like you need to add Monterey to your next road trip as well 🙂

  • Ooh now I need to try more of their food up there. I do remember going to a really yummy restaurant in Monterey, but I can’t remember the name of it. Aubergine sounds amazing!

    • Yessss I’m so excited to eat all the good seafood up there! If you remember the name of the place, please let me know! 🙂

  • Paige Brown

    Wow! You weren’t kidding when you said that it has something for everyone! It hit a few of my favorite things for sure: hiking, nature, food & culture! Are the beaches here more rugged like Northern California or sandy like Souther California? I love rugged coastlines! Thanks for giving me another reason to visit California! If I weren’t so far away, I’d enter for those tickets for sure. Cheers!

    • Bummer that you’re so far away!
      There’s a great mix of beaches – both rugged and sandy depending on which you visit, which is awesome. You should definitely make tit out to California soon! 🙂

  • Mags

    Love the picture of the Jelly Fish. I really want to explore more of California, I’ve really only been to LA and its such a beautiful and diverse state.

    • Thanks!
      Yessss I’m quite bad at exploring California myself to be totally honest and I live here! :p There are so many great places the state has to offer.

  • I haven’t been out West in ages, but this makes me want to hop on a plane! There’s so much to explore in California and could I ever use some sun 🙂

  • I was there last month and visited Pfeiffer beach, Point Lobos, did the 17 mile drive, and much more.

    Loved this post of yours, there sure is too much to see in Monterey.

    Hope those who win get to see it soon.

    • That’s awesome! Glad to hear you had a great time and I also hope the winner gets to experience what Monterey has to offer 🙂

  • Dee Caliman

    I would love to win the tickets! I just graduated college & am planning a trip to Asilomar. Asilomar in pacific grove would be my suggestion to add to the video! It’s a very special place to stay & explore. Thank you!?

    • Thanks for your suggestion and thanks for entering, Dee! Congratulations on your graduation and best of luck :).

    • Hi Dee! Congratulations! You were selected by See Monterey as a winner of a pair of tickets to the Monterey Aquarium :). Can you please send me an email (passportandplates@gmail.com) with your First Name, Last Name, Address, and Phone Number so I can submit them to the tourism board? Please do so no later than Monday, July 4th. Congratulations and thanks again for entering the giveaway!

    • Hi Dee!

      Friendly reminder to please send me an email (passportandplates@gmail.com) with your first and last name, address, and phone number so See Monterey can send you your pair of tickets to the Monterey Aquarium! The deadline to submit the info is Monday, July 4th. Congratulations and thanks again for entering the giveaway!

  • I just drove from LA to San Jose on the PCH, so I can attest to what a great drive it is!! Unfortunately, we were on a bit of a time crunch, so we didn’t see too much of Monterey proper. We did stop for some amazing photo opps near Big Sur, though! The good news is I know it won’t be the last time I’ll drive that magnificent route 🙂 Thank you for all the info on Monterey!

    • I’ve done part of the drive before but never made it up to Monterey, so I’m really excited! Everyone has raved about Big Sur so far and I loved your snaps as well! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  • Looks so pretty! I love California but haven’t been to Monterey yet.

    • I’m going in a couple of weeks and I’m so excited! You should definitely come visit when you get a chance 🙂

  • I haven’t yet been to California but I’d love to visit, my hubby says it’s amazing. The aquarium looks amazing and I love the open book statue

  • There is absolutely no easy way to answer this question because honestly after watching the #GrabYourMoment video, I want to go and spend a week up in Monterey! But if I had to only do a day’s worth of activities I would drive up the coast from LA the day before and get a hotel so that I could get my one day started bright and early with some of that delicious food…then I’d want to do some whale watching, stop by the aquarium and maybe squeeze in some hiking for those amazing views…and then I’d spend the evening wishing I had more than just one day in Monterey to #grabyourmoment

    • I know, it’s definitely more than a little challenging to decide what to do with just one day! That being said, your one day itinerary sounds perfect and so much fun! Thanks for entering and best of luck :). Hopefully you’ll win and be able to #GrabYourMoment for much longer than a day!

  • We have stopped in Monterey on our way to San Francisco but that is years and years ago. Would love to explore more especially after reading your post!

    • That’s great that you managed to go! Not a lot of people make a point to visit (myself included, #guilty). I hope you get a chance to revisit soon!

  • Francesca

    Well, I can say that I’m definitely more interested in visiting Monterey after reading this! I didn’t realize it’s in Central California; I thought it was further south. (Can you tell I’m not really familiar with California geography?) Between the outdoorsy stuff and the foodie finds, it seems like my kinda place! Add in the literary element and my inner nerd rejoices 🙂

    • Haha don’t worry, my geography skills are terrible as well which is seriously embarrassing considering how much time I spend looking at maps!
      But yes, I hope you get a chance to visit soon! It’s gorgeous and let’s you embrace your inner nerd, athlete, and food lover all in the same day :D. Win!

  • Leslie @therealuganda

    John Steinbeck all the way. People may come for the beaches, hiking, and (of course) the food – but I’m a culture vulture… let’s get people learning something about American history and literature. Thanks for the feature!

    • Agreed! It’s definitely not something that’s mentioned too frequently but his literature is so important to American history and to Monterey County culture as well! After reading a lot of his books in high school, I’m eager to see the “real life” versions for myself :). Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Grassroots Nomad

    I would #grabmymoment by spending my time learning everything I can about their amazing conservation practices. Save our oceans!

    • Yes, I can’t believe I forgot to mention that! I LOVE that Monterey makes a point to focus on conservation and protecting the environment. Thanks for entering and I hope you win so you can grab your moment!

    • Hi Grassroots Nomad! Congratulations! You were selected by See Monterey as a winner of a pair of tickets to the Monterey Aquarium :). Can you please send me an email (passportandplates@gmail.com) with your First Name, Last Name, Address, and Phone Number so I can submit them to the tourism board? Please do so no later than Monday, July 4th. Congratulations and thanks again for entering the giveaway!

      • Grassroots Nomad

        How exciting!!! I’ll send you the info now. Thanks so much!

  • Lisa

    Love this! I would definitely #grabmymoment by going to the Steinbeck Center, that’s my favorite author and I love the grapes of wrath, Of Mine and Men, etc. Plus with my kid going to Santa Cruz for school, I will have time to check out the neighboring county!

    • That’s an excellent choice! I wish I’d gotten a chance to visit the Steinbeck Center this time around, but I’ll have to save it for my next trip :). And yes, Santa Cruz isn’t far away at all, so it’s a great excuse to explore the neighboring county. Thanks for entering and I hope you win so you can grab your moment!

    • Hi Lisa! Congratulations! You were selected by See Monterey as a winner of a pair of tickets to the Monterey Aquarium :). Can you please send me an email (passportandplates@gmail.com) with your First Name, Last Name, Address, and Phone Number so I can submit them to the tourism board? Please do so ASAP. Congratulations and thanks again for entering the giveaway!

  • Jay

    With the polaroid secured?, I’d go on an ultimate surf & culinary excursion. First stop: Asilomar State Beach to catch some waves and soak in the panoramic coastal views and ahhhh my favorite way to dine: a cooking class at Stone Creek Kitchen followed by a major indulge! ? #Dip&Dine ???

    • Oooh sounds like the perfect itinerary to me, especially if a polaroid is involved to capture all the moments! And nothing like cooking your food then eating it too – definitely makes it an enjoyable experience :). Thanks for entering the giveaway and good luck!

  • Practical Wanderlust

    I absolutely adore Monterey! It’s one of our favorite close to home weekend trips away from San Francisco.

    • Could you believe that this was my first and only visit, despite growing up in SoCal? I’m definitely going to go back! It really is a lovely weekend trip!

  • Totally agree with you Monterey is one of the favorite travel destination for many people including me as well. I have visited it only once by I like it very much and planning to visit it again. The best thing about it which I like the most is it wine tasting rooms. They are damn good and have lot of variety to choose.

    • Yeah! It’s amazing how much there is to do. I feel like I barely put a dent. I also have only been once, which is a tad ridiculous considering it’s a 5 hour drive away. I hope you get a chance to return sometime soon 🙂