White sand beaches, clear blue waters, sunny skies, and temperate weather are what people envision when they imagine California. Monterey and Carmel by the Sea meet all of these expectations and more! Visitors can swim with sea otters in the calm Monterey Bay, relax on the pristine Carmel Beach, or go snorkeling in the clear, sparkling waters. These popular locations are a must-see before you leave California.
The drive from San Francisco to Monterey takes a little over two hours on US 101 on an average traffic day. The drive to Carmel takes about 15-20 minutes longer and goes past Monterey.
If you decide against driving, consider taking a bus tour from San Francisco, with stops in Monterey and Carmel by the Sea. Find departure times and ticket information through Extranomical Tours.
The white sand beaches of Monterey and the calm, protected waters of its bay are an irresistible pull for those visiting during San Francisco’s foggy weather. Break up the weather with a day tour down to Monterey, where the sunny weather makes Monterey feel like another world entirely.
Cannery Row: Located in Monterey on the waterfront, Cannery Row attracts over 4 million visitors per year and is Monterey’s top attraction. Named after and made popular by John Steinback’s titular novel, Cannery Row has come a long way from its origins as a sardine cannery. Today, over 85 name brand or family owned specialty stores have taken their place. The variety of restaurants ensures that everyone will leave full and happy. Here, visitors can eat a bowl of clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, get a seat at Bubba Gump’s movie-themed restaurant, or grab a scoop of ice cream to eat on the go. Find out more about Cannery Row’s modern shops and its history online.
Monterey Bay Aquarium: Monterey Bay Aquarium is famous throughout California for its wide variety of marine life, state-of-the-art exhibits, and contributions to the research and preservation of marine life. Its most popular attractions are the sea otter, jellyfish, and great white shark exhibits. Other less famous, but just as intriguing, exhibits are described below.
The Rocky Shore exhibit recreates the meeting of two worlds, land and sea, through a series of exhibits that puts the viewer in the midst of this dynamic shoreline. Visit the Wave Crash Gallery, a dome-like structure over which 600 gallons of water flows every 30 seconds, recreating the effect of a crashing ocean wave. Visitors can stand beneath the dome to see what it looks like to be in the middle of an ocean wave.
The Sandy Shore & Aviary exhibit recreates the meeting of two worlds, land and sea, through a series of hands-on exhibits featuring tidal creatures. Visitors can pet bat rays, feel sea cucumbers, sea anemones, starfish, and more! Walk through a sandy shore and observe sea shorebirds in their natural habitat.
Nearby Points of Interest
San Carlos Beach: is a popular place for scuba divers and kayakers. The relatively warm Monterey waters make scuba diving here attractive. Observe sea otters while you are out on the bay as they play, bathe, eat, and sleep.
National Steinbeck Center: focuses on the life of author John Steinback and the forces that influenced his writing. The Center features permanent and rotating exhibits, so be sure to check the website for more details.
The Mazda Raceway: features an 11-turn track and allows people to rent out the track when races are not being held. It is located in Laguna Seca Recreation Center, where visitors can RV or tent camp and visit the nearby shooting range.
Carmel by the Sea
Located in Monterey County south of Monterey, Carmel-by-the-sea is a small city located in Monterey County south of the city of Monterey. Renowned actor and director Clint Eastwood served as mayor of Carmel from 1986 to 1988, continuing the town’s tradition of supporting artists.
The town’s arts-oriented roots can be traced back to the 1905 Carmel Arts and Crafts Club, which drew hundreds of artists during the aftermath of San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. Today, a variety of arts-oriented festival and cultural celebrations are held in Carmel.
Carmel Bach Festival: The Cultural Council for Monterey County resides in Carmel. The Carmel Bach Festival has been held in Carmel every year since 1935, and the Carmel Art Association is one of the country’s oldest cooperative galleries. Visit to see art exhibits or to attend lectures.
Dog-friendly Carmel: with most hotels allowing dogs to stay with their owners. Many restaurants allow dogs in their outdoor seating locations and provide water and special doggie menus for these beloved canine guests. Carmel is an incredibly walkable city, allowing visitors to explore its dozens of art galleries on foot with their four-legged companions.
Carmel Beach: whose pristine white sands often host weddings, community events, and more. Bring a bottle of wine and a blanket to the beach and admire the sunset as the ocean waves roll in and out.
Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo: Today, Mission San Carlos is known as Mission Carmel. Founded in 1770 and restored in 1884, this centuries-old mission is a National Historic Landmark. Visit to see its historic murals and architecture, or to see a variety of concerts, exhibits, and other cultural attractions held in its halls.
Nearby Points of Interest
Big Sur Coastline: A long stretch of California Highway 1 that takes you through 90 miles of amazing scenic views. State Parks, beaches, and forestry areas offer plenty for the day-trippers and hikers.
17 Mile Drive: Scenic coastal route through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove.
Pebble Beach: This small coastal community is also the location of many famous golf courses, including Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill Golf Course and The Links at Spanish Bay.