It was a 237 mile trip from ‘America’s Rivera’, Santa Barbara, to Monterey.
Well that’s how long it should have been but we got distracted looking at the scenery and didn’t realise we’d merged onto another motorway. Then, Jamie didn’t believe my map reading skills so we ended up going down the same stretch of road twice.
“You need to turn left here…no left!”
But like my pop used to always say, we were taking the scenic route.
We didn’t arrive in Monterey until gone midday and our road trip only allowed us one day in this beautiful place. So we found some free parking near the MacDonald’s on Del Monte Avenue and went to explore.
A little about Monterey
Monterey was settled in 1770, when a mission and garrison was set up by the Spanish. The garrison was ran by Gaspar de Portola, who didn’t much like the place. In fact he described it as “bleak and disease-ridden”, he wanted to give it to the Russians as “punishment” as they also had their eyes on the place.
Luckily for us Father Serra, in charge of the mission wasn’t put off so easily by a challenge. You can see his statue on Corporal Ewin Road, near the Presidio of Monterey Museum.
After this rocky start, Monterey became the capital of Northern California, before the state joined the United States. The city also has more historic buildings than any city on the West Coast.
But the town is probably most famous for its fishing and canning industries and its abundance of sea otters, seals and sea lions.
Also known as Wharf 1, the pier is full of shops, restaurants and information about boat trips.
Plenty of the restaurants on Fisherman’s Wharf sell the famous Monterey Clam Chowder, and specialise in seafood. However, we ignored all of these and headed to the Big Fish Grill at the end of the pier to enjoy a much deserved cold drink after our long drive.
We won’t forget the first time we heard the bark of a seal.
“There’s a seal! Look” I shouted, running excitedly to the barrier.
“There’s more than one!” Jamie said, pointing at the pile of bodies.
In fact, there are so many of them, by the time you’ve spent a few hours on the coast you become immune to their noise.
“I’m glad we’re not staying by the beach, if they’re gonna be making that noise all night.”
Walking down Cannery Row is like stepping back in time. It’s lined on either side with canneries and old warehouses.
Many of these have now been converted into shops and tourist attractions now. It’s a good place to wander round and absorb the atmosphere. There’s also an abundance of independent shops and restaurants in surrounding streets, and a few craft beer pubs.
I’d prebooked us a ‘sunset whale watching trip’. In hindsight I wish we’d just rocked up like everyone else as the tickets were a lot cheaper to buy from the desk.
We were led down some very dubious looking steps to a small boat and took our seats at the back. With everyone on board, we headed out in search of whales.
As the sun started to set, the air got cooler and cooler. I was glad I had bought my jumper and coat, but wished I’d bought my hat and scarf too!
The boat sailed passed the huge aquarium building and up toward the Point Pinos lighthouse.
Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any whales. We did, however, see a gorgeous sunset over the bay. And with that, our day in Monterey was almost over.
Just a quick, and rather disappointing stop, at MacDonalds – the chicken nuggets don’t taste anywhere near as nice as the ones in the UK, and then it was back to our motel.
Next stop, San Francisco
The truth is, we were both a bit sad to be leaving this beautiful city. I had more of a small town charm about it and there was so much more to see than we had first imagined. But again, it was time to pack our bags and hit the road.
Other places to visit in Monterey
- The world famous Aquarium, one of the largest in North America.
- California’s first theatre, built by Jack Swan in 1847.
- Robert Louis Stephenson House, 530 Houston Street is where the writer lived when he wrote Treasure Island.