A weekend in Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea

A weekend in Monterey and Carmel-by-the-sea

No California road trip on Highway 1 is complete without a stop at either Monterey or Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s a truth universally acknowledged – the area is gorgeous and there are so many great things to see and do.

Mr M and I packed the car and headed down the coast for the weekend in late October to see what all the fuss was about. Also because I was supposed to be home in Australia for a fortnight but couldn’t get there so I was feeling pretty ripped off.

Free guide to Monterey

There are a multitude of blogs and websites on both of these destinations, so while we did visit some of the more well-known attractions (they’re popular because they’re awesome), we also tried to visit some other stuff.

You can get even more information on off-the-beaten track attractions, places to stay for all price ranges, and the tastiest places to eat in my free resource library. Just sign up to the newsletter and you’ll get the password.


In my eyes, the distinction between Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea is that the former is your typical American coastal town. With a board walk of sorts, beachside restaurants and fish shacks, and a tonne of well-known stores.

Meanwhile, Carmel-by-the-Sea comes at you straight from the UK. With a “High Street” teeming with high-end stores, elegant restaurants and day spas. It’s how the other 1/4 lives.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

I loved this spot so much that I wrote its own separate post. The aquarium is a kids’ dream come true, with areas that let them touch sea creatures like anemones and different kinds of kelp and seaweed.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

They can watch live feedings of sea otters and an ocean full of fish. What I haven’t mentioned previously though, is the Seafood Watch program.

It helps consumers make educated choices when buying seafood, to ensure the supply does not die out unnecessarily.

Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary

Unfortunately, the weekend we visited was the foggiest in existence (who knew Karl The Fog made it this far south?). So the butterflies weren’t out to play.

Monterey's Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary
Picture: seemonterey.com

But if you visit Monterey between October and February, you can see thousands of Monarch Butterflies huddled together for warmth. And if it’s a nice day they’ll be fluttering all over the place.

The butterflies migrate to the California coast for the winter. Entry to the Sanctuary is free, but be sure not to touch the butterflies – doing so carries a $1,000 fine.

Salvador Dali Museum

Did you know that Spanish Surrealist Dali and his wife lived on 17-mile Drive in the 1940s?

He championed the arts in the area by helping judge competitions at local high schools and being part of committees.

Dali17 in Monterey, is a museum dedicated to the surrealist artist

Art lovers can visit the Dali17 exhibition  (named after the drive he lived on), to see Dali’s sculptures, lithographs, etching and other mixed media. It’s the largest private collection of the artists work in the US.

Parker-Lusseau Pastries & Cafe

I don’t usually include food recommendations in my posts, but it’s just too good to let you miss out on!

We wandered over to the Monterey cafe for breakfast on our first morning and I felt like I was back in Europe.

Parker-Lusseau Pastries has branches in Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea

Mr M, who knows his coffee, was so taken with their espresso that he wanted to go back the next day (unfortunately they’re closed Sundays). I had a delicious apple galette and secretly wanted to try everything in their display.

Cannery Row

You knew this was coming. Cannery Row is the main coastal street in Monterey, and used to be called Ocean View Avenue.

It’s where the aquarium is located, but it was once swarming with fishermen and those who worked in the numerous sardine canning factories.

Cannery Row
Not the typical view of Cannery Row, but I loved this spot.

The last factory closed in the late 1973, and the street was renamed Cannery Row in 1958, after author John Steinbeck’s famous novel.

Steinbeck, who was born lived in the area for many years, wrote about Cannery Row in two novels, one of the same name and also Sweet Thursday. You can find a monument to the author and his friends on the street.

John Steinbeck and his friends on Cannery Row

Thankfully Cannery Row is no longer “…a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light…” as Steinbeck described it. Although parts of the nostalgia and dream remain.

Apart from shops full of trinkets and baubles, there are cafes, seafood restaurants, the remains of cannery workers’ shacks and the ocean lapping at crumbled buildings.


The space between Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey isn’t devoid of beauty or things to do. In fact, it’s probably one of the most beautiful parts of the area.

Take advantage of it if you’re driving between the two, and don’t miss some of these fantastic spots.

Point Pinos Lightstation

Light houses are my jam, but I’ve noticed that Northern California is more of a lightstation kind of place.

Even though they lack the joy of climbing up high to get a view of everything around the, I do still enjoy the romantic notions of a lightstation/house.

Saving mariners caught in storms, having an important job that requires you to be there to help others (maybe not so much in the era of electric lights).

Point Pinos Lightstation near Carmel-by-the-Sea

The Point Pinos Lightstation is the oldest operational station on the west coast and has been in use since 1855. Looking at the coastline, you can see why. It’s all jagged rocks poking out of the ocean in every direction.

Be mindful that it’s closed to the public on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and only opens between 1pm and 4pm every other day of the week.

Whale & Dolphin Watching

I highly recommend a drive along Ocean View Boulevard – a road that follows the coastline. It’s free (more on that later) with lots of great places to pull over and look at the sea.

Visit between April and mid-December, bring a picnic and settle in to watch the migrating humpback and blue whales, as well as dolphins.

Whale watching near Carmel-by-the-Sea

If you’re there between December and March though, you won’t necessarily miss out though. It’s prime time for gray whales and dolphins.

You can also book a whale watching tour that will take you out to sea to spot them frolicking.

17-Mile Drive

This is where the money comes in. By all accounts, 17-Mile Drive is a gorgeous stretch of coastline between Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to drive it, because we didn’t realise that it requires a $10.50 cash payment at one of the five entry gates.

The drive between Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea

For that price, you get a flyer that lets you in on all of the best vantage points and places to stop for picnics.

The drive takes in an exclusive area, with beautiful houses and gardens tucked away.


You’re going to notice that this is the beachside suburb for Californians with real money. Some of it mouldy from the inheritance, and I guess others from the tech boom.

The houses are gorgeous, the main street has a real community feel and the beaches feel as though they’ve been left untouched.

Welcome to Carmel-By-The-Sea.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo 

It’s a mouthful of a name, but it’s a fitting one for a compound with so much history.

The mission includes a Basilica that is registered as a National Historic Landmark and includes a school, rectory, parish hall, museum and Spanish-style courtyard.

Carmel Mission Basilica

Pulling up to the Carmel Mission Basilica is a treat in itself. Tucked into a residential area, the walls of the mission’s walls stand out from its neighbours.

It was founded in 1770 in Monterey, but was moved to Carmel a year later by Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra. If you’re a fan of history, it’s well worth the $9 entry fee for adults.

Carmel North Dunes

At one end of the 17-Mile Drive are the Carmel North Dunes. It’s the gateway to Carmel Beach and a project that the local garden club has taken on.


The dunes are expansive, but the vegetation had suffered because of us humans, so the garden club have designated it a restoration area and are working to bring it back to life.

It’s roped off but still beautiful to look at and walk around while you’re getting your fill of the fresh ocean air.

Wine Tasting

Winos who like a tipple will be happy to know that they can go on a tour of 19 tasting rooms.

The best part? You don’t need a designated driver because they’re all within walking distance of each other.


And while I don’t particularly recommend hitting all 19 at once (unless you’re amazingly strong of liver), it’s a great way to sample the tastes of the local wine region.


35 thoughts on “A weekend in Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea

  1. I soooo want to head to your neck of the woods with the kids. The hubby is talking about going back to Vegas AGAIN!!! But I will only sign onto it if we can fly into LA. drive to Vegas (via Palm Springs), spend a few days in Vegas then drive to San Fran via Yosemite and then perhaps drive down to LA again to fly home. My chances of convincing him are slim …

    1. Ugh, Vegas. I mean, it’s great and I have friends there, but it’s just so… Vegas. I love the sound of your trip plan! Can you just drop him off in Vegas, do the rest of the trip with the kids (surely one of them can help drive) and then go back to pick up hubby?

  2. Yeah yeah the beaches and art and everything looks fantastic but you really had me at PASTRIES. And then you mentioned wine and I’m totally in. Will just have to rob a bank first. Where’s my balaclava?

  3. Two of my favourite places in the USA, we loved these towns on our last trip. My only regret was not getting to see inside the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Carmel, great post, great photos. Thanks for reminding me how much I loved it here

  4. I’ve never heard of this area so this guide was a perfect introduction. I’m strongly considering a visit for the wine tastings and animal watching!

    1. The wine tasting is a great reason to get there. I’ve never been to a place where there are so many tasting rooms within walking distance of each other.

  5. I would love to do a California-road trip. I don’t know about all the stops but after reading this I would definitely stopping at Monterey and Caramel by the sea. I had no idea Salvador Dali lived on 17-Mile Drive in the 40s. That is so cool 😀 Thank you for the tips 😀

    1. I didn’t know that Dali lived here either! I love visiting a new places and finding out cool things like that. I hope you get to do your California road trip one day 🙂

  6. I am so sorry you didn’t get to come back to Aus. Hope you do get the chance to again…
    This post shows how much beauty and history there is in the world close to you. What a lovely way to be compensated. Loved the lighthouse. We have one on our doorstep at Norah Head and whilst I have not been over for a while I like that it is the place for the measurements of wind, rain & temperature for the Central Coast.
    Thank you for linking up for #lifethisweek 44/52 Next Week: Taking Stock (last one for 2017)

  7. These two places are some of the most beautiful in California. I tried to visit lesser known places when I visited too. However, I didn’t spend enough time in Carmel. Next time, I want to spend about half a day walking around Point Lobos. #citytripping

  8. I loved this stretch of coast when we drove along Highway 1 – has brought back lovely memories. The aquarium at Monterey was wonderful, one of my daughter’s favourites and I have a very similar shot of the art on Cannery Row. Carmel really is a whole other world too! Thanks for linking up with #citytripping and reminding me

  9. This is a fabulous post! I’ve been visiting both of these coastal towns my entire life, and countless time during my 8 years in the Bay Area, and I never knew about the Dali museum! In fact, there are many things in this post I have yet to try… I’ll definitely have to find my way back soon. Thank you for sharing this is why I’m so happy about being a part of #farawayfiles

  10. This is definitely one part of California I haven’t seen yet but would love to visit the next time we’re home! The beach and the mission are so beautiful! #FarawayFiles

  11. I was just in the area last weekend and was (very) lucky to have excellent weather. It is interesting that there’s so much to do in a relatively small area. Looks like you made the most of it! #FlyAwayFriday

  12. One of my favorite parts of Cali. I couldn’t get enough of that drive when I lived out there. Are you like me and obsessed with the HBO series Big Little Lies which takes place in Monterey?!? #citytripping

  13. I love Monterrey Bay Aquarium! Reading this post reminded me of how wonderful that whole area is. Hope it made up for missing your trip back to Australia! #flyawayfriday

  14. Hey Katherine, glad that you had a great weekend in Monterey! Sorry for not replying to your question on restaurants in my Monterey post. I was about to leave for my travels when your comment was posted and I had just returned after a month. Monterey is such a lovely charming place, isn’t it? My trip was way back then, many, many moons ago – my photos are in films – so you can imagine how long ago that trip was, lol! Great post!

    1. No worries at all Kat, I was being lazy anyway. We ended up eating lunch at Cannery Row Brewery one of the days and were so full by dinnertime that we didn’t eat out again. You’re so right, Monterey was gorgeous. I love that you have film of your photos from your trip. Hope you had a nice month-long trip, I can’t wait to read about that one.

  15. Carmel by the Sea and Monterey are so freaking charming! Totally up my alley. That tarte though…..it’s making me hungry 😀 haha! Thanks for joining Fly Away Friday, hope to see you again this week! xo

    1. I was so disappointed that it was too cold for the butterflies on the morning we’d planned to see it. But there’s always next time, right?

  16. Being a West Coaster, I can’t believe I’ve never been to this beautiful stretch of California. I’ve explored lots of the State and driven Pac Coast Highway, but not these miles. That obviously needs to change! I knew it was beautiful, thanks for the reminder! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin #FarawayFiles

    1. You can’t see or know about everything! I’m constantly reading about places that are pretty close to where I am that I’d never heard of before, and I love discovering them! Thanks for visiting Erin!

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