As military spouses, there is a reason why we talk about PCS’ing so often. We do it so often. Picking up and moving our lives every few years is exhausting to say the least. But I also find it to be so special that every duty station can mark different occasions in our lives. Perhaps one location is where you got married, landed that great job or bought your first home. Perhaps another is where you met that great friend, adopted your pet or gave birth to your child.
For me, Monterey, California will always hold a special place in my heart.
My husband and I lived there for just under two years, and it is where we got married and adopted our dog. Unfortunately living in California also means living with the ongoing threat of wildfires. Currently, the River and Carmel Fires have plagued Monterey County, and at time of publication the fires had collectively destroyed over 65 structures. Our thoughts are with everyone in California .
In the meantime, I wanted to share my love for this once-in-a-lifetime duty station:
For submariners, Monterey is a unique duty station with limited shore duty opportunities at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). Established in 1909, NPS is a public graduate school operated by the U.S. Navy. There are four graduate schools and 12 departments, offering various doctoral and master level degrees, ranging from business and public policy to engineering and applied sciences.
While students are mostly active-duty officers from the U.S. military and government civilians, members of foreign militaries can also attend. My husband had several classmates from different Navy’s around the world, from Argentina to Singapore.
Monterey was a short blimp of our Navy life, but it remains one of our favorite places we have ever lived. We both dream of living there again someday. But in the meantime, I wanted to share an ultimate guide.
If you are lucky enough to live there, here is what you need to know:
- Monterey is located on the rugged Central California coast, about two hours south of San Francisco and five hours north of Los Angeles.
- Monterey has a population just over 28,000 (United States Census Bureau, 2018).
- Monterey is also home to the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, one of the most renowned institutions for foreign language instruction in the world. As part of the Army Training and Doctrine Command, the school provides instruction in more than a dozen languages for active duty servicemembers, foreign military students and civilian personnel working in federal government and law enforcement agencies.
- Nearby airports include San Jose International Airport, San Francisco International Airport and Oakland International Airport.
- The Monterey Peninsula is a world-renown golf destination, with 26 public and private courses, most notably the infamous Pebble Beach. Monterey is also home to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.
- The climate in Monterey stays very moderate throughout the year, with average temperatures in the 60s-70s year-round.
- Monterey Peninsula was first discovered by a European in 1602 by Spanish merchant Sebastian Vizcaino. The area was christened “Monterey” after the viceroy of New Spain, Count de Monte Rey.
- Monterey served as the original capital of California when the state constitution was signed in 1849.
- The nearby Salinas Valley is the #1 agricultural region in the United States, nicknamed the “Salad Bowl of the Nation.” Major produce brands Fresh Express and Taylor Farms are headquartered there.
- Nearby Carmel, CA is home to many celebrities and artists. Clint Eastwood served as mayor of the village from 1986-1988, while other notable celebrities have called it home, including Doris Day, John Denver and Ansel Adams.
- Monterey, CA was also the filming location for the critically-acclaimed “Big Little Lies” series on HBO.
Things to Do
- For shopping and dining, explore Monterey’s historic Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf boardwalk, and the sweet, storybook-inspired Carmel-By-The-Sea.
- The world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium is absolutely worth a visit and annual membership. Members get invited to special after-hour wine and food events, overnight sleepovers for children and other fun perks.
- Even if you are not an avid golfer, Pebble Beach is a must visit. Take the scenic and stunning 17-Mile Drive (hot tip: when you arrive at the gate, tell them you’re going to dinner or happy hour and they’ll waive your fee). Be sure to actually follow through and enjoy a drink at Spanish Bay, where you can watch the sunset and famous bagpiper close the course for the day.
- Day trip to nearby Santa Cruz, explore the famous Santa Cruz Boardwalk & Amusement Park, and more.
- Attend an event or festival, including the Artichoke Festival, Monterey Greek Festival, Monterey Car Week, Salinas Food & Wine Festival, Pebble Beach Food & Wine, Monterey Beer Festival, Pacific Grove’s Butterfly Days and so many more.
- The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail is a beautifully paved trail that hugs the coastline for 18 miles, starting from Castroville in the north and weaving down through Monterey and Pacific Grove in the south. The trail offers biking and running lanes, with beautiful views.
- Kayaking is Monterey is just unreal. From seals to otters, to dolphins and whales, you can see it all. Our favorite place to kayak was at Elkhorn Slough, where you literally are surrounded by otters.
- Explore Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Perfect for families and all hiking abilities, the park offers trails through wooded forests, wildflower fields and coastal cliffs.
- For longer hikes, drive out to nearby Big Sur. Enjoy the scenic drive out past Bixby Canyon Bridge, any photos just don’t do it justice. Two of our favorite places include Andrew Molera State Park and Garrapata State Park. Both parks offer great hiking options, with trails through meadows, beaches, woods and cliffs. Hot tip: Start your day with carbs and coffee at Big Sur Bakery or picnic finds at Big Sur Deli. After you explore, cool off with libations and small plates at Nepanthe, a beautiful cliffside restaurant.
- It should come as no surprise the Monterey Peninsula has some gorgeous beaches, many of which are dog-friendly. Our favorite beaches included Carmel Beach, Del Monte Beach and Monterey State Beach.
- Monterey is close to one of the newest national parks, Pinnacles National Park. The park is small but stunning, tucked away in the Central Valley. The park offers beautiful vistas, bear caves, unique rock formations and oak woodlands.
Eat + Drink
Monterey County has a very eclectic and diverse culinary scene. Many restaurants embrace the local bounty, from fresh fruits and vegetables to local meats and seafood.
For coffeeshops and bakeries, we loved Captain + Stoker, Carmel Valley Roasting Company, Happy Girl Kitchen Co., and Bright Coffee. For brunch, you can’t miss Wild Plum, First Awakenings, From Scratch or Loulou’s Griddle in the Middle.
For date night or special occasions, any restaurant in Carmel-By-The-Sea will do. We frequented La Bicyclette, Dametra Café and Little Napoli. Other misc. favorites include Hula’s Island Grill (Polynesian, Hawaiian cuisine), Crystal Fish (sushi), Zab Zab (Thai) and Poke Lab (poke).
While you live in Monterey, I really encourage you to sign up for a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture (or anywhere if it’s available, really). There is nothing like the fresh produce in Central California, and dozens of local family farms offer delivery or pick-up programs. We were members of the J&P Organics CSA and enjoyed deliveries of fresh vegetables, fruit, flowers and eggs every week.
While Monterey is more than two hours away from Napa, the area is proud of its thriving wine region. In town, try out Taste of Monterey for excellent wine and food pairings. For a more scenic experience, go wine tasting in Carmel Valley, home to more than 20 wineries and tasting rooms. The Monterey Peninsula also offers a great beer scene, with Alvarado Street Brewery, Fieldwork Brewing, and Peter B’s Brewpub.
- Monterey Convention & Visitors Bureau
- City of Monterey
- Monterey Military Spouses FB Group
- Monterey Bay Spouses FB Group
- Monterey Herald – newspaper
- Monterey County Weekly – A&E weekly
Have you been stationed in Monterey? Comment below and share your favorite places! We’d love to hear them.