One Day in Monterey: Must-Do Itinerary For Friends & Family

In our latest installment of our “One Day”itinerary series, let’s tackle Monterey! It’s been a few years since we were stationed there, but nothing brings me more joy then to reminisce and share suggestions!

Monterey is a limited-opportunity shore duty station for sailors studying at the Naval Postgraduate School. If you’re new here, check out our ultimate guide. It’s a blissful dream to live on California’s Central Coast, so make the most of it!

If you have family and friends in town, here’s our perfect itinerary:

Morning: Breakfast & Big Sur

Start your morning with coffee and baked treats at Captain + StokerCarmel Valley Roasting CompanyHappy Girl Kitchen Co., or Bright Coffee. For a full breakfast, you can’t miss Wild PlumFirst AwakeningsFrom Scratch or Loulou’s Griddle in the Middle.

Once you’re fueled up, lace up your walking or hiking shoes. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve was always our favorite place to take visitors! Perfect for families and all hiking abilities, the park offers trails through wooded forests, wildflower fields and coastal cliffs. Afterwards be sure to drive out to nearby Big Sur. Enjoy the scenic drive out past Bixby Canyon Bridge, any photos just don’t do it justice.

If your group is up for a tougher hike, explore your options in Big Sur. 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.

 After you explore, cool off with drinks and lunch at Nepanthe, a beautiful cliffside restaurant.

Afternoon: Downtown Monterey

After lunch, head back to Monterey. Many visitors are excited to visit the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. And it absolutely is worth a visit!

If aquariums aren’t your style, there’s plenty to do downtown. Stroll the shops along Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf. Both areas are very accessible via the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. The trail is a beautifully paved pathway 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. Walk towards Pacific Grove and Lover’s Point and look for seals!

If you want a snack or glass of wine, Taste of Monterey was our favorite. Take in the views and enjoy a glass of local wine and a cheese plate! If you prefer beer, head over to Fieldwork’s outdoor beer garden or nearby Alvarado Brewing.

Evening: Carmel-By-The-Sea

Carmel-By-The-Sea is such a beautiful destination, no day is complete without a visit. The village is plucked out of a storybook, with beautiful cobblestone alleyways and arctecture. If you can, get over there before shops close! There are so many boutiques, shops and great cafes. For a full list of sights, click here.

Some of the best restaurants in the county are here. For dinner, we loved La BicycletteDametra Café and Little Napoli. For a full list of restaurants, click here. Make sure to stop by the famed Hog’s Breath Inn, a popular bar once owned by Clint Eastwood.

After dinner, enjoy a sunset stroll on Carmel Beach! This beach is just stunning and the best of Monterey County.

If your visitors have been to Monterey before, or if they have more than one day, here’s a few other ideas:

  • Pebble Beach. 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.
  • Pinnacles National Park. 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.
  • Carmel Valley. If your visitors love wine tasting, this is a must do. For a more scenic wine experience, wine tasting in Carmel Valley is just the ticket. The region is home to more than 20 wineries and tasting rooms and great tour experiences.
  • Moss Landing. We loved Moss Landing! The area is a popular destination for antiquing, kayaking and nature watching. We loved to rent kayaks and paddle around sea otters. Grab lunch at the Whole Enchilada or Phil’s Fish Market, and don’t miss some great farmstands on your drive back to town.
  • Santa Cruz.  Santa Cruz is a great day trip! Explore the famous Santa Cruz Boardwalk & Amusement Park and more.

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