Tourists come from around the world to explore Monterey on the central coast of California. Many of them will pay the $10.50 a car to drive the historic 17 Mile Drive through the Monterey pines and the Lone Cypress, but for my money, the best way to see Monterey is walking or biking along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail from Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove to the Custom House Plaza and Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey (or the other direction depending on where you are staying).
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- Pacific Grove’s Lover’s Point
- The Inns of Pacific Grove
- Hopkins Marine Station
- Monterey Boat Works
- American Tin Cannery Shopping Center
- Cannery Row
- Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Coast Guard pier
- Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf
- Customs House
- Beach House
If you would like to read about the history along this path check out The History from Fisherman’s Wharf to Lover’s Point.
Pacific Grove’s Lover’s Point
On the coastline of Pacific Grove, there is a park called Lover’s Point. It is a place where you will see surfers and wedding parties, kayakers and kids. Park your car here. You can park for 2 hours in the parking lot, but you are going to want more time so get about a block or so away from where the parking is not limited.
Tourists have been coming to Lover’s Point for many years. There used to be glass-bottom boat rides from the small dock here, back when bathing suits covered your knees and elbows. These days you can rent a kayak and paddle in protected waters between here and Cannery Row or you can sit on the rocks and watch the surfers catch a wave along the length of the peninsula.
This is one of the few surfing spots at this end of the Bay. Most of the big wave action is further North in Santa Cruz. Surfers in central California generally wear a wetsuit as the water temperatures are always cold. Monterey Bay is deeper than the Grand Canyon and the prevailing currents are coming south from Alaska.
Yesterday’s Dream — Tomorrow’s Memory
Look for the bronze statue of a young boy with a toy boat who is staring off into the sea. This wistful statue is called “Yesterday’s Dream – Tomorrow’s Memory” and was commissioned by the Pacific Grove High School Class of 1944 from the sculptor Dorothy Fowler as a memorial to Lover’s Point and to the individuals who left home to fight in the war.
This poem is on the base:
Innocent once you and I
Scaled huge sea rocks climbing high
To point and dream starry-eyed
As sailboats skimmed by
Then our sea turned dark with war
and touched each one with sorrow
Child-like faith beamed out fresh hope
For a safe tomorrow
Stand with me, look out to sea
memories, yesterdays scenes,
Come alive, we’ll dare new dreams
Look with a child’s eye.
Lorrane M. Duncan
When I was a kid, there were old railroad tracks that led from here towards Monterey but those tracks have been replaced with a biking and cycling path that heads towards Cannery Row and the Monterey Wharf. From the Monterey Wharf end, you can rent a bike or a 4 wheeled deal surrey to enjoy this path, but I am going to recommend you walk this path and start at the Pacific Grove end. You want to walk because if you go too fast you will miss some things.
The path itself winds in and out of the shade of Cypress trees through patches of ice plant along the rocky coastline. On a sunny day, the view is spectacular but it is equally beautiful on a foggy morning or when the wind whips the waves and they crash into the rocks.
On a recent trip when we walked this route, we saw at least 6 different sea otters in the spot between Lover’s Point and the Hopkins Marine Station. Bring your binoculars or a good telephoto lens. It takes a bit of looking to spot an otter. You and your companions may debate at first if that is a bobbing head of an otter or part of the kelp bed. But when the otters come up close you can see them as they swim on their back and break shells open on a rock on their chest. They were once endangered because people hunted them for their pelts, people who were clearly oblivious to their cuteness.
The Inns of Pacific Grove
The path from Lover’s point to Cannery Row is dotted with a number of large Victorian inns like the Seven Gables Inn, and Green Gables Inn. Pacific Grove has more Victorian houses per capita than any other city in America. You can also save money by staying in more Inns which are a few blocks away from the beach. My favorite of these inns is the Centrella Inn.
Hopkins Marine Station
While there is no guarantee you will see an otter, the beach by Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station is usually covered in harbor seals. They might look like rocks at first with their camouflage coloring and lazy basking in the sun, but there are usually a couple of young ones swimming in or out. On a recent trip, we ran into volunteers who had a telescope set up so that you could spot a brand new seal pup and her mom on the beach.
The marine station is not generally open for tours but does host some events including an open house at various times during the year. Check out the event schedule on their website.
Monterey Boat Works
Just before you get to Cannery Row you will pass Monterey Boat Works which usually has a couple of old wooden boats in their yard that are being repaired. This is a great quick stop for photographers.
American Tin Cannery Shopping Center
The last stop in Pacific Grove, before you enter Monterey is the American Tin Cannery Outlet Mall. If you are looking to do some shopping the American Tin Cannery Shopping Center still has a few good outlets like Pendleton, Van Heusen, and Famous Footwear, although not as many as it once had. It does have a mini-golf course these days.
But if you are doing this walk around lunchtime one of the most popular brunch places with locals in the area is First Awakenings which is in the back on the patio of American Tin Cannery. It always has a line but is worth the wait for tasty food, friendly service, and a reasonable price.
Cannery Row was once the home to numerous sardine canneries until overfishing caused the canneries to close in the 1950s. It probably would have been torn down if the area had not been made famous by local author John Steinbeck’s 1945 book â€œCannery Rowâ€.
Now the area is filled with antique shops and souvenir shops. This area that used to be filled with sardine factories that canned fish is now filled with one great place to see them and quite a few restaurants where you can taste them like the popular Bubba Gump Shrimp Company as well as more high-end restaurants like the Sardine Factoryâ€Ž.
There are also a few wine tasting rooms that are worth a stop like a Taste of Monterey which has a great view of the Bay.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located at Cannery Wharf at the old Portola cannery. The Aquarium gets quite busy in the Summer so you should have a ticket ahead of time. Many local hotels can offer you a package with your room.
The Aquarium features only marine life from the nearby Monterey Bay, but that includes a stunning amount of diversity including a large kelp forest tank, sharks, sea otters, and jellyfish. The otter feeding is quite popular so plan to get their early to find a good view.
If you are riding your own bikes you may want to stop and visit but if you are paying for bikes by the hour, mark the spot to return here later. The lines can get long so it is best to get there early in the day. It is easy to spend at least half a day in the aquarium.
Coast Guard pier
The other end of Cannery Row is the Coast Guard Pier. Usually, you will hear the California Sea Lions announcing their presence at either the Coast Guard pier or at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf
If you don’t stop at the Aquarium you can continue to walk through Cannery Row and join the path again as it heads to Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Here you can schedule a deep-sea fishing trip or a whale watching trip. Look for the whiteboards that say how many whales they have seen on recent sailings.
You can also pick up a walk away shrimp cocktail or stop at one of the restaurants with all-day happy hours for a beer or margarita. There are a number of restaurants on the wharf but I am going to recommend you wait and return to Lover’s Point for dinner unless you are looking for seafood.
The total distance from Lover’s Point to FIsherman’s wharf is 2.5 miles. For the truly adventurous the Monterey Bay Coastal Bike Trail also extends to the North past Fisherman’s wharf through the rolling dunes along the bay all the way to nearby Marina.
If you are starting from Fisherman’s wharf and want to ride a bike or a surrey instead of walking you can rent from nearby Adventures by the Sea.
The Custom House and the nearby plaza are part of the Monterey State Historic Park and the Custom House is a National Historic Landmark. It was built in 1821 by the Mexican government, is California’s oldest public building and is where California was declared to be annexed by the United States in 1846 at the outset of the Mexican American War. History buffs may want to take a quick tour of the building. The plaza often holds local celebrations or festivals.
My new favorite restaurant with the best view in the area is the Beach House back at Lover’s Point. We were treated to a meal there as part of our stay in nearby Carmel at the Hofsas House. The Beach House is located in the middle of Lover’s Point where the old Bath House used to be. It is located on the second floor with large windows and a patio with stunning views of the shore. Even if the food were only OK, it would be easy to recommend the Bath House for its view alone.
But fortunately, since you have been working up an appetite, the food is much better than OK. My wife and I started with a rather spicy field greens salad.
I ended my meal with a small key lime pie flavored tart and my wife with the chocolate. If you had asked me I would have assumed the prices would have been 50% higher because of the location… but don’t tell them I said that.
Get there before dark, preferably around sunset. As with any place on the central coast, if you sit out on the patio you will want a sweatshirt. I grew up in the area but even I own a jacket that I bought at Fisherman’s Wharf because I forgot how cool the coast can be when it is a hot day in the interior.
If you have not fallen in love with this spot on the central coast then clearly, you haven’t been here yet.