Calling all lovers of cute coastal towns, art aficionados, wine enthusiasts, and John Steinbeck fans! Monterey, California, is your perfect vacation destination, and it’s just waiting for you to plan a getaway.

Perched right on the Pacific Coast, this small Northern California city has everything you want in a relaxing trip, from historic sites and cultural events to great food and beautiful parks. Grab a bike, hop on the city bus, or rent a car to explore the wonders of this compact city and its Pacific Coast neighbors. Use this itinerary, airport guide, and accommodation tips to plan the best ever trip to Monterey.

Your Monterey Itinerary

If you just have one day to experience California’s First City, you have to do it right. Here’s how to plan the perfect day in Monterey.

Dawn: Start the Morning Strong

Coffee is essential for an early start, and Monterey has tons of tasty options. Stop by Bright Coffee near Cannery Row and grab a standard Americano or a sassy Chocolate Butter Latte. Nearby, Studio Café can satisfy any hipster coffee craving, thanks to its on-point pour over menu.

With your to-go cup in hand, it’s time to hit your choice of Monterey’s amazing parks before they get crowded. If you’re up for a long walk, run, or bike ride, set your sights on the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. It spans 18 miles and hugs the Pacific the whole way, so you can enjoy gorgeous ocean views as the Monterey area comes to life for the day.

Nearby, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a must and will give you a taste of what to expect if you visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium later in the day. The sanctuary is home to beautiful Pacific Coast beaches that are perfect for a stroll, and you can also learn more about eco-friendly kayaking, whale watching, and wildlife viewing excursions here.

Jack’s Peak Park is another popular outdoor area in Monterey and offers beautiful hiking and horseback riding trails. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some fossils dating back to the Miocene era! Talk about old school.

Monterey Historic Park
Monterey State Historic Park in Monterey.

Morning: Explore Cannery Row and Monterey State Historic Park

Once you’ve gotten a taste of the Monterey area’s completely amazing natural areas, it’s time to dig into the city’s history. There’s no better place to do this than along Cannery Row and Monterey State Historic Park in the city’s downtown area.

Named for John Steinbeck’s novel, Cannery Row offers a blast from the past with a contemporary sheen. Most of the buildings here are newer versions of the ones Steinbeck memorialized in his novel, but they’re still an important part of Monterey’s history. This is a great place to do some souvenir shopping, catch an event like the Cannery Row Tree Lighting, or line up the perfect shot for Instagram.

Just south of Cannery Row, Monterey State Historic Park will transport you back in time several centuries. See the spot where Spanish explorers made landfall in 1602 and tour historic adobe homes and 19th-century landmarks. Book a tour with a guide to see the interior of select adobe homes or take yourself on a self-guided tour of Monterey’s Path of History. With a total of 55 historic sites, this historical trail is a great place to dig in and learn about the area.

Noon: Grab Lunch and Do a Wine Tasting

Take a break from sightseeing and recharge with a quick bite to eat or a wine tasting. Cannery Row is a great destination for both. Grab a slice at the Cannery Pizza Company, a burrito at El Torito, or a chocolate ice cream cone at the Ghiradelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop. Then head over to the Pierce Ranch Vineyards or A Taste of Monterey tasting rooms, where you can sip some of the area’s best wines while enjoying stunning views of the bay.

If you happen to visit during one of Monterey Bay’s long-standing wine events, you’ll also want to set aside an hour or two to try a few glasses or even a food and wine pairing. Mark your calendar for Pebble Beach Food and Wine, which takes place in late April, or Salinas Valley Food & Wine, which happens in mid-August.

Afternoon: Take Your Pick of Monterey’s Museums

After you’ve refueled, get inspired at one of Monterey’s museums. Get your creative juices flowing at the Monterey Museum of Art, which hosts rotating exhibitions modern and contemporary art. The “Who Shot Monterey Pop! Photographs from the 1967 Music Festival” exhibit offers a glimpse into the city’s musical history, while exhibits like “Color, Light & Form” showcase some of California’s top artists of the last 40 years.

Monterey is home to some pretty fascinating history, and you’ll have to venture beyond the Path of History to find it all. Stop by the Presidio of Monterey Museum to find out more about the area’s military history, dating back to before California became a state.

If you’d rather take a guided tour, take your pick. Sign up for a California Legacy Tour, a Monterey Movie Tour, or a Monterey Walking Tour to get a whole new perspective on this coastal hot spot.

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey.

Late Afternoon: Hit the Beach or Visit the Aquarium

If you love exploring life under the sea, you won’t want to miss the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the area’s top attractions for visitors of all ages. Let your jaw drop when you spot the Giant Pacific Octopus, get touchy-feely with the Tentacles special exhibit, and check out the brightly colored fish in the ¡Viva Baja! special exhibit. Swoon over the adorable sea otters and head to the Splash Zone to spot the penguins marching around.

Don’t usually love zoos or aquariums? The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a pioneer in terms of conservation and aquatic research, so this is definitely an attraction you can feel good supporting.

After a trip to the aquarium, discover some marine life of your own with a walk along the beach or a splash in the Pacific. San Carlos Beach Park is just a few blocks from the aquarium and perched on the edge of Cannery Row. This is a great spot for diving, and it’s also a hot spot for wading and soaking up the beautiful views.

A few miles east, Monterey State Beach is the area’s largest and a must if you love the surf. Go for a swim, do some windsurfing, enjoy a picnic on the shore, or explore the majestic sand dunes in the adjacent Fort Ord Dunes State Park.

Evening: Dig Into Some Fresh Seafood

If you’re a seafood lover, Monterey is quickly going to become one of your all-time favorite spots. Since it’s perched right on the Pacific Coast, Monterey is home to some of the freshest and most delicious seafood. Whether you’re looking for an upscale meal or something fast and casual on the beach, you’ll find it here.

At Old Fisherman’s Grotto, you can dig on a classic without blowing your vacation budget. This spot features famous clam chowder, fresh sand dabs, and reasonable prices, especially when you order from the outdoor kiosk. Just a block off Cannery Row, the Sardine Factory is another local favorite. Stop by for happy hour and stay for the raw oysters, the lobster bisque, or the legendary steaks.

If you’re in the market for something hot and new, check out Jacks Monterey in the Portola Hotel, which serves up fresh Monterey Bay salmon, scallops, and creamy shrimp and grits. Or satisfy your craving for Mexican food at Pescadero, a new spot just south of town that serves up fish tacos, amazing burritos, and housemade salsas.

Pacific Grove
Pacific Grove in Monterey.

Monterey Regional Airport Guide

If you’re planning to fly into Monterey, you’ll be happy to know that the Monterey Regional Airport (MRY) is just 3 miles southeast of the city. This relatively small airport serves a handful of carriers, including Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, and United Airlines. From here, you can easily reach West Coast hot spots like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, where you can connect to other destinations.

How to Get to and From Monterey Regional Airport

Getting to or from MRY is as easy as hopping into a taxi, an Uber, or a Lyft. Several taxi companies serve the airport, and you can also use your smartphone to book a ride with your favorite ride-hailing service.

If you’re a public transit fan, you’re in luck. You can take the Monterey-Salinas (MST) to and from MRY, too. Check the route list or a system map to find the most convenient route for you.

Renting a car makes exploring the Pacific Coast super simple. You can rent a car from most major car rental companies, including Hertz, Budget, and Enterprise, right from MRY. Just head to the first floor of the terminal building and go straight to your rental car counter of choice.

What to Do at Monterey Regional Airport

MRY offers free, unlimited Wi-Fi, so it’s easy to check your social feeds or get caught up on reading before or after your flight. Need to publish a blog post or share some photos from your awesome trip to Monterey? Just log in to the airport’s network and you’ll be all set.

Want to grab a quick bite to eat before or after your flight? The Fly Away Café has tons of quick options like sandwiches and salads, along with a full bar. If you’re looking for something a little heavier, try the Golden Tee Restaurant, which has prime rib and sweet views of Monterey Bay.

What to Do Near Monterey Regional Airport

Okay, but what if you need to kill some time near MRY? Grab a coffee or a Frappuccino and settle in for some free Wi-Fi at one of the two nearby Starbucks. Do a little shopping at Stone Creek Kitchen, which has all the specialty ingredients and cute baking tools your kitchen needs. Or grab a glass of wine amidst lovely scenery at the Roadhouse Wine Bar.

Alternatives to Monterey Regional Airport

MRY is definitely the most convenient airport to the Monterey area. But if you’re looking for a cheaper option or you want to do a little Pacific Coast road tripping, it doesn’t hurt to price out tickets at other nearby airports.

About an hour north of Monterey, San José International Airport (SJC) is located in the heart of Silicon Valley. You don’t have to be a startup founder to fly here, though. This mid-size airport hosts a ton of domestic and international carriers, including Air China, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, and many more. From here, you can reach destinations ranging from Honolulu and Chicago all the way to London, Shanghai, and Tokyo.

Located about two hours south of Monterey, San Luis Obispo County Reginal Airport (SBP) serves destinations like Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. You can fly carriers like Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and United Airlines from here. With a new terminal on the way, though, additional airlines and even more destinations could make SBP and even more attractive option.

Fisherman's Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.

Where to Stay in Monterey

Whether you want to stay at a hip boutique hotel, a super affordable hostel, or an awesome private rental, you’ll find tons of accommodation options in Monterey. Here are the best spots to grab a quick snooze or unpack and settle in for a long weekend or more.

Top Hotels in Monterey

You totally deserve a vacation, and Monterey is the perfect place to pamper yourself with a chic stay. When you want the best of the best, book your getaway at the Intercontinental The Clement Monterey. Rooms are gorgeous, the private balconies will make you squeal with delight, and the lap pool will transport you to your happy place. You can also gorge yourself on fresh seafood from the convenience of the hotel’s C Restaurant. Even better, the Intercontinental is right in the middle of everything, so all you have to do is waltz out the front door and start exploring.

For a totally authentic stay in Monterey, try Casa Munras, an adorable hacienda-style hotel with tons of Spanish charm. Relax in your room, book a spa treatment, or get your sweat on at the fitness center. You can also chill out by the waterfall garden, dig into some delicious tapas, or grab a bike and explore nearby Cannery Row.

Surround yourself with historic charm at the Monterey Hotel. a boutique inn that’s near the Old Fisherman’s Wharf and all the shopping and dining you can handle. The Victorian-inspired rooms have tons of old-world accents, and some even have fireplaces for the perfect romantic getaway. If you’re in the mood for some serious relaxation, hit the hot tub or get a body wrap at the hotel’s amazing spa.

Best Hostels and Budget-Friendly Hotels in Monterey

Sure, the Monterey area can get pricey. But that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to stay in this gorgeous spot on the Pacific. Whether you want the social experience of a hostel or the low price of a budget-friendly hotel, you’ve got options.

The Monterey Hostel is a member of Hosteling International, so you know it’s legit. This hostel has shared dorm-style rooms with bunk beds and full beds, and it offers tons of opportunities to get social. Use the guest kitchen and cook alongside your new best friends, dig into the free pancake breakfast in the morning, or chill around the Ping-Pong table in the guest lounge. The HI-Monterey Hostel also offers free parking, so it’s great for Pacific Coast road trippers.

Prefer a budget-minded spot where you can settle into your own private room? Try the Bayside Inn or the Rodeway Inn Monterey, where you’ll get all the basics, along with an outdoor pool and easy access to Monterey’s best highlights.

Coolest Private Rentals in Monterey

With private rentals starting at $20 per night, you really can’t go wrong with snagging your own home away from home for your Monterey getaway. Looking for your own little bungalow on the coast? Book your own private cottage with a beautiful outdoor living space and stunning views of the Pacific. If you’re planning to bring Fido along, you’ll find tons of pet-friendly picks.

Prefer a spot that’s a bit more urban? Check out private rentals in Monterey’s Old Town or downtown areas, where you’ll find tons of contemporary digs filled with natural light.

Need to stick to a tighter budget? Set your sights on affordable rentals near the Del Monte Beach area and stretch out in large apartments or single-family homes. Whatever you pick, you’ll enjoy the extra space and kitchen access as you make yourself at home in Monterey.

From soaking up the sun at the beach to taking in the history and culture to tasting the area’s best wine, Monterey has it all. Make trip planning a breeze on GoDoTrip, where you can book and plan everything from flights to hotels to excursions!