Heaven is a place called Monterey, roughly two hours south of San Francisco along Central California’s famous Pacific Coast.
This quaint, seaside city was one of the places I visited on my honeymoon – a road trip that took us from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, up to Lake Tahoe and the Napa Valley, through San Francisco and back down to LA. And then we spent an uneventful-but-amazing week in Mexico, lounging on a beach in Cabo San Lucas.
That I count Monterey as one of the highlights of this amazing trip is reason enough to visit this beautiful little town. But here are three more reasons why you must visit Monterey…
3. Monterey Bay Aquarium
Arguably the town’s top tourist attraction is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a world-class menagerie located on the site of a former sardine cannery on Cannery Row (more on why that’s cool in a moment).
The Monterey Bay Aquarium houses hundreds of different species of marine life – including otters, sting ray, jellyfish and octopi – but the best thing to see is the aquarium’s amazing open sea exhibit, where giant tuna and sharks zip around in a massive 4.5 million litre tank. Check out the photo below, which I “borrowed” from the aquarium’s website.
Fun fact: you would have already seen the Monterey Bay Aquarium if you’ve ever watched Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It’s the “Cetacean Institute” in the movie, where Mister Spock goes swimming with a whale.
2. Monterey sea lion frenzy!
Think the sea lions at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf are cool? Well, you’re right, they are – but there’s usually way more sea lions in Monterey.
From our Cannery Row hotel, a couple of minute’s walk east of Monterey’s own Fisherman’s Wharf, we could hear a commotion down by the docks. We went to investigate and, lo and behold, we almost couldn’t see the rocks because there were so many sea lions lounging on them.
The sea lions are highly entertaining to watch (even more so than the ones in San Fran), as they jostle for position on the pier and bark at each other. It’s amazing to see so many sea lions in one place; it’s not such a nice smell, though.
Fun fact: also keep an eye out for other sea life. Monterey Bay has the biggest population of sea otters on the Californian coast, and migrating whales can often be spotted from the shore in spring and autumn.
1. Cannery Row and John Steinbeck
Have you ever heard the story about Danny and of Danny’s friends and of Danny’s house? What about the time that Mac and the boys threw a disastrous birthday party for Doc? My friend, you are missing out.
Legendary author John Steinbeck set no less than three of his novels in Monterey: Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday. They’re delightful, amazing, hilarious books, and I highly recommend you read all of them before you visit Monterey.
They detail what life was like in Monterey during the Great Depression as they follow the misadventures of some of the city’s more colourful characters. I dare you to read Cannery Row in particular and not wander through Monterey, looking out for Lee Chong’s shop or the beloved Palace Flophouse, where Mac and the boys will be cooking up another crazy scheme to earn enough money to buy some “old tennis shoes” (cheap and nasty whisky).
You don’t have to be a Steinbeck fan to have an excellent time here – but it does make visiting Monterey even more worthwhile.
Fun fact: Cannery Row in Monterey was originally called Ocean View Avenue (Cannery Row was only a nickname), but it was renamed in honour of Steinbeck’s book.