Pulling into Monterey on April 16, 2016 meant we had officially driven coast-to-coast with Meriwether! I don’t know why, but I was expecting the city to be large and bustling with tourists–closer to San Francisco or Los Angeles. Instead, we found a laid-back marina town that was intimate and in an amazing location for exploring the Pacific Coast.
Things We Did in Monterey, CA
Coast Guard Pier
Like any good Coast Guard family, the Coast Guard Pier was our first stop as we started exploring the town. This is an awesome place to see sea lions, and there’s also a good chance you’ll spot harbor seals and sea otters. Fishing and diving are also big activities here.
During the day, the length of the pier is open, and you can walk down and see the Coast Guard boats and ships on the starboard side (that’s right for you land lubbers). I was really excited to see a self-righting boat in person for the first time. These things are unbelievable (as are the heroes who serve on them). See YouTube video below.
Our second trip to the pier was with our friends Brandon and Kerensa of Drive Dive Devour. Brandon threw one of his diving lights into the water to try to attract harbor seals (all in safe fun, of course). While we did see a lot of underwater kelp, no seals wanted to come out and play.
100 Lighthouse Ave. – Website
The scenic Coastal Recreation Trail connects the Coast Guard Pier to Fisherman’s Wharf. While we found that the wharf was on the touristy side, we did go back later for dinner and dessert (see food section below).
The total length of the Coastal Recreation Trail is 29 miles, and it’s awesome for walking, running, biking and skating. Dogs are allowed, but they must be leashed.
1 Fishermans Wharf – Website
Cannery Row used to be a bustling, smelly collection of sardine canning factories. Wander around, and you’ll find tributes to the area’s history through sculptures and informational plaques, plus multiple references to John Steinbeck and his novel Cannery Row. I wish the neighborhood hadn’t lost its authenticity over time, as it now errs on the touristy side.
649 Cannery Row – Website
Cannery Row Antique Mall
A short walk from the main stretch of Cannery Row, Cannery Row Antique Mall was huge and impressive. We actually couldn’t even get through the whole thing before our parking meter expired. Definitely a don’t-miss if you enjoy window shopping in antique stores like we do!
471 Wave St. – Website
Things We Ate in Monterey
Duffy’s Tavern & Family Restaurant
Spoiler: Duffy’s Tavern has some of the best burgers we’ve ever had. Eric had the cheeseburger, and I had one of my top two favorite blue cheese burgers ever. The menu is hilarious to read, and Eric managed to charm a smile onto our server’s face until she was asking us about our travels and inviting us back.
The menu goes way beyond burgers with something for everyone. I like what one Yelp reviewer had to say, “Not divey but comfy in the best possible way.” I think that describes the atmosphere perfectly.
282 High St. – Yelp
Old Fisherman’s Grotto
So I mentioned that we went back to Fisherman’s Wharf to eat. Here’s how that came about:
- We were researching “best clam chowder in Monterey.”
- Old Fishermans’s Grotto at Fisherman’s Wharf came up as number one.
- We didn’t trust it. We figured Fisherman’s Wharf was just where the tourists went, and that’s why Old Fisherman’s Grotto had so many good reviews.
- We communicated our skepticism to the two sweet ladies at the visitor’s center.
- They told us Old Fisherman’s Grotto really did have the best clam chowder in Monterey.
They were right. Eric had this scrumptiously-decadent bread bowl full of clam chowder and pieces of crab and shrimp, covered in cheese and all baked together. I had the standard bowl of clam chowder, which was ginormous and served in a white clam shell-shaped dish. Together with the calamari appetizer and fresh bread, we were stuffed.
Definitely not a cheap meal, but worth it if you’re looking for awesome seafood.
39 Fishermans Wharf – Website
What’s in the Area Around Monterey
Phil’s Fish Market & Eatery
Lots of people recommended Phil’s Fish Market & Eatery, about half an hour north of Monterey in Moss Landing. So we figured we’d better try it, and we took our lovely friends Liz and Jake (Life With Dyna) along for the tasting trial.
This is a charming, no-frills seafood restaurant where the fish really can’t get any fresher. Between the four of us, we tried the cioppino (the house specialty), fish and chips, tuna sandwich, and other stuff I don’t remember. I do remember having a hard time fitting all our dishes on the table. The live music started around 7 p.m. on our Thursday night, and Liz and Jake liked the place so much that they went back within the next few days.
7600 Sandholdt Road – Website
My dad is a die-hard Clint Eastwood groupie, and he kept telling me about Eastwood becoming mayor of this small California town in the 80’s. After Reagan and Schwarzenegger, I’m not sure why I had to see it to believe it, but I did.
This is such a fun place to stroll around, stepping in and out of the boutique shops. It’s on the sophisticated and pricy side, but that doesn’t matter to RVers anyway because we don’t have room for that life-sized ship’s wheel or that collection of frilly throw pillows. Well, I guess it depends on how bad you want it.
Anyway, Carmel-by-the-Sea is just pretty. And then there’s that story about the ice cream ordinance.
Pacific Coast Highway Day Trips
Out of everything we did during our stay in Monterey, the day trips we took on the Pacific Coast Highway were the best.
Our first trip took us down to San Simeon. The 93 mile distance is deceptive. We did it; it was beautiful; and we don’t regret it, but it took about three hours one-way. Not exaggerating, so plan accordingly.
Here are the highlights of our itinerary that Saturday:
- Bixby Bridge
- Scenic views of Big Sur
- Sebastian’s Store in San Simeon
- Elephant seal beach just north of San Simeon
- Tan Bark Trail
- Partington Cove Trail
- Pfeiffer Falls Trail at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Our second trip the next weekend was with our boys. We picked up deli sandwiches in Monterey, then drove to McWay Falls and watched the waterfall while we ate. It was pretty perfect. After checking out the ruins of the Brown family’s house around the corner from the falls, we went back to Tan Bark Trail for a hike. We all agree that it’s like a scene out of Lord of the Rings, with elves just around every corner.
There’s so much to see on this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, but I do wish we had made it to Point Lobos State Reserve for some hiking.
Where We Stayed in Monterey
Both Eric and I have mixed feelings about Monterey Pines RV Campground, a military-only RV park. On one hand, it couldn’t be in a better location, and the $30/night rate is unbelievable for central Monterey. For those two reasons, we would probably stay there again.
On the other hand, the spaces were so cramped. Not all of them were as bad as ours, but we couldn’t put any of our patio stuff out because our neighbor’s sewer hose was almost right outside our door.
There was just something about this place we couldn’t quite put our finger on. But it was the first campground we’ve ever stayed where we didn’t look forward to going home because it didn’t quite feel like home. Not a good feeling!
But lest I close on a negative note, I’ll reiterate that we really enjoyed the activities, food and beautiful natural sights we experienced during our two weeks in Monterey. Please leave a comment and let us know what we should see during our next visit!