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Monterey Bay Aquarium, CA
Monterey Bay Aquarium, CA | © Jeremy Ricketts / Flickr
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How to Spend 24 Hours in Monterey and Carmel

Picture of Deanna Morgado
Updated: 14 November 2018
The “17-Mile Drive” is one of the most scenic roads in the country and connects the towns of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea, also known simply as Carmel. It also isn’t difficult to fit all the coastal bliss Monterey has to offer with the artistic culture of Carmel in a single day. This is how to spend the best 24 hours in these two coastal destinations.

Morning

Grab something to eat at Earthbound Farms

Start the morning off well in Carmel by savoring locally grown food. Many Carmel locals make the short drive over to where this town’s bountiful agriculture shines. This farm stand sits on 2.5 acres of gardens and features an artisanal grocery store—complete with an organic deli and kitchen, including smoothie and salad bars. At Earthbound Farms, you can sample fruit picked fresh from the farm berry patch and sip on some organic coffee ground and brewed moments before. It’s an unassuming farm stand on the side of the road that unveils Carmel’s dedication to its food and agriculture.

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Earthbound Farm | © TimothyJ / Flickr

Explore nature by taking a mid-morning hike

As breakfast begins to digest, there’s plenty more exploring to do via the area’s hiking trails. Venture inland a bit and traverse through Carmel Valley’s wooded hills and paths, an essential activity among natives. Garland Ranch makes an ideal spot for hiking in Carmel Valley. A regional park, Garland has various hiking trails for all skill levels. The high inclines of Snively’s Ridge take walkers on a sweat-breaking hike up the steep hillside, while the flat and smooth paths of Buckeye Natural Trail is excellent for those who may still be digesting breakfast from Earthbound.

Afternoon

Relish in Carmel’s art scene

Another way that life expression takes shape in Carmel is through the arts. Before it was a town, Carmel’s rolling bluffs and forests housed refugees of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 in tents and cabins—many of the newly displaced were authors, painters, and other artists. On May 22, 1910, the Los Angeles Times published “Hotbed of Soulful Culture, Vortex of Erotic Erudition: Carmel in California, Where Author and Artist Folk are Establishing the Most Amazing Colony on Earth.” The L.A. article breathed life into Carmel’s art culture, eternalizing it as a haven for the arts, as well as a home for a few famous creatives. Literature pioneer Jack London once called the town home, and world-renowned painter Thomas Kincade lived nearby in Monterey.

To keep Carmel the center of inspiration that it is, local artists come together to bring various art workshops, tours, and other experiences that expose outsiders to Carmel’s sincere appreciation of the culture. Taking an art workshop led by Carmel painter Kathy Sharpe, for example, promises an afternoon full of hands-on painting instruction and inspiration from this artist’s village.

Head to Monterey via the 17-Mile Drive

Coming from Carmel, it’s best to start the “17-Mile Drive” on San Antonio Avenue. It costs $10.25 per car to enter the opening gates of one of the most popular drives in the U.S. A winding road takes travelers through one of Carmel’s most exclusive neighborhoods, lined with Cypress trees and grand homes perched along bluffs that tightly hug the coast. Most 17-Mile drivers follow the curved road to Pebble Beach. A resort destination, the Carmel community is home to one of the most highly regarded golf courses in the world, known to host global tournaments and celebrity games. From here, it’s easy enough to drive five more miles (eight kilometers) until reaching Monterey, seeing beach vistas and multimillion-dollar homes along the way.

Take a break for lunch

Now in Monterey, once an old fishing and cannery village, it’s time to experience the seafood scene. Monterey once carried the reputation of being one of the most thriving fishing towns in the state. After purchasing the town’s Fisherman’s Wharf in 1916, Monterey’s fish industry swelled. By 1920, the bustling pier housed almost 20 fish markets, canning warehouses, a restaurant, and a specialty abalone shell-grinding business. In short, Monterey knows seafood.

Perched right on the wharf to give both locals and visitors a taste of the Monterey Peninsula, Old Fisherman’s Grotto serves a perfect example of what a seafood lunch should be. As it sits right on the water, the restaurant boasts one of the best spots to observe swimming sea lions, coastal birds, and the bay’s currents lapping over the shore. This seafood hot spot has been in business for over 50 years, with an impressive metaphoric trophy room of awards to prove it. It’s been given an award for best clam chowder every year since 2004 as well as top calamari by Monterey County Weekly and Monterey Herald, the Award of Ultimate Distinction in 2009 by Wine Enthusiast, and more.

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Old Fisherman’s Grotto | © summer park / Flickr 

Visit Monterey Bay Aquarium

After lunch, become fully submerged in Monterey’s marine life while staying completely dry at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Millions of people visit this aquatic hub for its focus on the preservation and education of marine life. Through the exhibits, onlookers can observe what life is really like below the surface of the Monterey Peninsula. Marveling at life beyond the confines of the bay becomes possible through the aquarium’s Open Sea exhibit. This is where gargantuan tuna fish, schools of sardines, and wading sea turtles live and thrive just as they would out in the deep sea. Only this time, these ocean creatures are all visible through the 90-foot (27-meter) glass window where aquarium-goers can gather and observe.

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Monterey Bay Aquarium, CA | © Jeremy Ricketts / Flickr

Touring Cannery Row

Walking along Cannery Row—one of the most historic places in Monterey—lifts the veil between past and present. This stretch of road presses against Monterey Bay, making it an appealing spot to establish a fishing center—or so the area’s early settlers believed. The rest of Cannery Row’s history involves immigrants from Europe and Asia building what seemed to be a cannery empire that would last generations, only to be almost entirely engulfed in flames in 1967. It’s the site of out-of-commission canneries now, along with multiple souvenir shops, boutiques, and eateries. Sign up for a historical tour that further digs into Cannery Row’s multicultural past with one of the local historians.

Evening

Have dinner at Peter B’s Brewpub

Visit Peter B’s Brewpub, located inside the pristine Portola Hotel, a mile from Cannery Row, for a relaxing, casual meal. Locally made Monterey beer flows from the tap at this brewpub, most of which comes from the Peter B Brewery located in-house. Though the menu consists of traditional American pub fare, a touch of innovation brings the simple bar food up to par with the best bistro. Peter B’s loungey atmosphere and casual bar create the perfect wind-down spot for washing down all the Monterey-Carmel exploration with some drinks.

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Monterey Lunch at Peter B’s Brewpub | © Bjorn / Flickr

Visit the Monarch Grove Sanctuary

What better place to experience the final quiet minutes of the trip than at a sanctuary. Just between Monterey and Carmel lies the Monarch Grove Sanctuary. This is a central migration spot for the warm-hued monarch butterfly. They make their way south for the cold winter months, just as birds do, millions of them gathering at Pacific Grove. The Monarch Grove Sanctuary is open for the public to walk along the trails, look up at the trees and notice the clusters of orange-and-black monarch butterflies clinging to the branches. Monarchs usually stay here between mid-October to mid-February, but the sanctuary outside of migrating season is still a tranquil spot to visit as the day comes to an end.

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Monarch butterfly | © a200/a77Wells / Flickr