Monterey's main features are its beautiful beaches, historic sites, and waterfront shopping areas. Many of Monterey's best attractions are for free.
Top Free and Inexpensive Things to Do in Monterey CA
One of our favorite Monterey activities is watching sea lions, and they don't charge admission! Walk on Fisherman's Wharf or the Coast Guard Pier to check out these fun animals. Or, walk Monterey's most famous street and enjoy a self-guided history tour.
Explore Cannery Row
Cannery Row was made famous by John Steinbeck's Cannery Row novel. Before the novel was published, this street was known as Ocean View Avenue.
Today, it's a vibrant district with shopping, galleries, and restaurants. As you wander, you'll find wine tastings, the Steinbeck Wax Museum, and the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Stroll on Fisherman's Wharf
Historic Fisherman's Wharf was originally built in 1846. Today, you can stroll along the fishing pier and enjoy shopping and dining. This is also the best spot to book a deep-sea fishing or whale watching tour.
Fisherman's Wharf has a selection of gift shops with nautical themes. Try Carousel Candies for saltwater taffy that's made on-site. In addition, the Wharf is home to several seafood restaurants with fabulous views and vibrant decor.
Sea lions love to bask in the sun and hang out around the Wharf.
Enjoy Views on the Coast Guard Pier
The Coast Guard Pier is a great location to walk and enjoy expansive views. Sea lions love to hang out on nearby rocks, so have your camera ready.
Experience Monterey Beaches
Monterey has several great beaches. Visit San Carlos Beach Park or McAbee Beach and experience beautiful Pacific Ocean views.
Walk the Path of History
Monterey has a two-mile Path of History. Visitors can check out historic buildings, such as the Custom House, Old Monterey Jail, and San Carlos Cathedral. In addition, guests can visit the Robert Louis Stevenson House, Colton Hall, Larkin House, and Pacific House.
The Custom House Museum
The Custom House Museum is a historic adobe building. The Mexican government built it in the 1820s to collect customs from boats arriving by sea. The building was designated the first California Historic Landmark in 1932.
Today, the building operates as a free museum. You can explore the rooms and experience a traditional customs house.
Old Monterey Jail
The Old Monterey Jail is next to the Custom House Museum. The Old Monterey Jail operated from 1854 to 1956. You can see what it was like to be a prisoner in Monterey.
San Carlos Cathedral
The San Carlos Cathedral is California's oldest stone building and the state's oldest continuously operating parish. The historic 1794 cathedral is also America's smallest cathedral.
The cathedral features Spanish Colonial style architecture with ornamental carved sandstone arches. In addition, the cathedral is home to the landmark Junipero Oak.
Be Amazed at the Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary
Monterey is a tourist destination, but it's also a top migration destination for Monarch butterflies. Between October and February, thousands of Monarch butterflies stop in Monterey.
The Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary welcomes butterflies and visitors alike. When you visit, stay on the trails, keep quiet, and don't touch the butterflies.
Walk Along the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail
The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail runs 18 miles in total, but you don't have to walk the entire trail. The trail offers a great way to walk through Monterey and visit historic locations while avoiding parking hassles and vehicle traffic. The trail goes past Cannery Row, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Fisherman's Wharf.
You can walk or bike the two-lane trail and experience Monterey at a relaxed pace.
Experience Monterey's Best Attractions
You can experience Monterey's diverse history and enjoy outdoor fun for free, but don’t stop there, you can continue the adventure by taking a tour of Monterey.