How to Spend 3 Days in Monterey & Carmel
A full Monterey experience can be had in three days—an itinerary packed with the natural beauty, wildlife, history, and laidback luxury of this popular destination on the Central California coast. Here are our top ideas for how to spend a fun-filled 72 hours in the Monterey area.
Day 1: See the Sights
Orient yourself with the main sights of Monterey and neighboring Pacific Grove on a self-guided driving tour that gives you the chance to pass by attractions such as Cannery Row, Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Lovers Point, Asilomar State Beach, and the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. Then return to Cannery Row to visit Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the best in the United States, to see exhibits about the marine life of Monterey Bay and other bodies of water. If you’re interested in Monterey’s historical side, visit the Spanish-era sites of Monterey State Historic Park. Come evening, head out to sea on a sunset cruise to unwind after a busy day of sightseeing and watch for local wildlife like dolphins, sea lions, and sea birds. Some cruises include drinks and snacks while others may have them available for purchase.
Day 2: Explore the Coast
Monterey Bay is on the migrating path for humpback whales and gray whales, making it a top California spot for a whale-watching cruise. Dolphins, porpoises, and even orcas (aka killer whales) can also be spotted in these nutrient-rich waters, so don’t miss the chance to see them in their native environment. Then refuel with a food walking tour in Monterey or in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a charming village just south of Monterey on the other side of the Monterey Peninsula. You can hear stories about Monterey or Carmel as you enjoy food tastings with a guide. At sunset, check out the 17-Mile Drive, one of California’s most scenic roadways. As you pass by the golf courses and high-end resorts of Pebble Beach, the Lone Cypress, and the rocky coastline dotted with beaches, stop at lookout points to take in the views.
Day 3: Take a Day Trip
Discover one of California’s most dramatic coastal locations on a day trip to Big Sur, about an hour south of Monterey along Highway 1. After crossing the Bixby Bridge—a popular photo op—make your way along the remote stretch of coastline, stopping for clifftop vistas, hiking, and lunch. Points of interest include Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, McWay Falls, and Nepenthe restaurant. Alternatively, head inland from Carmel to the Carmel Valley wine region, which produces varietals such as merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Several wineries and tasting rooms are within walking distance of each other along Carmel Valley Road, making it easy to visit as many as you can handle in a day.