Ah, yes. Monterey, California. Famed for its scenery, Pebble Beach, fancy people, strategic location on Monterey Bay, the Pacific Coast Highway, and more. I’ve always wanted to go to Monterey.

For people not from California, it’s sort of pitched as this ideal, dreamy location full of excitement, fun, romance, and, well, fanciness I suppose!

I wanted to come here for the same reason I’ve always wanted to drive the PCH: No cold weather and natural, coastal beauty. The former is kind of a joke and a lie, but being from states that are truly cold makes everywhere seem warm.

Cannery Row in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Unless you’re a Professional Winter Avoider™. Then, anything below short-sleeves weather is cold. So, Monterey is no longer a ‘warm’ place to us. Don’t get too mad though – we work(ed) our asses off for this kind of freedom!

Monterey Bay, California by Jets Like Taxis

Disclaimer time (once again): This is merely a blog post about what we did when we were in the area during our “Fabric of America” tour. It is full of our observations and experiences. It is not a definitive guide. It is not a guidebook. There are no attempts at either. So, if you have suggestions about things other people should see, or hate things we did or didn’t do, you are more than welcome to leave them in the comments. We encourage it, even. However, this is not completist and by no means do we think it’s the end-all, be-all of what to do in Monterey. We had X days. And we did Y things. Because we wanted to. Some are great, some are less than acceptable. Got it? Good.

Okay, (these) rants (are) over. Onward!

Pacific Coast Highway by Jets Like Taxis

We left our last stop in Oakland and drove down the PCH to Monterey. This afforded us plenty of drop-dead views of the California coast, in between pleas from Ang to not drive so fast when there was no traffic, and cursing at other drivers when there was tons of traffic.

Yes indeed, the PCH is as gorgeous as everyone says it is. (Although it may have a rival in Oregon.)

Pacific Coast Highway by Jets Like Taxis

Getting There:

The drive from Oakland to Monterey is short in distance, but takes a few hours if you stop and take pictures, get stuck behind 426 recreational vehicles, drive slow, or the weather is bad. We took a roundabout way around the Bay Area because we wanted to go over the Golden Gate Bridge.

That, plus all of our other stops and delays – including our navi telling us that our hotel was where some other hotel is – had us arrive in Monterey in the late afternoon.

Of course, it tried to have us take the boulevard to freedom first, though.

Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

  • The drive is relatively simple: Take the PCH from the Bay Area to Monterey.

And that’s a wrap!

Sleeping:

Overall, we had a pleasant stay at the Red Roof Inn in Monterey. They are a supporter of our “Fabric of America” tour, and we were delighted to check out one of their properties that’s in-transition to a NextGen version of the hotel.

Red Roof Inn in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

It wasn’t without its niggling issues, but they weren’t the end of the world. In the end, we had a nice time there and would certainly stay at the hotel again. Click here to read our full review.

The location of the hotel:

2227 N. Fremont St.
Monterey, CA 93940
Tel: +1 (831) 372-7586
Web: redroofinnmonterey.com

Red Roof Inn in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Eating:

We love to do the eating. I suppose it’s important for survival and all, but more importantly: It’s delicious. When it’s delicious, anyway. Below are all the places we ate, and what we thought about them.

Monterey Cookhouse: This was recommended to us by hotel management, and is actually about a two-minute walk from where we stayed.

Monterey Cookhouse by Jets Like Taxis

This place advertises its “wood-fired cuisine,” and does not disappoint. It’s definitely not a budget place, but is probably way more wallet-friendly than a lot of restaurants in downtown Monterey. We didn’t waste any time ordering local brews and huge combo platters: One each of meat and fish, and a starter of stuffed mushrooms.

Monterey Cookhouse by Jets Like Taxis

Service was quite good if not overly attentive, and we enjoyed the fact that while the place looks a bit dated, it was full of people enjoying their plates of carnivorous excellence. It was most certainly a proper start to our stay in the area.

Monterey Cookhouse by Jets Like Taxis

International Market & Deli: We popped into this Lebanese grocery store and deli to partake in a late lunch of Mediterranean delights. It was highly recommended on all of those travel-review websites, and we love a good shawarma.

International Market & Deli in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

And that’s where it all stopped. See, we spent many years in Chicago. We spent a lot of time across the U.S., a lot of time in Europe overall, years in Germany, and fattened ourselves properly in the Balkans. We know good Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food when we eat it. Plain and simple.

International Market & Deli in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

And this, my friends, was not good. Bland as all hell, overrated as all hell, and most certainly full of pre-packaged and pre-cooked meats. The wraps were dry and the sauces bland. This is the chicken, in case you need better evidence.

International Market & Deli in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

The internet must be on crack (real shocker), because the only thing going for this place is friendly service and a damn fine Middle Eastern grocery. Don’t bother eating here unless you know nothing of this cuisine and don’t want to enjoy it.

We do, however, recommend you shop here, because they have some exquisite products on the shelves. Ones which they certainly don’t seem to use in their deli.

International Market & Deli in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Happy Rooster: This place was a tough decision. See, we were in San Juan Bautista for the day – more on that below – and we only had one chance to eat in town. Thanks to tourism for the mission, there are a lot of good options for the size of town that it is. Basque places, Mexican places, organic places. Lots of places.

Happy Rooster in San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Instead of making this decision for ourselves – we’re terrible at that – we let the locals do it for us. A couple who owns an antique store recommended the Happy Rooster, and we are most certainly glad they did. It apparently bills itself as an Italian joint, but it also has a wide variety of sandwiches and seafood in addition to pasta.

Happy Rooster in San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Service was of the most excellent sort, and we had a darn good time joking around with our waitress. We went for sandwiches, salads, and a pair of Negra Modelo (so much for the Italian part, eh?), and were thrilled with everything.

Happy Rooster in San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

One extra thing to note here is that you can actually order half sandwiches. While we’re much too gluttonous for that, we think it’s a great option for people who want a light meal or are screwing up their day by eating at 3pm or something. Not that we would know.

Jose’s Mexican Cafe: Another highly-rated spot we decided to hit up on our last day, this small Mexican bar and café in nearby Seaside offers traditional dishes along with Mexican-American favorites.

Jose's Mexican Cafe in Seaside, CA by Jets Like Taxis

We went in with high hopes because we simply love all types of Mexican food, but unfortunately felt it was average at best. The tacos were great, but the enchiladas and taquitos were lacking their essential explosions of flavor, and we couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated about the whole thing.

Jose's Mexican Cafe in Seaside, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Maybe it was an off-day considering how widely loved this place is on the internet, but we probably wouldn’t go back.

Joe's Mexican Cafe in Seaside, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Fortunately, though, the service was excellent and we did enjoy our beers and horchatas. Because, beers and horchatas. Sorry, y’all!

Joe's Mexican Cafe in Seaside, CA by Jets Like Taxis

We had some ups and downs as far as eating goes, but you can’t have it all. (Unless you can, as Ang would say.) The only real, true downer was the International Market & Deli, but it is what it is. Overall, the experience was above par and we have no regrets. Why bother!

Activities:

Monterey relies on its aforementioned reputation as a California paradise for the fancy, but there’s plenty to do without spending any money at all. The scenery alone is breathtaking, if you can successfully weave your way in and out of the tourist insanity that encompasses most of the historic downtown area.

Pacific Coast Highway: You’ll probably want or need a car if you want to get out of downtown Monterey, and you shouldn’t think of even coming here without one anyway when the PCH is the city’s main artery. There is plenty of action heading both north- and southbound if you just jump in the whip.

Pacific Coast Highway by Jets Like Taxis

Pebble Beach and the 17-Mile Drive: Okay, here goes. This entire thing is a complete and utter rip-off. I say this with the nastiest of intentions but am being as nice as I can be. Unless you’re a golf freak or have money to throw in the trash, don’t bother with either of these things.

Pebble Beach, CA by Jets Like Taxis

The entire peninsula is privately-owned, which means you have to pay to enter unless you live there (which will cost you untold millions) or are a guest of someone who does live there (which may cost you your dignity). It also totally feels like a police state. Basically, people pay a fee to enter and drive around the “legendary” 17-Mile Drive to see the natural beauty of the area and landmarks such as the Lone Cypress.

Lone Cypress at Pebble Beach by Jets Like Taxis

It’s all a joke. It’s pointless. It’s stupid. Pay up, and you can see a ton of sights that don’t even come close to looking as gorgeous as the zillion other free views along the PCH. You’ll also have the benefit of being surrounded by tour buses and drivers who go slower than those on the PCH.

Pebble Beach by Jets Like Taxis

Sure, the water along the shore is a protected marine area; and sure, you can see plenty of wildlife and undeveloped coastline (bordered on the other side of the road by vomit-inducing mansions). But you can also see these things anywhere and everywhere else along the coast.

Pebble Beach by Jets Like Taxis

Being the area is owned by a private corporation, I have no idea what amount of money goes back into protecting nature. Even if it all does, it’s still a bunch of rich white dudes and Stepford wives looking down on you while lighting cigars and watching their maids clean patio furniture with c-notes.

Pebble Beach by Jets Like Taxis

If your fetish is golf, or you have some sort of lifelong yearning to drive this route, fine. Knock yourself out. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Monterey State Historic Park: Located dead-center in the downtown area of Monterey, this park is more of a collection of 17 historic buildings near the water, including the famous Custom House. Walking around the entire area is free, but I do believe there’s a nominal fee for checking out the museum.

Monterey State Historic Park by Jets Like Taxis

The structures were all built in the 19th century, and include a wide range of building styles stuck between “white European dude making a fortune in the area” and “Spanish colonial dude vaguely staying true to the style of the day.” (Can’t you tell I’m a well-educated person who knows the finer points of architectural history?)

Monterey State Historic Park by Jets Like Taxis

Some of the buildings have open or glass windows that you can peer through to see what may have gone on inside, and others are completely shuttered off – possibly holding hidden treasure chests of gold or gardening supplies.

Monterey State Historic Park by Jets Like Taxis

You probably won’t find any reenactments here, or a whole ton of info that helps you decipher what’s what, but it’s a nice walk around and makes for good pictures.

Monterey State Historic Park by Jets Like Taxis

It also gives a good sense of the converging styles of the times back when Monterey was off and poppin’.

Monterey State Historic Park by Jets Like Taxis

Monterey Bay: I separated this from other waterfront landmarks in Monterey because it’s important to know that you can actually get to the water and hang out without swimming upstream through hordes of tourists in certain districts you’ll see mentioned below.

Monterey Bay by Jets Like Taxis

In fact, there’s a bike and walking path that extends all the way around the region, providing plenty of opportunity and freedom to just hang out and do your thing.

Monterey Bay by Jets Like Taxis

Monterey Bay by Jets Like Taxis

Be forewarned that this is no secret: There will be other tourists; there will be a lot of cyclists and the occasional obnoxious one who you’ll need to yell at after he curses at a senior citizen.

Monterey Bay by Jets Like Taxis

Monterey Bay by Jets Like Taxis

Other than that, it’s a nice time and there are plenty of things – waterfront, fishermen, divers, all sorts of animals – to sit and watch on the countless benches and handful of beaches you’ll find along the way.

Monterey Bay by Jets Like Taxis

Monterey Bay by Jets Like Taxis

Fisherman’s Wharf: This is no doubt the most touristy spot in all of Monterey. It used to be the main wholesale fish market for the area, but was turned into a landmark and main drag for tourists after it shut down and the new commercial wharf opened.

Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

This is where you’ll dodge zillions of people just like you, see street performers, pay to have a parrot sit on your shoulder while your mom takes photos of you, get harassed by seafood-restaurant employees to come try their ‘freshest’ fare (which is the same as all the fare at every other restaurant on the wharf), schedule and depart for your whale-watching adventures, and generally make the most of being the tourist that you are.

Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

The good thing about this place is that you can sometimes see something really damn cool.

Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

You can stumble across a piano that’s just there for people to play, and watch a kid go seriously mad with skills on it.

Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

You can duck behind the buildings and use the outer walkways to watch wildlife, fishermen, and take a picture that will become one of your favorites. Just let it happen. Plus, if you don’t sign up for any activities or get sucked into one of the restaurants, the whole shebang is completely cost-free.

Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Cannery Row: The second-most touristy spot in Monterey.

Cannery Row in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Once home to the bustling sardine business of the area, most of its buildings are former canneries that probably stunk to high heaven but made untold bundles of cash for their owners while also providing a living to immigrants from all over the world.

Cannery Row in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Cannery Row in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

This street used to be called Ocean View Avenue, but was changed in honor of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row novel, which took place here.

Cannery Row in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

The canneries have been closed for 40 years now, and pretty much everything has been turned into a local or national chain, a Sunglass Hut, or some other trinket shop.

Cannery Row in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Cannery Row in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Cannery Row in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

If you can look past all the touristy shopping, though, the buildings are all still here and provide a unique view into the history of Monterey. You’ll also find the Monterey Bay Aquarium at the north end of the street if you’re into that sort of thing.

Cannery Row in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Cannery Row in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

San Juan Bautista: We wanted to get away from all the hustle and bustle of high season for a day, so we hit the road and headed northeast to the old mission town of San Juan Bautista.

San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

While the town is home to less than 2,000 people, it is also home to Mission San Juan Bautista, which is the largest of the Spanish missions in California.

San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Opened in the late 18th century, the mission provides a great learning experience and a relaxing, pensive visit with its gardens, churches, and museum.

San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

It’s all free but you are encouraged to donate if you want to hit the museum and gardens.

San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

We just happened to be there during a wedding, so we were given an interesting glimpse of action. That didn’t allow us to take many pictures of the main church, but whaddya gonna do.

San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Next to the mission is the state historic park of the same name, which will cost you a few bucks to enter if you want to check it out.

San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Oddly, no employees were there when we were, and we were able to walk into some of the park’s buildings with total freedom.

San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

As the mission itself attracts tons of visitors each year, the downtown area of San Juan Bautista is chock-full of antique shops, souvenir stores, and restaurants.

San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

We spent a long time in the shops, looking for a specific gift for a friend. If you’re into that, the town has all types of stores for all budgets when it comes to knickknacks and momentos.

San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

If you give yourself enough time there, you can eat at more than one place. There are a lot of really good-looking options, and we unfortunately only made time for one. It was a hard decision!

San Juan Bautista, CA by Jets Like Taxis

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park: Located south of the Monterey-Carmel region and close to Big Sur, this state park was once the home of a loaded family who owned land in the area. It is now a state park, complete with hiking paths, drop-dead gorgeous views, and the famed McKay Falls.

Julia Pfeiffer-Burns State Park by Jets Like Taxis

You’re asked to pay for your visit in a little strong box at the entrance, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find parking in the dinky little lot there during high season. We ended up parking on the side of the PCH, along with a dozen other cars, and making our way to the falls by foot. It’s an easy walk and doesn’t require any sort of specialized gear or skills.

Julia Pfeiffer-Burns State Park by Jets Like Taxis

If you have vertigo, though, be sure to have someone to hang onto. Once you walk out to the point, you can see all of the waterfall and its cove, which you’d think would be a secluded, secret beach given that the water and sand are completely off-limits to people. Because of that, it’s almost like looking into another world.

Julia Pfeiffer-Burns State Park by Jets Like Taxis

Off the end of the main point, you can also grab views of more glorious coastline to the north, as well as the original foundations of the house that once stood there and placards to tell you a bit of the story.

Julia Pfeiffer-Burns State Park by Jets Like Taxis

All in all, we had a great time in Monterey and the surrounding area. It’s famous for a reason, so don’t be surprised by the thousands of other people who have the same idea(s) as you. There are plenty of other sights and sounds to experience when you’re there, be they going on a tour in the bay, visiting museums, getting romantic in Carmel, or taking a trip inland.

Pebble Beach by Jets Like Taxis

We didn’t have the best experiences when it came to food and were certainly disappointed with the Pebble Beach area; but like I said: You can’t win ’em all. We’re happy that we stopped here for a few days during our trip down the PCH, and highly recommend it if you’re doing the same.

Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, CA by Jets Like Taxis

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Have you ever been to Monterey or the surrounding area? Have you visited any of the places in our post? Do you have any suggestions for things people should see when they stay in the region? Any other thoughts? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!