The icons of Monterey County are surely not-to-be-missed: A dive beneath the ocean’s surface at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a stroll along the vibrant wildflower-shrouded central coast known as Pacific Grove’s blooming “Purple Carpet”, or a hike beneath massive coastal redwood trees in the mountains of Big Sur. And while Monterey County’s glorious beaches, top attractions and sought after restaurants are popular for good reason, there is much to be uncovered beyond these beloved favorites.
If you’re a returning visitor looking for new things to do or a first-timer with an itch for off-the-beaten-path experiences, an authentic and well-rounded visit to Monterey County can be found in these little-known treasures and local insider tips. Find unique things to do in Monterey and experience the best of the destination at these hidden gems throughout the county.
For the foodie craving culinary experiences beyond the classic clam chowder bread bowl on Monterey’s Old Fisherman’s Wharf, the city of Marina just might be the way to your heart! With the most diverse food scene in the region, it is likely that Marina has at least one restaurant serving up the dish to satisfy your appetite. Find Mandarin, Hunan and Szechuan dishes at Ho Wah Chinese Restaurant, Hawaiian-style plate lunch, poke and shave ice at Keoki's Hawaiian Barbeque, thick and fluffy pupusas at El Salvadoreño Pupuseria, Korean fare at mom & pop shop Nak Won Korean BBQ House and comforting Vietnamese favorites at Noodle Bar just to name a few. Find more restaurants to eat your way through Marina's foodie scene.
A tremendous amount of history makes this city on the Monterey Peninsula worthy of exploration. The former site of Fort Ord United States Army post is an up-and-coming destination complete with a revitalized downtown, 60+ family-owned eateries, Fort Ord National Monument and Bayonet & Black Horse golf courses, formerly only open to service members.
Among the diverse food options stands a hidden gem among hidden gems: Chef Klaus Georis’ recently opened Maligne Restaurant, an unmarked cement building serving up wood-fired seafood with unexpected flair. Sit down for a special meal before exploring everything the city of Seaside has to offer.
Awe-inspiring works of art can be appreciated all over Sand City as the town continues to grow its transformative public art gallery! Use this map to roam the streets of the West End and take in all of the vibrant outdoor murals created by local and visiting artists. Visitors to the area can also explore the SandBox, an artists' warehouse space for cultural events like concerts, spoken word, film screenings, art parties, and more.
Moss Landing is a popular spot for antiquing, kayaking and nature watching, but did you know it's also home to the Shakespeare Society of America? Plan your epic road trip along Hwy 1 and stop by the Shakespeare Society of America to peruse thousands of artifacts (some dating back 500 years!), rare books, memorabilia, art, and more.
As the largest rodeo in California and #9 in the U.S. of 600 professional rodeos, the California Rodeo Salinas is THE rodeo to see. In Salinas it is pronounced roDAYo....a nod to the Spanish ranchero heritage ʻrodearʻ meaning “to round up” in Spanish. To learn about the history of the rodeo and to see memorabilia from past rodeos and more, visit the California Rodeo Heritage Museum at Salinas Sports Complex during the four-day rodeo and by special appointment throughout the year.
As the “Salad Bowl of the World,” Monterey Countyʻs history is undoubtedly rooted in agriculture, with the Salinas Valley growing much of our nation's produce and a healthy local food supply. Get off the beaten path and delve into this local history at the Monterey County Agricultural and Rural Life Museum within San Lorenzo Park. The museum has 6 historic structures, turn-of-the-century artifacts, and exhibits of antique farm equipment waiting to be explored.
If you're the type of traveler that likes to take guided tours, local historian guides Karen and John Jernigan of King City Historic Walking Tours lead the way for a tour of King City's history and local gems, showing old photos of buildings and site and identifying names of people in murals.
Can you guess which famous 50s/60s celebrity was crowned the inaugural “Artichoke Queen”?...
If you guessed Marilyn Monroe, you're correct! Who better to represent the iconic artichoke of the “Artichoke Capital of the World” than this iconic actress! Make sure to stop in Castroville on your visit to Monterey County, and in honor of Miss Monroe, visit Pezzini Farms for amazing produce and unique bites including artichoke cupcakes! You can also take a tour of the farm with local tour operator & destination expert Evan Oakes of Ag Venture Tours & Consulting on select days.
Have you heard of the bagpiper at Spanish Bay? The bagpiper has played along the Pebble Beach coastline every day, rain or shine, since The Inn and Links at Spanish Bay opened back in 1987. Come and witness this must-experience sunset tradition!
In a destination as popular as Big Sur, it is hard to imagine there are many “hidden gems,” but the area’s unquestionable glory has the special ability of making every experience seem remarkable and rare for visitors and locals alike. With all that said, a monster-sized burrito from a general store and ice cream from a bus made the cut for seriously hidden gems from this well-known region. Stop by the Big Sur River Inn for both!
For those lovers of the arts, a seat at Van Gogh’s Table at Casanova Restaurant is an inspired addition to an already superb dining experience. “Van Gogh’s table” meaning the actual table where influential artist Vincent Van Gogh enjoyed his meals at the Auberge Ravoux, has found its new home in the artistic community of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Though Monterey is certainly the most recognized city within the destination, hidden gems can still be discovered in this popular coastal town. If you’re in the mood for a sandwich (and who isn’t at any given time really?), La Sala’s BiRite Market serves up some really spectacular ones. This family-owned and operated market is a neighborhood favorite mom & pop shop worthy of a stop.