Top 20 Unique Things To Do In Monterey County

Tucked away in Monterey County are numerous unique experiences that remain under the radar for many. These hidden gems are definitely worth exploring on your next visit. Here are our top picks for "secret spots" where you can play, taste and discover!

Outdoor Attractions

Arroyo Seco Gorge, Ventana Wilderness

Arroyo Seco

Head into the Ventana Wilderness and point your compass to Arroyo Seco Gorge to find secret swimming holes. The lower pools near the Arroyo Seco Campground are the easiest to get to, but a challenging hike to the upper pools is rewarded with a more private Shangri-la. Be sure to check current conditions before you plan your visit to ensure trails are accessible. 

Proposal Bench, Asilomar Conference Grounds

The Proposal Bench, designed by famed architect Julia Morgan and located within the idyllic Asilomar Conference Grounds, is known locally as the place to pop the question. But even if you’re not planning to propose, this romantic spot is perfect for watching the sunset. You'll see it as you stroll along Asilomar's boardwalk through the sand dunes.

Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur

With most visitors opting to check out Julia Pfeiffer Burns and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Parks, Andrew Molera State Park is one of the more unique things to do in Big Sur. This is the largest state park on the Big Sur coast, offering hiking trails through a wide variety of environments, from spectacular coastlines to tranquil river banks, redwood-studded ridges, and grassy meadows. It's hard to beat the scenery, sea spray, and white sand beaches that you’ll find within this less-visited park. 

Twilight Bike Rides, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca

Twilight bike rides at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca allow cyclists to experience this legendary track for just $10—no Ferrari required! The track is a 2.2-mile circuit, complete with 11 turns and the infamous “Corkscrew,” which drops 59 feet in just 450 feet of track length.

China Cove, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Secret, wild, and teeming with animal life, particularly harbor seals, China Cove at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a top spot for outdoor enthusiasts. Visit at low tide when you can access the rock arch and a small cave tucked into this small beach for a unique photo opp. 

Sea Otter Sightings, Moss Landing State Beach

The otters floating near Moss Landing State Beach add to the laid-back surfer vibe at the southern end of the parking lot. Looking east towards the marina, you'll see a large group of these beloved critters—known as a “raft”—that reside in this spot year-round. 

If you enjoy horseback riding, Moss Landing also provides the unique experience of riding along the coast. Contact Monterey Bay Equestrian Center to schedule a ride along the beach.

Biking 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach

While the splendor of 17-Mile Drive is no secret, few cyclists know they can cruise right past the toll booth and ride along this scenic road for free. Don't miss the picnic tables along the way to enjoy views of the waves crashing onto craggy rock formations that dot Pebble Beach. Pack a picnic lunch and plenty of snacks so you can rest and enjoy the scenery!

Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary, Pacific Grove

Every October, thousands of butterflies make a stop in charming Pacific Grove during their migration to warmer climates. The place to view these black and orange beauties is at the Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary, where butterfly clusters hang in the eucalyptus branches. Time your visit right so you can see these gorgeous creatures—they typically stay in the grove until February before they continue their migration south.

Hiking Trails, Fort Ord National Monument

Man biking in Fort Ord National Monument

Fort Ord National Monument hosts a network of unique, less-visited trails. On the trails, you’ll wind through grassy bluffs and eucalyptus forests. Keep an eye out for animals like red-tailed hawks, Canadian geese, California quail, black-tailed deer, golden eagles, and more.

Pacific Grove Golf Links, Pacific Grove

Monterey County is a golfer's paradise, but you don’t have to play at Pebble Beach to get the full experience. For tee time on a dime with similar views of crashing waves and cypress trees, head to Pacific Grove Golf Links, where green fees start at under $40. After your round, enjoy a meal at The Grill, which readers of Monterey County Weekly voted Best Restaurant at a Golf Course 2023. 

Dennis the Menace Playground, Monterey

Kids go wild over Dennis the Menace Playground at El Estero Park in Monterey, which was developed by longtime Carmel resident Hank Ketcham, creator of the Dennis the Menace comic strip. Amid the various play structures, kids can enjoy several slides, a maze, a giant ship and a climbing wall. Make it a full day of fun by renting a paddle boat at nearby Lake El Estero.

Indoor Attractions

Unscheduled Feeding Opportunities, Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Otters

One of the most unique things to do in Monterey is unscheduled feeding opportunities–known playfully as UFOs–at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Visitors can sign up to be notified of feeding and enrichment programs with sharks, a giant Pacific octopus, bat rays, sardines, and more, for a chance to see these creatures up close

Birds of Monterey County, Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History features exhibits that intrigue all ages. The "Amazing Adaptation of Birds'' exhibit is a must-see. It features over 400 mounted birds representing nearly 300 different species, including the California condor.

Path of History, Monterey

The Monterey Path of History takes you inside 55 of the city's most incredible historical buildings, providing a rich lesson on the city's history. You can also time your trip with unique historical happenings like Sloat's Landing Ceremony in July, which honors the day Commodore John Drake Sloat declared California part of the United States.

Mission San Antonio, Jolon

Many know of Carmel's San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo Mission, but Mission San Antonio de Padua tends to fly under the radar. The mission's museum, complete with an archeological exhibit of artifacts excavated from the grounds, is fascinating. Mission San Antonio is located on a military base, so bring your photo identification and car registration to gain access.

Unique Restaurants, Food and Drink Experiences

Chef's Table, Lucia Restaurant & Bar

The Chef's Table at Lucia Restaurant & Bar at Bernardus Lodge is an under-the-radar foodie find where you can watch Chef Cal Stamenov expertly prepare course after course of delicious eats. The table area's wall is covered with notes from celebrities who have dined here including Leonardo DiCaprio and Julia Child.

The Steinbeck House, Salinas

It's no secret that famed author John Steinbeck was born in Salinas and that you can visit The Steinbeck House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can also enjoy lunch or afternoon tea on-site as you immerse yourself in literary history.

Fire Pits, The Inn at Spanish Bay

This is an image of the outdoor patio tables at The Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, California at dawn. Part of the restaurant can be seen on the right side of the image, with the left side of the image showing several scattered outdoor seating and tables with people at them. The ocean can be seen in the background

Head to the outdoor fire pits at the Inn at Spanish Bay at sunset for a glass of wine and enjoy the sounds of a lone bagpiper. An insider tip is to get a reservation for dinner at Roy’s, which is adjacent to the fire pits, so you can enjoy a meal after the music. 

The Cheese Shop, Carmel Plaza

The Cheese Shop at the Carmel Plaza is a beloved establishment that has welcomed cheese aficionados since 1973. It’s the perfect spot for cheese tastings and cheese and wine pairings.

Armed with these unique experiences, your journey through Monterey County is sure to be memorable and capture the essence of our vibrant region. Whether your interest lies in outdoor adventures, historical explorations, or culinary delights, you'll discover a variety of intriguing activities across the county to make your visit extraordinary!


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