How to Spend 1 Day in Monterey & Carmel
The Monterey Peninsula is an ideal place to spend a day, with attractions that highlight the natural beauty, wildlife, and history of the region—plus its setting on the rugged Pacific coast. Here are the top ways to enjoy 24 hours in this central California hot spot.
Morning: Get Acquainted
If you plan on visiting Monterey and Carmel on a day trip from San Francisco, book a tour with provided transportation. Guided tours allow you to admire the scenery along California’s Highway 1 instead of worrying about directions and parking. Take in the area’s main sights, including Cannery Row, the 17-Mile Drive through the resorts of Pebble Beach, the cliff-lined coast, and charming Carmel-by-the-Sea. If you plan to start your day in Monterey, spend the morning on a guided or self-guided tour to get oriented with the city and waterfront.
Afternoon: Explore Attractions
One of the top aquariums in the United States, Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-do. Located on the waterfront at the end of Cannery Row, it’s easy to visit when in the city’s main tourist district. Prepurchase admission to avoid the line, and enjoy the aquarium’s showcase of Monterey Bay marine life and other sea life from around the world. Animal exhibits include penguins and otters, and daily feedings and programs provide insight into the nonprofit aquarium’s work and conservation goals. Alternatively, those interested in Monterey’s historical side, can check out the Spanish-era sites of Monterey State Historic Park on a walking tour.
Night: Enjoy the Water
Whether by boat or on land, don’t miss the setting sun as it disappears into the Pacific Ocean. A sunset cruise is a great way to unwind after a busy day of sightseeing, and it’s a chance to spot local marine life such as dolphins and sea lions. Some cruises include appetizers and drinks while others may have them available for purchase. Alternatively, head to a coastal location on Monterey Peninsula such as Lovers Point or the Point Pinos Lighthouse to enjoy the twilight atmosphere—perfect for photos.