Monterey is steeped in history, and its plethora of museums offers a glimpse into the varied narratives of this storied place. Monterey was the seat of California's first capital and Colton Hall (Number 6 on this Top 10) was the site where California's first constitution was signed. Monterey provides the past to the other regions of California's past, so to speak, and thankfully has an abundant variety of museums at which to experience history first hand.
Number 1 on this Museum Top 10 is the National Steinbeck Center, the only museum in the country dedicated to a single author. Located in Salinas, just a few miles west of Monterey, the NSC is a veritable shrine dedicated to a great American writer. Learning about Steinbeck goes hand-in-hand with learning about where he grew up, came of age and took most of his inspiration from-Monterey. The chair of the National Endowment for the Arts said of the NSC: "This is really the best modern literary shrine in the country, and I've seen them all." That's a pretty outstanding recommendation.
The Monterey Museum of Art (Number 4) boasts an amazing collection of early photographs and paintings depicting early Californian life. It operates by the credo that there is really no substitute for a picture when it comes to accurately portraying life from a different time. It also shows work by local artists, Picasso and others.
For some kitschy fun, check out the Steinbeck Wax Museum in Cannery Row. Here, historical figures "come to life" as wax replicas and are situated in real-world scenarios that they, as living people, would have found themselves in. For example, there is a display of John Steinbeck smoking in his good friend and fellow Monterey icon Ed "Doc" Ricketts lab. The wax museum is definitely campy, but offers a light-hearted alternative to learning from a stuffy museum setting.
To get your science fix, head to the Maritime Museum & History Center. It's worth a mention here because it has some really amazing objects on display, including a lighthouse Fresnel lens and loads of other nautical articles.
5 Custom House Plaza
Custom House Plaza
Across from Fisherman's Wharf
(between Madison and Jefferson streets)
425 Washington Street
700 Cannery Row
(Suite 2, at the corner of Prescott Street)