Monterey embodies the soul of coastal California. It is a city of firsts: California's first capital, home of the state's first theater and printing press, and the place where the country's flag was first hoisted in California, claiming the Sunshine State for the United States. In fact, it was the capital of Spanish California, Mexican California and American California. It is a place of many faces, from the adobe homes that harken to the Spanish conquistadors and missionaries to Cannery Row and the area's rich fishing history to the internationally beloved Monterey Bay Aquarium. History can be lived here, but the present is very much alive and thriving. Home to six universities, abundant sea life, impressive art galleries, award winning restaurants, countless clam chowder stands and shops with one-of-a-kind finds, Monterey Bay remains one of California's most popular travel destinations.
"Cannery Row in Monterey in California," author and Salinas, California native John Steinbeck wrote, "is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream." This is the opening line of his novel named after the place, a literary testament to the microcosm of life that is Monterey's Cannery Row. It was once the hub of the area's commercial fishing industry, full of characters that inspired Steinbeck's novels. Today, the skeleton of this bustling community of seamen, scholars and adventurers is still visible, notably in the gangways suspended several stories above the street that connect the old sardine-packing factories to one another. Those buildings now house a seemingly endless array of restaurants, like Schooners Bistro on the Bay and The Sardine Factory, that serve up the day's freshest catches. Another distinct transformation on the Row are the mini-malls created inside some of the factories. In a single building, a pub (like the Mucky Duck) will be below candy stores such as the tasty Ghirardelli's Chocolate & Ice Cream Shop, which is next to souvenir stores overflowing with crafts and keepsakes, like the Cannery Row General Store.
The highlight of Cannery Row is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, widely considered the best aquarium in the world. About 1.8 million visitors come through the aquarium's doors every year to learn about and experience the underwater world. Exhibits recreate the ocean habitats found just outside the aquarium's walls, from shallow tide pools to deep water canyons. First timers should check in with the information desk or ask any volunteer about the day's special tours, presentations and feeding schedules. The ocean has never been presented in a more interactive, hands-on and enlightening manner than at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Alvarado Street is Monterey's main drag and has a delightful bohemian vibe. Coffee shops, organic restaurants and Mom and Pop shops litter the road, most encased in buildings that have stood for over a century. The relaxed atmosphere is contagious. Alvarado links to Fisherman's Wharf, another bustling center of activity. The Wharf juts up against the steel blue waters and, with all it's food stands and gift stores, you'll be glad you're on land rather than in the chilly sea. From Fisherman's Wharf, you can jump off on a whale watching tour, a fishing trip or a sail on the Bay.
It's easy to forget that the ocean is a destination all its own. Sailors can launch on an epic day on the open ocean from Monterey. Fishermen cast off from the piers and rock faces into an ecosystem abundant with fish. Whale watchers rarely don't see a humpback or gray whale breaching the surface. And divers of all swaths-- from snorklers to SCUBA to free-- descend on Monterey to go below the surface and witness up close, and in the wild, sea life off the most amazing variety.
Monterey Bay sits on a canyon, the Monterey Submarine Canyon. The bottom of this underwater canyon is two miles below the surface. It extends 95 miles from Moss Landing into the Pacific. The canyon itself is a mile deep, making it comparable to the Grand Canyon. Its depth and high nutrient availability make it a veritable Eden for marine life. Scientific research is a huge element of the central coast because of the canyon's existence and a huge draw for divers to check out what's going on below the surface.