Beyond the Monterey Bay Aquarium, this historic town boasts outstanding bay views and bay eats.
Monterey may be best known for Cannery Row, immortalized in John Steinbeck’s classic 1945 novel, but the town also served as California’s capital under Spain and Mexico. In later years it was the site of California’s first theater and printing press. Many of its most historic buildings have been preserved. The canneries have vanished, and in their place stands the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which has helped make Monterey a center for marine research and protection. Thanks in part to its efforts, you can stroll along the bay and watch harbor seals sunning themselves while sea otters somersault in the surf. Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau, (888) 221-1010, seemonterey.com . Area code is 831 except as noted.
The sea otter exhibit remains popular at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but the gossamer jellyfish and otherworldly seahorses also draw crowds. The gift shop features beautifully illustrated books and imaginative gifts. (Some proceeds go to support the aquarium’s conservation projects). 886 Cannery Row, 648-4800, montereybayaquarium.org . To see Monterey’s wild inhabitants in their natural setting, stroll to the end of Coast Guard pier, north of Cannery Row, a favorite spot for sea lions, cormorants, and California pelicans. Kayak and boat tours are available from several outfitters, including A B Seas Kayaks of Monterey (866-824-2337, montereykayak.com ) and Adventures by the Sea (299 Cannery Row, 372-1807, adventuresbythesea.com ). The walking tour of Monterey State Historic Park includes California’s first theater, a hotel where Robert Louis Stevenson resided, Colton Hall (where California’s first Constitutional Convention met), and the 1791 Royal Presidio Chapel, the state’s first cathedral. Maps at Cooper Museum Store, 649-7111, parks.ca.gov/mshp .
On an aquarium visit, plan lunch at the café for self-service clam chowder or pepperoni pizza, or the upscale restaurant, which features sustainably caught fish such as Alaskan halibut and abalone. Both have sweeping views of Monterey Bay, and the restaurant hands out binoculars. 886 Cannery Row, 648-4800, montereybayaquarium.org . A local favorite, Monterey’s Fish House, is worth the short drive from Cannery Row for its octopus and oysters, both barbecued. 2114 Del Monte Ave., 373-4647. At the end of Coast Guard Pier is Massaro & Santos, serving seafood pastas along with lamb and beef dishes. 649-6700, www.massarosandsantos.com . For a more casual meal, the new Cannery Row Brewing Company grills burgers over an open pit and serves custom-brewed beers. 95 Prescott Ave., 643-2722, canneryrowbrewingcompany.com .
If you can spring for it, book a room with views of Monterey Bay. At night you’ll see the lights of fishing boats moving across the waters in search of sea bass, squid, and sardines, as they have for generations. On Cannery Row, the elegant 45-room Spindrift Inn offers a quiet refuge. 652 Cannery Row, 646-8900, spindriftinn.com . Designed so that 47 of its 49 rooms have water views, the Monterey Bay Inn sits between Cannery Row and the Old Wharf. 242 Cannery Row, 373-6242, montereybayinn.com . On a budget? The Holiday Inn Express–Cannery Row offers no-frills comfort within walking distance of the aquarium. 443 Wave St., 372-1800, hiexpress.com . Near the Old Wharf and Monterey’s historic district, the 379-room Portola Hotel & Spa has a full-service spa and outdoor pool. 2 Portola Plaza, 866-711-1217, portolahotel.com .
Photography by Gary Crabbe 
This article was first published in February 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Check out the rest of our Monterey Peninsula  package:
Carmel-by-the-Sea : art galleries, elegant boutiques, and a dog beach
Carmel Valley : award-winning wineries and sunny weather
Pacific Grove : Victorian homes and a lively main street
Pebble Beach : golf courses, fine dining, and 17-Mile Drive
Seaside and Sand City : sweet beaches and a happening art scene