Capital of California in the Spanish era
Enjoying a pivotal role in early Californian history by dint of the natural harbour, which made it a favoured, landing point, Monterey was settled by the Spanish from 1770, became capital of California through the Spanish and Mexican eras and, after U.S. acquisition, was the site of California’s first state government in 1849.
Less glamorously, Monterey spent the first half of the 20thC as the world’s largest sardine canning centre. The former fish factories along Cannery Row are now occupied by lacklustre trinket shops aimed at the town’s 3 million yearly visitors. Adjoining Fisherman’s Wharf, where ocean-going schooners once berthed, now holds seafood restaurants and snack bars.
More evocative of the past are the preserved and restored 19thC structures which form Monterey State Historic Park – actually a collection of (mostly) adobe structures dotted amid the banks, shops and supermarkets of downtown Monterey.
A map outlining the park’s Path of History is widely available around the town, and can also be picked up at the Colton Hall Museum (open Sunday through Saturday; +1 831 646 5640), between Jefferson and Madison Streets. The intriguing museum preserves the room and the furnishings that witnessed the drafting of California’s first constitution in 1849 and keeps open the Old Monterey Jail (entrance at rear of the museum), which incarcerated ne’er-do-wells for more than a hundred years from 1854.
Other places of interest in Monterey are the small former rooming house at 530 Houston St., where Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson spent a few weeks in 1879 and which now stocks mementoes of his stay; and the Royal Presidio Chapel, 555 Church St., in use since 1795 and decorated with Native American and Mexican folk art. Two modern additions to Monterey well worth a look are the Museum of Monterey (http://museumofmonterey.org), opposite the Customs House close to Fisherman’s Wharf, which details – with models, maps and endless nautical paraphernalia – Monterey’s role as a seaport, and the wonderful Monterey Bay Aquarium (http://www.montereybayaquarium.org) at the western end of Cannery Row, a multi-million dollar facility displaying and describing the secrets of ocean ecology well enough to entertain and educate curious minds for hours.
Detour – 17 Mile Drive
This is a signposted route through the western side of the Monterey Peninsula between Carmel and Pacific Grove. Much of the route is private land (which explains the toll). The views of craggy headlands and the gale-defying Lone Cypress Tree – and the district’s multi-million-dollar homes – can be astounding. Maps of the drive are issued at the entry gates.
Bicycle Tour – Shoreline Bike Path
A healthy, cheap, and equally attractive alternative to The 17-Mile Drive, is to rent a bike in Monterey and cycle the Shoreline Bike Path between Fisherman’s Wharf and Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove (a 6-mile round trip). With energy to spare, continue from Lover’s Point to Point Pinos, a further 3 miles. Bay Bikes (https://www.baybikes.com) offer bike rental from outlets in Monterey, 640 Wave Street, and Carmel, on Lincoln Street between 5th and 6th Streets.