Novelist John Steinbeck put the historic fishing town on the tourist map, and the unrivalled Monterey Bay Aquarium
keeps it there. The world-famous aquarium awes visitors with the ecology and beauty of the Monterey Bay. Favorite exhibits include ethereally glowing jellyfish, playful otters and, on occasion recently, the first Great White Sharks in captivity. Named the capital of Spanish California ... read more
in 1776, Monterey's top attractions include some of the West Coast's oldest buildings -- the Monterey Maritime and History Museum, the 1834 adobe Casa Serrano and the original Royal Presidio Chapel (now the San Carlos Cathedral
), built in 1794. Cannery Row
, made famous by Steinbeck's novel, and Fisherman's Wharf lure in more tourists than fish these days with kitschy shops and seafood shacks. Families will appreciate the kid-friendly Monterey Youth Museum and paddle-boating at El Estero Park
, also home to Dennis the Menace Playground. Culture mavens will appreciate the Monterey Jazz Festival every July, and offshore, whale-watching trips and eco-tours are a top to-do. Plentiful inexpensive motels and hotels mean many visitors choose to base themselves in Monterey while exploring Big Sur, Carmel, Santa Cruz or dozens of local wineries.