Best Things To Do In Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur

The Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur area is one of my favorite stops along the Pacific Coast Highway, which is one of the Best Road Trips in the U.S.

A lot of people visit this region as a day trip from San Francisco or only stop for a few hours on their way up or down the Pacific Coast Highway. But this area is worthy of its own trip.

So here’s my guide for visiting Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur!
Best Things To Do In Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur

Must-Do Activities

Monterey: 17-Mile Drive (my favorite photo stop was China Rock Vista Point), Monterey Bay Aquarium, River Road Wine Trail, walk the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail (pictured above left), which includes Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf.

Carmel: Carmel Beach and Ocean Avenue, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Carmel Mission, The Fairy-Tale Cottages.

Big Sur: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Waterfall Overlook Trail to McWay Falls (pictured above right), Bird Island Trail, Bixby Bridge, Pfeiffer Beach, Buzzard Roost Trail, Soberanes Canyon Loop Trail.

Best Things To Do In Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur

When To Go

Monterey is often called the “perpetually chilly city.” So if you want the warmest weather, June – October is your best bet, but temperatures will only get into the high 70s (around 22°C) in September and October. And prices and tourist numbers will be at their peak during these months.

November – March brings lower crowd numbers, prices, and temperatures can be in the 50s (around 12°C). In February, you can attend the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

April – May has a lower chance of rain, and the temperature will climb into the mid-60s (around 18°C). These months will have lower prices and tourist numbers than in the summer months. But not by a significant amount because of the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival in April and the California Roots Music and Arts Festival and the Castroville Artichoke Food & Wine Festival in May.

Best Things To Do In Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur

Where To Eat

Monterey: Whaling Station Steakhouse (American $$$$), Chart House (Seafood $$$$), Sandbar & Grill (American/Seafood $$-$$$), Bistro Moulin (French $$-$$$), The Poke Lab (Japanese/Seafood/Hawaiian $), Compagno’s Market & Deli (American $).

Carmel: Flying Fish Grill (Seafood/Asian $$$$), Anton & Michel (American/International $$$$), From Scratch Restaurant (American $$-$$$), Sea Harvest (Seafood $$-$$$), Island Taco (Southwestern $), Carmel Craft Brewing Company (Pub $).

Big Sur: Sierra Mar (American $$$$), Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn Restaurant (American $$-$$$), Nepenthe (American $$-$$$), Big Sur Roadhouse (American $$-$$$), Big Sur Taphouse (Pub $).

Staying at The Hotel Pacific: the best hotel in Monterey, CA

Where To Stay

Your accommodation is one of the most important parts of planning your trip. This is why I’ve got the best hotel in Monterey for you! Read about My Stay At Hotel Pacific to see why this chic, coastal hotel should be your “home base” in the Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur area.
Best Things To Do In Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur

If-You-Have-Time Activities

Monterey: Monterey Museum of Art, kayak or paddleboard in the bay, whale watch (if its whale-watching season), Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Monterey State Historic Park, Play a Round of Golf.

Carmel: Garland Ranch Regional Park, Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant, and Tor House and Hawk Tower.

Big Sur: Ragged Point, Limekiln State Park, Garrapata State Park, Point Sur State Historic Park, The Esalen Hot Springs.

This post is not a sponsored post, and, as always, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this article about the best things to do in Monterey, Carmel-By-The-Sea, and Big Sur are entirely my own. Some of these links are affiliate links, and, at no cost to you, I may earn a small commission.


  • Laura

    August 17, 2020

    Oh my gosh this is so thorough! Also you are literally living every Big Little Lies fan’s fantasy!

  • Lindsay

    September 3, 2020

    My Carmel dinner recs as a local are different! Treehouse Cafe is a must, best service, best food! Vesuvio in Carmel, oh man the eggplant parm! The French Bakery Lafayette is not to be missed in the Barnyard- Carmel.
    Crepes of Brittany in the Portola Plaza (Monterey) is a must, they are from France and bring that amazing taste right to your lips. It’s a magical dining experience.
    Riding bikes on the coastal bike trail is one of the best activities. Kayaking with the sea otters in Elkhorn Slough is one of the most magical things you will do with sea life.


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