Monterey Weekend Travel Guide

Explore this coastal California town like a local

If you're in need of a seaside getaway but don't want to dig up your passport, consider venturing to the Pacific coast of Central California. Over the course of a three-day weekend, you can visit Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel Highlands and Big Sur, which all pack in idyllic cafés, fascinating museums and some of the best seafood outposts in the state.

Here are the not-to-miss sights.

Day One

Begin your trip in Monterey with a late-morning stroll along Old Fisherman's Wharf, which offers expansive, panoramic views of the harbor and Monterey Bay. Then, swing by Paluca Trattoria, a go-to spot for locals, for Sicilian spreads of the daily catch, seafood pasta and decadent, cream-stuffed cannoli. Go during brunch and sit on the patio, where you might see sea lions, otters and, if you're really lucky, blue whales, orcas or humpbacks.

 Continue with a visit to Dali17 at the Museum of Monterey, the West Coast's first permanent Salvador Dalí exhibition, featuring more than 570 original works created by the Spanish surrealist master.

Drive to Pacific Grove and explore Lovers Point Park, where you can partake in activities like rock climbing, swimming, surfing, kayaking, picnicking and more, all while soaking in spectacular vistas of Monterey Bay's rocky coastline. Book one of the 11 tables at the intimate La Mia Cucina, and dig into lobster-stuffed ravioli, or opt for dinner at Passionfish, a house-turned-restaurant serving sea scallops slathered in tomato-truffle butter.

Day Two

Get going at Old Monterey Cafe, a local breakfast haunt known for its Belgian waffles and crab Benedict. Spend the rest of the afternoon at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where you can ogle penguins, jellyfish, sharks, sea otters, stingrays and more than 35,000 other marine creatures.

Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck's eponymous novel, is another must-see attraction. The historic waterfront street is full of picturesque charm and offers fantastic options for shopping and dining (stop by Lalla Oceanside Grill for the lobster nachos). Steinbeck fans can also pay a visit to the National Steinbeck Center, located in the author's nearby hometown of Salinas.

Cap the day at Hyatt Carmel Highlands' brand-new rooftop deck, where you can sip cocktails and absorb one of California's breathtaking coastal sunsets.

Day Three

Stroll along Del Monte Beach, a tucked-away stretch of sand where locals get in their morning jogs. For lunch, stop by Monterey's Fish House for oysters on the half shell, clam chowder and oak-grilled octopus.

Next, cruise along scenic Highway 1 and across the Bixby Creek Bridge, which offers panoramic views from 260 feet up. From there, it's 10 minutes to Garrapata State Park, a local treasure that's home to some of the best hiking trails, redwood groves and ocean fishing in the region. The park also provides spectacular coastline seascapes of Big Sur and the Santa Lucia Mountains.

As you head back to Monterey, end your trip with an obligatory photo by the new Welcome to Monterey sign, which will cement your three-day weekend on California's Pacific coast.

Michaela Trimble is a nomadic travel writer and photographer previously based in New York. Follow her on the road on Instagram @michaelatrimble.