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Monterey (Photo:Ken Wolter/Shutterstock)
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Maria Smith
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Monterey

The Monterey Peninsula, about 120 miles south of San Francisco, is arguably one of the most naturally beautiful areas on earth, its rocky coast fringed by cypress forests and abundant marine sanctuaries. It also boasts rich literary roots in the writings of John Steinbeck and Robert Louis Stevenson. A day in the city and its surrounding communities provides many opportunities to explore this hilly, sea-kissed area in depth. And, for the more adventurous, it offers the chance to explore the beautiful and historic peninsula as a whole.

About Monterey


Pro

This Californian peninsula boasts cypress forests, marine sanctuaries and abundant natural beauty

Con

Crowds in peak season can make attractions like the aquarium nearly impossible to visit; go early

Bottom Line

A highlight of coastal cruises, Monterey is easily walkable with galleries, shops and stellar panoramas


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Monterey is a prime tourist destination, and by mid-morning on any given day, cruise ship passengers will be joined by hordes of tourists arriving by bus and car. However, cruise ship passengers are a distinct minority in Monterey -- the town has strict environmental safeguards, has a limited anchorage and small tendering pier, and is relatively passive in pursuing the industry. There is much local opposition to cruise ships calling in the harbor, and visiting ships must observe strict "no discharge" rules when in port. The size of the marine sanctuaries also limits the location and number of places ships may anchor.

Still, visitors will find a charming community, filled with history from the city's past as a whaling center and, later, as the sardine capital of the Western Hemisphere. Now, of course, that industry is gone, replaced by museums, seafarers, artists and writers. The area is perfect for walkers, and offers a wide range of art galleries and shops, and natural attractions as well as some special man-made ones, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Good restaurants offering freshly caught seafood welcome the diner who is willing to wander off the beaten track. The area boasts numerous up-and-coming wineries.

Where You're Docked

Cruise ship passengers are tendered ashore at the Coast Guard Pier, from which all of Monterey is an easy walk. Tendering begins before many of the shops and attractions have opened; this is a great opportunity to explore prime tourist destinations such as Cannery Row at a relaxed pace.

Port Facilities

There is very little to do on the pier itself, but in the immediate area are Fisherman's Wharf, Cannery Row, Presidio Park and downtown. If fishing is your thing, Fisherman's Wharf has all the sights and smells associated with the Monterey fishing industry.

Good to Know

Crowds. Monterey is very popular with tourists, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the epicenter. Either visit the Aquarium on your own as soon as it opens or avoid it entirely. Cannery Row can also be dense with foot traffic, although the crowds thin the further one moves from the Aquarium.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Currency is the U.S. dollar; ATMs are plentiful.

Language

English.

Food and Drink

The Cannery Row area offers a wide range of restaurants. For something authentic (real fresh seafood) and close, try Sea Harvest (598 Foam Street, 831-646-0547). The day's catch is iced and displayed for sale, and the menu is what's available. Seafood is simply prepared, and sides are uniformly excellent. Dine with locals on fish caught by their neighbors.

For something more elegant and away from the crowds, stroll downtown to Stokes Restaurant and Bar (500 Hartnell Street, 831-373-1110), which features upscale interpretations of California cuisine in an old house that successfully replicates a rustic Southwestern style. At lunch, fresh seafood is incorporated into sandwiches and salads, and the daily specials always include something from the wood-burning oven.

Shopping

Monterey is located near the important and expanding Monterey Wine Country (Note: There are no wineries or vineyards in the town; the term Monterey wine country refers to the peninsula). While several wineries have their own wine-tasting shops, A Taste of Monterey (700 Cannery Row, 831-646-5446, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.) sells wines from the entire region. Besides tasting (the staff is friendly and well-informed), visitors can purchase wines from over 40 featured area wineries and have them shipped (the Supreme Court recently declared illegal all rules preventing interstate shipping).

Local artists display and sell their works at Monterey Peninsula Art Foundation (425 Cannery Row, 831-655-1267, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily).