Travel Guide: Monterey and Big Sur


by Aaron Feigenbaum.

Approximately halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco lies the charming coastal city of Monterey boasting a cool climate, a world-renowned aquarium, friendly people, and a relaxing atmosphere. On the way to this lovely destination, take in the breathtaking views of Big Sur, one of America’s most beautiful coastal drives.
The Monterey region was first settled by the Ohlone tribe and the town itself dates back to 1770 when it was founded by Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola who became the first governor of California (among other areas). Monterey became the heart of Spain’s empire in Western North America and at one time served as the sole port for all taxable imports. During the Mexican-American War in 1846, U.S. troops, having already expelled Spanish soldiers from most of California, captured Monterey unopposed and it officially became part of California on July 7th of that year. Today Monterey is known as one of California’s most picturesque cities as well as serving as the inspiration for many John Steinbeck novels including “Cannery Row” and “Tortilla Flat.”
What to See and Do in Monterey:
Monterey Bay Aquarium: As Monterey’s primary attraction, this former sardine cannery now houses over 35,000 sea creatures representing over 600 different species including great white sharks, stingrays, fluorescent jellyfish, and the rare ocean sunfish. If that’s not enough, there’s an impressive kelp forest that’s the first of its kind for an aquarium as well as fun opportunities for sea lion petting. At $39.95 per adult and $24.95 per child, it’s not exactly cheap fare; however, it is well worth the price to experience one of the world’s most diverse and enjoyable aquariums.
Fisherman’s Wharf: Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf may not have an amusement park like Santa Monica Pier does, but where it excels in is the charm found in its beautifully colored buildings, the intimate feel of the surroundings, as well as in the plethora of activities to be found. While there are the typical touristy shops selling all sorts of trinkets, there are also opportunities for fishing, sailing, whale watching, and scuba diving.
Museum of Monterey: At the reasonable cost of $8 per adult and no charge for children, this museum offers interesting displays about Monterey’s history including models of Cannery Row, the lens formerly housed at the Point Sur Light Station, as well as some nice pieces of art.
Monterey State Historic Park: Set on the cliffs with a commanding ocean view, the State Historic Park is one of Monterey’s best attractions and features a host of historic buildings including Colton Hall where California’s constitution was drafted in 1849, the Old Whaling Station with actual whale bones, the Stevenson House (once home to Robert Louis Stevenson), and the Pacific House which was once used as a U.S. Army as a storage facility and is now home to the Monterey Museum of the American Indian.
Nature: Nature-lovers can experience any and all of the city’s five beaches or travel along the gorgeous Monterey Bay Coastal Trail. You’ll also want to check out nearby Pacific Grove Marine Gardens where you can view tidepools, seals, kelp beds, and a beautifully flowered trail.
Travelling through Big Sur:
A trip to Monterey simply wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the spectacular views and sites along the Big Sur, a 90 mile stretch of coastline running along the Pacific Coast Highway from the San Carpoforo Creek in San Luis Obispo County to Carmel (just south of Monterey). One of Big Sur’s main attractions is the Bixby Creek Bridge. One of the most photographed bridges in the world, Bixby simply demands that you stop and admire the jawdropping view of the ocean, as well as the surrounding cliffs and hills. Another must-see is Point Sur Lighthouse, a quaint brick building dating back to the late 1800‘s. (Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children.) Be sure not to miss McWay Falls near Big Sur Village. It’s an 80-foot waterfall set, incredibly, right on a beach. If you have extra time, head inland to the Ventana Wilderness and hike through majestic forests, hills, and rivers. Stopping by Carmel, a scenic little city just 5 miles south of Monterey with a rich literary and artistic past, isn’t a bad idea either.
Eat and Daven:
Unfortunately, there are no kosher restaurants in Monterey, but there is a Whole Foods which carries some kosher products. Additionally, you can arrange catering with Chabad of Monterey by calling 831-643-2770 or visiting their site at Chabad of Monterey is also the only frum shul in the area and can be found in the beautiful town of Pacific Grove only a few minutes away from the aquarium.
Getting There:
While Monterey does have its own airport, if you have a bit of extra time it’s highly recommended to either drive up the Pacific Coast Highway or take Amtrak’s Coast Starlight to enjoy the incredible views offered by the Big Sur. At its cheapest, Amtrak tickets will cost about $130 per round trip ticket.
-In 1967 Monterey played host to the Monterey Pop Festival which featured some of the biggest names in rock including Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, and The Who.
-In the only land and sea battle fought on the West Coast, Argentinean-French naval commander Hipolito Bouchard attacked Spanish positions in Monterey in 1818. He and his crew managed to hold the town for six days during which they burned the Spanish fort and governor’s residence.
(Sources: Wikitravel, City of Monterey)