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Monterey California

Monterey California: One of California's Oldest Settlements

Monterey California is one of the oldest and most successful settlements in California, first discovered by Europeans in 1542. The city served as the Capital of Alta California (Upper California as opposed to Baja or Lower California) under both the Spanish and the Mexican governments until 1846, when the United States of America took over.

It was also the site of the first California Constitutional Convention in 1849. But in spite of its venerable past, Monterey is not the county seat of Monterey County California - surprisingly, that honor belongs to Salinas.

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Monterey California Today

Monterey Plaza Hotel from Balcony by Suzi RosenbergMonterey Plaza Hotel from Balcony by Suzi Rosenberg

I am writing this, laptop where it belongs - on my lap - from the balcony of our room at the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa, overlooking the plaza and Monterey Bay.

As you can see from the picture, it's a typical lovely Monterey California day, very peaceful except for the barking of the Harbor seals over at Fisherman's Wharf, but they're far enough away to just provide a little background ambiance!

The nearby sea otters on the other hand, are very quiet, just going about their little sea otter lives. They're not the least bit disturbed by the kayakers that occasionally drift by!

This is the Monterey of today. Mixing some of California's oldest memories, adobe-style architecture, and the influences of the sea, with a leisurely today-and-trendy lifestyle, Monterey California offers a unique experience!

But we won't see any of that unique experience if we don't get off the balcony and out of the room, so come on - let's explore the Cradle of History - the old and the new; human history and natural history - it's all part of the city of Monterey!

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Exploring Monterey California

A great place to start our exploration of Monterey, especially from an historical standpoint, is Fisherman's Wharf.

The wharf's long and venerable history includes having served as a dock for goods and passengers since it was built by the Pacific Coast Steamship Company in 1870.

The wharf has also been used for the commercial fishing industry, and was a bustling and prosperous wholesale fish market all the way into the 1960s.

Today, Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf is an eclectic collection of gift shops, seafood restaurants, Monterey whale watching tours, clam bars, jewelry stores, candy shops, fishing tours, and art galleries. It also serves as home harbor to the Monterey Bay Sailing Club.

Admittedly a tourist attraction, it's a part of the Monterey California experience we never tire of! There's always something going on - even in the early morning hours, it's wonderful to stroll the wharf before the tourists arrive on the scene and watch the restaurants, stores, cafes, and tour boats getting ready for their day!

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Next on our Monterey California Hot List of attractions is the absolutely gorgeous and historic Custom House Plaza, part of Monterey State Historic Park.

In addition to the Custom House - which is California's oldest public building - and its gardens, you'll find the Pacific House Museum, one of the United States' last remaining whalebone sidewalks, the Maritime and History Museum, and other historically significant buildings.

When you've finished exploring the Custom House Plaza and the surrounding environs (where there are also shops and a hotel), consider taking the self-guided Path of History Walking Tour. Just follow the map and the yellow-tiled markers to visit and explore Monterey's 55 Path of History sites, which include historic homes and gardens scattered throughout Monterey. Many times, even if the house isn't open for touring, the gardens are!

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Monterey California's Love Affair with John Steinbeck

Next on the Must See List is Cannery Row - Monterey's claim to fame via John Steinbeck's famous novel about the denizens who lived near Monterey's sardine fishery industry during the Great Depression.

In Steinbeck's day, Ocean View Avenue was lined with the "tin and iron and rust and splintered wood," and - no doubt - the smell of the canneries. Today, renamed Cannery Row in honor of the book and the man, the street is lined with the shops, restaurants, hotels, and amusements you'd expect of a major tourist attraction.

But it also gives more than a passing nod to its history. Many of the shops, restaurants, hotels, and amusements are housed in the old sardine factories, some of the buildings featured in Cannery Row have been preserved, as has the laboratory of Steinbeck's character, Doc (his friend-in-life, Ed Ricketts), and the vacant lot that "Mack and the boys" called home.

Meander along Cannery Row between Drake and David Avenues -
and between The Row and Recreation Trail, slipping in and around the buildings and alleyways to discover the murals, placards, and markers reminiscent of John Steinbeck and the characters that played such important parts in his life, and in American literary life.

When you reach the Northern end of Cannery Row, you'll discover that Monterey California icon, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. One of the reasons Monterey is such an amazing place to be is its relationship with the ocean - precisely what the aquarium celebrates!

Established on the site of the last cannery standing in Monterey - Hovden Cannery - the aquarium was built to honor the work of Marine Biologist, Edward Ricketts. And, although the Hovden Cannery was demolished in 1980, the aquarium was designed in the style of the old cannery.

Exhibits at the aquarium include the

  • Giant Kelp Forest tank (first of its kind), the
  • Secret Lives of Seahorses (my all-time favorite little critters - looking like a cross between a horse and a mermaid, they got it so right: Dad takes care of the kidlettes!), the
  • Splash Zone (where kidlettes and grown-ups alike can explore the ocean), the
  • Ever-popular Sea Otter tank, and oh-so-much-more.

It's a magical place where new exhibits and new wildlife are added all the time - you'll never have to worry about being bored, no matter how many times you visit!

We'll have more to share with you about Monterey California in the coming weeks; things like:

  • Monterey Attractions
    We've only seen the tip of the iceberg!
  • Monterey Beaches
    And it's lovely waterfront areas!
  • Monterey Parks and Preserves
    You'll find open spaces everywhere!
  • Not to forget Monterey County
    There's much more to Monterey County than the city of Monterey

Please continue your exploration of what Northern California has to offer by using the Nav Bars in the left and right columns or by using the links at the bottom of the page.

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