10 Free Things To Do In Monterey, California
1. Point Lobos State Park
Three miles south of Carmel is a wonderful State Reserve you can enter without paying a vehicle fee. If you park along the shoulder of the highway you can walk into the reserve at no cost. Be careful of traffic and try to avoid crossing by parking on the reserve side of the highway. Make sure you bring sturdy shoes and layer for changing weather conditions. Half of the reserve is a protected underwater reserve, and provides some of the most spectacular diving in the world with vast kelp forests and brilliant colors and varieties of plants and sea creatures. Point Lobos State Reserve is perfect for hiking, picnicking, photography, and whale-watching at different times throughout the year. There are ample opportunities to view sea otters and sea lions in many areas of the reserve.
Note: There are no dogs allowed within the reserve.
2. Fisherman's Wharf
A fun way to spend an hour or two is discovering the sights and sounds of Old Fisherman's Wharf. There are a variety of sights and interesting history that you can explore for free on the wharf. You can browse at the many gift, gallery, and candy shops along the wharf, while enjoying free samples of clam chowder offered in front of several restaurants specializing in delicious seafood. You can also observe sea otters, sea lions, pelicans, and other bay life from various areas along the wharf.
3. Dennis The Menace Park
The most popular, free, and fun attraction for younger children in the area. The park has lots of slides, jump-bridge, a roller-slide, a climbing wall, and tonnes of fantastic and colorful playground equipment. You can also view a historical steam engine and learn about the park's history. There are also fun statues, climbing tunnels, and even a hedge maze! A snack bar, drinking fountains, and public restrooms are on site. The park is located near to El Estero Lake, and there are plenty of grassy areas where you can spread out a blanket and enjoy a picnic with the family. Park operating hours are 10am to sunset.
4. "The Path of History" Walking Tour
Follow the Self-Guided Tour through the "Path of History" that covers 55 historic sites that lay within a 2 mile area of Monterey. There are markers along the sidewalk that lead the way through historic adobe buildings and let the fascinating history of Monterey come to life as you make your way through some of the oldest and most interesting buildings in California, including Golden State Theatre, Pacific House, and Custom House Plaza, all rich with stories and facts about early California heritage. You can pick up your free Path of History Walking Tour Map to guide you on your travel back through time at the El Estero Visitor's Center or Colton Hall in downtown Monterey.
5. Downtown Farmer's Market
A wonderful way to experience downtown Monterey and local arts, crafts, produce, and food vendors on the peninsula is to visit the Farmer's Market, Tuesday's from 4pm to 8pm. You will find everything from Cuban fare to Curries, pastries, jams,olive oils, pecans, ties dyed clothing, fresh fruits, vegetables, and handmade jewelry. There are often a variety of free samples available from vendors as well. You can experience a rare walk down Alvarado Street in Old Downtown Monterey without any vehicle traffic, as the road is for pedestrians only during the market's hours of operation. There are several areas to park above Alvarado that offer 1 hour and 2 hour free limited parking.
6. The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History
The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History is a wonderful place to spend a few hours and admission if free! The museum has fascinating photo archives of the early history of the peninsula and its early inhabitants. You can learn about the development of the area and the various plant and animal species that still thrive on the Monterey Peninsula, and those that were driven to extinction. The hours of the museum are 10am to 5 pm, Tuesday through Sunday. Closed on Mondays and holidays. You may donate for admission in support of the museum if you choose to do so at the main entrance.
7. Touring Cannery Row
A great way to spend a few hours in historic Monterey is to walk along Cannery Row. You can sample free chocolate from the Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop, explore galleries, and browse every kind of shop imaginable along Cannery Row. There are several beach access points along the way, historic architecture, and sometimes free musical entertainment and festivals. If you are looking for a leisurely lunch or dinner, there are a variety of seafood restaurants along Cannery Row. There is also an IMAX theater if you are in the mood for a fun hour or two, or warm up inside for a film on a foggy day.
8. Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary
With free parking and free entrance the butterfly grove is a fun way to spend a little time on the Monterey Peninsula. During the months of October through February, one generation of Monarchs cluster on the Eucalyptus trees for the winter months. This micro-climate provides the perfect temperature for the Monarchs to winter. The exhibit is small, and will not take much time, but is very beautiful during the season in which monarch arrive. There are volunteers that will share information and allow you to view at the clusters of monarchs with a scope. Donations are always appreciated!
9. Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail
This 18 mile coastal trail will offer some of the most breathtaking scenery you will see during your time on the Monterey Peninsula. It stretches along the coast and provides spectacular views of the bay, sea creatures, rock formations, stunning plant life, and gorgeous views for those who decide to take a stroll, a bike ride, or go jogging. Sunsets along the bike path are particularly stunning and make a romantic end to any evening in Monterey.
10. Watching Hang Gliders at Marina State Beach
If you have ever wanted to see hang gliding up close, or observe it in close proximity before you give it a try, then head to Marina State Beach. During the afternoon and early evening, you can see hang gliders launch swiftly off the dunes and gracefully ride the winds just above where the sea breaks onto the shore. Grab a few beach chairs, a bottle of wine, and spend the late afternoon watching rare birds, animals, and gliding humans on a serene seascape for the perfect end to a gorgeous day on the Monterey peninsula.
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