If you’ve stayed at HI Monterey Hostel before, you might have had the pleasure of meeting Markus McMahon, friendly guest services associate and walking Wikipedia page for all things related to this corner of the California coast. Whether you’re wondering where to grab a bite to eat or why the local bay attracts whales all year round, Markus is likely to have the answer plus an extra side of knowledge to enrich your experience so you’re not just visiting Monterey, but getting to know the town like a real traveler. If you’re planning your first ever trip to this beachside haven and historical hub, read on for a breakdown of Markus’s essential Monterey favorites.
Where (and What) to Eat in Monterey
Those whose travels are dictated mainly by their stomachs know that no trip is complete without trying the local delicacy, and in Monterey, that’s abalone. Markus says you can find the oyster-like shellfish at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf 2, which is one of the only places in the area you can try abalone. For less adventurous palates, “the deep fried artichoke hearts at Moss Landing Café are a must try and local staple,” says Markus. Here are a few more options for lunch:
- La Bahia, which has dollar tacos on Wednesdays
- Tillie Gorts, a vegetarian-friendly eatery that’s been standing since 1969
- Compagnos (“They make a sandwich that could feed a family of four.”)
- Nob Hill Deli for picnic sandwiches and supplies to prepare back at the hostel
The Best Beach and Lookout Point in Monterey
If you’re looking to actually swim in the Pacific and do some great body surfing, Markus recommends Carmel Beach. If you’d rather admire the ocean from afar then Point Lobos, which is an old whaler’s cove with amazing views and whale bones, is your best bet.
The Best Day Trip from Monterey
What better way to explore California than going for a drive along its most iconic highway?
- South: “Hopping between the Big Sur parks is the best.”
- North: “Elk Horn Slough is a great kayaking location and you can stop at Moss Landing Café while you’re there.”
- Wine tasting: “Do the Carmel Valley wine bus tour.”
The Best Trails for Hiking/Biking
The Monterey area is rich with scenic hikes and historical trails, but here are the ones that come highly recommended:
- Markus’ personal favorite hike leads to the Fort Ord National Monument
- Pfeiffer Big Sur has some of the best hiking trails in the Big Sur area
- The Monterey Bike Trail, which is 18 miles of paved coastal trails
The Best Places to Hear Live Music
Monterey will forever be lauded as a hub for live music owing to the legacy of the Monterey Pop Festival, which took place here in 1967. Catch local bands and well-known national acts around town at some of Markus’s favorite venues:
- Golden State Theater, which plays host to big-name acts
- Cannery Row Brewing Co.
- American Burger. “They have different acts during the week and a ukulele show every weekend where you’re allowed to bring your own and join in.”
- East Village Coffee Lounge, which has open mic night on Wednesdays
The Best of Monterey
A few final favorites from Markus:
- The Monterey Bay Aquarium
- The new Salvador Dali Museum
- Carmel Mission, which is the only burial site of a saint in the United States
- The Monarch Butterfly Grove (peak season for butterflies is from October to January)
For more local tips on Monterey, visit the hostel and ask for the man himself, Markus!