This place has tremendous cultural diversity, and you'll find some sort of special event happening almost every week. If it's not one of our famous music festivals, you may come upon an art fair, a culinary event, holiday celebrations, or any number of other things. The chances are good that there's something on the local calendar to interest you.
We have two weekly publications which provide up to the minute information on local events. The first is the Monterey County Weekly, which can be found at nearly any streetcorner, gas station, grocery store, or hotel lobby. New issues are released on the population every Thursday. The other is a section in Thursday's edition of the Monterey Herald called GO!.
Sunset Center is located in Carmel on San Carlos between 8th and 10th and is the most prestigious performing arts facility on the Monterey Peninsula. Built originally as a school, Sunset Center includes a spectacular civic auditorium that features concerts, a variety of big name entertainers, and many community events. The old school auditorium was rebuilt and reopened in 2003 and is now a world-class concert hall with amazing acoustics. With just over 700 seats, it is big enough to make an impression, but intimate enough that the stage feels close to everyone. Sunset Center is the headquarters of the world famous Carmel Bach Festival and the Center for Photographic Art (see below).
Monterey Fairgrounds can be found on the eastern side of Monterey one block south of North Fremont Boulevard. It is now formally called the "Monterey County Fair & Event Center," which is a mouthful so anyone with any sense just calls it the fairgrounds. Throughout the year the site hosts a wide variety of events including music and art festivals, and even horse shows. The most famous events include the Monterey County Fair, Monterey Jazz Festival, and the California Roots Festival among many others. In 1967 it was the site of the legendary Monterey Pop Festival, and its appearance today remains much as it was during that historic event. We've been told that there's still a burn mark on the stage where Jimi Hendrix set his guitar on fire.
Golden State Theatre is located at 417 Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey. With around 1,000 seats, it is the largest and grandest auditorium ever built on the Monterey Peninsula. Originally constructed in 1926 as a vaudeville and movie house, the theater is the last surviving example of movie palace architecture on the Peninsula. The "atmospheric" auditorium was designed to look like the courtyard of a Spanish castle. Over the decades it suffered from neglect, but continued to operate as a first-run movie theater. In recent years it has been lovingly restored. Its current owners offer a diverse menu of road shows, music events, motion pictures, and lectures. The building also houses a weird and wonderful "experiential museum" called Selfieville.
We have music all over the place. There are bands of all types, symphony orchestras, choral groups, opera, and more.
In Carmel, the aforementioned Sunset Center brings in entertainers of all types, big names and small names, from all over the world. Now and then there'll be a concert at the Carmel Mission. That building's acoustics are especially well suited to choral music. And that organ.
Then there are the annual festivals. The Monterey Jazz Festival and Carmel Bach Festival are most famous and have stood the test of time. A relative newcomer, the California Roots Festival, was founded in 2010 and is heavily influenced by the spirit of the legendary 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Other festivals come to town from time to time, some lasting a few years before fading into oblivion.
The Monterey Jazz Festival also sponsors an annual Next Generation Jazz Festival, a high school jazz band competition, in April. The music is every bit as good as the big festival in September, but all the events are free! The winners of the competition will appear at the regular festival in September.
Not all local music offerings are big productions. Each week you'll find a number of exceptional musicians performing at a variety of venues. We would caution that few of these are real nightclubs. Most are cramped eating and drinking establishments with a musician crammed into a corner as an afterthought. One notable exception is Sly's Refueling Station (formerly Sly McFly's) which provides a proper stage and dance floor. Also worth mentioning is the Sunday Jazz Brunch at Carmel's Mission Ranch, which also has a nightly piano bar. The aforementioned Monterey County Weekly and GO can give you the specifics on all of the local offerings in their weekly event listings.
If you're here for New Years Eve, our First Night Monterey celebration is the place to be, with countless choices of entertainment scattered throughout downtown. Buy a badge for admission to as many individual shows as you can handle.
If live theater is your cup of tea, this is the place to be. We have a number of excellent theater companies on stages big and small. Here are the three most significant ones. This is not a complete list by any means.
Carmel's Forest Theater has been in business since 1910, making it the oldest outdoor live theater west of the Mississippi. Towering Monterey Pines frame the stage, the heavens form the ceiling. They put on some great live productions and they have outdoor movies, too! The fire pits will help keep you warm on foggy nights, but you will want to take a jacket. You also might want to take a cushion as the rustic wooden benches can be a bit hard on the backside. You'll find it on Mountain View Avenue, just east of downtown. For tickets call the Forest Theater Guild's office at 831-626-1681, or order on-line. An on-site box office is also available for spur-of-the-moment decisions.
Pacific Repertory Theatre. Headquartered at the Golden Bough Playhouse in Carmel on Monte Verde between 8th & 9th, Pac-Rep continues Carmel's long-standing theatre traditions. Their theater building includes a 290 seat main auditorium plus an intimate theatre in the round at the rear of the building facing Casanova Street. It's right smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The theater was there first, the houses came later. Get there early for good parking. During the summer months Pac-Rep also performs at the outdoor Forest Theater (see above).
Monterey Peninsula College. On the campus at Fremont and Aguajito in Monterey. Big productions that rival the big city shows. Very flashy, very well done.
Carmel is loaded with art galleries. There are several galleries in Monterey and Pacific Grove too. Most of them are commercial businesses, which is OK, because even artists need to make a living.
Finally, we should mention, you can acquire the works of a mildly famous local photographer without leaving the comfort of your chair. Visit Mr. Toy's Photography Gallery and Picture Shop and have a look around. If you feel inclined, you can have a piece of the Monterey Peninsula delivered to your door without ever setting foot in Monterey! Museum-quality prints, ready to hang, can be had with a few mouse clicks. If you're on a budget, just order an inexpensive greeting card and slip it into a standard 5x7 frame to decorate your favorite wall. A variety of affordable home decor and gift items are also available. Your purchase will help support this website while you get something to enjoy forever.