The Monterey Peninsula Toy Box

Art & Entertainment
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Monterey Peninsula

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Carmel Sunset Center Catwalk

"Hot damn, we don't have this back in Lubbock!"*

This place has tremendous cultural diversity, with some sort of special event almost every week. If it's not one of our famous music festivals, you may come upon an art fair, 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. The other is a tabloid insert in the Monterey Herald called GO!. Both publications come out every Thursday.

First, the Entertainment:

The Big Exciting Places:

  • Sunset Center is located in Carmel on San Carlos between 8th and 10th and is the most prominent 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 auditorium was rebuilt and reopened in August 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). 


Click the photo for a wide view of the Sunset Center auditorium.


  • 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 Bay Reggaefest, 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.

  • 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, mucic events, films, and lectures. The theatre is also home to a "Mighty Wurlitzer" pipe organ which offers a musical experience unavailable anywhere else in the area.

MusicWe 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. Mr. Toy especially enjoys the Christmastime choral programs there, for which the building's acoustics are especially well suited.

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.

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. 

There are also plenty of smaller events throughout the year, too numerous to mention here.

The Monterey Jazz Festival also sponsors an annual Next Generation Jazz Festival, a high school jazz 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. 

Throughout the year a number of exceptional jazz musicians perform 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. The aforementioned Monterey County Weekly and GO can give you the specifics in the clubs listings.



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TheatreIf live theatre is your cup of tea, this is the place to be. We have a number of excellent theater companies on stages big and small. Mr. Toy has attended and enjoys the following spots. 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. A popular tradition is to arrive early with your dinner in hand to eat while waiting for the show to begin. You'll find it on Mountain View Avenue, just east of downtown. For tickets call the Forest Theatre 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.

  • 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.
  • 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. The theater building includes a 300 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 theatre was there first, the houses came later. Get there early for good parking. Now and then Pac Rep also performs at the outdoor Forest Theater (see above).
  • The Bruce Ariss Wharf Theatre. Located on Fisherman's Wharf. Small town community theatre at its best.


Now the Art:

ArtCarmel 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.

Although Carmel got its start as an artist's colony, be aware that galleries featuring local artists are becoming harder and harder to find. Regrettably, the days are long gone when an artist's income was sufficient to prosper in the Carmel lifestyle. The sad fact is that extreme real estate prices have driven most of the artists away.

Many larger galleries, especially in Carmel, are part of chains. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since these chains usually have a limited number of outlets in places like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Carmel. They bring the sophistication of the big city without the smog outside the door.

There are some important differences in the sales tactics of galleries, though. Some of them know that most of the people who visit are merely browsing to enjoy some beautiful works. Salespeople at such galleries are willing to let you view them in peace. They are available to answer your questions, and hopefully make a sale. Other galleries are staffed by career salespeople who act like used car salesmen. It won't take you long to figure out which are which.

If you find something you'd like to buy, be cautious. Some pictures at first glance look like original paintings, but are actually mass produced prints with paint dabbed on the surface. One local artist (who shall remain nameless here) has made an art of selling massive quantities of his reproductions, not just locally, but across the country as well.

In recent years a printing process called "giclee" (pronounced gee-clay) has become popular. Giclee prints can reproduce the original colors of a painting with exceptional accuracy. However, they are basically glorified ink-jet prints which cost very little to produce, but in galleries they will sell for thousands of dollars. Based on accelerated aging tests, galleries claim they will last for about 80 years without fading, but the process hasn't been around long enough to prove that in real-world conditions.

What we're trying to tell you is before you plunk your credit card on the salesperson's desk, be sure you know exactly what you are getting.


A quirky and unexpected area to find local artists is in the tiny industrial town of Sand City near Seaside. Among the auto body shops, warehouses and cement plant you'll find a few interesting studios and workshops.

Here are two galleries featuring local artists exclusively:

  • The Carmel Art Association is located in Carmel on Dolores between 5th and 6th. Its one of Carmel's oldest institutions, run by local artists for local artists.
  • Venture Gallery in Monterey is also run by local artists. It's on the lower Alvarado Street mall, next to the Portola Plaza Hotel. You can enter it from the mall or the hotel lobby.

There are a few non-profit galleries and art museums:

  • The Center for Photographic Art is located at Sunset Center in Carmel, San Carlos and 9th. The center honors Carmel's great photographers of the past and promotes new generations of artists.
  • The Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art has two locations in Monterey to serve you: The original place is on Pacific Street between Jefferson and Polk, right across the street from Colton Hall. The second place, called La Mirada, is located just off of Fremont Street on Via Mirada. It's just west of Monterey Peninsula College.

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 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! Professionally framed 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. Gift items such as throw pillows and tote bags are also available. Your purchase will help support this website, and save you the travel expense.

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*NB: The quote at the beginning of this page was inspired by a friend of ours who, many years ago, upon first visiting the central California coast, made that very comment every time he saw something new, even though he was not from Lubbock. No offense is intended towards the fine town of Lubbock. In the event Lubbock residents manage to take offense anyway, please note that Mr. Toy does not subscribe to any form of political correctness and thus will make no accommodation for them. He expects that true Texans, if they are as thick skinned as they claim to be, would agree that it is not worth wasting time over.