The Monterey Peninsula Toy Box

Tourist Attractions
vs.

Real Life

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"The traveler
sees what he sees,
the tourist sees
what he came to see."
-G.K. Chesterton
To come away from the Monterey Peninsula with an real understanding of what makes it so special, one must get away from the Tourist Attractions and experience what the local folks enjoy in their daily lives. Tourist Attractions have little in common with the Real Life of the community. Locals generally stay away from them because they tend to offer mere superficial representations of local culture, if they represent it at all. Moreover, many Tourist Attractions are simply places that try to sell you things you wouldn't consider buying if you were home. (See the note at the bottom about souvenir shops). Should you avoid Tourist Attractions? No, but Mr. Toy advises that you take them in relatively small doses.

Here's a simple guide to which areas of the Monterey Peninsula are Real Life and which are Tourist Attractions. Some areas are an odd mixture of both:



Tourist Attractions:

  • Fisherman's Wharf - Map
    Here you'll find a heavy concentration of mediocre overpriced restaurants and tacky souvenir shops. You'll also find tour boats for whale watching and other things. You can also just take in the great views and save your money. 
  • Cannery Row - Map
    Except the aquarium (see below). Once this was a busy and smelly sardine packing area. Since the '60s the canneries have either burned down or been converted to souvenir shops. In recent years a few of the shops have become a bit more upscale, but the area still has a carnival atmosphere which bears little resemblance to local Real Life.
  • Monterey State Historic Park, Map & Colton Hall (upstairs) Map
    These are Tourist Attractions that try to show what Real Life used to be. The State Historic Park includes a wide variety of historic buildings and homes converted into museums using authentic period furnishings to replicate the past. Colton Hall's second floor is set up to appear exactly as it did the day the California State Constitution was ratified there in 1850. These sites are certainly interesting, and even educational, but we list them as tourist attractions instead of real life because they feel rather sterile and lifeless. Fortunately, many other historic buildings in the city are still used for real life purposes, providing a genuine connection between real life of the past and real life of today.
  • Ocean Avenue - Map
    Carmel's main street is the focal point for tourist activity there. It wasn't long ago that Ocean Avenue had an interesting mix of resident and visitor-serving businesses, but no more. It has now been taken over almost entirely by upscale art galleries, cutesy gift shops, high-end clothing stores, and trendy restaurants. Nice ones, to be sure, nice enough to bring in the locals now and then, but not the sort of establishments that have any practical value for everyday life. There are a handful of exceptions. One is the Carmel Drug Store, one of the oldest businesses in Carmel, which still has a functioning pharmacy. Another is the public library on the corner of Lincoln (see below). A notable element of Ocean Avenue is the architecture, much of which was created by the town's artistic pioneers.
Colton Hall in Monterey at night
Fisherman's Wharf Monterey
Fishing Boats in Monterey Harbor

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Real Life:

  • Municipal Wharf - Map
    Also known as "Wharf II." See Real Life commercial fishing activity here. Enjoy some terrific harbor views as you walk around the fish processing plant at the far end. Look for the boats with the big light bulbs on their masts. They're used to attract the calamari (squid) you'll get at dinner.
  • Coast Guard Pier - Map
    The rescuers' headquarters. You'll find it at the south end of Cannery Row, projecting into the harbor off of Foam Street. There are great views and you can see lots of sea lions at the end on the breakwater, if it isn't closed for security reasons. A public boat ramp is available here.
  • Downtown Monterey - Map
    A small, but very real downtown, known as "Old Monterey" to the marketing folks. It includes the usual resident-serving businesses (drug stores, banks, offices, etc.) along with some of the oldest and most significant historic sites in California. Alvarado Street is the center of things, and the much of the rest is within two or three blocks. A great selection of trendy and traditional restaurants can be found here along with the Osio Cinemas, and the grand old Golden State Theatre, to fill your evenings with fun. On Tuesday evenings they close Alvarado Street to vehicles for a public marketplace of produce, food, art, and gifts. 
  • Lighthouse Avenue - Map
    This is the main drag and primary business district in the area known as New Monterey. It runs three blocks inland from the shoreline parallel to Cannery Row. Here you'll find a variety of hole-in-the-wall restaurants, thrift shops, used book and record stores, and more. Its a great place for treasure hunting. Don't confuse it with the other Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove.
  • Colton Hall, (downstairs) - Map
    The lower level of this famous old building is still used for city offices, creating a real life connection between the government of the past, and the government of today. After you've seen the museum upstairs, go down into the Planning Department and see the panoramic aerial photo of Monterey. 
  • U.S. Naval Postgraduate School - Map
    Located east of downtown Monterey on Del Monte and Sloat. The centerpiece is the old Hotel Del Monte, now known as Hermann Hall. It is a large white building with a red tiled roof that can be seen for miles around. Two wings of the building date back to 1888, while the center section was rebuilt after a fire in the mid 1920s. The Del Monte is where the rich and famous came to play before WWII. Since then it has been owned by the US military. The Monterey Bay Symphony holds a "Concert on the lawn" on Memorial Day that is open to the public. Otherwise access is usually restricted, but you can see the grounds from Del Monte or Sloat Avenues.
  • Presidio of Monterey - Map
    Home of the Defense Language Institute. Located between downtown Monterey and Cannery Row. Great views of the bay. Unfortunately, thanks to the nutcases running loose in this world, most of the Presidio is now off limits to the public. There is a visitor's center and museum off of Private Bolio Road, which can be accessed from the southbound lanes of Lighthouse Avenue.
  • Del Monte Center - Map
    Located on Munras Avenue near Highway 1. It's your basic mall with the same stores you see everywhere else. But this one is much prettier than average. Their gardeners have made some wonderful displays.
  • Downtown Pacific Grove -Map
    Residents call it "The Last Hometown." It has a grocery store, a drug store, a hardware store, a shoe store, barber shops and several surprises. Downtown P.G. is much like downtown Carmel was in the '60s, but without the hippies. The antique mall in the old Holmans Department Store building is a great place for browsing. So are the various thrift shops. The intersection of Forest and Lighthouse Avenues marks the hub of the business district. 
  • Harrison Memorial Library -Map
    It's in downtown Carmel on the corner of Ocean and Lincoln. Cozy and inviting. It even has a fireplace to read by. Also, the Park Branch at Mission and 6th has local historical resources.
  • Seaside -Map
    Once scorned by residents of other Peninsula cities, Seaside is now the up and coming place. During the heyday of Fort Ord, Seaside was a seedy town, with a reputation for drugs, prostitution, and gangs. When the military base at Fort Ord closed, the illicit activity lost its customer base and the problems went away. It quickly became desirable. Housing there now is almost as unaffordable as every other Peninsula city. Unlike the rest of the Peninsula, which is largely populated by caucasians, Seaside has no ethnic majority. Seaside provides many essential businesses and industries necessary to the preservation of life on the rest of the Monterey Peninsula. The city is not particularly attractive, but it enjoys a great community spirit. The front lawn of City Hall often hosts a variety of free outdoor music and cultural events. It is also the only city on The Peninsula with a formal program to honor Martin Luther King day.
  • Sand City -Map
    An enclave between Seaside and the bay, Sand City is mostly industrial, the centerpiece being a large cement plant. However, the most visible feature to most people is the large shopping center (two actually, but they sort of blend together visually) at the north end of town. In the older neighborhoods, scattered among the auto body shops and warehouses, a handful of artists have taken refuge from the high rents of the other peninsula towns and opened studios. On the west side of the freeway, you can enjoy panoramic views of the bay from the Recreation Trail. You'll find the path at the end of Playa Avenue behind Orchard Supply, or gain beach access at the end of Tioga Avenue. You get into Sand City off of Del Monte Avenue in Seaside. Take any street north of Broadway that turns west. Once you cross the railroad tracks, you are in Sand City.

Curious Blends of Tourist Attractions and Real Life:

  • Monterey Bay Aquarium -Map
    The exhibits qualify as tourist attractions, but they are of such high quality that even local people are proud to claim this attraction as their own. The real life occurs behind the scenes in the form of scientific research. Although the admission is expensive, it's worth it. You'll come away thoroughly entertained and enlightened. The food is pretty good, too. Allow 3-4 hours to see it all. It's that big.
  • Pebble Beach -Map
    Real Life natural wonders in Tourist Attractions clothing. The famous 17 Mile Drive also includes a look at how the rich and famous people live. After you're done, take a drive through Seaside and see the opposite end of The Peninsula's economic spectrum.
  • Downtown Carmel, (off of Ocean Avenue) -Map
    Sprinkled among the visitor lodgings, art galleries, restaurants and women's clothing stores you can still find a substantial number of resident-serving businesses. Among them are banks (with their all-important ATMs), a liquor store, a drug store, a couple of mom & pop grocery stores, gas stations, a hardware store, a full service camera store with photo lab, a toy store, churches, offices, and other useful establishments. The degree of Real Life increases as you get farther from Ocean Avenue. The post office at Dolores and 5th is the social gathering spot.
  • Carmel Beach. -Map
    See The Best Beaches.
  • The Barnyard -Map
    A sampling of barns with all sorts of shops and restaurants inside. Most are locally owned.
  • Mission Ranch -Map
    This property was a 19th century dairy ranch which is now a 21st century resort. Most of the original buildings still stand, thanks to Clint Eastwood. In 1986 he bought the property from developers who were planning to destroy it all and build condos. What a guy! Mission Ranch has great views of a sheep pasture, wetlands, Point Lobos and the ocean. Mr. Toy would spend the night there if he didn't live here. He eats there when he can. The rustic restaurant features a piano bar and you can partake of their Sunday Jazz Brunch after church. You'll find it behind the Carmel Mission where Lasuen Drive meets Dolores.
  • Carmel Mission -Map
    Where Carmel began. Relax. Look around. Stay for Mass. Rio Road at Lasuen Drive.
  • Point Lobos State Reserve -Map
    The most spectacular state park in the universe. Just a few miles south of Carmel on Highway 1. It's 97.4% Real Life!
A word about souvenir shops:
Many souvenir shops sell things that have little or no connection to the Monterey Peninsula. You'll find little trinkets and shirts that say "Carmel" or "Monterey" on them that are just like the ones you can buy in New York that say "Honolulu." And they're probably made in China. By all means, take home some souvenirs. But buy something real and useful from the local crafters, or maybe a book about our fascinating local history. If you can afford it, buy an original work of art. Whatever you get, Mr. Toy hopes it will be something meaningful that will show your good taste.

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