If you like the seafront, then Cannery Row is your kind of spot. The wharves and piers along the waterfront in Cannery Row bring guests close to the abundant sea life of Monterey Bay. In fact, many of Cannery Row’s hotel rooms and restaurants are positioned over the water. This is a very rare thing in California, and definitely worth the experience. It is one of the only places you can enjoy seeing sea lions, otters, pelicans and other creatures playing in the ocean directly below your hotel room. This one of the many reasons why there are so many things to do at Cannery Row in Monterey.
Perhaps this is why the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium chose Cannery Row as its home. Clean, clear ocean waters here harbor many sea creatures large and small. The aquarium includes them in its nature programs, along with mysterious and colorful creatures from all over the world. But fish and sea life have been a part of Cannery Row since way before attractions like this located here. What’s so cool is that Cannery Row has preserved this legacy while updating to meet our modern interests.
It’s quite a place with many stories to tell. Read on to learn about all the cool things to do at Cannery Row.
The History of Cannery Row
When we first thought about visiting Cannery Row in Monterey, we likened it to Seaport Village in San Diego or Pier 39 in San Francisco. We were very wrong. In addition to fresh new cool stuff, there is a lot of authentic history packed into Cannery Row. Back in the day, the wharves here were lined with warehouses, boats, fishermen and tons and tons of sardines. Immigrants moved here to settle and fish the seas, coming from China, Portugal, Italy and other far off seafaring destinations.
Huge canning facilities were built to accommodate the daily haul of fish. Seafood was off-loaded from boats directly on to docks and wharves for processing. Bridges and latter-day conveyor belts moved the fish from one side of the street to the other. From there, it was canned, labeled and shipped off to people hungry for seafood they were not near enough to catch themselves. It was a huge and successful operation.
When the industry changes, the canneries and wharves were vacated. New interests reimagined the history buildings into modern day Cannery Row. Canneries and facilities with historic locations and architecture have been reborn as hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions.
Things to Do at Cannery Row
Now the area is gentrified and reborn as a fun family destination, and there are so many things to do at Cannery Row in Monterey.
Granted, if you are looking for the occasional tourist-centric shop full of t-shirts and plushie toys, you’ll find them. However, those are vastly outweighed by the fun amusements, shops, galleries, restaurants and experiences. There is even a large-scale ride being constructed onsite right now, which will open very soon. (Opening March, 2023). Treasure Hunt: The Ride has a pirate theme, which is fitting for the local lore about the underground hideout of infamous Pirate Captain Hippolyte Bouchard.
All of this is punctuated by the gorgeous ocean waters of Monterey Bay, lapping on the rocks and piers of the wharves and buildings on its shore. Tourist or not, no visitor can ignore the gorgeous bay and coastline. This is the reason Cannery Row is so popular = its beauty.
Wide Variety of Activities and Interests
My family and I set off from San Diego for a weekend of exploration and things to do at Cannery Row in Monterey. Getting there is now even more convenient, and we were thrilled to learn there is a direct flight on Alaska Air from San Diego to Monterey. The flight was a little more than an hour, and we were landed and ready to start our adventure.
Here’s a breakdown of our itinerary for fun things to do at Cannery Row, in case you want to follow in our footsteps!
Fun Things to See and Do
Ocean Kayaking with Adventures by the Sea
This was a tough one, talking the girls into trying ocean kayaking. There were none too excited to put on waterproof jackets and pants, climb into 2-person ocean kayaks, and paddle around Monterey Bay. Once we got into the water, however, their attitudes changed like the wind. It wasn’t so bad after all, they had decided. In fact, it was pretty darn great!
Our guide led us across the harbor so we could see some amazing sights. Sea otters floated on their backs and played with each other lovingly. Sea lions barked their greetings as they perched on rocks and piers. All sorts of birds flew about and dove for invisible fish that they gobbled immediately upon surfacing. Two hours of paddling fun went by quickly, and helped us work up a great appetite for lunch. Of all the things to do at Cannery Row, this was truly one of the highlights.
- Adventures by the Sea/Cannery Row
- 299 Cannery Row 831-372-1807
- Guided kayak adventures start at $60 USD for 2 hours
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Giant octopus, deep sea creatures, cute sea otters, splashing penguins and a host of colorful fish welcome guests at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Massive in size, the aquarium possesses an enormous collection of sea life. On display to help educate us, the collection here is accompanied by thoughtful programming and activities for all ages. In all, there are more than 35,000 sea animals and 2.3 million gallons of seawater to house them. The whole facility is extremely impressive.
Observation decks overlook the Monterey Bay, where whale sightings are not uncommon at the right time of year. Honestly, we could stay here all day and never tire of watching these interesting creatures in their near-to-natural habitats. The aquarium is known the world over for its attention to detail, fierce protection of its sea life and strong education programs about the environment and how we can help it. A non-profit organization, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a leader in research and conservation.
Spa Daze for Days
Within the Monterey Plaza Hotel, we ambled over to the top-floor Vista Blue Spa and were taken by the rooftop hot tubs and dipping pool overlooking the Bay. Inside, the spa is surprisingly large despite its modest lobby area. Everything has an ocean-centric theme here, and the services and treatments run the gamut from classic massages to Detox Body Peels to Clarifying Facials. Several options looked appealing, but the De-Stress Massage stood out as sorely needed. It was the perfect antidote to a long work week and one of our favorite things to do at Cannery Row on this trip.
Shopping Along Cannery Row
There are a ton of unique and fun shops along Cannery Row, and we ducked into several to let the girls have a good long look. Galleries selling original watercolors, painting and sculptures caught our eyes, but the girls were drawn to the sparkles in several jewelry stores. Custom artisan-crafted jewelry is very popular here, and we ogled different necklaces, earrings and bangles. Ultimately, Ava and Sophia decided on simple earrings from a fun bohemian store called Enlightenment Zone. This could have gone on for hours but the smell of chocolate from famous Ghirardelli beckoned us. And who were we to resist?
Where to Eat in Cannery Row
Perched at the end of a pier on Cannery Row, Fish Hopper Restaurant served a delicious lunch, and those of us that like seafood were in seventh heaven. Overlooking Monterey Bay at a window-side table, we enjoyed our lunch immensely. Our tuna sashimi appetizer was a true standout, but so was my creamy lobster roll, all buttery-licious with fries and ranch dressing on the side. And Triton loved his Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna and Coconut Prawn Salad. Sophia (who doesn’t care for seafood) gobbled up her Poached Pear Salad with strawberries and candied pecans, which was colorfully plated with an orchid on top.
- The Fish Hopper – open daily from 10:30 for lunch and dinner
- 700 Cannery Row (831) 372-8543
- Lunch entrees start at $14.95 USD
The Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa has a fantastic restaurant onsite, built right over the surf. Our dinners were classic and well-created, with some menu favorites that pleased us all. Standouts were the ribeye steak (massive) and the locally caught Black Cod with chantarelle mushrooms, wilted spinach, shrimp stuffed squash blossoms, and pineapple ginger sauce. More than that, our service was spectacular – both the server and her assistant kept us happy, entertained and anticipated our every need. Really solid.
- Schooners at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa
- Dinner entrees start at $27/USD
The Sardine Factory
Perhaps this was the biggest surprise of our trip, because a restaurant with the name Sardine Factory could be misleading. From the outside, the landed sailboat and red clapboard sides of the restaurant might seem like a casual fish house. But inside is another story, and it was actually a sophisticated and highly popular restaurant with a celebrity chef and a long list of A-List stars, sports figures, politicians and regular schmoes like us.
The host led us down a dark hallway to our table, and when we turned the corner the room opened up into a giant glass gazebo filled with good looking people and great smelling food.
Our meal was a masterpiece of both taste and showmanship, and when we met the Executive Chef Bert Cutino we understood why. He’s an accomplished and much-awarded man both in the kitchen and out, and we absolutely loved our dinner here. From The Factory’s Famous Cheese Bread to my traditional Italian Clams and Linguini (Pasta Vongole) the dishes were superb. We loved the Castroville Artichoke Bisque and the Shrimp Scampi Rigatoni. My husband devoured his Diver Scallops with Wild Mushroom Polenta, and everyone rated their meals as truly delicious.
And then came dessert. Served dramatically on a raised silver platter, Chocolate-Dipped Ice Cream Bon Bons required the waiter to trigger a dry ice-induced spectacle. This covered our table in a dense, thick fog which spilled over and on to the floor. Other tables were as excited as we were to watch the action unfold. The ice cream was clearly secondary to the presentation, which was just fine with us.
- Sardine Factory
- 701 Wave Street, Monterey (831) 373-3775 – Dinner 5 – 9:30 weekdays, 5-10 weekends
- Dinner entrees from $29 USD
Over in the lobby of the Intercontinental The Clement Hotel facing the ocean, The C restaurant was a welcome respite after our kayak sojourn. Again we were really pleased with the fresh seafood choices, and perhaps might have over-ordered a bit. But those giant prawn cocktails and fried calamari were so darn good! Main courses we enjoyed most were the Monterey Bay Rock Cod Tacos, the Flat Iron Steak Sandwich (with bleu cheese and carmelized onions- yum) and of course, the cheeseburger with fries. Ava even said her hamburger was one of the best she’s had in a long time. Triton and I added to the decadence by ordering martinis at lunch, slurping them up like old pros from an episode of Mad Men.
- The C restaurant at the Intercontinental The Clement Hotel – open 6:30 am – 10 pm
- 750 Cannery Row, 831-375-4500
- Lunch entrees start at $17 USD
Places to Stay in Cannery Row
Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa
When we walked in the front door of the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, we all drew a deep breath. The front lobby is bounded by a row of windows, all looking out on the ocean with perfect views. In the middle of that wall, a roaring fire crackled in the fireplace with cozy chairs surrounding it. Immediately impressed, we had that feeling continue for the duration of our stay.
One of the hotel’s main features is a huge plaza between the buildings that overlooks the ocean (get it? Monterey Plaza Resort). With an arbor and columns, an enormous fountain and tons of vantage points, the plaza is a great gathering place for families, friends and lovers. At night, a large outdoor firepit warms guests who can sit in comfy chairs and sofas positioned around its sides.
With a little chill in the evening air, this was a great way to end the evening before heading upstairs to sink into slumber.Our rooms were spacious, beds were very comfortable, and everything was spotlessly clean. Follow the link for a more detailed review of the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa.
- Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa
- 400 Cannery Row (831) 920-6710
- Rooms start at $198/night USD
With intimate turn-of-the-century style, the Spindrift Inn is one of the oldest buildings on Cannery Row. Updated over the years since 1927, the boutique hotel has just been renovated with fresh design and furnishing. Yet it still offers a historic feeling as you enter the lobby. Positioned right on McAbee Beach, the hotel is built on piers over the water so rooms can look straight down at the sea. It offers 45 guest rooms with European charm and continental breakfast each morning.
I enjoyed my coffee and blueberry muffin while perched on my room’s window seat, overlooking Monterey Bay. On the rooftop, there is a deck with broad views of the ocean, Cannery Row and the hills of Monterey beyond. Kayakers paddled in the calm waters while sea otters played nearby in the kelp beds. I watched a flock of pelicans swoop and dive for fish as I sipped my coffee. Pretty darn peaceful.
- Spindrift Inn
- 652 Cannery Row
A Fantastic Weekend at Cannery Row
Our entire family returned home with hue smiles on our faces from a fun and active weekend in Monterey. After all, there was something for everybody and so many things to do at Cannery Row. Ocean kayaking adventures. Relaxing massages. Cute sea animals. Amazing meals. And room service!