Pacific Coast Highway Travel picks the best museums in Monterey including art and history museums, museums for families and the fantastic Monterey Bay Aquarium.
On the hunt for the best museums in Monterey? Lucky you! Whether you're crazy for art, a history aficionado, or a science nerd, Monterey has got something for you.
Buckle up, grab a cup of coffee, and let us take you on a virtual tour of the top museums you just can't afford to miss.
The Monterey Museum of Art is known for its exquisite collection of early California and contemporary art. This museum impresses with its unique blend of art exhibits and engaging educational programs.
The Monterey Museum of Art not only encapsulates the essence of California’s artistic past but also fosters the county's vibrant contemporary art scene.
The museum hosts an extensive exhibit of photographs by William Giles, offering visitors a unique perspective on visual storytelling. Among other major displays, the museum showcases a selection of Japanese netsuke (miniature sculptures) and 19th and 20th-century Chinese snuff bottles.
This is definitely one of the best museums in Monterey.
• Location: 559 Pacific St, Monterey, CA 93940
• Telephone: 831-372-5477
• Website: montereyart.org
The Pacific Biological Laboratories pays homage to Monterey Bay's rich marine history. This laboratory-cum-museum was the workplace of Ed Ricketts, the marine biologist known for his pioneering work in marine ecology.
As you wander through, you'll find equipment and preserved marine specimens that pave the way to understanding the complex marine ecosystem.
The laboratory historically sold preserved marine specimens to schools, museums, and research institutions. Some of these specimens may still be seen, showcasing the diverse marine life studied by Ricketts.
• Location: 800 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940
• Telephone: 831-648-5716
• Website: monterey.org
The Presidio of Monterey Museum offers a whistle-stop tour through 200 years of Monterey's military history.
Exhibits take you from the area's time as a Spanish colonial frontier, through Mexican era forts to today's Defense Language Institute. This place is a history buff’s dream come true.
You can see a collection of military artifacts, including uniforms, equipment, and memorabilia. These items provide insight into the daily lives of military personnel stationed at the Presidio.
• Location: 113 Corporal Ewing Rd, Monterey, CA 93944
• Telephone: 831-646-3456
• Website: monterey.org
The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History presents a tribute to the incredibly diverse flora and fauna of Monterey County and the wider Central California region.
Explore exhibits about Monterey Bay habitats, native plants, and local wildlife. It’s a great place for children and anyone interested in nature or science.
Though located in the neighboring town of Pacific Grove, it's only a 25-minute walk or 3-minute drive from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
• Location: 165 Forest Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950
• Telephone: 831-648-5716
• Website: pgmuseum.org
The National Steinbeck Center is a must-visit for literature lovers, a tribute to the life and works of the Nobel laureate, John Steinbeck.
The museum beautifully captures the essence of Steinbeck’s stories and his connection with the Salinas Valley. Engage with interactive exhibits that bring Steinbeck's novels to life. These exhibits often provide a hands-on experience, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the world of Steinbeck's literary creations.
One highlight for anyone is a recreation of John Steinbeck's writing studio, gaining insight into the environment where he wrote some of his most famous works. This offers a unique glimpse into the author's creative process.
This isn't in Monterey, of course, but we recommend it as Steinbeck fans (like us) visiting Monterey won't mind the 25-minute drive.
• Location: 1 Main St, Salinas, CA 93901
• Telephone: 831-775-4721
• Website: steinbeck.org
The Cannery Row Antique Mall is the largest antique mall in Northern California, housed in a historic sardine cannery building. Browse through artifacts from different eras, it’s like stepping back in time.
Wander through over 50 unique spaces and additional showcase displays, each featuring a variety of collectibles and memorabilia from different eras.
You will also discover a curated selection of antique furniture, ranging from elegant pieces to unique and quirky finds. The mall provides an opportunity to explore different styles and time periods.
Explore racks of vintage clothing and accessories, allowing you to step back in time and add a touch of retro style to your wardrobes.
It's not strictly a museum, of course, as you can buy the exhibits but we wanted to include it as it's a fun place to shop and a great spot for those interested in vintage items.
• Location: 471 Wave St, Monterey, CA 93940
• Telephone: 831-655-0264
• Website: canneryrowantiquemall.com
Monterey Bay Aquarium isn't your regular run-of-the-mill aquarium. It's renowned worldwide for its interactive exhibits featuring sea otters, sharks, and a colourful variety of other marine species.
A must-see for kids and adults alike, the mesmerizing sea-life will leave you awe-struck. See our full page about the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
• Location: 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940
• Telephone: 831-648-4800
• Website: montereybayaquarium.org
Youth Arts Collective (YAC) is a non-profit art organization and exhibition space dedicated to inspiring creativity among Monterey County’s youth.
The art displayed here oozes honest and unfiltered emotions of young artists, offering a breath of fresh air from mainstream artwork.
• Location: 472 Calle Principal, Monterey, CA 93940
• Telephone: 831-375-9922
• Website: yacstudios.org
The California State Parks Custom House, undergoing renovations at the time of writing, nonetheless offers a glimpse into California's history.
Once the main gateway for traders, the Custom House now exhibits artifacts reflecting its commercial past. As the first government building in California, its place in history is unquestionable. It's part of the Monterey State Historic Park, which has other buildings to see.
• Location: 20 Custom House Plaza, Monterey, CA 93940
• Telephone: 831-649-7118
• Website: www.parks.ca.gov
We encourage you to call beforehand, as some museums have free or reduced admission days. Plan to invest a good chunk of your day at each museum; true beauty and detail reveals itself over time.
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