Monterey is a popular destination for sun-seekers, golfers, and partiers who come for the annual wine, art, and music festivals. But if your family or group includes history buffs, this beach paradise has attractions to please them, too. Monterey is known as the Cradle of California and is the perfect place to explore the heritage of the Pacific coast. Don’t miss these five top historic attractions in the Monterey area.
Monterey Custom House
California’s oldest public building, the Monterey Custom House, was built by Mexico in the 1820s. The Custom House was responsible for collecting tariffs and fees from all ships entering Mexican California for the next three decades, which made Monterey the center of West Coast trade. On this site in 1846, U.S. forces raised the flag to claim California as an American territory. After the war with Mexico, California was officially granted to the United States by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The Custom House is located near the entrance to Old Fisherman’s Wharf and is open for tours on weekends.
Colton Hall was built as a government center, and the impressive building served as Monterey’s first school back in the mid-1800s, when the California Gold Rush was bringing attention to California’s potential as a state in the Union. The Constitutional Convention that met in Colton Hall in 1849 determined the size and shape of the future state, the location of its capital, its Great Seal, and its status as a free or slave state. Colton Hall is now operated as a free museum and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Just south of Monterey along the Carmel River, and easily accessible from the popular hotels in Monterey, you’ll find the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo. The Franciscan order built 21 missions along the river, using Carmel as its headquarters. This mission building was dedicated in 1797. Several historically important Franciscans are buried in the sanctuary at this site. The mission is still used as a parish and school, but you can visit the onsite museum to learn more about its history and mission life in general.
John Steinbeck brought Monterey’s historic Cannery Row district into the public imagination, and it’s become one of the most popular destinations in the region. The strip of former sardine-canning buildings officially became known as Cannery Row in 1958 to honor Steinbeck’s iconic novel “Cannery Row.” The buildings here maintain their historical architecture, and some have been preserved as historic sites. There still a few fishing companies on the Row, but the main attractions these days are the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the assortment of tourist-friendly restaurants and shops, and the colony of California sea lions that makes its home here.
Monterey is an unexpected treasure for history buffs, with a collection of sites that reveal the unfolding of history in the American West. This region blends Mexican, American, religious, and industrial histories with magnificent weather and scenery that make it a treat to explore.