Placemaking Spotlight: Monterey, California | Scenic America
Placemaking Spotlight: Monterey, California

Spanish-American History and Maritime Wonders Abound in this Coastal California Town 

Monterey, California is a coastal community filled with beauty and history. Located on the central coast of California, two hours south of San Francisco, you will find magnificent views of the coast, abundant marine wildlife, and top-rated tourist destinations. The area was founded on June 3, 1770, by Captain Gaspar de Portola and Franciscan Father Junipero. By the late 1700s and early 1800s, Spain colonized the west coast of North America. The Spanish created permanent settlements in Alta California by constructing forts and establishing missions throughout the region. 

Photo courtesy of Matador Network

Monterey has a population of 28,202 and is named after Monterey Bay. Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno anchored in what is now the Monterey harbor on December 16, 1602, and named the land Puerto de Monterrey, in honor of the Conde de Monterrey, who was then the viceroy of New Spain. Monterey is composed of two Spanish words, monte and rey. Those words together mean “king of the mountain”. The city thrived under Spanish rule, but when the Gold Rush era came along from 1848 to 1855, other cities like San Francisco and Sacramento took over. Throughout time, the city has gone through its ups and downs but it always rises back up and draws from around the world.  

Tourism drives the city’s economy.  Travelers from around the world flock to see the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, Old Fisherman’s Wharf, and numerous other places that showcase beauty and history. Monterey has even been a place for Hollywood films and TV shows as it looks like the most perfect small Californian town.

Monterey Bay, photo courtesy of Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce.

There are many reasons why Monterey is so special. It is famed around the globe for its abundance of marine wildlife and fresh seafood. Its marine sanctuary is larger than Yellowstone National Park. Overall Monterey is a perfect destination for anyone that loves the outdoors. Along with all of the beauty and activities, Monterey is home to the Presidio of Monterey which is an active US Army installation with ties to the Spanish colonial era.

Before the Spanish took over the area it was quite a different place. The Costanoan (or Ohlone) people flourished, thanks to the area’s abundant plants, animal species, and other natural resources. Unfortunately when the Europeans came along the Native Americans were removed from their lands, assimilated, and almost annihilated. A lot of the plant species even became extinct.  

Monterey is known for its diverse cultural population which has given it the title of the “Language Capital of the World”. Monterey’s city council states that they will always collaborate with community partners and work to improve the quality of life of all of the community members by fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion; championing equitable access to affordable housing, and maintaining a safe environment.

Monterey is a city that embraces its history and old city character. The city preserves its historic buildings while fostering innovation. Downtown, timeless gardens intermingle with trendy brewpubs. The restaurants on the waterfront are made from former fish processing facilities. Monterey’s most famous street, Cannery Row has been home to Native Americans, Asians, and European settlers through the height of the whaling and sardine industries to the town’s restoration and redevelopment. Past and present influence the architecture, cuisine, and attractions.  

Cannery Row, photo courtesy of

Like every city, Monterey faces challenges. The city is still in recovery economically as tourism decreased significantly during the pandemic. Working together and collaborating as a city is key to getting things back to the way they once were. Climate change is also making a big impact on the marine wildlife in Monterey. The oceans are getting warmer, more acidic, and depleted of oxygen. These changes will put stress on the wildlife. 

Wildlife in Monterey, photo courtesy of National Marine Sanctuaries.

Monterey will always be a beautiful coastal community rich in history and culture. There are endless opportunities to discover here making it the perfect placemaking city to spotlight. 

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