Merry in Monterey

To know Monterey, California is to love it. Tucked between the Pacific Ocean and lush forests, Monterey has enchanted travelers with its rugged coastal beauty for over four centuries. While many cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway for an epic summer adventure, winter offers a unique opportunity to experience Monterey’s small town charm in all of its glory.

Contrary to Monterey’s vast landscapes, the city and its neighboring towns are actually quite small. There’s a strong sense of community here, one that’s especially felt around the holidays when locals gather to celebrate as one big family. Join in on the fun with Independent Collection’s guide to winter in Monterey.

Heads up! Holiday events and happenings may be scheduled to change. Check with individual event hosts for the latest updates and visitor guidelines.

Oh, What Fun!

Celebrate the holidays as the locals do at the 37th annual Christmas in the Adobes (Dec. 10-11), when Monterey’s historic adobes open their doors and deck their halls for an evening of history, entertainment and family-friendly fun. Once a year, visitors are invited to step inside these 19th century clay adobes for a rare glimpse at early Spanish and Mexican settlers’ homes. Each adobe offers a different experience, too, like dance lessons, live music and storytelling, making it an exciting and unpredictable tradition. 

In Pacific Grove, a classic American town at the tip of Monterey’s peninsula, pull up a chair for the Parade of Lights (Dec. 2). This annual community event puts on quite a show with dazzling holiday floats, marching bands, dancers, equestrian groups and, of course, Santa Claus. Enjoy the family-friendly festivities, then pop into the area’s boutique shops for unique local treasures.

Monterey County’s historic sites are often dressed for the occasion, too. Check out the holiday tree and ice skating rink at Old Fisherman’s Wharf, or take part in Colton Hall’s annual tree lighting ceremony.

Sip & Savor

Sonoma and Napa Valley are renowned destinations for California wine lovers, but Monterey holds its own with award-winning chardonnay and pinot noir made with grapes from the Santa Lucia Highlands. During your holiday, explore the best of Monterey’s burgeoning wine scene without the crowds. 

On Cannery Row, A Taste of Monterey offers gorgeous panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay alongside local wines from over 95 wineries, plus an on-site wine market. Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette, a casual neighborhood gem at The Sanctuary Beach Resort (an Independent Collection resort!), also offers an impressive selection of California-grown chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons, perfect for pairing with the restaurant’s wood-fired seafood. In Pebble Beach, Stave Wine Cellar is an intimate, upscale spot with certified sommeliers pouring hard-to-find wines from around the world. For even more variety, check out The Wine House, a family-owned locals hangout in Carmel Valley featuring not one, but two tasting rooms by local winemakers.

Serious wine enthusiasts should plan their Monterey holiday around Big Sur Wine & Food Festival (Nov. 4-6). This annual festival and fundraiser takes place almost entirely outdoors amid Big Sur’s breathtaking landscapes. Think cliffside sommelier dinners and hikes through redwood forests (with wine in hand, of course). Unique experiences like the “Magical Mystery Tour” surprise guests with trips to undisclosed locations, while this year’s “Matsa Lelima” event showcases traditional cuisine of Monterey County’s native Esselen Tribe, prepared by tribe members themselves. 

Perhaps you’re more of a foodie than a wine-o. Fear not, as Monterey boasts some of the region’s best restaurants! During the holidays, why not indulge in a prix fixe feast? Your choices are seemingly endless, from award-winning restaurants with James Beard-winning chefs, to family-owned eateries overlooking the ocean.

At Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette, savor a multi-course Thanksgiving menu with holiday-inspired dishes like butternut squash bisque and local turkey stuffed with Santa Cruz apples and sage. And for Christmas, dig into Big Sur-salted prime rib, French-style lobster, and vegan pumpkin risotto. 

Chill Out(side)

From November through January, temperatures in Monterey rarely dip below 45 degrees. The central coast’s famous fog also lightens up during winter, affording travelers some of the clearest, most spectacular views of the year. 

Take advantage of Monterey’s perfectly chilled weather and get outdoors! Go for a hike through Jacks Peak County Park or Point Lobos State Reserve, bike along the Monterey Recreation Trail, or hit the links at the world-famous Pebble Beach golf course, one of the best public courses in America. 

Whale watching in Monterey Bay is especially great during winter months, when gray whales begin to migrate north. Join a whale watching cruise to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures along with oceanic friends like dolphins, sea otters, harbor seals, and sea lions. 

Though technically an indoor and outdoor space, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best aquariums in the world and an absolute must-see for all ages. With a state-of-the-art facility on Monterey’s National Marine Sanctuary, the aquarium offers a spectacular journey through the ocean’s fascinating habitats and aquatic creatures. Get up-close to penguins and sharks, marvel at giant jellyfish, and watch for humpback whales on the ocean view deck.

Above the sea, Monterey’s skies also witness a fascinating migration: monarch butterflies. Visit the Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary during winter, when flurries of orange and black descend upon Pacific Grove, also known as “Butterfly Town, USA.”

Carmel-by-the-Sea and Cannery Row are delightful, European-style towns perfectly suited for afternoon strolls. During peak summer season, the towns are jam-packed with curious tourists. But during winter months, travelers are free to explore over 100 antique shops, art galleries, breweries, boutiques, and top-rated restaurants at their leisure.


Monterey might not be a party epicenter like its famous California neighbors, but there are plenty of exciting events to ring in the New Year.

Families traveling with children can’t miss First Night Monterey (Dec. 31), an annual, alcohol-free celebration with a day-long lineup of live music and theatrical performances, public art installations, and tons of hands-on activities for all ages.

Looking for a more grown up affair? Enjoy a decadent New Year’s Eve dinner at one of Monterey’s many award-winning restaurants, or head to the beach with your special someone and toast to 2022 with a bottle of local wine. 

Here’s to your greatest holiday yet, and all the adventures that lie ahead!

Book Your Monterey Holiday!

Ready for a magical holiday in Monterey? Now is the time to start planning! Learn more about The Sanctuary Beach Resort, part of Independent Collection Hotels & Resorts.