Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf is located on the shore in southwest corner of Monterey Bay and is worthwhile experience when visiting Monterey. The wharf is full of sights, smells and tastes that will stimulate all the senses. Hundreds of fishing boats anchor along the wharf along with a variety of restaurants, street performers and retail stores. Old Fisherman's Wharf was built in 1845 to provide a port for the many trading vessels bringing foods in from Cape Horn (this was before San Francisco had risen to prominence as a major trading hub on the coast and Monterey was the major port of the Pacific). During Monterey's sardine cannery boom (See Cannery Row) the wharf played a major role as a processing center of the arriving boats full of sardines bound for the canneries a mile to the north. The pier at several times a year is home to sea lions that lay out along the banks of the wharf and who's "bark" can be heard for miles. It is from Fisherman's wharf that several boating tours depart daily taking passengers on a variety of expeditions that range from whale watching to fishing to glass bottom boat tours.
Whale watching expeditions are one of the most popular boat tours to leave Fisherman's Wharf. Every day tours depart and head out into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Monterey. Tours last around 2 to 3 hours and give the opportunity to observe several types of whales on their migratory route from Mexico to Alaska. The type of whales one may see on the tour is dependent on the time of year. See our full guide to whale watching in Monterey.
For visitors to Monterey looking to get in touch with their adventure side there are daily fishing tours that depart from Fisherman's Wharf and travel deep into the Pacific off the coast of Central California. There are two primary tour companies that offer fishing expeditions from Monterey, Chris' Fishing trips and Randy's Fishing Trips. The expeditions are carried out on board 50-70 foot boats. These trips are not for the faint of heart or those prone to seasickness. It's advisable if traveling on one of these vessels to definitely look into motion sickness medications. Tours leave early in the morning (like 630AM early!) and are guided by very experienced captains. Expeditions last about 4-6 hours. Its up to you to bring your own fishing gear. Whether a catch is made or not, the experience of traveling out into the Pacific off the central coast is without a doubt an amazing experience.
For visitors to Monterey traveling with families, Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf is an ideal location for kids. The Wharf is full of entertainment and activities for children and families. Two of the more common categories of entertainment on the wharf are caricature drawings and face painting. The caricature drawings are where you sit down across from an artist and they draw an amazingly realistic portrait with some exaggerated themes (big eyelashes, large knows, broad smile, etc.). They make for a cool conversation piece when framed, and yes they are common to more tourist driven areas in California like Pier 39 in San Francisco and the Santa Monica Pier near Hollywood. With face painting professional artists draw out themes on children's faces to give appearance they are a pirate or more colorful displays like whales or rainbows. Again-not for everyone but a fun distraction for children.
There are a variety of shops and stalls located throughout the wharf that sell a variety of fun merchandise. These include souvenirs to remember a trip to Monterey that include t-shirts and sweatshirts with images or text of "Monterey" on them, little toy pirate ships, glass wares and art portraits of Monterey, San Francisco and the Central Coast.
There are a variety of dining options on Old Fisherman's Wharf that are catered more to the family than they are to travelers on a high budget and sophisticated pallet. However Old Fisherman's Grotto maybe the exception to this. The restaurants on Fisherman's Wharf include fried seafood options (fried shrimp and calamari) as well as New England Clam Chowder Soups. Isabella's Italian Seafood offers a variety of pasta's and pizzas. If in Monterey for one day and only on wharf for majority of that day, on a budget, or with large groups, these restaurants are fine. However Monterey offers a variety of dining options throughout the peninsula that make for a more memorable experience.