Monterey is a wave-washed ocean town with a darn buzzing nightlife scene. It's famed around the globe as the setting for John Steinbeck's classic novel Cannery Row, but also draws crowds of beach lovers, history buffs, surfers and marine wildlife aficionados.

    When the sun sets in Monterey, you'll only need to mosey down to the shrimp shacks and beer bars of Old Fisherman's Wharf, or the brewhouses of happening Alvarado Street, to find some of California's best after-dark spots. This guide of nightlife experiences in Monterey runs through the cream of the city's after-dark spots, offering a variety of wine bars, clubs, and refined eateries to suit all sorts of travellers.

    1

    Alvarado Street

    Grills, craft brews, and Chinese food aplenty

    • Food
    • Nightlife

    Alvarado Street cuts right through the heart of Monterey. You'll almost certainly need to traverse it on your way to Old Fisherman's Wharf and the seafront, which is just a single block to the north. At night, there will be plenty of temptations to keep you around, though.

    The historic Brewery is one of them. It's a well-known hangout that draws lovers of everything hops to a shady beer garden with fire pits and BBQ grills come the weekend. Flanking it, you'll also find soy-scented cookhouses with Cantonese stir-fries and British-styled pubs with hardwood seating and ales on tap.

    Location: Alvarado St, Monterey, CA 93940, USA

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    2

    Cannery Row

    Hear jazz mingling with the rhythm of the Pacific

    • Shoppers
    • Nightlife
    • Budget

    A jaunt down Cannery Row makes a trip to Monterey complete. Made famous by the eponymous novel by John Steinbeck, the street is a hubbub of life both day and night. As evening nears, the action switches from sea lion watching on the shoreline to the gritty pubs and jazz bars that abound.

    Among them is Cooper's Pub & Restaurant, where hearty English dinners are served with a side of cold beer, and the tasting rooms of the Carmel Ridge Winery, where you'll sample fine Central Coast tipples. Music lovers should mosey to the south side of Cannery, where Pearl Hour offers live gigs on the edge of San Carlos Beach Park.

    Location: Monterey, CA 93940, USA

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    photo by Amadscientist (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    3

    Old Fisherman's Wharf

    An evening of hearty West Coast seafood

    • Food
    • Nightlife

    Old Fisherman's Wharf, just as its name implies, is the place for an evening of marine-inspired eating in Monterey. Calling all seafood lovers, the wooden-built pier where you find it juts into the harbour of downtown, between the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail and the boat-bobbing docks. It's easy to find.

    Once you're there, the hardest part will probably be in deciding which restaurant to visit. The timber-fronted Old Fishermen's Grotto has a vintage charm. Scales Seafood & Steaks offers upscale New American cuisine with views across the marina. But there are also long-time local favourites like Abalonetti Bar and Grill, where the Cali clam chowder is said to be second to none.

    Location: #1 Old Fishermans Wharf, Monterey, CA 93940, USA

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    4

    Lighthouse Avenue

    Feel the pulse of Pacific Grove

    • Nightlife

    Lighthouse Avenue wiggles and weaves all the way from the centre of Monterey to the rocks of Point Pinos in the west. It's one of the main arteries of the city, linking up Cannery Row to the residential districts and grand Victorian homes of Pacific Grove. 

    Lighthouse Avenue also has some enticing nightlife attractions – the bulk of them are wedged between Caledonia Park and Carmel Avenue. They run the gamut from casual cafes and independent coffee roasteries through to artisanal bakeries and chic wine bars. Foodies can also indulge in a truly multicultural array of dining – think sizzling Thai curries and jalapeno-topped Mexicana tacos alike.

    Location: Lighthouse Ave, Monterey, CA, USA

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    5

    Pearl Street

    Some quieter bars to start the night

    • Nightlife

    Pearl Street might be just a turn of the corner from bustling Alvarado, but is a whole different story. Much quieter and noticeably residential, it's got just a peppering of little drinking holes and bars. Most of them are to be found on the western end of the road, close to Simoneau Plaza.

    Head there and you can fill the evening hours with games of classic table billiards in historic Mexicana saloons. There are dive bars with gritty surf and biker paraphernalia. There are gastropubs touting menus of hearty burgers and West Coast surf and turf. Once you're done, oodles more venues await just a 5-minute stroll to the north on Alvarado itself.

    Location: Pearl St, Monterey, CA 93940, USA

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    6

    Pebble Beach

    Dine with the A-listers amid one of America's top golf courses

    • Shoppers
    • Photo
    • Nightlife

    Pebble Beach is largely dominated by the gorgeous holes of the iconic golf course that shares the area's name. But a short – and beautiful – 15-minute drive from Monterey can also help you discover the well-to-do establishments that dot this cypress-fringed corner of the California coastline.

    They come in the form of The Bench, where Mediterranean dishes and cool white wines are served up to views of the 18th hole. Or, there's the Stillwater Bar & Grill, which fields a menu of seafood dishes and organic meats cooked in ways inspired by California. Granted, it's not going to be a hedonistic night on the town, but it sure is romantic and indulgent.

    Location: Del Monte Forest, CA, USA

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    7

    Carmel Valley

    Stay a night to sample crisp Californian wines in rustic ranches

    • Nightlife

    Carmel Valley shows that Monterey has one foot in the Pacific Ocean and the other firmly in the wild mountains of the Santa Lucia Range. That makes it the prime gateway to the famous wine lands which are reachable within a 25-minute drive down the G16 highway to the southwest.

    It's best to take a couple of days off from the California coast to see this one properly. There are multiple vineyards to drop into, each with their own tailor-made tasting experience. The evening vibe is at once romantic and refined. It usually involves candlelit dinners of farm-to-table foods and crisp white and red wines to a backdrop of rolling ranches and sierras.

    Location: Carmel Valley, CA 93924, USA

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    8

    Del Monte Avenue

    Drink in the company of naval postgrads by the waves of Del Monte Beach

    • Food
    • Nightlife

    Del Monte Avenue is what Monterey's local surf crowd know as the road to the waves. It takes you northwest out of the city along Monterey Bay, passing some secluded beach breaks as it goes. But there are also a few clusters of sand-side homes and villas, along with a smattering of evening bars that are popular with students.

    It all begins with the iconic Trident Room cocktail bar on the campus of the Naval Postgraduate School, where you'll sink tequila-based tipples in an atmospheric Victorian setting. From there, you can move along Del Monte towards Sand City, passing sourdough pizzerias, drop-in chicken kitchens, and chilled seafood eateries.

    Location: Del Monte Ave, Monterey, CA, USA

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    9

    Ocean Avenue

    Inns and wine-sloshing bistros courtesy of Carmel-By-The-Sea

    • Nightlife

    Ocean Avenue, sat in the heart of the chic seaside resort town of Carmel-By-The-Sea, is about 10 minutes by car from Monterey. That's probably why so many travellers choose to do both on the very same trip. Few will stick around for the evening, however, even though there's a vibrant mix of things on the line-up.

    Wine bars are probably attraction numero uno. They dot Ocean Avenue from top to tip, showcasing fine Carmel Valley, Central Coast, and even Napa wines of all shades – white, red, pink, bubbly. Punctuating them is a series of elegant Italian trattorias, rooftop cocktail lounges, and New American cooking. It might just be worth a night or 2 on its own.

    Location: Ocean Ave, Monterey, CA 93940, USA

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    10

    Santa Cruz

    Post-surf DJs and live music on the top of Monterey Bay

    • Nightlife

    Salt-washed Santa Cruz sits on the far northern end of Monterey Bay from Monterey itself. It's something like a 50-minute drive from one to the other, but those who make it are rewarded with a happening and edgy city that's got a truly alternative spirit.

    A haven for flares-wearing hippies and board-touting surfers, it's forged a reputation on waves and floral print. So, expect something of an out-there nightlife scene. It centres on Pacific Avenue, Cedar Street and the Riverwalk, but also spills down the sands of Beach Street. The venues? Well, surf shacks – of course – and brewhouses set to the twangy tunes of The Doors.

    Location: Santa Cruz, California, USA

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    Joseph Francis | Contributing Writer

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