Monterey History

The history of Monterey is extensive due to the changes and deep cultural roots that come with the city.


During the Native American period, the area that was not yet known as Monterey was inhabited mainly by the Rumsen Ohlone tribe. The tribe was big on hunting, fishing, and gathering food. Monterey, even before it was established, had a rich seafood cuisine. According to researchers, mussels and abalone were some of the most often gathered and consumed foods in the area.


Monterey Bay and the Monterey was discovered by Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo in 1542 who landed in “La Bahia de los Pinos” (The Bay of the Pines) just 50 years after Columbus “discovered” America. It wasn’t until 1602 that Spanish Explorer Sebastian Viscaino sailed into the bay from the south and named it after his sponsor, the count de Monte Rey.


Monterey has always served as the anchor city to the Monterey Peninsula and was the center of all peninsula growth. It all kind of started with missionary Father Junipero Serra in 1770 when he built the Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo in Monterey which was also known as the Royal Presidio Chapel. Around the same time, Gaspar de Portola built a fort to defend the valuable port of Monterey called the Presidio of Monterey, which still stands today on the hills to the west of downtown. Monterey served as the Capital of Alta California from 1777 – 1848 as a Spanish Territory, making Monterey the first capital of California. The oldest governmental building in the State of California is the Custom House of Monterey which was used to tax all goods coming through the port of Monterey.


California became a state of the United States during the Battle of Monterey in the Mexican-American War when John D. Sloat raised the American Flag over the Monterey Custom House. Other state first for Monterey include the first theater in California, the first brick house, the first publicly funded school, the first public library, the first printing press and the first newspaper. Even the first constitutional convention was held here in Monterey at Colton Hall.


Monterey was a huge supplier of fish, especially canned sardines up until the 1950’s when the fishery collapsed. John Steinbeck’s books, Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday were both based on the canneries and the colorful people who occupied Cannery Row in those days. Doc Ricketts lab at 800 Ocean View Avenue is still there on Cannery Row (now called 800 Cannery Row).


As you can see, Monterey played a big part in the growth and prosperity in the state of California and without it, our states history might look a little different from it does today. The military has always been a part of Monterey and that still holds true today. The largest military language school in the country, the Defense Language Institute is here in Monterey, The Naval Postgraduate School is on the north side of Monterey and the remnants of the boarded up Fort Ord Military Base can still be seen from HWY 1 as you drive south towards Monterey.