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Where and What is Monterey County?

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If you’ve ever driven the Pacific Coast Highway or visited Carmel, Monterey or parks in the area, you’ve probably done a little Googling first. If you had, you would have seen references to “Monterey County”, while having only a vague notion of what cities are in the county. Consider this article Monterey County 101.

A Brief Monterey County History

Monterey County was one of the first counties in California, created when California became a state around 1850. The first European discovery of Monterey (Monterey Bay specifically) was in 1542, by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese explorer, who named the bay, “Bahía de los Pinos” (Bay of Pines). Monterey Bay, was given its present name around 1602, by Sebastian Vizcaino, a Spanish explorer who made two major expeditions to the California coast. He was appointed by the Conde de Monterrey, the Viceroy of New Spain (Spanish colonial Mexico), to locate safe harbors and map the coast in the detail. Monterey Bay was named by Vizcaino to honor the Conde de Monterrey.

Monterey County is quite well known worldwide, but sometimes tangentially. Though some wouldn’t be able to name towns in the county, they may know that Clint Eastwood was mayor of one of its towns (Carmel), or have heard of 17-Mile Drive, Cannery Row, Monterey, and Carmel, have seen photos of the Lone Cypress, or have read Cannery Row, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men, have heard of the famed Pacific Coast Highway, or seen one of many well-known films made in the county.

You Say "City". I Say "Town"

Some of you may, quite naturally, want to refer to the small cities of Monterey County as “towns”, but while other states make a distinction between “city” and “town – frequently by population size and type of government, that distinction is not made in the law in the state of California.

In California law, the words “town” and “city” mean the same the thing. There are two types of cities in the state: Charter Cities and General Law Cities. Charter Cities draft their own charter which defines their system of governance, and gives them authority over municipal affairs. General Law Cities do not have their own charters and their authority is bound by the laws of the state, even for local matters.

Read more about the differences between California “Charter Cities” and General Law Cities” in this League of California Cities PDF.

To confuse things a little, both Charter Cities and General Law Cities can choose how they refer to themselves. They can choose to be called “City of Some Name” or “Town of Some Name”. They can even change their minds and decide to switch from “City of Some Name” to “Town of Some Name” or vice-versa. Regardless, “city” and “town” are synonymous by law. To muddy the waters, the word “town” is commonly used to refer to unincorporated villages.

Phew! The good thing is that whether you call Carmel a town or a city, you won’t offend Carmel town folk, err…city folk. Never mind…Monterey County residents won’t be offended.

Cities in Monterey County

There are 11 cities in Monterey County. Click the city name to view the map on Google maps.

Del Rey Oaks
King City
Pacific Grove
Sand City

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View an interactive map of Monterey County from 1898. According to the Library of Congress, this work is in the public domain because they were either published before 1922 or were created by U.S. Government employees.

Here is a google map of Monterey County:

Interactive Maps of Monterey County

To really get to know where things are in Monterey County, check out this interactive map. View cities, parks, wine tours, golf courses,

Monterey County cities maps
View cities in Monterey County.
Monterey County Parks and Beaches
This very detailed map displays all of the parks and beaches in Monterey County. You can read more about Monterey/Carmel beaches and parks here.
Monterey County wine tours map
View maps of wineries in Monterey County. For detailed descriptions of wineries and wine rooms, visit our wine tour page.
John Steinbeck tour map
View maps of places where author John Steinbeck lived and created.
Monterey County bike paths
Get bike maps and routes for Salinas, Monterey Coastal Bike Path, Monterey Peninsula bike paths and more.