Monterey Harbor is located on California's central coast some 90 nautical miles south of the Port of San Francisco and 300 nautical miles north of the Port of Los Angeles. Known for its 19th Century community of artists and a rich fishery, modern Monterey Harbor depends primarily on tourism for its income. It hosts the popular annual Monterey Jazz Festival each September. In 2005, over 30 thousand people called Monterey Harbor home.
Monterey Harbor is home of the US Naval Postgraduate School and the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Famed American writer John Steinbeck made Monterey Harbor the scene for several of his novels, notably Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row. Once a rich whaling port, visitors today go to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary that contains an abyss deeper than the Grand Canyon and a rich diversity of wildlife that includes migratory whales.
Before Europeans arrived in Monterey Harbor, the Rumsen Ohlone people lived in the area, as evidenced by the archaeological sites that document their fishing and hunting society and their diet that featured mussels and abalone.
Mariner Sebastian Viscaino was sent to explore California's western shores in 1602 in order to find a place to harbor galleons bringing goods from the Phillipines. When he landed here, he named Monterey Harbor for the Conde (Count) of Monterey who had given him the task.
Europeans did not return to the Monterey Harbor area until 1770 when Gaspar de Portola and Father Junipero Serra established the settlement. From that time until 1849, the nations of Spain and Mexico governed California and Monterey Harbor. Portola constructed the Presidio de Monterey to protect Monterey Harbor and the port from possible invasion by the Russians.
The Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo (also called the Royal Presidio Chapel) was built by in Monterey Harbor Father Serra in 1770. It is home to the oldest continuously operating parish and California's oldest stone building. The original building burned down in 1789. Rebuilt using Indian labor, the new sandstone chapel took the form of a Latin Cross.
For many years, Monterey Harbor was the only port of entry in California for taxable goods. Every shipment that arrived in California by sea had to go through the Customs House in Monterey Harbor. Monterey Harbor's Customs House is now the oldest government building in California and its first Historic Landmark.
In 1777, Monterey Harbor was made the capital of the California provinces, and it continued to hold that position until the war between Mexico and the United States. The Battle of Monterey was fought in Monterey Harbor during the Mexican-American War. In 1846, the Commodore John D. Sloat landed in Monterey Harbor and claimed California for the United States by raising the American flag over the Custom House.
The Pacific Coast Steamship Company built a wharf at Monterey Harbor in 1870 to support regular freight and passenger services. As the sardine industry grew in Monterey Harbor and the wharf needed more regular maintenance, the City Council purchased the wharf in 1916. During this period, the wharf became known as Fisherman's Wharf.
Monterey Harbor was the site of many "firsts" in California. It had the state's first theater, brick home, publicly-funded school, public library, public building, and the first newspaper, The Californian. The state's first constitutional convention was held in Colton Hall in Monterey Harbor. The City of Monterey was officially incorporated in 1889.
From its beginnings until the mid-20th Century, Monterey Harbor boasted a rich fishery. Some of the fishermen's cabins from the early 1900s are preserved today where they stood along Cannery Row.
After the city bought Fisherman's Wharf, it expanded the Monterey Harbor pier and added to services provided to the fishing fleet and the freight business. By 1920, the wharf was home to new warehouses, retail fish outlets, an abalone shell-grinding business, a marine service station, and a restaurant.
In 1923, a storm led to the loss of about 40 meters of the pier and some 10 thousand cases of sardines. As the Monterey Harbor wharf was rebuilt, it was expanded by 228 meters, and a finger pier was added. In 1926, a new wharf (Municipal Wharf II) was completed to support growing demands of the commercial fishing industry. In 1934, Monterey Harbor's breakwater and its 122-meter extension were completed.
Monterey Harbor was home to many well-known painters and writers during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Painters like Percy Gray, Armin Hansen, Xavier Martinez, and Arthur Frank Mathews lived in or visited Monterey Harbor, creating works in the En plein air or Tonalism styles. Writers like John Steinbeck, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Henry Miller also found Monterey Harbor a creative environment.
After World War II, over-fishing led to the demise of the sardine fishery, and the Monterey Harbor wharves began to change. As the fishing industry declined, Fisherman's Wharf was converted to serve tourist-oriented activities and businesses. By 1956, Fisherman's Wharf was home to shops, restaurants, a theater, an aquarium, and fish markets. It also housed boat rental businesses, a marine service station, and marine machine shops. Wharf II continued to serve wholesale fishing.
In the mid-20th Century, the population of small craft had grown significantly, as had the demand for mooring slips. Construction of a marina began in 1959 and by 1960, Monterey Harbor offered 367 berths. The sea wall from Wharf II was expanded, and launching ramps were built. In 1969, construction began on a new bulkhead wall, a promenade, and additional parking. In 1975, 29 berths were added in Monterey Harbor.
In recent years, Monterey Harbor has gained recognition for being, as Governor Pete Wilson proclaimed, "The Language Capital of the World." It has played a leading role in post-secondary learning for languages other than English and in providing worldwide translation and interpretation services.
Modern Monterey Harbor has a vibrant arts community and is home to many museums and popular entertainment venues. Based with easy access to the deep sea and the deepest and biggest underwater canyon on North America's Pacific Coast, Monterey Harbor is home to one of the country's most productive marine science laboratories.
Monterey Harbor's Fisherman's Wharf receives more visitors every year. In the past, tons of sardines were shipped from this Monterey Harbor landmark. Today, thousands of visitors come here to shop, dine, fish, and board whale-watching and harbor cruises. Wharf II is still the center for the wholesale fish industry in Monterey Harbor, although it is also home to the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club, marina support facilities, and several restaurants.