Posted by marilynch
Where the Plazas Are in the City of Monterey–and how to preserve their charm
Visitors–and even Monterey County residents–sometimes ask:
–“Where is the Custom House Plaza…Portola Plaza…Bonifacio Plaza… Simoneau Plaza…Griffin Plaza…Friendly Plaza…Steinbeck Plaza…and where in the world is the Alvarado Mall…?” Find these and more below.
–“The sign says bikes have to go to Calle Principal, but I want to get to Alvarado Street. How do I do that?” Refer to route options under “Portola Plaza” below.
With all plazas, the courtesy of bicyclists toward pedestrians and property owners is vital to the City of Monterey being an ever more bike and pedestrian friendly town. Please hop off and walk your bike, or bike slowly, when and where appropriate.
Do you enjoy the Open Space of Monterey’s Custom House Plaza and Alvarado Mall?
Be aware that this open space may not always be free of motor vehicles, as it is today. Click here to see those who are savoring it now. And see “perhaps change coming” at the end of this post .
View of the Custom House Plaza from Peter B’s Brewpub.
Custom House Plaza
The Custom House Plaza is the largest plaza in the City of Monterey. It is located across from Old Fisherman’s Wharf/ Wharf I. Many wharf visitors notice the historic Custom House although some overlook the plaza, and what’s beyond it.
The Custom House Plaza is the fabulous gateway from the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail to downtown Monterey!
The Custom House Plaza is a celebrated historic spot. The Custom House is commonly referred to as the oldest public building in California. Indeed, the Custom House is the oldest government building in California. It is California State Historic Landmark #1!
This family is now biking away from the Custom House Plaza. The Custom House is on the right.
At this time, Custom House Plaza is officially open to pedestrians only. However, the City is considering changing their ordinance to officially allow biking.
Unofficially, considerate bicyclists are already accepted in this spacious plaza. Bike at an appropriate slow to moderate rate of speed. Yield to pedestrians, and show persons walking there the extra courtesy that ensures their comfort and safety.
Stenciled messages indicate “no skateboards or bicycles jumping on the walls.” This is not an appropriate location for practicing tricks! “No…bicycles jumping on the walls” may not be quite what city officials meant; it does seem to be how the community honors that message.
When appropriate, children of all ages enjoy the simple pleasure of circling around the fountain, as are the bicyclists pictured below. Common sense dictates when that is not appropriate, such as, not when people are gathered in the plaza for a special event.
Motor vehicle drivers have many nearby vehicle parking options and can also promptly access the area on foot or, if doing the bike-and-ride, by bike. For those who are unable to walk or bike, perhaps in time a bicycle-powered taxicab service could be offered. See neighboring county’s Santa Cruz Pedicab for inspiration.
Want the Custom House Plaza to remain free of motor vehicles? See “perhaps change coming” at the end of this post .
The spacious Custom House Plaza often serves as the site of special events–including festivals, arts and crafts fairs…
…and even wintertime ice skating.
The Alvarado Mall is the brick passageway, north of Del Monte Avenue, that runs between Custom House Plaza and Portola Plaza. Alvarado Mall is an important passageway between downtown and the waterfront for people who walk or bike.
It is usually appropriate to bike slowly through this shared passageway; and occasionally, if there are many pedestrians, it may even be good to get off and walk your bike a while. An extra dose of thoughtfulness for the safety and ease of pedestrians goes a long way in building a more bike-friendly city.
About a decade ago, there were “No Bike” signs on the Alvarado Mall. As another step in making it easier for people to bike in the City of Monterey, the signs were removed by the City. The related ordinance is still on the books Section 20.-48.4 (click here) but will be updated in conjunction with the Monterey on the Move Plan. Just fyi, the “No Skate or Skateboard” signs remain due to the noise factor of skates and skateboards on the brick pavers.
Pino’s Cafe (that’s Dan Vitanza pictured above) and Adventures by the Sea (shown below) are across-the-mall neighbors on the Alvarado Mall.
To reach the Portola Plaza coming from the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail (bike/multi-use path):
- Leave the path at the back of Museum of Monterey or at the top of Old Fisherman’s Wharf/ Wharf I.
- Cut across the Custom House Plaza and go through Alvarado Mall.
- When you come out of Alvarado Mall, you have arrived at Portola Plaza. There you are, the front entrance to the Portola Hotel…
At the Portola Hotel, you’ll find some avid cyclists among their valets. And concierge Anne Roberts knows exactly where to look for biking info–she’s bookmarked Bicycling Monterey! The hotel is part of the HER Helmet Thursdays project too.
When bicyclists exit Portola Plaza, since Alvarado Street is one-way, cyclists are directed at the Portola Plaza/Del Monte Avenue intersection to bike to Calle Principal.
Here are three typical routes that cyclists use to reach Alvarado Street (or other places) from Calle Principal: Pearl Street, Polk Street, and Bonifacio Plaza.
Route Option #1 to reach Alvarado from Calle Principal: Pearl Street.
- Bike up Calle Principal to Pearl. (Jefferson will be to your right, Pearl to your left.)
- Pearl is a one-way, so hop off your bike by that red “wrong way” sign (see photo below), and walk along the Pearl Street sidewalk the very short distance to Alvarado Street.
- You’ll come out at a five-way intersection, with Cooper Molera historic adobe across the intersection on Munras, to your right; and Ordway Pharmacy to your left, with its front facing Alvarado and its side facing Pearl.
- Make a left to be on Alvarado Street. With children, it is safest to hop off your bikes and walk bikes through the crosswalk here.
Notice that red “wrong way” sign up ahead on the left? That’s Pearl.
Route option #2 to reach Alvarado from Calle Principal: Polk Street.
- Bike up Calle Principal all the way, and you’ll reach the intersection by 500 Hartnell /Restaurant 1833, a historic adobe.
- Turn left onto Hartnell.
- Immediately make another left, onto one-way Polk Street.
- Bike Polk Street past the Cooper Molera barn (on your right), until you reach the five-way intersection.
- Carefully bike across that intersection. With children, it is safest to hop off your bikes and walk bikes through the crosswalks here.
Just across the intersection, when the front door of Ordway Pharmacy is on your right, you are now at the top of Alvarado Street.
If instead of going to Alvarado Street, you want to go to any of the following…
Then make a right at the 500 Hartnell /Restaurant 1833 intersection. When you get to the traffic signal (Pacific Streeet), you would then:
- turn left to go the City of Monterey Public Library or or Monterey High School;
- turn right for Monterey Museum of Art-Pacific Street location’s front door (alternate: reach it via Calle Principal, just before the 500 Hartnell intersection, by walking your bike through the little Adobe Plaza);
- go straight for the Monterey Police Station (it will be on your left);
- go straight for City Hall or Colton Hall Museum (they’ll be on your right);
- turn right–or go straight, then right–to reach Friendly Plaza–more about that plaza below.
As mentioned in the Portola Plaza section above, when bicyclists exit Portola Plaza, since Alvarado is one-way, cyclists are directed to Calle Principal. The three typical routes that cyclists use to reach Alvarado (or other places) from Calle Principal are (1) Pearl Street, (2) Polk Street, and (3) Bonifacio Plaza.
Route option #3 to reach Alvarado from Calle Principal: Bonifacio Plaza.
When biking up Calle Principal, if your destination is not high up Alvarado Street, you may want to travel through Bonifacio Plaza, as a shortcut. This plaza is across Calle Principal from the Calle Principal parking garage (that’s parking for motor vehicles; you’ll also see bike parking racks on Calle Principal).
Bonifacio Plaza is officially open to pedestrians only. It is usually best to hop off your bike and walk it through this short and narrow plaza. If there is no pedestrian present at all, then biking through would make sense–at a slow speed, in case pedestrians pop in.
Monterey’s downtown transit center for the Monterey-Salinas Transit bus system is at the Simoneau Plaza, a triangular plaza at the top of Alvarado Street, our “main street.” See bike-and-ride tips for info about the MST buses, and taking your bike aboard. Want to purchase a Summer Youth GoPass or other goodies from MST? Visit the MST Bus Stop Shop at 150 Del Monte Avenue, Monterey, which is a very short bike ride away.
The transit center at Simoneau Plaza is surrounded on its three sides by landmarks including the Cooper-Molera historic adobe. Also known as “The Cooper House,” this historic adobe and museum sits at the top of Alvarado Street, at the five-way intersection (which includes Munras and Alvarado, as the street sign pictured shows).
See the four flags on your left? That’s Simoneau Plaza.
See the “Museum Store Open” sign? That’s in front of Cooper Molera!
Simoneau Plaza is also across the street from the Uptown Monterey shopping center, which has its own handy bike racks conveniently located for people using the MST…
Simoneau Plaza is one short block from Monterey’s Main Post Office on Hartnell Street. To reach Hartnell and the PO, you may from the Uptown Monterey / Trader Joe’s parking lot via the little Carl’s Alley; exercise extra caution. If biking with children, it is best to hop off and walk your bikes through Hartnell Gulch to reach Hartnell Street.
For pedestrians, there is a special Hartnell Gulch walkway off the Uptown Monterey parking lot. It is much safer for children to walk their bicycles here than to ride their bikes on Carl’s Alley. Kids will likely enjoy the Hartnell Gulch walkway anyway!
Griffin Plaza is very near Simoneau Plaza. This means that if you’re doing the bike-and-ride on an MST bus, Griffin is another great option for relaxing while waiting for the next bus.
Bike parking is conveniently located at racks in front of Aquarian.
It’s not uncommon for bicyclists to roll on in when the plaza is quiet. Still, it is most often appropriate to walk your bike on this plaza.
Be a good ambassador for the bike community and respect the likely preference of neighboring businesses and their patrons: Unless the plaza is empty, please hop off and walk your bike. At least, please keep it cool by biking very slowly here.
(Photo courtesy of Leo Kodl.)
Friendly Plaza and the Colton Hall lawn are a beautiful, peaceful change of pace from downtown activity.
From the street, Friendly Plaza can look deceptively small. Head on up and see…
Take time to stop and smell the roses here.
The lot that holds Colton Hall and Friendly Plaza is kitty-corner from the City of Monterey Public Library.
Keep it friendly! If there are others present, it is appropriate to walk your bike on this plaza.
Friendly Plaza is across Pacific Street from the Monterey Museum of Art (at left, in photo below).
Steinbeck Plaza is along the waterfront on the street named Cannery Row, and you’ll see a bust of John Steinbeck at this plaza’s entrance.
Steinbeck Plaza is the scene of frequent weekend and holiday live music, plus special events activities, such as the annual Cannery Row Block Party.
There is an MST trolley stop alongside Steinbeck Plaza. As noted in bike-and-ride tips, trolleys cannot be counted on to have a bike rack except those serving the CSUMB campus. However, you will sometimes see other trolleys–including those serving this stop–with a bike rack.
It is appropriate to walk your bike on Steinbeck Plaza.
There are conveniently located bike racks directly on the plaza….
as well as more bike racks along the bike/multi-use path just above Steinbeck Plaza,
including this one by HER Helmet Thursdays spot El Mariachi….
and this one by HER Helmet Thursdays spot Cannery Row Brewing Company.
There is another plaza near the Steinbeck Plaza, and it is commonly referred to as:
The Plaza at Bubba Gump
Like the Steinbeck Plaza, this plaza often has special events activities, such as the live animal shows at the 2012 Cannery Row Block Party.
It is located alongside HER Helmet Thursdays spot Intercontinental The Clement Monterey.
Some of the additional City of Monterey Plazas
- Larkin House Plaza. Have you ventured beyond the gates of the Larkin House property, accessed via Calle Principal and Pacific Streets? This is a beautiful, peaceful place to rest downtown. Lock up your bike and enjoy this area on foot.
- Spanish Plaza is located at the corner of Tyler and Del Monte, kitty-corner from the Monterey-Salinas Transit Bus Stop Shop. Skip Spanish Plaza for now, as this little plaza isn’t a pleasant stop; it’s caught between heavily trafficked streets and is in a state of disrepair.
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For more help with directions….
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Daniel Grün of Germany loves the fun of making discoveries while traveling. He found that beyond the waterfront, there was a large plaza–Custom House Plaza–leading to a downtown also worth exploring.
Custom House Plaza:
Perhaps change coming?
The City of Monterey’s draft Downtown Specific Plan was made available to the public on 6/20/12.
Update, 4/11/13: A Monterey planner, certainly appreciated for having the best of intentions for the City of Monterey, was nonetheless quoted as follows by the Monterey County Weekly. See Sara Rubin’s 4/11/13 story in the Weekly (and the comments below it).
Rubin’s story stated the planner hopes a traffic plan that opens up Custom House Plaza would boost usage, and quoted her as saying, “The big question is, why is this such a dead space?” But not everyone views that as dead space; many treasure it as open space! Click here to see some of those people.
The corresponding Citywide Transportation and Parking Study is found at monterey.org on this page.
Custom House Plaza is open officially to pedestrians only. Unofficially, it is open to safe, courteous bicyclists as well. Bicyclists, please refer to the safety and courtesy reminders in this post for Custom House Plaza, and for other plazas as well.
Motor vehicles in Custom House Plaza?
Custom House Plaza is a very special plaza, deserving of protection so that future generations may better enjoy it, too. As mentioned above, the Custom House is the oldest government building in California. It is California State Historic Landmark #1!
The City of Monterey has made a decision that Custom House Plaza would become open to motor vehicles. Yes, in some manner. See pages 121+ of the Downtown Specific Plan draft.
Why? That was first recommended in June 2011 at the Transportation and Parking Charrette, public meetings announced on this site.
It has not yet been decided by City officials how much motor vehicle traffic would be allowed, whether it would be shuttles only or shuttles and private vehicles, whether it would be once in a while or on a regular basis, whether it would be limited hours of day, and so on.
The recommendation in June 2011 was made by transportation consultants hired by the City of Monterey. The consultants’ expressed opinion was that this area should become open to motor vehicles, so people could drive directly through Custom House Plaza to the waterfront from downtown–rather than taking one of the other routes.
The consultants also expressed that people did not know Monterey had a waterfront until they got through the tunnel (connecting travelers to Lighthouse Avenue, New Monterey or Wave and Foam Streets/the Aquarium). Apparently they determined that too many people do not see the waterfront when driving Del Monte Avenue alongside Window on the Bay Park, or past the Wharf II entrance.
Charming or frustrating?
Bicycling Monterey has much respect for our City leaders, and for the professional expertise of the consultants the City hired. Nevertheless, if you view videos from those meetings, you’ll hear one of those consultants repeatedly expressing these opinions: (1) He was so frustrated by Monterey’s streets that on every visit, he swore he’d never come back here again. (2) He loves Monterey and has come here every year for 30 years!
Do you like Alvarado Mall and Custom House Plaza free of vehicle traffic? See pages 121+ of the draft. Notice that while many ideas sound good, the rationale for some of these can be used to support the idea of vehicle traffic. For instance, page 123 states, “The existing plaza is uninviting and discourages pedestrians from entering or strolling through from either side.” Is that your experience?
Review the information for yourself, then speak up!
Bicycling Monterey’s opinion–and that of a planning commissioner
You’ll also hear in those June 2011 videos Planning Commissioner Luis Osorio express what I was also thinking at the charrette–and still think: In essence, such a change to the Custom House Plaza area would be going backwards in creating a better downtown.
As stated above, the consultants made a recommendation to the City Council, and the Council decided on some kind of traffic.
Since Custom House Plaza is owned by the State of California, it was premature to even recommend not only vehicles but any redesign of the plaza. Having traffic through the Custom House Plaza would be detrimental to the historic value of the plaza and the buildings around it.
As of June 9, 2012, there has not yet been an Environmental Impact Report. When an EIR is done, some unpleasant aspects would likely be realized. Before then, it’s not really possible to know what will happen.
The Custom House Plaza was a staple of the redevelopment effort in the 1970s. There are certainly other ways to improve it. One idea that has been suggested is to take down the wall that keeps many waterfront visitors from realizing what lies beyond that wall. Other ideas are below.
Helping Wharf I and other Monterey waterfront visitors find downtown
The historic Custom House Plaza, the beautiful gateway to downtown Monterey, may indeed be missed by some waterfront visitors. It makes sense that one concern of the City is that those visitors may miss downtown Monterey.
According to the consultants at the June 2011 charrette, visitors often mistakenly think “downtown” is the Cannery Row neighborhood (home of the Monterey Bay Aquarium). Better signage on the freeway (Cal Trans domain) and/or coming into town, directing visitors to downtown, can help. Some signage improvements in town have indeed since been made by the City of Monterey.
Besides roadway signs, or opening the plaza to motor vehicles, how else to draw visitors through Custom House Plaza to downtown?
Without opening Custom House Plaza to motor vehicles, how else could Custom House Plaza be enhanced to invite pedestrians and bicyclists to enter downtown via this charming route?
One idea: A welcoming small path of a few tasteful carts guiding people from the coastal path into the Custom House Plaza. Such carts could bear visitor information; bright, fresh flowers; and enticing fresh locally grown produce snacks. These could beckon visitors to check out these carts, and the cart attendants could then help people learn that there is still much more to be experienced across the Custom House Plaza in downtown Monterey!
Speak up! How to express your opinion
Do you like walking, or biking at an appropriate speed, through the Alvarado Mall and Custom House Plaza? Do you prefer that these two areas not be opened up to motor vehicles? Voice that preference to the City Planning Commission, City Council, and City Traffic Engineer.
For those who are unable to walk or bike, instead of opening this area to cars, perhaps a bicycle-powered taxi service could be offered. See Santa Cruz Pedicab for inspiration.
Please feel free to phone me (831-375-6278) about this issue.
When and where appropriate…
Be a good ambassador for the bicycling community. Be mindful of the comfort and safety of pedestrians and property owners. On the plazas or elsewhere, as appropriate, please bike slowly or hop off and walk your bike.
(Photo of the above “PLEASE WALK BICYCLES” sign was taken at the Santa Cruz Public Library.)