The City of Monterey in Monterey County is located on the southern edge of Monterey Bay, on Central California's Pacific coast. It stands at an elevation of 26 feet (8 m) above sea level, on a land area of . The 2010 census recorded a population of 27,810.
Monterey was the capital of Alta California from 1777 to 1846 under both Spain and Mexico. It was the only port of entry for taxable goods in California. In 1846 the U.S. flag was raised over the Customs House, and California was claimed for the United States.
The city had California's first theatre, public building, public library, publicly funded school, printing press, and newspaper. The city and surrounding area have attracted artists since the late 19th century and many celebrated painters and writers have lived there. Until the 1950s, there was an abundant fishery.
Native American period
Long before the arrival of Spanish explorers, the Rumsen Ohlone tribe, one of seven linguistically distinct Ohlone groups in California, inhabited the area now known as Monterey. They subsisted by hunting, fishing and gathering food on and around the biologically rich Monterey Peninsula. Researchers have found a number of shell middens in the area and, based on the archaeological evidence, concluded the Ohlone's primary marine food consisted at various times of mussels and abalone. A number of midden sites have been located along about 12 miles of rocky coast on the Monterey Peninsula from the current site of Fishermans' Wharf in Monterey to Carmel.
A town was first established in 1770 by Father Junípero Serra and explorer Gaspar de Portolà, who was later named governor of Baja and Alta California (1767–1770). Monterey served as the capital of California from 1777 to 1849, under the flags of Spain and Mexico. Variants of the city's name are recorded as Monte Rey and Montery. Portolà erected the Presidio of Monterey to defend the port against an expected Russian invasion. On June 3, 1770, Serra founded the Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo, also known as the Royal Presidio Chapel. Serra soon came into conflict with Military Governor Pedro Fages, who was headquartered at the Presidio of Monterey and served as governor of Alta California between 1770 and 1774. Serra moved the mission to Carmel the following year to gain greater independence from Fages, and the existing wood and adobe building became the San Jose Chapel for the Presidio of Monterey.
Monterey became the capital of the Province of Both Californias in 1777, and the chapel was renamed the Royal Presidio Chapel. The original church was destroyed by fire in 1789 and replaced by the present sandstone structure. It was completed in 1794 by Indian labor. In 1840, the chapel was rededicated to the patronage of Saint Charles Borromeo. The cathedral is the oldest continuously operating parish and the oldest stone building in California. It is also the oldest (and smallest) serving cathedral along with St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, Louisiana. It is the only existing presidio chapel in California and the only existing building in the original Monterey Presidio.
The city was originally the only port of entry for all taxable goods in California. All shipments into California by sea were required to go through the Custom House, the oldest governmental building in the state and California's Historic Landmark Number One. Built in three phases, the Spanish began construction of the Custom House in 1814, the Mexican government completed the center section in 1827, and the United States government finished the lower end in 1846.
Monterey was also the site of the July 7, 1846, Battle of Monterey during the Mexican-American War. It was on this date that John D. Sloat, Commodore in the United States Navy, raised the U.S. flag over the Monterey Custom House and claimed California for the United States.
In addition, many historic "firsts" occurred in Monterey. These include California's first theatre, brick house, publicly funded school, public building, public library, and printing press, which printed The Californian, California's first newspaper. Larkin House, one of Monterey State Historic Park’s National Historic Landmarks, built in the Mexican period by Thomas Oliver Larkin, is an early example of Monterey Colonial architecture. The old Custom House, the historic district and the Royal Presidio Chapel are also National Historic Landmarks. The Cooper-Molera Adobe is a National Trust Historic Site Colton Hall, built in 1849 by Walter Colton and was originally both a public school and government meeting place. It also hosted California's first constitutional convention. Today it houses a museum, while adjacent buildings serve as the seat of local government. The Monterey post office opened in 1849. Monterey was incorporated in 1889.
Monterey had long been famous for the abundant fishery in Monterey Bay. That changed in the 1950s, when the local fishery business collapsed due to overfishing. A few of the old fishermen's cabins from the early twentieth century have been preserved as they originally stood along Cannery Row.
The city has a noteworthy history as a center for California painters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Such painters as Arthur Frank Mathews, Armin Hansen, Xavier Martinez, Rowena Meeks Abdy and Percy Gray lived or visited to pursue painting in the style of either En plein air or Tonalism.
In addition to painters, many noted authors have also lived in and around the Monterey area, including John Steinbeck, Robinson Jeffers, Robert A. Heinlein, Henry Miller, Ed Ricketts, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
More recently, Monterey has been recognized for its significant involvement in post-secondary learning of languages other than English and its major role in delivering translation and interpretation services around the world. In November 1995, California Governor Pete Wilson proclaimed Monterey as "The Language Capital of the World".