Things I wish I knew before moving to Monterey, California!

Last updated August 6, 2023

This summer I have a TON of friends moving to Monterey! I’m so EXCITED! I thought to help prepare them I would write a post about the things I wish I would have known before moving to Monterey. 

Moving to California

    • The BIGGEST shock to me when driving in California is motorcycles can drive on the dotted line through traffic… It’s SCARY.
    • No CELLPHONES in your hands at all when driving! 
    • If your wipers are on for the rain then your headlights to your car must also be on. It’s a California state law, doesn’t matter if it’s sunny and raining they must be on. 
    • No plastic bags in any stores! If you forget your reusable bags then you have to pay .10 cents for a bag. The only exception to this rule is when shopping on a military post.
    • The beaches in Monterey are cold! We love going to the beach, however, it’s not the same kind of beach you find in Flordia. The water is COLD and the waves are HUGE! (Jackets or long sleeves are usually a must).
    • The cost of living is high! Very high! Gas right now is well over $3.00 a gallon. (Mentally prepare for summer gas prices, that easily reach $4.00 a gallon).
    • Your child must be rear facing until he or she turns 2 years old. This is a lot stricter than most states so make sure to do your research before arriving. If you need more help make sure to visit the local fire station or police station for more help.
    • Make sure you wear sunscreen, the wind cools your skin while you’re getting sunburned and you’re totally clueless you’re getting burned until it’s too late
    • It’s SUPER FOGGY in Monterey! The fog rolls in more at Ft Ord than it does on La Mesa, but La Mesa gets it’s full share of the fog too!
    • Always have a lightweight jacket in your car, because the weather will change on a dime!
    • It’s literally the same temperature of pretty close to it all year long (50’s in the morning, and 60s,70s in the afternoon) 

Moving to Monterey Military

The military housing in Monterey is very confusing. It’s not like any other military post that we’ve been stationed at. The communities are run by a contracted company called The Parks at Monterey Bay. There are 3 communities that you could live on. The communities of La Mesa and Ord are not gated in. The housing on the Presidio is on the Presidio, home to DLI (Defense Language Institute) and is within the gate. 

(This is just based on the knowledge of what I know, this information could have changed, and or not be right, I’m writing this article to explain it like I was talking to a friend about moving to Monterey)

  • The Presidio (historic houses) are houses that are reserved for the staff at the Presidio, meaning you or your husband will have to work on the Presidio as staff, not a student to qualify for this type of housing. It has recently been brought to my attention that if they have openings they do allow DLI/ NPS students to also live in these houses. 
  • La Mesa Village this housing area is very popular because it’s the closest housing to NPS (Naval Postgraduate School) it’s about 2 miles away from the entrance of NPS most of the houses in this area are reserved for E7 and O3 and above. The houses range in size from renovated ranch style homes to duplexes, to Single Family Homes. 
  • Ft Ord Community this area of military housing is the largest of the 3 and tends to be the less popular option because it’s about a 10-15 minute drive from NPS, and DLI. The housing on Ord look just like the housing on La Mesa, however, Ord is about 4x bigger than La Mesa too. 
  • Living off post can be extremely tricky! Especially if you have a dog… Rental go quick! The local housing tends to be as much, maybe a little more.
  • If you’re looking to live off post these towns surround Monterey and are pretty close. (Carmel Valley, Carmel by the sea, Monterey, Pacific Grove, Seaside, Marnia, Sand City) Watsonville and Salinas are a lot farther out but tend to be a little cheaper.

Schools in Monterey

  • Schools are La Mesa Elementary (on La Mesa) 
  • Marshall (On Ft Ord)
  • I don’t have a child in middle or high school so I can’t speak for those schools. 
  • You can also apply for the lottery and get accepted into one of the charter schools in Monterey too. The lotteries normally start applications in January/ February and the drawing starts in March/April with a couple in May.
  • If there are people that take classes at MPC a student i.d. will gain them local discounts including MTS pass discounts. 
  • To attend MPC you only need the military spouse/ dependent form to establish resident tuition ($42/credit vs. $250/credit), no need to establish CA residency as that process is more hoops to jump through. 
  • If you homeschool make sure to take advantage of the charter school money! CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION
  • Dual Language Academy holds spots for kindergarten military children (This school is located on Ft Ord) 
  • If you’re the part to a child in grades 6-12 they can take DUAL enrollment classes at Monterey Peninsula College for FREE. CLICK HERE to learn more. 

What the locals know that you should too!

  • When on the wharf or in super tourist areas in Monterey ask for the local’s menu! 
  • With an NPS .edu address, Amazon Prime Student is a 6-month Prime free trial then 50% off Prime.SHOPPING
  • $10 dollar parking for the year! CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION
  • Your .edu address will also get you discounts for the Adobe CC programs 
  • Hulu with an .edu address is only $4.99 
  • If you or your sponsor is a student at DLI/NPS and your child is younger than 3 years of age you can get the aquarium pass for $150.00 
  • Air is free by law if you are at any gas station you just may have to run in and let them know to turn it on for you.
  • The Monterey county library has guest passes to the aquarium you can use for FREE
  • If you become a member to The Monterey Bay Aquarium you get two guest passes that you can use over and over and over again and you don’t have to be present for you guest to use them! Also if you have more than 2 guests visiting you can ask on the neighborhood pages for more and members are more than willing to share them with you! To learn more about becoming a member CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION


Target- Sand City It’s about 5 mins from La Mesa 

Target-Marnia this Target is basically on Ft Ord so it’s minutes away from Ord housing too. 

Home Goods- Sand City same area as Target in Sand city. 

Costco- My personal favorite place! Sand City about 5 mins from La Mesa and about 5-10 mins from Ord depending on where you live on Ord 

Marshalls- Sand City 

Ross-Sand City 

Michaels- Marina so on Ft Ord area 

Kohls- Marina Ft Ord area 

Old Navy-Marina Ft Ord area 

Home Depot- Seaside closer to La Mesa so not far at all. 

Forever 21-Monterey Del Monte Shopping Center on exit up from La Mesa 

H&M- Monterey Del Monte Shopping Center one exit up from La Mesa 

Gap-Del Monte Shopping Center one exit up from La Mesa 

Starbucks! Too many to count! 

Trader Joes- One in Monterey minutes from La Mesa

Trader Joes- One in Pacific Grove 

Best Buy- Marina/ Ft Ord area

Bed Bath and Beyond- Marina/ Ft Ord Area

Hobby Lobby- It’s in Morgan Hill area and it’s about a 45-1 hour drive from Monterey depending on traffic. 

IKEA- It’s in Pal Alto it’s about 1 hour 15 mins from Monterey. 


Where to buy food?

Whole Foods- In Monterey Del Monte Shopping Center 

Commissary- It’s on Ft Ord 

PX/Exchange/NEX- There’s one on Ft Ord and at NPS 

Grocery/Bargain outlet- There are two one in Marina and one in Monterey. This is a discount grocery store and you can buy wine for cheap! The one in Monterey gives a military discount. 

Costco- do I have to say more?! Amazing if you aren’t a member you’re missing out! 

Farmer’s markets in Monterey are BIG! CLICK HERE FOR THE SCHEDULE 

JP Organics delivered right to your door! They are amazing and I’ve used them many many many times! The summer boxes are the best! CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE

Stay tuned... next to come

I’ll make sure to post these also on the Monterey Military Housing Questions page so you guys can all stay in the loop! 

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    June 8, 2018

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