In 1602 the Viceroy of New Spain, the Conde de Monterey, delegated Sebastian Viscaino, mariner and merchant, to explore the western shore of California. Viscaino was to prepare a detailed map of his findings, and to look for a harbor-haven for the Manila galleons which brought the elegant goods from the Philippines to the Pacific shores. Viscaino landed in Monterey that year and named the harbor after the Count of Monterey.
In 1769 Spaniard, Gaspar de Portola was sent north and in 1770 located Monterey Harbor and the ultimate City of Monterey was founded. California remained under Spanish control with Monterey as its capital until 1822, when Mexico added California to its empire. After war broke out between the United States and Mexico in 1846, Commodore Sloat, on landing in Monterey, claimed California for the Union.
Thus, the Marina, Old Fisherman's Wharf and Municipal Wharf II lie in some of the most historic waters in California.
In 1870 the Pacific Coast Steamship Company constructed a wharf at Monterey for regular passenger and freight service, with ships arriving four times weekly. Growth of the sardine industry and the need to keep the Wharf in better repair prompted the City Council to assume ownership of the pier in 1913. (At some time during this period it became known as "Fisherman's Wharf")
By 1916 the City had purchased the Wharf and established the office of Wharfinger. The City immediately began to expand the Wharf, providing more services to the fishing fleet and to the freight business. By 1920 the Wharf served as location for warehouses, nearly 20 wholesale and retail fish outlets, a marine service station, a restaurant, and an abalone shell grinding business.
On March 3, 1923, the largest load of sardines ever to be shipped from Monterey, 20,000 cases, was on Fisherman's Wharf ready to be loaded on the S.S. San Antonio. The weather was bad and the San Antonio leaned too heavily onto the Wharf timbers, causing 132 feet of the pier to collapse and spilling 10,000 cases of sardines into the harbor. In Wharf reconstruction which followed, 750 feet were added, and a finger pier was built extending eastward from the Wharf. A marine service station was also added.
In 1925 City officials started a drive for the construction of a new cargo Wharf to meet increasing commercial fishing demands and to relieve congestion on Fisherman's Wharf. Bonds were voted in and a new Wharf (Municipal Wharf II) was completed in 1926.
In 1929 Congress appropriated funds for the construction of the present breakwater. The breakwater and its 400-foot extension was completed in 1934.
During World War II the character of the wharves changed only slightly. When sardines began to disappear after World War II, Fisherman's Wharf converted to a tourist-oriented operation. By 1956 the users of Fisherman's Wharf included restaurants, gift and candy shops, a theater, an aquarium, snack bars, boat rental businesses, fish markets, marine machine shops and a marine service station. Wharf II was still serving the wholesale fish businesses.
In the 1950s the demand for a small craft harbor or marina became increasingly urgent. In 1957 construction of a new marina was placed on the ballot, but divided Monterey citizens failed to approve the project until a 20-year, low-interest loan for half the construction cost was obtained from the State. Construction began in 1959. Upon completion in 1960, the Marina provided 367 berths at a construction cost of slightly over $600,000. A protective sea wall extended from Wharf II to the Marina entrance next to Fisherman's Wharf. Monterey Municipal Marina was dedicated September 11, 1960. The berthing facilities were constructed by Granite Construction Company of Watsonville, CA. The launching ramps were added in 1962.
In 1969 a new loan of $325,00 form the State was provided to finance the construction of an additional bulkhead wall, a promenade and additional parking spaces in the Marina area. G tier with 29 berths was added in 1975.
In October 1996 a $5,000,000 Marina reconstruction project was finished. New, wider concrete docks and a handicapped accessible ramp were added. A low-interest loan from the State Department of Boating and Waterways made the project possible. The City of Monterey plans to continue to improve services to customers and public access to Monterey Bay.
Fisherman's Wharf has continued to adjust to the ever-increasing visitor trade. Where once tons of sardines were shipped daily, now thousands of visitors enjoy the Wharf's many fine restaurants, gift shops, art galleries, tackle and bait shops, fishing, whale watching harbor cruise and party boat concessions. The Wharf Theater continues to present plays throughout the year.
Wharf II has continued to be the center of commercial wholesale fish business. In addition, several restaurants, the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club and other marina support facilities have been added.