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Do you enjoy the Open Space of Monterey’s Custom House Plaza and Alvarado Mall, or would you rather drive through?

10/24/13 update: At its 10/22 meeting, the Monterey City Council expressed its desire not to have the Alvarado Mall and Custom House Plaza opened to motor vehicle traffic. In a conversation with a planning commissioner on 10/20, Bicycling Monterey confirmed that the direction now is that only very slow trolleys would be allowed to travel this area in the future–and a costly redesign of the area would first be necessary, putting such activity well into the future.

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Do you prefer that Alvarado Mall and Custom House Plaza remain car-free?
Tell City of Monterey leaders now!
Below, see a gallery of people who treasure this Open Space.

Many people of all ages value the Custom House Plaza and the Alvarado Mall as a very special gateway between the waterfront and downtown Monterey for people who walk or bike. Sadly, that may not remain so for future generations. But don’t give up yet–you still have an opportunity to voice your opinion about this issue.

  1. Attend City meetings and offer your opinion during Public Comment time.
  2. Write to the Planning Commissioners and City Council (for contact info, scroll down to “Express your opinion“). Among those who’ve written is peninsula resident Nathan Pierce (download here: Nathan Pierce 9-9-13 ltr to City of Monterey).
  3. Write a letter to the editor to spread the word, as did peninsula resident Elvira Robinson (click here, then scroll to “Roundabout Ways”).

Most of us agree that the City’s Downtown Specific Plan has a majority of wonderful features! Yet, given that the City and others generally want to encourage more walking and biking, it is puzzling to some that the Plan is to do away with this unique gateway.

Don’t misunderstand:

Sounds good at first glance, eh? The City staff recommends ending the restriction of bicycles on the Alvarado Mall.
  • But hey, that’s part of their further recommendation to open Alvarado Mall to some motor vehicle traffic–and  Custom House Plaza too!
  • How about this instead: The City could choose to end the on-the-books restriction of bicycles on Alvarado Mall. And they could do so without attaching that to allowing motor vehicles on the Alvarado Mall and Custom House Plaza.
  • There isn’t any “bicycles not allowed” signage on the Alvarado Mall presently, because the City has no desire to enforce this old restriction; the City has been planning to change that ordinance. While skateboards aren’t allowed–because of the noise they make on the brick pavers–allowing visitors and locals to bicycle through the Alvarado Mall is part of the City of Monterey’s increasing bike-friendliness.

Speak up now if you’d like to maintain this very special car-free area–the Alvarado Mall and Custom House Plaza–that links downtown to the waterfront and the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail.  There’s still time to let the Planning Commissioners and City Council know how you feel about this feature of the Downtown Specific Plan.

Learn more at the end of this post.

But first, see who’s out enjoying this very special gateway to downtown!

Some people coming from Old Fisherman’s Wharf don’t know that downtown Monterey is directly across the Custom House Plaza. “Yes! It would be helpful to have a prominent year-round sign at the Plaza entrance, reading: ‘Welcome to downtown Monterey!'”

Alvarado Mall - Custom House - why not a welcome to downtown sign

On special event days, the Custom  House Plaza is hopping! But on many other days, it serves as a peaceful place to rest, read, and meet up with friends, coworkers, and others.

Do you have hard-of-hearing loved ones, or just find conversations in  restaurants difficult? Pick up some take-out at one of the many nearby restaurants, then relax in the Custom House Plaza. Quiet days here mean conversations can flow easily!

International visitors are among those who find this special place, apart from the hustle and bustle of city streets, so charming.

Daniel Grün, German visitor

Italian Honeymooners

Custom House Plaza is a favorite destination

for this frequent visitor from Santa Cruz.

It’s enjoyed by people biking to adjacent history spots and museums,

like him…

and her.

Woman at MOM - 2010

[Update: Until its removal in November 2015] On a quiet day in this open space, children of all ages have often enjoyed the simple treat of circling around the fountain. What a healthy treat! Dr. Hugh Stallworth would surely agree!

Multiple thousands of visitors and residents experience California’s State Historic Landmark #1 and its plaza as a center for cultural celebrations of all sorts.

The Custom House Plaza is very much alive with such events as the Greek Festival, Festa Italia-Santa Rosalia Festival,  Turkish Festival, Monterey Bay Sardine Festival, Whale of an Art Show, Monterey Bay Theatrefest, Springfest and Summerfest arts and crafts shows, Monterey Wine Festival, Monterey Beer Garden, First Night Monterey festivities, and more. Pictured below: free performances of the Next Generation Jazz Festival at Museum of Monterey,  spilling onto the plaza.

The Custom House Plaza is also a frequent meeting place for people participating in a wide variety of community activities, such as the annual Walk to End Alzheimers and the Intergenerational Ride for Bike Week. It’s a comfortable place and easy to find, which makes it a favorite of many Meetup groups whose members are gathering to explore Monterey.


Below is one of the many people who enjoy shopping-by-bike, including at the arts and crafts fairs held at the Custom House Plaza.

By the way, many communities are finding that bicyclists are better customers than drivers for local businesses. From Toronto to the Netherlands, commerce and bicycles go hand in hand.

Basket shopping at Custom House Plaza

This man is a frequent visitor from Florida, shown here at the waterfront entrance to Custom House Plaza.


Local musicians exiting Custom House Plaza and heading onto the Alvarado Mall, then on downtown.

Uke players on Custom House Plaza June 2012

Many couples love to stroll or bike through the Alvarado Mall, one of the many charms of a romantic experience of Monterey.

Alvarado Mall makes a very special contribution to the City of Monterey’s efforts to be a more walkable, bikeable city. This brick passageway leading from downtown to the Custom House Plaza– and on to the waterfront–is part of a wonderful discovery path for visitors, and locals!

This family was staying at the Portola Hotel and found the adjacent Alvarado Mall a perfect place to begin their explorations by bicycle.

Alvarado Mall baby waits for dad to go

Pictured below: Dan Vitanza of Pino’s Cafe. Like his Alvarado Mall neighbors Spa on the Plaza and Portola Hotel, Dan enrolled Pino’s in the HER Helmet Thursdays project, a long-term ecology-economy sustainability project that supports the City of Monterey’s goals to encourage more biking and walking.

Visitors not only loved the bike-friendliness of Custom House Plaza but also loved learning that Museum of Monterey, located on the plaza, gives HER Helmet Thursdays discounts too.


Museum of Monterey? Discounts for people who bike? Awesome!

Vy and Nolan by Museum of Monterey cropped 20 Dec 2011 (2)

 People love the ease of walking and biking Custom House Plaza and Alvarado Mall, like these folks from an Intergenerational Ride group who had just enjoyed lunch at Peter B’s Brewpub–another HER Helmet Thursdays spot.

Whether you’re walking, biking, shopping, dining, or just relaxing on a bench,

Alvarado Mall is a special downtown spot.

Alvarado Mall - heading toward Custom House Plaza

This woman is a San Jose visitor, making a stop for a purchase at Adventures by the Sea–another Alvarado Mall business.

San Jose folding bike on Alvarado Mall (2)

This kind of vehicle–pedal-powered–fits in nicely at the Alvarado Mall.

On special event days, and many weekends, there’s enough activity on the Alvarado Mall that I not only s-l-o-w down or hop off and walk my bike–as a courtesy to pedestrians–I almost want to hand-signal which way I’m headed!

Chic signaling

 We’re off next to explore downtown by bike!

Alvarado Mall couple by Adventures

 “Oh, you mean we missed it? We wanted to go downtown but didn’t see how to get there from the trail. Maybe they could put in a  sign back there [by the Custom House  Plaza entrance] that directs folks: ‘This way to downtown Monterey!'”

Coach Jim Warwick of Salinas High’s mountain biking team and his daughters Justine and Rebecca brought visiting friends to experience historic Old Monterey the best way they know–by bike! Here they are on the Custom  House Plaza.

And in the winter at Custom House Plaza, there’s “Ice Skating on the Bay.”

Below: In winter, HER Helmet Thursdays spots Peter B’s Brewpub, Cafe Fina, and Domenico’s on the Wharf have sponsored Ice Skating by the Bay on the Custom House Plaza.

Below, our much respected City of Monterey Traffic Engineer Rich Deal listens  to Jan Valencia, as Jan shares thoughts from his experiences of biking in Monterey.  Jan is Velo Club Monterey’s Answer Man.

Ask the Answer Man: “Do you think the Custom House Plaza is dead space or desirable open space?”

Baroni and Petersen - Rich Deal May 15 015


Dutch visitors biking with their young daughter love it when they get down Alvarado Street and reach the Alvarado Mall, Custom House Plaza, and the nearby section of the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, because all have no motor vehicle traffic at this time. That is planned to change for Alvarado Mall and Custom House Plaza. (See below.)

Change doesn’t have to be all or nothing, as wise elders know so well. We can accept most of the recommendations made by the transportation consultants hired by the city, and still say “No, thanks” to opening Alvarado Mall and Custom House Plaza to motor vehicle traffic.

Learn more

Perhaps you read Sara Rubin’s 4/11/13 story in the Monterey County Weekly, and the comments below it. Now see “Where the Plazas are in the City of Monterey,” and be sure to scroll down to “Perhaps change coming” as well.

The corresponding Citywide Transportation and Parking Study is found at on this page.

Express your opinion

Let the City of Monterey’s planning commissioners and council members know how you feel about the plan to open up Alvarado Mall and the Custom House Plaza to (“at least some”) motor vehicle traffic.

  • Click here for list of Planning Commission members. You may write to them c/o Planning Office, Colton Hall, 570 Pacific Street,  Monterey, CA 93940. Be sure to ask for a reply.
  • Contact the  Monterey City Council members directly.   Click here. You’ll be on a City of Monterey webpage that includes (on left of their page) the names of each Council member. The names link directly to their email addresses.
Bicycling Monterey has been publishing info about this plan since 2011. Don’t wait until people complain they never knew about the plan. Spread the word!

This post was published on 12 April 2013. One or more changes last made to this post on 27 December 2016.

  1. Elvira Robinson says:

    Mari, you are to be commended for your tireless work and dedication to encourage more use of bikes instead of cars. I was shocked and angered by the article in the Monterey County Weekly titled “Unpaving Paradise”.

    At first I thought, wow, this is great. Then I was horrified to read that the “Monterey city planners envision ….a round-about smack in the middle of Custom House Plaza … Alvarado would be extended to the middle of the plaza” !!!

    We don’t need any stinking cars there!

    The city planners appear to have too much money and a dire lack of imagination for this historic space. See my letter to the Monterey County Weekly, April 25 – May 1, 2013.

    Elvira Robinson

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