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The History of Movie-Making in Monterey County, CA

Monterey County is known far and wide for the incredible coastline, majestic cliff faces, sweeping valleys, and historic architecture. The rich scenery of this area has fascinated visitors and locals alike, and it’s no surprise that the beauty and diversity of the Monterey landscape have drawn plenty of film crews over the years! From vintage classics to sci-fi blockbusters, and romantic dramas to fun family flicks, over 200 movies and nearly 200 television shows have been shot on location across this idyllic landscape. Keep reading to learn more about the history of movie-making in Monterey County, CA

Monterey: Making Movie Magic for Over a Century

The first two films to come out of Monterey County were both filmed by the Edison Manufacturing Company back in 1897! The two short films, titled Surf at Monterey and Hotel Del Monte, certainly aren’t anything like the big Hollywood blockbusters we see today but do provide an incredible perspective on the history and beauty of Monterey. The first feature-length picture filmed in Monterey was Cecil B. DeMille’s Rose of the Rancho (1914) and was just one among dozens of silent-era movies that used Monterey as a backdrop.

Point Lobos State Park was an extremely popular filming location in the 1910s and 1920s, but controversy arose after the production of a movie called Evangeline in 1929. The production crew set fire to a cluster of buildings constructed for the movie, but the flames also charred the landscape, burning trees, grass, and brush. The area did not fully recover for 20 years, and the damage left behind caused a stir among locals. They pushed for restrictions to protect the landscape and limit filming, eventually leading Point Lobos to become an official State Park. However, that didn’t discourage filmmakers from returning to the Monterey Peninsula.

The Most Famous Movies Filmed in Monterey

Classic epics The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) and Anna Karenina (1935) were both filmed on location in Monterey. The Academy Award-winning drama From Here to Eternity (1953) starring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr was mostly filmed in Hawaii but used the romantic Monterey coastline to reshoot the iconic beach scene between the film’s two leads. The movie adaptation Steinbeck’s East of Eden (1955) starring James Dean was filmed here. Eden was the only of Dean’s three leading roles to be released during his lifetime, and thus was the only one he was able to watch in its entirety.

Wholesome family movies shot here include Lassie Come Home (1943) and The Parent Trap (1961). Monterey even got a visit from Kermit and the gang during the production of The Muppet Movie (1979). The beloved Tom Hanks comedy Turner and Hooch (1989) was set in the fictional town of Cypress Beach but used Moss Landing and Pacific Grove for most scenes, including the Pacific Grove Police Department.

While most movies filmed on this scenic peninsula utilized the majestic outdoor locations, sci-fi blockbuster Star Trek: The Voyage Home (1986) made use of the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. Dr. Spock (played by the incomparable Leonard Nimoy) swam through the Kelp Forest exhibit, and fans of the series still visit and pay homage to this classic scene.

Monterey On the Small Screen

Monterey County has also attracted its share of TV productions, from the hit Discovery Channel series Mythbusters (2003) to dramas like Mad Men (2007) and Big Little Lies (2017). The Golden Globe-nominated Netflix series Ratched (2020) featuring actress Sarah Paulson is set in the small coastal town of Lucia, and they also filmed on location around Cannery Row and the Big Sur coast.

Recent Film Projects In Monterey

In early 2021, All the Old Knives starring Chris Pine and Thandie Newton began filming in Monterey County. Based on the novel by Olen Steinhauer, this exciting spy film is set in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Locals were excited to work as extras on this project, and production wrapped in March of this year. While there’s no telling what star-studded projects will be next to shoot in Monterey County, we think it’s safe to assume that location scouts will keep bringing Hollywood magic to this beautiful and beloved California community.

Visit These Iconic Locations For Yourself

If you’d like to learn more about the history of movies in Monterey, Monterey Movie Tours will take you all the way from Cannery Row to Carmel-by-the-Sea, stopping at the most famous locations along the way. When planning your visit, book a stay with Carmel Valley Lodge for celeb-worthy treatment. Our 3-acre property is the ideal place to relax and enjoy the exquisite scenery of Monterey County in peace and comfort. The cozy rooms, sparkling swimming pool, and attentive staff will leave you feeling like you’ve stepped into a scene straight off the silver screen. 

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