Monterey Bay was first discovered and mapped by Europeans when Sebastian Cabrillo sighted the “Bahia de los Pino’s” in 1542, followed by Sebastian Vizcaino who arrived in the bay in 1602 during his search for a protected harbor for Spain’s Manila galleons trade. Though not founded until 1770, Monterey went on to make its fortune through its role as Alta California’s primary port until 1849. At this time San Francisco’s deep water and more sheltered harbor – and its close proximity to the Sierra Nevada gold fields – gave it precedence.
Fisherman’s Wharf dates from the 1840’s and 1850’s, when trading vessels shared wharf space with whaling ships. The Old Whaling Station with its whalebone path that is still present today, Casa Soberanes and the First Theater all date from this period. The officials working in the Custom House examined and taxed porcelain from China, filigree from the Philippines and commodities and luxury goods from South America, Russia, Canada and Europe. As whaling diminished, it was replaced by fishing salmon, sardines, and squid. Whether a simple fishing boat or a sturdy schooner from around the Horn, all mariners relied on guidance from the lights at Point Pinos Lighthouse, built it 1855 and the Point Sur Lighthouse, built in 1889.
The centerpiece of the Museum of Monterey – Stanton Center is the original 580-prism Fresnel lens used at the Point Sur Lighthouse, there are displays dedicated to every period of Monterey’s maritime past.