ByElle McFarlane, writer at
'There's always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you.'
Elle McFarlane

Aside from the dazzling deluge of sass, the pristine outfits and the not-so-subtle hostility bubbling above a gruesome murder mystery, combines an all-star cast, with an exquisitely well written screenplay to stunning effect.

With Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern all putting in career-defining performances however, it's easy to overlook one of the show's key characters: the idyllic seaside town of Monterey, California, where the show is set. From the outside looking in, Monterey is a veritable coastal paradise and the perfect setting for a show in which appearances are everything.

So, let's kick off our designer sandals and dive on into the beautifully rolling surf to find out a little more about Monterey, the hometown of HBO's groundbreaking new mini series, Big Little Lies.

'In The Tranquil Seaside Town Of Monterey, California, Nothing Is Quite As It Seems'

Big Little Lies [Credit: HBO]
Big Little Lies [Credit: HBO]

HBO describes Big Little Lies as being set "in the tranquil seaside town of Monterey, California, [in which] nothing is quite as it seems." Fusing together vast seascapes with jutting cliff faces, grandiose mansions with acres of luscious forests and extensive stretches of paradisiacal beaches with miles of winding highways, Monterey is the physical embodiment of a place in which extremes meet.

With its identity formed through being an inherently chameleonic place, it comes as little surprise that the screenwriters swapped the original Australian location of Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies book to this multifaceted, American context. Speaking to Vogue, scriptwriter David E. Kelley stated:

“It [Monterey] just has a hypnotic beauty. Aesthetically, we were looking to draw the audience in and have them say ‘I want to go there on vacation."

'Big Little Lies' Brought Over $2.5 Million Dollars Into Monterey County

One-hundred miles south of San Fransisco, Monterey is renowned for having California's first newspaper, theater, public library, and publicly funded school — facts of which Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), being Monterey's Theater programmer, no doubt is incredibly proud. Boasting a population of just under 28,000 people, the city of Monterey, which is located on the southern edge of Monterey Bay, is big enough to support its influential, wealthy residents, but not large enough for them to be able to evade the scandal of a murder at a school fundraising event.

With Monterey County being the backdrop for several huge Hollywood movies such as Star Trek IV, The Parent Trap and Play Misty for Me, it's certainly no stranger to the glaring lights of tinsel town. And it's a pretty lucrative business too; Karen Nordstrand the film commissioner for the Monterey County Film Commission tells the Mercury News that an estimated $2.5 million dollars was brought into the county's economy after just four weeks of on-location shooting for the show.

While The Cast & Crew Enjoy Shooting In LA, Nothing Beats Filming In Monterey

With around 150 members of the Big Little Lies cast and crew moving around several locations of the Monterey Bay, shooting for the HBO mini series was a complex logistical feat. Consequently, the show's producers worked closely with the Monterey County Film Commission to help with all the legal, practical and coordination issues that naturally accompany such a high-end production. In an interview with Carmel Magazine, executive producer Gregg Fienberg could not speak more highly of his experience shooting in the charming seaside town:

“Nothing looks like Monterey, and that's a good thing. We’re all happy to shoot in LA, but to tell you the truth? We can’t wait to get back there."

And it wasn't just the cast and crew that enjoyed the shooting process:

"It was a great experience for everyone, including the community I think, even though a film crew with all its vehicles and equipment can be pretty disruptive—especially with big stars like Reese and Nicole—to people’s daily lives.”

A Closer Look At The Monterey Sites That Feature In 'Big Little Lies'

Big Little Lies [Credit: HBO]
Big Little Lies [Credit: HBO]

With so many great local sites to chose from, the Big Little Lies location scouts struck gold when they chanced upon Monterey. From tourist traps to well-guarded local secrets, the show was filmed in all manner of locale. Let's take a closer look at exactly which sites feature on the show.

  • Bixby Creek Bridge

A stunning architectural accomplishment, the Bixby Creek Bridge is one of America's most famous bridges. Located on the Big Sur coast, just 21 kilometers south of Carmel in Monterey County, Bixby Bridge was built in 1932 and is one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world, and consequently it finds a home in the opening credits of Big Little Lies in all its majestic glory.

  • Highway 1

If you've watched any of the Big Little Lies episodes, you'll know that a lot of the show's drama unfolds within the confines of the characters' cars — usually while driving along Highway 1. This is one of California's most famous highways as it is also one of its most picturesque. Curling down the coast from Monterey to Morro Bay, Madeline, Celeste and Jane can be spotted in various states of emotional distress cruising along this iconic stretch of road.

  • Monterey Bay Aquarium
Big Little Lies [Credit: HBO]
Big Little Lies [Credit: HBO]

With Renata (Laura Dern) being on the board of Monterey's Bay Aquarium, you know it's got to be a destination of great significance. Known for its incredibly diverse variety of sea life, visitors are able to get up close and personal with everything from penguins to sea nettle jellyfish. And who knows? Maybe you'll run into Jane and Ziggy staring into the aquatic abyss while you are there.

  • Harborside Cafe At Fisherman's Wharf

The cafe where Madeline, Celeste and Jane go to air all of their most recent grievances is actually set in Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf, which boasts a collection of seafood markets, cafes and shops, all very close to the Aquarium. Operating as an active fisherman's market up until the '60s, as fishing became a less attractive commercial endeavor, the area eventually transformed into a tourist trap.

  • Del Monte Beach

Somewhat of a local secret, the Del Monte Beach is where most of Big Little Lies' flashback sequences and shots of the coastal jogging take place. Before the mini series, it was known as a beach to head to in order to get away from the crowds — quite how much longer it will be able to maintain such a reputation in the aftermath of the show remains to be seen.


Would you like to live in Monterey?


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