Modern surface science faces two major challenges, a materials gap and a pressure gap. While studies on single crystal surface in ultrahigh vacuum have uncovered the atomic and electronic structures of the surface, the materials and environmental conditions of commercial catalysis are much more complicated, both in the structure of the materials and in the accessible pressure range of analysis instruments. Model systems and operando surface techniques have been developed to bridge these gaps. In this Review, we highlight the current trends in the development of the surface characterization techniques and methodologies in more realistic environments, with emphasis on recent research efforts at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. We show principles and applications of the microscopic and spectroscopic surface techniques at ambient pressure that were used for the characterization of atomic structure, electronic structure, charge transport, and the mechanical properties of catalytic and energy materials. Ambient pressure scanning tunneling microscopy and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy allow us to observe the surface restructuring that occurs during oxidation, reduction, and catalytic processes. In addition, we introduce the ambient pressure atomic force microscopy that revealed the morphological, mechanical, and charge transport properties that occur during the catalytic and energy conversion processes. Hot electron detection enables the monitoring of catalytic reactions and electronic excitations on the surface. Overall, the information on the nature of catalytic reactions obtained with operando spectroscopic and microscopic techniques may bring breakthroughs in some of the global energy and environmental problems the world is facing.