Monterey is a lovely, exciting yet peaceful city where the mountains bow to the sea and all the colors of nature grow everywhere in between. The crowning jewel is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which attracts thousands of visitors each year and is well worthy of its reputation to amaze you, but that is just the start of attractions that await you in this seaside town. With so many options for browsing, marine life voyeurisms, seafood dining, theaters, wine tasting, beach strolling, kayaking, shopping or biking, it offers an endless playground no matter which your interests are. For Northern Californians, Monterey is less than a two hour drive south of San Francisco, along Highway 1, and makes for a perfect mini getaway.
Day oneUpon your arrival to Monterey, check into where you will be staying. There are numerous options for homes, small B&B’s to oceanfront hotels and everything in between.
The Monterey Tides is a seaside chic boutique hotel. Their glass-enclosed lobby instantly treats you to spanning bay and ocean views for miles. Below the hotel is a strand of sandy beach to stroll. There are a bar and restaurant on premise and of course, room service. Slip into their signature dreamscape bedding for a restful sleep as you reflect on your day and await tomorrows fun. This was my choice as I wanted to be pampered and have many amenity options available to me just outside of my door.
Alternatively, perhaps you were looking to stay in the heart of town or by Cannery Row, then head over to Airb&b or Agoda to find your perfect space.
Time to head over to Pacific Grove, a mere few miles west out onto the end of the peninsula. Stretch your legs as you stroll through tiny shops displaying everything from souvenirs, unique seascape artwork to handcrafted finds and jewelry.
An unforgettable meal awaits you at The Fishwife restaurant. They’re known for their lighter than air Crab Cake appetizer and offer fresh fish entrees prepared numerous ways with a Caribbean flair to each dish. I have not tried a recipe that didn’t quickly become my new favorite. Choose from a varied selection of local wines by the bottle or the glass to compliment your meal. While there isn’t a view of the ocean or a stunning interior to brag about, it is popular with the locals because of the delicious food and friendly unpretentious service. Open 11-10 daily but closed on Sundays. Be sure to make your reservations ahead of time.
To start your day off right, head over to Caffe Trieste on Alvarado Street in the downtown area. The sandwich board outside says “ Voted the best Cappuccino in town” need I say more? As far as their claim goes, they have my vote! Inside is a local hangout with tables scattered about and filled to the rim. There is a vast selection of pastries in a glass case, and a wall posted menu covering eggs dish specialties, pancakes, omelets, and three choices of different types of Benedict’s. Not being a big breakfast eater, my raspberry torte went perfectly with my cappuccino. If your lucky and get a window bar seat, do a little people watching to get you going.
It is time to for some fun on Cannery Row. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located at the north end of the strip with ample parking at a decent price for the day.
A few of the features seen at California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium, including sharks, rays, turtles, sea dragons, sea horses, and all kinds of fish. You can spend hours walking through this massive collection of exhibits while being throughly entertained and enlighten. It is truly a captivating experience to witness what goes on under our seas. Enjoy this video from ?????
Cannery Row is the waterfront street in the ‘New Monterey’. It is the site of a number of now-defunct sardine canning factories that have been transformed into a shoppers or browsers paradise. Apparel, cigars, candy, museums, art galleries and there are activities galore to keep you occupied.
Many famous authors have used Monterey’s beauty as writing inspiration, but John Steinbeck and his famous novel entitled “Cannery Row” are showcased with his own Wax Museum. It is an exciting way to learn about the history of this town.
Take home a keepsake from the Old Time Portraits. Their turn of the century costumes will help set the scene, whether you a dreaded gun-slinging Sheriff or that gorgeous barmaid in waiting, it is a picture that will start many conversations.
Upstairs is gem named A Taste of Monterey. Formerly a local wine tasting bar, it is now a shop where you can take home a favorite find, and their small plates offerings can be eaten at the ocean view tasting bar or at a cozy table to watch the boats pass.
It was hard to choose, but I ordered the Applewood Bacon Wrap Dates with blue cheese filling and their House-made Sausage Trio of chicken sun-dried tomato, duck, and pork and lamb merguez creations paired with a tarragon dijon, bacon marmalade and apple chutney sauces for your dipping pleasure. After the wine tasting exploration, Jasmine, who has worked there for 11 years, poured me a glass of my favorite, a 2014 Joullian Family Reserve Syrah. This full-bodied wine with undertones of leather, root beer, and cedar was juicy on the palate and displayed a hearty tannin finish which complimented both dishes perfectly. My mouth was in heaven, and I felt so lucky to discover this captivating place, both for its cuisine and wines but also for Jasmines exemplary and professional service.
Here is where you can choose between two different ways to fill your evening.
Time for a rendezvous with the Old Fisherman’s Wharf in downtown Monterey also known as the “Whale Watching Capital of the World.”
“It has seen bales of Chinese silks and barrels of Spanish wine,
whaling ships, Navy cutters, and fishing boats by the score;
Fisherman’s Wharf, in its various incarnations,
has been the focus of Monterey’s economic life for centuries.”
This wharf provides a wide array of activities, such as, whale watching, bay cruises, a glass bottom boat, marine life, fishing and sailing, and strolling in a gorgeous setting overlooking the marina. Indulge your sweet tooth at one of the various candy shops offering selections of ice cream, homemade chocolates, fudge, saltwater taffy, and colossal caramel or chocolate covered apples.
For a bird’s eye view of the marina and classic dining experience, Domenico’s on the Wharf is the place. Family owned and operated since opening in 1981, these local and sustainable conscience fishers offer a superb selection of the freshest catch from Alaska, the California Pacific, and Monterey Bay. Sicilian history runs deep through the Mercurio family legacy, and those honored traditions are reflected in their ten different pasta options. A full bar and lounge are ready to pour your favorite beverage or try their ‘specialty of the day’.
An excellent place for burgers and ribs, with over twenty different draft beers on tap and a vast selection of scotch, is a local hangout called Bull & Bear. With a rustic interior of banished wood booths and a picnic style patio area to enjoy your meal, it is located a few doors down from Cafe Trieste and a leisurely stroll to your evening’s entertainment venue.
If you love music, then the line up at the Golden State Theatre showcases some of the biggest names around. This large theatre, over 15,000 square feet, was built-in 1926 and features an Old World grand lobby, a mezzanine, one thousand plush velvet seats, state-of-the-art sound, and the indefinable magic of a truly historic setting. B.B. King, Chris Botti, and Willie Nelson are just a few names who have graced their stage. Purchase your tickets from their website at www.http://goldenstatetheatre.com/schedule.
Start your day with a breathtaking view and Eggs Benedict at C Restaurant in the Intercontinental Hotel on Cannery Row. Their Mimosas are the right blend of freshly squeezed orange juice and Champagne to toast the day.
Before heading home either take the scenic 17-mile drive. Discover one of the most spectacular drives in the world as you meet the inspiring Lone Cypress, ponder the giant trees at Crocker Grove, digest the untouched beauty at Fanshell Beach, behold the power of the Restless Sea at Point Joe, or stroll the boardwalk above the beach at Spanish Bay.
Ready do a little hiking. The Monterey Coastal trail offers stunning Alpine Scenery. There are tons of benches for you to stop and take breaks and just take in the view or take photographs of the sea lions and jellyfish or even the seagulls!
Alternatively, perhaps the nature trails at Toro County Park are more to your liking. The Ollason Trail rates as the best hike in the county . An excellent way to experience the countryside and enjoy the vast views before heading home.
Whether you are looking to gaze at the ocean, play on the beach, observe sea creatures, shop until you drop, taste some of the freshest seafood dishes or relax and rejuvenate, Monterey offers many choices to play, taste and experience. It indeed is a beautiful place to visit and a hard place to leave.
Words and photographs by Shelley Pittman