The Monterey Peninsula, and south through Big Sur, is one of our favorite three/four-day trips. It has some of everything: incredible scenery, hiking, wineries, beautiful homes, the iconic 17 Mile Drive, very good restaurants, luxurious accommodations, kayaking, horseback riding, and as much world-class golf as anyone could wish. And don’t forget what may well be the best aquarium in the country.
Since we can only so much in three days (luckily we don’t golf), we managed to get a sampling of many of these activities on a four-day trip. The biggest miss-we skipped the aquarium (at which we spent five hours—including a behind-the-scene tour) during last year’s visit). This still gave us more than enough for a very full trip.
This year’s primary activities included:
Wine Tasting in Carmel Valley. We limited our stops to three of our favorite Carmel Valley wineries, Talbot (where we, I characteristically, did not end up buying any of their Pinots), Bernardus (where we were particularly taken with their Sierra Mar Vineyard SLH Pinot) and our traditional favorite. Morgan (where we bought out the remaining Pinot Gris, and loaded up on their unpacked Metalico Chardonnay and Twelve Clones Pinot and picked up a few bottles of Morgan’s version of Pinot from Gary’s Vineyard, our favorite in the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Hiking at Los Lobos State Park, between Carmel and Carmel Highlands. Although we have frequently passed this State Park, we had never stopped in. We did this time. We began with a brief, but interesting intro at the park’s small historical museum; learning how the park became the embarkation point for many Chinese, the history of the abalone industry and a bit about the area’s geology and ocean features. We then ventured out onto the trails, walking headed the cliffs overlooking the rocky coastline and whitewater swells of the bay. We were surrounded by lovely views of the cliffs and that waves on trails lined with beautiful, old Monterey Cypress trees. A great park in which you can walk along miles of scenic cliffs, coves and forested trails.
Horseback Riding along the Beach at the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center. We enjoyed the ride so much from our previous trip that we decided to do it again (and another half-price offer made it just as attractive). The hour ride took us through the del Monte forest, across sand dunes to the coast, and back past beautiful Pebble Beach homes and through the Spyglass Hill golf course. A very pretty ride that we will have happily taken three times.
Kayaking in Moss Landing’s Elkhorn Slough. Our last trip with Monterey Bay Kayaks was a guided kayak trip out into the bay. This year, we decided on an inland trip, through the slowly flowing, salt water slough. It was a fantastic two-hour paddle alongside rafts of sea otters, curious and friendly harbor seals and past a large dock past large, noisy and very smelly sea lions. Our guide, Alex, was a font of knowledge. We learned more than we could imagine about tidal sloughs, the life spans, feeding practices, diets, mating and child-raising rituals of sea otters, the differences between seals and sea lions and even the habitats and lives of sand dollars. And, since Alex pulled our kayaks into the water, and then back out onto the shore, we did it all without so much as getting our feet wet. Overall, one of the most interesting and educational tours we have taken.
Monterey and Carmel are both walking towns. And then there are the beautiful coastal trails in Pacific Grove.
- Monterey, in particular, has a fascinating fishing history, and is surrounded by one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world–many of the stories of which are told in a series of interpretive signs along the pretty coastal walking and biking path (along with a much fuller, more display-based explanation at the city’s amazing aquarium). If you are up for a bit of kitschy fun, walks along Cannery Row and Fisherman’s walk are also fun. And for less kitsch, there is the walk past the historical adobes of Portola Plaza-and along the commercial Alvarado and Polk Streets, to the equally historic, and much more delicious, 1833 Restaurant (see below), which represents the year the beautifully restored adobe structure was built.
- Carmel, which is perhaps, a bit too precious for its own good, is virtually wall-to-wall with art galleries, upscale shops, restaurants and wine bars, up and along the streets radiating of Ocean Avenue, fittingly, ends at the town beach. The town, and especially Scenic Drive, which snakes along the coast, provides great views of the coast and many very pretty–and very expensive homes.
- Pacific Grove, the town that is sandwiched between Monterey and the bay, houses one of our favorite area walks, along the Bay, around Lovers’ Point. Although the surf, the rocks and the lovely Monterey Cypress are the primary sights, the historic mural on the seawall and the homes and stately inns (especially the Seven Gables and Green Gables) on the other side of the street help round out the scenery. Further along the coast, the trail from the Asilomar Conference Grounds along the lovely Asilomar Beach is just as scenic. A few blocks inland is the small, but pretty Monarch Butterfly Reserve, the winter home of tens of thousands of Monarchs. While there were only a couple hundred I this trip (right at the end of the season), they are still a great sight.
- 17-Mile Drive is, of course, the most famous of the drives along the Monterey coast. It takes you along one of the prettiest stretches of coast in the world, past four lovely coastal golf courses and some of the largest, most expensive homes in the country. (See the description and the pictures in our 2011 Monterey Peninsula blog.) The drive can be broken up, not to speak of enriched, by numerous scenic and interpretive stops and by many walks along the coast. One of our favorite walks is the coastal boardwalk at the Inn at Spanish Bay.
- Big Sur. Speaking of famous drives, the drive south from Carmel, along Route 1 along the Big Sur coast is one of the most magnificent drives in the country. Steep cliffs, plummeting down to the rolling surf, the scenic Bixby Bridge, and a scattering of site and national parks including one of our favorites, the Julia Pfeiffer Burns beach, which makes for a wonderful walk.
And what about all the great restaurants mentioned above? We had to save something for our next blog.