Monterey Peninsula

The Monterey Peninsula is under a 2-hour car trip south from San Francisco. The area has a wide range of things to do in addition to just taking in the beautiful views. You can:

  • Kayaking in the Bay;
  • Horseback riding through Pebble Beach;
  • Visited the incredible Monterey Aquarium;
  • Walk or bike Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove, and Monterey coastal trails;
  • Browse Carmel’s close to 100 galleries;
  • Hike some of the Big Sur parks’
  • Eat at some great restaurants; and, of course
  • Taste at some of the region’s dozens of wineries and tasting rooms.

We have written multiple blogs about this area and its beauty. This blog updates

Monterey Peninsula Wine Tasting

Regular readers of our blog know that we tend to seek out wine tasting wherever we go…especially Pinot Noirs. We especially like those from the nearby Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH). Among the wineries in this area that we found to be most interesting for our pallets are:

  • Talbott Vineyards. We began our wine tasting with two lightly-oaked Chardonnays: a 2018 Block 50 South whose blend of lightly-oaked and stainless fermented grapes show tropical, floral, somewhat buttery and toasty notes and our preference, a leaner, Burgundian-style 2016 Diamond T with apple and lemony tastes and bright acidity. After enjoying those, we moved into four Pinot Noirs. We especially liked the big, juicy, structured, smooth, slightly tannin 2017 Carmel Valley Diamond T and our favorite of the tasting, the complex, well-structured, and silky smooth, dark-fruited, 2017 Block 23 West Pinot Noir.
  • Morgan Winery. We always enjoy the minerally, citrusy, unoaked Metalica Chardonnay (2019 this time) and the black cherry fruit and moderate acid of the moderately-priced Twelve Clones (which now, we were told, consists of 14 clones). Our favorites of this trip, however, were the tart, red cherry, slightly acidic 2017 Double L Pinot Noir, and especially the dark fruit and balance of the 2017 777 Pinot Noir.
  • Hahn Estate is another one of our regular favorite wineries. Its 2018 Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) Pinot Noir (a Cuvee with grapes and clones from the winery’s four SLH vineyards) continues to be a very pleasant everyday wine. Our primary interest, however, is in Hahn’s single-vineyard Lucienne wines. Of the two that we sampled (the 2018 Smith Vineyard and 2017 Hook Vineyard), we found the latter to be more full-bodied, balanced, and with a lingering finish with our preferred tastes of dark (especially black cherry) fruits and leathery, earthy tones. Once he understood our tastes, the host tempted us with, but unfortunately could not open to offer tastes of two of the winery’s premium wines with which we were not familiar: the 2016 SLH Gabrielle and especially 2016 SLH Orchestral Pinots. Although the 2018 Lucienne Doctors Vineyard was not available for tasting, we did find a bottle at one of our restaurants and found it to be a lovely, full-flavor, dark-fruited Pinot Noir with pleasant light tannins.
  • Wrath Wines. We tasted a number of Pinot Noirs and especially enjoyed two very different ones: a 2018 Swan 828, which shows red cherry, earth, and acid, and a very big, Pommard 4 and 667-based KW Ranch SLH Pinot Noir with deep colors, black cherry and blackberry fruit, leather, and lots of structure. And speaking of big, extracted KW Ranch wines, the smokey, peppery 2017 KW Ranch Syrah is also a lovely wine.
  • Albatross Ridge. Although we were not familiar with this winery, it was highly recommended. It will now become a regular stop. Of the five Pinot Noirs that we tasted, we especially enjoyed the savory dark fruit and spice of the 2018 Estate Reserve and the dark fruit and relatively light body of the 2019 “Cuvee Owen”
  • Schied Vineyards. We enjoyed the black cherry and spice of its 2017 Pommard Clone Pinot Noir but were especially pleasantly surprised by the blackberry and chocolate of its aptly named Odd Lot Red (2018), a very approachable, inexpensive ($26) blend of 13 varietals (ranging from Cabernet and Petite Syrah to Sangiovese and Tempranillo).
  • Bernardus Winery and Vineyard. We like the deep color, full, dark fruit flavor, and structure of the 2017 Ingred’s Pinot Noir until we tasted the 2018 Gary’s Pinot Noir which had the body, depth, and concentration of flavors, but also another layer of complexity.
  • Boekenoogan Wines. Our favorite of the tasting was a 2018 Santa Lucia Highlands 3-Clone.
  • Blair Wines. While it is not normally our taste profile. we enjoyed the light-bodied, red-fruit and spice of the 2016 Delfina Vineyard Pinot Noir from the warmer Arroyo Seco wine region. And that is why wineries have tasting rooms… acquaint people with all of their wines.
  • Joyce Wine Company. Although we prefer big, dark-fruit Pinot Noirs in general, we liked the light, red cherry tastes of its Pommard-based 2019 Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir.
  • Joullian Wineyards. Our favorite wine of our tasting here was the 2017 Midnight Muscat made with black muscat fruit. It was quite sweet at 123 brix and it tasted of blackberries in milk chocolate. And finally;
  • Holman Ranch. This winery was our greatest new discovery of the trip. They focus on the Carmel Valley fruit of its estate. We began by enjoying the roundness of the melon and tang of the lemon of its 2018 unoaked Virgin Chardonnay and several of its Pinot Noirs, including several that are very reasonably priced for their quality. Our favorite of the six Pinot Noirs that we tasted was the deep, dark, expressive 667/777-based 2017 Three Brothers Pinot Noir, and its 2014 Hunter’s Cuvee with its black raspberry and cherry balanced by earth, spices, and fine tannins. Then there was one of the best and by far the most expensive of the bunch, the 2015 Reserve Jarmin with big, bold, black fruits and the structure and tannins that will allow the wine to continue to mature.

And on the way back to San Francisco. we made two additional stops at two on the northernmost of the Santa Lucia Highlands’ River Road;

  • Odonatta Wines. This small winery makes a wide range of varietal wines and blends. We tasted several, finding the 2018 SLH Blanc de Blanc light and refreshing. Although most of the reds are lighter than we prefer, our tastes led us to the red cherry, raspberry, and acid of the 2017 Falcon Hill Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot Noir, the black fruit and spice of the 2018 Zinfandel (San Benito’s Enz Vineyard) and the big, black (relative to other Odonatta wines, but light relative to other of this varietal) 2016 Petite Syrah from SLH’s Hook Vineyard.
  • Pessagno Winery. We were especially impressed by the big, red cherry flavors and spice of the 2015 SLH Four Boys Pinot Noir (despite its relatively steep price) and the cherry, tobacco, and chocolate of the 2016 Pedregal de Paicines Vineyard GSM blend.

Hiking on Monterey Peninsula

Big Sur Hikes

We thought we had it planned out: a roughly 4-mile round-trip hike down to the beach and along the Bluff Trail at Andrew Molera State Park, followed by lunch at Big Sur River Inn (see below), a stroll through the world’s southernmost redwood grove and along the roughly 3-mile round-trip hike along Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park’s Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View Trails and two short trails at Julia Pfieffer Burn’s State Park, the 0.5 m Canyon Trail to the base of McWay Falls and the 1 mile Partington Cove trail down the cliffs to a pretty cove. When we arrived at the parks we discovered that Andrew Molera’s Bluff Trail required the fording of a river and that Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park’s Phieffer Falls and Julia Pfeiffer Burn’s State Park’s Canyon Trail were closed. And besides that, the most stunning high-altitude views of the several hundred-foot cliffs plunging down to a roiled ocean lined with and beaches and whose waves were slamming against huge offshore rocks and sea stacks were all but obscured in shade. Then, on the way home, we found that one of the region’s most interesting art gallery (the Coast Gallery was closed) and that our drink on the Nepenthe’s deck overlooking the coast had to be canceled due to fog.

Such is life in a region of unpredictable fog and an era in which parks are continually plagued by droughts, ravaged by wildfires, and ripped apart by winter storms and floods. So, we made lemonade out of lemons as many of our favorite trails were still closed (some have recently reopened after our trip). We did the trails we could, found a couple of very nice substitutes, had a lovely lunch along the river, and found alternatives to the trails we were unable to do. While views were only occasional, we still left in awe of the grandeur and the delicacies of nature’s balance. And then there was the always delightful stop at Hawthorne Gallery and sculpture/cactus/succulent garden.

Outdoor sculptures admidst beautiful landscaping at Hawthorn Gallery

Our trails included:

  • Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park’s largest redwood groves. The trees are roughly 100-feet shorter than their cooler weather, Northern Californian cousins. This roughly 2-mile round trip hike takes you up to and back down from the view at the top of the Valley View Trail;
  • Julia Pfeiffer Burn’s State Park. We ended up taking the short, but lovely half-mile McWay Waterfall Overlook trail and then, about five miles north of the park’s main entrance, down and back up the park’s scenic 1 mile round trip Partington Cove trail to the bluff just above the cove; and
  • Garrapata State Bluff Trail goes along Big Sur’s northern ocean-hugging bluffs on the awe-inspiring roughly 1.5-mile roundtrip trail.

Surf hitting the cliffs at Garrapata TrailIce plants along the Garrapata Trail

What a lovely day exploring the surf exploding against the cliffs that lined the shores, and the beautiful vistas. We happened to also be there to see the numerous displays of wildflowers and colorful ice plants.

By the way, the state park pass that you buy is good for the entire day at multiple state parks in the area. As many of the ranger stations may not have a human to collect your money, make sure you have some small bills to pay the fee.

Point Lobos Hikes

We hiked several trails at Point Lobos, each with very different features and attractions. Our favorites were:

  • Cypress Grove Trail is a short .8 mile round trip trail through a highly varied grove of Monterey Cypress lining a rugged, rocky coastline. The trees ranged from seedlings to wind-shaped, fully mature trees and the bleached eerily twisted white trunks and branches of dead cypress, some of which were covered in red algae and others dripping with long stands of moss.
  • Bird Island Trail, is a point whose shoreline is pocked with several scenic coves with turquoise waters, sea caves and arches, and tranquil sandy beaches which, in spring are populated by harbor seals who are about to or have recently given birth. It is surrounded by several islands that, in the spring, serve as rookeries for thousands of nesting cormorants.

cormorants nesting on Bird Island

  • Whaler’s Cove, a roughly 1 mile trip around a head that is home to a 19th-century whaling station (complete with cabin, whale skeletons, and pots in which blubber used to be boiled down into whale oil. The head itself, which climbs to one of the highest points in the park, is surrounded by rock outcroppings and pocked with sand beaches that are seasonal homes to birthing harbor seals.

City Walks

Our city walks consisted of gallery and menu-browsing rambles up, down and across Carmel’s scenic streets, a walk along the shores of Pebble Beach, a stroll along Pacific Grove’s lovely coastline, through Monterey’s historic Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, and historic Alvarado Street. We love:

  • Carmel-by-the-Sea’s quirky architecture, rocky shoreline, beaches, and profusion of interesting galleries, shops, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms represent dozens of Monterey and Santa Lucia Highlands wineries.

2021-05-14 17.18.162021-05-14 16.16.48

  • Pebble Beach with the natural beauty of the justly famous 17-Mile Drive drive with its rugged coastline, the proliferation of Monterey Cypress trees, mansions and complemented by (or depending on your perspective, despoiled by) five fastidiously designed and landscaped golf courses and the Inns at Pebble Beach and Spanish Bay.
  • Pacific Grove with its Lighthouse Avenue commercial district, Monarch Butterfly Refuge, and the majestic cliff walk, bay-front parks, and mansions that line Ocean View Boulevard.

Pacific Grove

  • Historic Monterey, along the restored, very touristy street of Cannery Row, replete with its history of immigrant sardine fisherman and cannery, John Steinbeck and Doc Ricketts—is also home to the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium—past the clichéd but fun tourist restaurants of Fisherman’s Wharf, past the 1820-era Custom House and along Alvarado Street, the city’s historic commercial street that is lined with historic adobe buildings.

2021-05-13 17.20.00

The stretch of coastline, from Pacific Groves’ lovely Berwick Park, next to Lighthouse Avenue and past Monterey’s Cannery Row to Fisherman’s Wharf and Alvarado Street is paralleled by a lovely, roughly 2-mile walking/biking path that provides a very scenic and relaxing stroll or ride past some of the most scenic sections of the coastline.

  • Carmel Mission, a 1770-era mission generally considered the most authentically preserved on the missions and the last of the nine founded by Father Junipero Serra. The mission, with its basilica, large courtyards, museums, and reconstructed rooms–including a formal reception room, kitchen, padre bedroom, and the oldest library in the state was lovely and dedicated clearly to Serra, who after decades of controversies over his subjugation of Native Americans, was ultimately beatified in 1988.
  • 17-Mile Drive, from Carmel, though Pebble Beach and ending in Pacific Grove, is one of America’s most lovely routes. The road which generally runs along the beautiful rocky Pacific shoreline on one side and dramatic mansions on the other passes five beautifully situated and designed championship golf courses and is effectively bookended by two luxury resorts, the Pebble Beach Inn and the Inn and Spanish Bay. The Drive is crisscrossed by a number of trails and one 1.8-mile stretch, between Bird Island and the Inn at Spanish Bay, is lined by a walking path (between the road and the shore) that brings you up close and personal with the shoreline, the dense vegetation and fortuitously when we walked the round-trip path, a riot of beautifully colored wildflowers, red algae-coated rocks and multi-colored ice plants. And don’t forget, if you eat at one of the restaurants along the drive, you get your admission price back on the meal.

Monterey Peninsula Restaurants

As we were in the area for several days, we got to eat at many restaurants, some repeats of other trips and some new ones.

  • Portabello (Carmel), where we especially enjoyed the lightly pan-fried sand dabs with lemongrass butter sauce;
  • Big Sur River Inn (Big Sur) where we were very pleased with our casual counter-ordered lunch (shrimp ceviche, huge BLT with double bacon sandwich and half-pound burger) that we picked up and brought to a deck table overlooking the Big Sur River. Then after finishing our food, we retired with our drinks to a couple of the Adirondack chairs that were perched in the river and accessible by rocks.

Joyce resting after lunch

  • The Pocket (Carmel), where we were very pleased with the atmosphere, the service, and the food, the latter of which consisted of three starters: grilled Spanish octopus with yaki sauce and steamed potatoes; Day Boat seared scallops with chipotle aioli, blini, and crème fraiche and delicately-fried frito misto with calamari, shrimp, lemon, zucchini and carrot, all followed with ricotta pistachio crème sponge cake with crushed pistachio and powdered sugar. And the entire meal was accompanied by a very full-bodied, but silky-smooth 2015 Talbott Sleepy Hollow pinot whose palate progressed seamlessly from blackberry fruit to earth to leather with a nice lingering finish.
  • Passionfish (Pacific Grove), one of our priority stops didn’t disappoint. After a rough start, by not having either the wine we ordered or someone who has any knowledge of wines with whom we could explore alternatives, we selected a wine that we greatly enjoyed—both on its own and with our meals—a 2018 Louis Michel Vaulorent Chablis 1er Cru. It beautifully complemented the sea scallops with tomato-truffle butter and savory rice custard and also worked with our other dish, lemongrass shrimp with jicama-mint salad, spicy nuoc Cham sauce (a Vietnamese sweet and sour sauce), rice chips, and cashews. Both dishes were very good.
  • Anton & Michel (Carmel) is located next to and with dining on a lovely paseo, with a swimming pool. Dinner consisted of three small dishes, all of which we enjoyed. These were: shrimp spring roll with slaw and orange-ginger sauce, sand dabs with romesco sauce, rice, and mixed vegetables, and lamb chops with fingerling g potatoes and salad. Our wine was yet another SLH pinot, was a 2018 Lucienne “Doctors Vineyard”.
  • Stillwater (Pebble Beach), which overlooks Stillwater Cove and the 18th green of the Pebble Beach golf course, is another of our standard lunch stops. We had another enjoyable meal (Pacific tartar of yellowfin tuna, amberjack, Fuji apples, Asian pear, cucumber, and cilantro plus an open-faced lobster salad sandwich on garlic toast with egg aioli, capers, cornichons. cress, greens and avocado cream). So accustomed have we been to thinking of Stillwater as a lunch spot that we never even looked at the dinner menu. This time we did, and vowed to return for dinner.
  • Lucia, at Carmel Valley’s Bernardus Lodge, where we each had nice salads for lunch: Joyce an heirloom pear and avocado salad with navel oranges, walnuts, spinach, and local olive oil and Tom has a roasted beet salad with greens, naval orange, sherry walnut vinaigrette, feta cheese, and marcona almonds.
  • Pangaea Grill (Carmel), where we found the lightly-fried, pan-seared sand dabs with lemongrass-caper butter sauce to be the second-best of the trip (after Portobello) and were less than impressed by the crab cake with lemongrass cream sauce.

We were very disappointed with our meals at Wild Fish in Pacific Grove and Carmel By-the-Sea’s Flaherty’s Seafood. Who knows, maybe they were having a bad day.

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