Monterey: A Traveler’s Guide

  • Guides
  • by WC STAFF
  • on OCTOBER 27, 2015
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Monterey is known for stunning views, abundant sea life, and great wines, and all for good reason. You could spend weeks in this exciting area, but if you have just a few days, hit the highlights both on sea and on land using our guide below. Don’t forget to pack the sunscreen and the binoculars!

Where to Stay

Image Source: Yelp
Asilomar State Park and Conference Grounds
800 Asilomar Ave
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
(888) 201-4498
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 555 reviews
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Asilomar is peacefulness embodied. This conference center and lodge is made up of 30 historic buildings, many designed by famed architect Julia Morgan (who also designed Hearst Castle). It was originally built in 1913 as a nature retreat, and continues to offer a restful place for conference-goers and vacationers to enjoy nature while being a five-minute drive from downtown Monterey. Ancient trees surround the miniature village of cabins, and the ocean is at your front door. Insider tip: Plan to spend at least one evening at the enormous central lodge, where everyone congregates to watch the sun set over the ocean and to enjoy snacks, local wine, and live music.

Image Source: Yelp
Carmel Mission Inn
3665 Rio Rd
Carmel, CA 93923
(831) 624-1841
TripAdvisor: 4 stars, 1,307 reviews
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The Carmel Mission Inn was completely renovated in 2008, and now offers one of the best deals in Carmel. Its central location and modern comfort at reasonable prices make it a great spot for families or an affordable weekend away. The hotel has everything from a pool to a spa to a restaurant (Fuse Lounge Cafe), so you almost won’t want to leave the hotel grounds, although everything you want to do in Carmel is just around the corner. Insider tip: After a long day of sightseeing, order a pizza from local favorite Allegro Gourmet Pizzeria, located across the street.

Image Source: Yelp
Centrella Inn
612 Central Ave
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
(831) 372-3372
TripAdvisor: 4 stars, 330 reviews
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This charming historic Victorian bed and breakfast is centrally located in downtown Pacific Grove. Antique furniture, clawfoot bathtubs, and period art put you back in the first days of Pacific Grove over 100 years ago, when the inn was first built. A full complimentary breakfast each morning and a California wine and cheese reception in the evening make starting and ending your day here a treat. Insider tip: Grab a fresh homemade chocolate chip cookie on your way up to bed.

Image Source: Yelp
Casa Munras Garden Hotel & Spa
700 Munras Ave
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 375-2411
TripAdvisor: 4 stars, 1,066 reviews
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Casa Munras has classic California Mission charm in spades, from its hacienda-inspired decorations to its open, light-filled spaces. The first hotel in Monterey, this historic property is located in Old Town Monterey, the perfect location from which to base all of your weekend activities. There are of course dozens of delicious restaurants in Monterey, but be sure to book at least one meal at the hotel’s tapas restaurant, Esteban. Insider tip: At the hotel’s restaurant, order the Paella Negra with Monterey calamari for a special treat.

Where to Eat

Image Source: Yelp
LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle
Municipal Wharf Number 2
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 372-0568
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 812 reviews
Reservations: Recommended

This gift to breakfast is located smack in the middle of Fisherman’s Wharf so there’s always a wait, but it’s worth it. Hearty American breakfasts with a Monterey twist are the name of the game, from seafood omelets to calamari steak. As they say themselves, it’s “good eats and crazy waitresses!” so prepare yourself. Insider tip: Arrive hungry and order the Hubcap Pancake. It is literally as big as a hubcap, so really, arrive hungry.

Image Source: Yelp
Wild Plum Cafe & Bistro
731 Munras Ave Ste B
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 646-3109
TripAdvisor: 4 stars, 256 reviews
Reservations: Not required

As much a local hangout as a cafe, Wild Plum is the place to go for local, organic dishes and the dayís news. Pastries are made from scratch and vary according to the season (apricot danishes!), so grab one (or two) and a newspaper, and settle in for a morning of being a local. Insider tip: Get the latte served in a soup bowl to get you ready for a day of adventure.

Image Source: Yelp
Holly’s Lighthouse Cafe
602 Lighthouse Ave
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
(831) 372-7006
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 155 reviews
Reservations: Not required

All day breakfast and fresh-squeezed orange juice—does it get better? This corner cafe is another local favorite for its friendly servers and fluffy pancakes. You’ll feel right at home as you watch the town wake up around you. Insider tip: Try one of their five variations on Eggs Benedict.

Image Source: Yelp
Little Swiss Cafe
6th Ave & Dolores St
Carmel, CA 93923
(831) 624-5007
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 123 reviews
Reservations: Not required

A quaint, low-key cafe turning out some serious food. Many tell tales of the best cheese blintzes in the world being served here, and we’re not ones to contradict. It’s a favorite spot for locals, especially after a morning spent surfing or scuba diving, so take a page from their book and hit the blintzes at Little Swiss after hitting the waves. Insider tip: The cafe is cash-only, so come prepared.

Image Source: Yelp
Ike’s Love and Sandwiches
570 Munras Ave Ste 70
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 643-0900
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 35 reviews
Reservations: Not required

Ike’s is a great classic sandwich joint with plenty of choices for everyone in your group. It promises fresh ingredients and quick, friendly service. Stop here to stock up on lunch before heading out for your day’s activities. Insider tip: Regardless of what goes inside your sandwich, get the dutch crunch roll for crunchy deliciousness.

Image Source: Yelp
Paprika Cafe
309 Lighthouse Ave
Monterey, CA 93940
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 48 reviews
Reservations: Not required

Feeling like breaking out of the “seafood and sandwich” mode? Paprika’s fresh Mediterranean dishes are just the ticket. The Garlic Chicken is particularly succulent, as is their Jalapeno Hummus. They have dozens of vegetarian options, and any vegetarian option can be made vegan at your request. Insider tip: Leave room for a complimentary square of baklava at the end of your meal.

Image Source: Yelp
Sea Harvest Fish Markets & Restaurant
598 Foam St
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 646-0547
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 398 reviews
Reservations: Recommended

Sea Harvest started out as just a fish market, and soon grew into three restaurant locations around Monterey (Monterey, Carmel, and Moss Landing). Fresh, locally caught seafood with a focus on sustainability is their priority. It’s a great alternative to the crowded, overpriced restaurants in more touristy areas of these towns. Insider tip: For some BBQ goodness, order the BBQ oysters to share.

Image Source: Yelp
701 Lighthouse Ave
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
(831) 655-3311
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 961 reviews
Reservations: Recommended

This neighborhood seafood restaurant serves delicate marine dishes with both classic and inventive preparations. The creative, expansive and easy-to-read wine list has a low markup because the owners want their guests to explore the best wine pairings with the delicious dishes. The atmosphere is casual elegance, and even when the restaurant is full, it doesn’t get loud. Insider tip: Order the Fried Oysters with kimchi salad, ham, and mint for a starter.

Image Source: Yelp
Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar
400 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 372-2628
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 1,134 reviews
Reservations: Recommended

The dining room and exhibition kitchen are suspended over the Pacific Ocean, giving diners incredible sunset views and occasional whale sightings. The restaurant focuses on contemporary expressions of fresh, local seafood, and Chef James Waller was one of the first chefs to participate in Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program. Located on Cannery Row in the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, it’s a great way to end a day of downtown sightseeing. Insider tip: Try the Angry Prawns with chili, garlic and lemon. Is your mouth watering yet?

Image Source: Yelp
Taste Cafe & Bistro
1199 Forest Ave Ste 5
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
(831) 655-0324
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 79 reviews
Reservations: Not required

Taste Cafe & Bistro is a quaint family owned pan-European restaurant in the middle of the action of Pacific Grove. Here they have mastered the classics, from roast chicken to créme brûlée, so it’s hard to go wrong when ordering. The quiet, intimate ambiance is perfect for a romantic date. Note that they are closed Sunday and Monday. Insider tip: Leave room at the end of the meal for the delicious Brioche Bread Pudding.

Wineries to Visit

Monterey is one of the most dynamic and exciting wine regions in California. Wine grapes were first planted here over 200 years ago by the Franciscan Friars in the missions, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that things really took off. Today, there are over 85 growers and vintners in the region, and over 40 types of grapes.

Image Source: Yelp
Talbott Vineyards
25 Pilot Rd
Carmel Valley, CA 93924
(831) 659-3500
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 19 reviews
Reservations: Not required

If you want to get out into the vineyards, Talbott is a perfect stop for a casual afternoon of wine tasting. Located at the base of the Santa Lucia Highlands, their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are some of the most distinct in the region. To get a taste, try the Sleep Hollow Pinot Noir. Insider tip: Owner Robb Talbott is a motorcycle enthusiast and has several vintage bikes on display in the tasting room.

Image Source: Yelp
Hahn Family Winery
37700 Foothill Rd
Soledad, CA 93960
(831) 678-4555
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 19 reviews
Reservations: Not required

Also located in Santa Lucia Highlands, sip on classic Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and more at Hahn Family Winery. The tasting room includes an expansive deck overlooking the surrounding mountains and valley, so be sure to linger and take in the California sun. In addition to wine, explore the avocado orchard on site. Insider tip: On a clear day, take in the view at Sierra’s Benches on the property, where you can see out to neighboring Salinas and King City.

Image Source: Pierce Ranch Vineyards and Yelp
Pierce Ranch Vineyards
499 Wave St
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 372-8900
TripAdvisor: 5 stars, 15 reviews
Reservations: Not required

If you’d rather stay downtown, you’re in luck! Many of Monterey’s tasting rooms are within walking distance of one another. We recommend making Pierce Ranch one of your stops along Cannery Row. Situated inside a charming home, the ambience of this tasting room is more like a friendly neighbor’s home than a winery. Insider tip: Visit on the weekends for live music with your wine.

Image Source: A Taste of Monterey
A Taste of Monterey
700 Cannery Row
Ste KK
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 646-5446
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 101 reviews
Reservations: Not required

For the indecisive, A Taste of Monterey is a perfect way to get a broad sense of the area’s wines, as they pour over a dozen different local wines daily. If you’re feeling peckish, order a tasting flight and pair it with their small plates or flatbread pizzas. With 360 degree views of the bay, this is the perfect spot to relax after a day of sightseeing. Insider tip: Grab a table against the glass and watch the sea otters, sea lions, and dolphins play in the bay below.

Things to Do

Image Source: Yelp
Monterey Bay Aquarium
886 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the U.S, with some of the best collections and programs in the world. Pre-purchase your ticket to avoid the long line, and be sure to check the program schedule so you can catch fun demonstrations and feedings. Oggle everything from electric jellyfish to local giant kelp forests, including live demonstrations in the bay from their outdoor amphitheater. Insider tip: Don’t miss the sea otters being fed, it just may be the cutest thing you see this year.

Image Source: Yelp
Whale Watching Boat Trip
The Monterey Bay has benefited from heroic conservation efforts over the last several years that have brought it back from the brink of ecological collapse. Today, you can see an abundance of sea lions, dolphins and humpback whales just off the coast on one of the many whale watching tour boats. Visit April through December to see Humpback Whales, Blue Whales and dolphins, and January through March for Gray Whales and dolphins. Insider tip: The sea is calmer in the mornings, so book an earlier trip if you’re worried about choppy waters.

Image Source: Yelp
Golf at Pebble Beach
Golf where the pros golf, on one of the most beautiful courses in the world. Opened in 1919, Pebble Beach has hosted some of the world’s most elite golf players during the biggest tournaments. Designed to maximize the natural beauty of its surroundings, the course hugs the rugged coastline to give you spectacular views at every hole. Insider tip: After a hard day of golf, retire to the Terrace Lounge at The Lodge at Pebble Beach for a well-deserved cocktail, overlooking the 18th hole.

Image Source: Yelp
Stroll Cannery Row
Get your kitsch on by strolling Cannery Row in Monterey. Lively souvenir shops, wine tasting rooms and old fashioned candy shops line the street, with the ocean just beyond. It’s a far cry from the Cannery Row of John Steinbeck’s famous novel, but an afternoon of browsing and sampling, with street musicians to entertain and ocean breezes to keep you cool, is just what you need to complete your Monterey experience. Insider tip: Sign up for the Cannery Row newsletter before arriving to receive special discounts and news about events going on.

Image Source: Yelp
17 Mile Drive
This world-famous drive has stunning views at every turn—a must while you’re in Monterey! Drive along Highway 1 between the Highway 1 Gate and the Carmel Gate (there is a small toll fee), where you’ll encounter luxury resorts, golf courses, ancient forests and, of course, incredible views of the Pacific Ocean and rugged coastline. Insider tip: The road is narrow, winding, and doesn’t have much of a shoulder, so if that sounds nerve-wracking, plan to drive the route south to north, so that you’ll be on the inside of the road.

Image Source: Yelp
Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary
From October through February each year, Monarch butterflies flock to the Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary in the thousands on their way down south. They cluster on the eucalyptus trees in the sanctuary to keep their body temperatures up, and the visual effect is stunning. Admission is free. Insider tip: The sanctuary is within walking distance of the beach, restaurants and shops, so park your car and make a day out of exploring this charming area of Pacific Grove.

Image Source: Yelp
Point Lobos State Reserve
Named for the sea lions that lounge offshore and whose calls are carried inland by the coastal winds, Point Lobos State Reserve contains hikes with breathtaking views of the coast, at every ability level. Wildlife is abundant here, from migrating whales to sea birds, so bring your binoculars. A schedule of guided walks is posted at the visitors station. Insider tip: Weather can change by the hour, from sunny and warm to foggy and cold, so bring layers and a windbreaker.

Image Source: Yelp
Scuba Dive
Monterey Bay’s marine life has come roaring back from the brink of collapse since locals began conservation efforts in the 1970s, and it is now one of the top scuba diving destinations in the U.S. Clear water, safe conditions, and an incredible array of wildlife make for an unforgettable adventure. There are many companies that offer tours, so shop around to find the best deal. Insider tip: The water in northern California is cold, so plan to wear a wetsuit and find a hot cup of coffee when you’re done. The Little Swiss Cafe is a great spot.

With so much natural beauty, tasty seafood and quality wine, it’s hard to have a bad time in Monterey. Plan your visit in advance, but be sure to leave a few open slots; youíre bound to be caught up in a spontaneous adventure that you wonít want to miss!