Few places in California have welcomed visitors longer than Monterey County, home to one of the four presidios that Spanish colonists established on the West Coast in the late 1700s. Over the centuries, fishing, farming and tourism have thrived here. It’s also one of the best places on the planet to grow wine grapes.
The city of Monterey is ground zero for visitors. Thanks to author John Steinbeck, Cannery Row became the geographic heart of California’s literary landscape. Today, this waterfront strip is better known for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a vanguard of modern marine science.
Just to the south, surrounding the golf haven of Pebble Beach and its craggy, cypress-lined coastline, the quaint communities of Pacific Grove and Carmel-by-the-Sea offer art galleries, tasting rooms and bistros that clamor for the attention of passers-by. North of Monterey, the sprawling former Fort Ord Army Base has become home to California State University-Monterey Bay. The nearby town of Marina offers urban wineries and a cultural scene on the rise.
Escape the fog and head inland toward the famed racetrack of Laguna Seca or into the Carmel Valley, a long, dramatic canyon filled with equestrian estates and steep vineyards. All-inclusive resorts abound, as does a buzzing strip of eateries and side-by-side tasting rooms.
Most of region’s wine comes from the Salinas Valley. The chilly Monterey Bay tempers the heat of the Santa Lucia Highlands, Chalone and Arroyo Seco appellations, where Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other varieties thrive.
Finally, there’s Big Sur, that wild, wonderful stretch of coastline where condors soar and redwood-studded mountains rise high above Highway 1. It merits an entire weekend itself, if not more.
Monterey’s Top Wine Grapes
Chardonnay flavors range from ripe and tropical in the Santa Lucia Highlands to bright and fresh from Arroyo Seco and elsewhere.
Expect variety: Pinot Noir is lush and concentrated in the Santa Lucia Highlands, well structured from Chalone and racy and delicate in Arroyo Seco.
Rustic, gamy and wild in Carmel Valley, Syrah conveys styles from savory to zesty in the Santa Lucia Highlands and Salinas Valley.
Old Riesling vines are common, which produce affordable, citrus-driven wines—some are sweet.
Lean and grassy in cool parts of the Salinas Valley, this Sauvignon Blanc is fuller and more Bordeaux-like from Carmel Valley.