The jewel of the Central Coast, the Monterey Peninsula juts out from the shoreline into the blue-green Pacific Ocean. Much of the area looks as it did millennia ago with sandy beaches, wave-crashed shores and forests of gnarled Monterey pine.
Three population centers anchor the Peninsula. There’s Monterey itself—a fishing village that has swelled to a city with 30,000 residents. Thousands flock to the souvenir shops and restaurants of Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Highlight of any visit: the Monterey Aquarium, where floor-to-ceiling windows let you get up close and personal with everything from giant kelp and jellyfish to sharks and rays. Check out the sea otter exhibit, with viewing areas to watch their aquabatics both above and below the surface.
Pacific Grove holds an exclusive—but easygoing—enclave of galleries and cafés. Violet-colored ice plant dots the dunes, and every winter the annual Monarch butterfly migration provides fluttering color.
Carmel-by-the-Sea remains the quintessential California beach town that mingles old Spanish missions with mansions, art galleries and cafés. Carmel also sparkles with show-biz glitz: longtime resident Clint Eastwood’s served as mayor in the 1980s.
Carmel has become a hotbed of fine dining. Aubergine’s tasting menu showcases local delicacies from salmon to steak to abalone. South of town, Pacific’s Edge at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands offers stunning seaside views.
Walk or Drive Through
Perhaps the Peninsula’s greatest claim to fame lies in its golf courses. Pebble Beach Golf Links has hosted the U.S. Open Championships five times. Spyglass Hill and The Dunes also challenge players.
The Peninsula encourages walking, whether it’s a shopping stroll, a saunter along dog-friendly Carmel Beach or a hike along Point Lobos State Reserve’s sandy trails and bluffs. Here, you can tread (gingerly) past tide pools where starfish and barnacles dwell.
The best-known sightseeing jaunt unfurls along the 17-Mile Drive, described as one of the most scenic routes in the world. It winds from Pebble Beach up to Pacific Grove, offering glimpses of natural beauty as well as the (closely guarded) lifestyles of the rich and famous. The latter include Brad Pitt, whose beach house sits on a dune in Carmel.
Taste the Best of Monterey
Wine tasting will naturally be a focus for the enologically inclined. At A Taste of Monterey in the heart of Cannery Row, 80-plus wineries pour in a casual, spacious tasting bar. Or you can head inland to the River Road Wine Trail. Other tasting opportunities include the Carmel Wine Walk-by-the-Sea, a self-guided stroll of seven tasting rooms. Or head southeast to Carmel Valley, on the sunny inland side of Highway 1. Here where the coastal fog lifts, tasting rooms, resorts and charming B&Bs dot the roadside.
Sometimes fog-bound, more often brilliantly sunny, the Monterey Peninsula stays cool year-round. While the local waters remain chilly, they provide endless opportunities for snorkeling, paddle boarding, kayaking, scuba diving or just plain roll-up-the-cuffs beachcombing.
And Don’t Miss…
One of America’s newest National Parks, Pinnacles borders the Chalone appellation near Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands. A remnant volcano that straddles the San Andreas Fault, it offers protruding handholds loved by climbers plus lava-melted canyons that feel like caves. The park is also one of the best places to see free-flying condors.
With one of Pinnacles’ entrances along the road to the historic Chalone Winery and Brosseau Wines, a day of wine tasting and hiking is easy to juggle. Accommodations range from campsites to luxurious vacation rentals with swimming pools.
To the west, Big Sur encompasses 90 miles of scenically spectacular shoreline. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park beckons for hiking and whale watching.