July 4, 2017

Travel Guide: Carmel, Monterey & Pebble Beach

{About}
The Monterey Bay area of California feels like a second home to me. I've been visiting since I was a kid, spending my summer camp years in the area, weekends here with my family during high school and now its become the perfect escape from the hustle (and sometimes the weather!) in New York. It doesn't get all of the tourist attention and notoriety of San Fransisco, Napa, Los Angeles and San Diego, but to me the fact that if flies slightly under the radar makes it all the more enjoyable.
{Get There}
If you fly into San Fransisco or San Jose, its a quick drive down the 101 to get to Monterey. You can also take Highway 1 for a more scenic route, though it takes a good while longer. Monterey does have a very small airport but flights are limited.

{Stay}
I'm lucky to be able to stay at my parents weekend house when I'm there, but some other places I've stayed and enjoyed include: Cypress Inn, Marriot Monterey, Carmel Valley Lodge (out in the valley but a really fun spot for kids). Also of note, though a bit pricier are the Pebble Beach Lodge, The Inn at Spanish Bay and Carmel Valley Ranch.
{See & Do}
There are really five distinct towns in the area: Carmel Valley, Carmel proper (Carmel-by-the-Sea), Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove and Monterey.

Monterey is by far the largest and most commercial. Highlights include: Monterey Bay Aquarium (a definite must if you're traveling with kids), Cannery Wharf (a la John Steinbeck), Fishermans Wharf and some interesting early California history attractions. Did you know Monterey was once the capital of California?

Carmel-by-the-Sea and Carmel Valley are probably the most well known. Carmel-by-the-Sea proper is the storybook-cute town that everyone is familiar with, packed with great restaurants and shops. It can also be very challenging to find parking on the weekends. Carmel Valley is home to some fun wineries and off-beat art galleries and worth a drive if your schedule permits. If you're heading out to the valley I'd recommend a stop at Bernardus Winery and the Earth Bound Farms farm stand.

Pebble Beach, is sandwiched between Pacific Grove (see below) and Carmel-by-the-Sea and is a very residential area with several notable golf courses and the 17 Mile Drive which winds along the coast. The 17 Mile Drive comes with a fairly steep admission fee but in my opinion is very much worth it.  The route itself offers stunning views with plenty of places to park and get out along the way. There are also some truly breathtaking homes to ogle and you can stop at one of the two main hotels: Pebble Beach Lodge or the Inn at Spanish Bay to have something to eat. Personally I prefer Pebble Beach to eat (Benches) and Spanish Bay for drinks and the view.

Pacific Grove is oft-overlooked, but is perhaps my favorite spot in the area. Its a very laid back beach town nestled right between Pebble Beach and Monterey. It boasts great food (try Holly's Lighthouse Cafe for breakfast), shops and that perfect small-town vibe. Don't miss out on Bookworks for coffee.

A note on golf -- if you're into golf, you've come to the right place! Its a big attraction in the area (as are equestrian sports), but I don't play or ride so can't really speak to the particulars, however I would look into tee times at the public courses well in advance as word has it they book up quickly.
{Active}
One of my favorite things to do when we're in the area is to get outside. Many people from the central region of California vacation in this area as the weather is so lovely year round. A couple of my favorite ways to get out and get some exercise include:
Hiking in Point Lobos
Bike the 17 Mile Drive (you can rent bikes here), you can also walk a good portion of it
Tennis at Monterey Sports complex
Kayak in Monterey Bay
There is also surfing for the very brave - the water is cold here!

{Eat & Drink}
The Bench, Pebble Beach
Flying Fish, Carmel
Mission Ranch, Carmel
Carmel Belle, Carmel
Grasings, Carmel
Casanova, Carmel
La Bicyclette, Carmel
Holly's Lighthouse Cafe, Pacific Grove
Bernardus Winery, Carmel Valley

{Shop}
Carmel is full of independent shops. A lot of them stock tourist merchandise (t-shirts and the like) but there are a few gems, specifically women's boutiques, art galleries and a few really nice home decor shops. I'd recommend starting at the top or bottom of Ocean Avenue (the main street) and going up or down one side then the other. The cross streets also have some good finds. There is also one commercial plaza at the top of town that has some brand name stores if you forgot something. There is also a mall in Monterey that has a good selection of brand names and a Whole Foods.

{Things to Know}
The weekends are busy. Day trippers flock to Carmel year round, but in particular during summers when it gets super hot in the Central Valley. If you can go during the week I highly recommend doing so. And major golf tournaments (AT&T etc.) as well as the Concorse car show and various horse shows tend to bring in the crowds so hotels and restaurants may be more crowded than usual.

Also, this is not warm beach territory. You need a sweater or windbreaker almost year-round. While the overall aesthetic is laid back its more resort wear than true beach wear.

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