The Monterey Peninsula is one of California’s best places to visit along the central coast where there’s abundant natural beauty, marine life, rugged coastline, beaches and plenty to do outdoors. It’s an ideal place with wide open space to explore safely with plenty of room for social distancing – biking, hiking, golfing and outdoor exercise.
Stay Safe & Enjoy Responsibly
Good to note: there are some activities included in this article that might be available after the covid-19 crisis. Due to the ever-changing environment some things open up and then they close, etc. depending on local restrictions and state mandates (ie. spas, wine tastings, shops, indoor activities, etc.)
This trip, we ventured out to find golf courses in the area and explored some new hiking trails.
This small coastal stretch exudes charm and has attracted writers, artists and musicians for over 100 years. There are dozens of festivals and events that take place throughout the year.
We visited Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel Valley and ventured down Pacific Coast Highway 1.
Whether you’re traveling with friends or family, looking for adventure or romance, you’ll find a little bit of everything here! Sharing some favorite recommendations on where to go, stay & dine.
#1 Monterey – Cannery Row
The perfect place to start exploring Monterey is along Cannery Row where there are hotels, cafes, art galleries and shops lining the historic main street.
#2 Discover Monterey by Land & by Sea
- Monterey Bay Kayaks: Rent a kayak or sign up for guided tours of Elkhorn, Slough in Moss Landing or Monterey Bay where you can watch sea otters, seals, birds. Monterey Bay Kayaks Team is Certified Wildlife Stewards (CAWS).
- Cycling along the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail: There’s a 29 mile recreation trail along the coast. Rent a bike and enjoy the vistas! Click here to reserve your rental.
- Whale Watching: Book a reservation with Monterey Bay Whale Watch and look for whales, dolphins and seals. Humpback Whales, Blue Whales, Orcas, Dolphins are often sighted between April – December, and Gray Whales, Dolphins can be seen January – March.
photo credit: photographer for Go Whales
#3 Monterey Old Fisherman’s Wharf
Visit the wharf where you’ll find shops, restaurants and outdoor cafes where you can try some fish & chips or the catch of the day.
A simple must for any California Vacation! The beaches are very accessible throughout the Monterey Peninsula and there are excellent trails for walking, running and beach combing. Great place for beach combing and checking out tide pools. Visitors are amazed by the natural beauty of the coast lined with cypress trees, wild flowers and craggy rocks.
There are over 25 golf courses throughout the golfing mecca of Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel Valley and Pebble Beach.
Make a the short drive out to Carmel Valley and visit Carmel Valley Ranch golf course. You can stay in one of the luxurious rooms or suites and combine your round with a stay and play package, or play as a day guest.
This par 70 Pete Dye course features bentgrass greens and a layout of two dramatically different nines. The front nine meanders through the valley floor through ponds and lush native vegetation. Number ten tee starts a climb into hillside vineyards and old growth oaks and some of the most awe inspiring views you will see on a golf course anywhere. Temperatures are going to be considerably warmer in the valley when compared to the nearby seaside courses and your golf ball will notice the difference too. Don’t be surprised to see an extra ten or 15 yards off the tee!!
After your round the Clubhouse Grill is the perfect place to grab lunch or dinner with fairway views across to the opposite side of the valley. It’s the perfect place to relax with friends and recap your round while planning your next visit. You’ll definitely be coming back.
Click here to find a comprehensive list of the golf courses in the area.
Many golf courses have reopened with modified operations to follow proper safety and health requirements. Visit individual golf club websites for specific protocols and additional information.
#6 Monterey Bay Aquarium
Across from the Spindrift Inn, is The Monterey Bay Aquarium Education Center (referred to as the Bechtel Education Center), offers free education programs that has served 90,000 schoolchildren, 400 teens and 1,400 teachers. Since March, they have launched a “Learning at Home” section that has received over 160,000 page views and over 20,000 enrollments in new digital learning programs.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium just reopened and it’s a definite must for families of all ages! It’s one of the top aquariums in the world where children and adults can see marine life at its finest – jelly fish, star fish, sharks, otters, seals and a giant kelp forest.
There are interactive exhibits, as well as excellent education and conservation programs that support the marine environment. Check out one of these initiatives called Seafood Watch to support a healthy ocean, and learn more about sustainable seafood, responsibly caught and farmed choices on menus when dining out.
#7 Drive the 17-Mile Drive & PCH
Rent a Classic Car with Monterey Touring Vehicles: A highlight of our trip was driving a classic car along the 17-mile drive to the Pacific Coast Highway.
We drove two convertibles – 1954 Chevy Bel-Air Coupe and a lemon yellow 1955 Ford Thunderbird. Cars may be driven all over the Peninsula, to Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Carmel Valley & beyond. Their fleet of cars include a 1965 Ford Mustang, 1938 Rolls-Royce Phantom (perfect for a bride and her wedding party), 1927 Bugatti, 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder and more.
Take a few hours to drive the popular 17-mile drive that begins near Monterey and continues along the coast to Pebble Beach. Keep a lookout for The Lone Cypress on a rocky point that has stood there for 250 years. You’ll see a stunning stretch of the California coastline with rocky shores, beaches and marine life along the drive.
#8 Visit the Carmel Mission
Visit the Carmel Mission, built in 1797, one of the most authentically restored Roman Catholic mission churches in California. It’s one of the 21 missions along California’s Historic Mission Trail, all located near Hwy 101. These missions trace the El Camino Real (The Royal Road) and was financed by the Spanish Monarchy.
We hiked two of the trails from this list of 7 Hikes that Take Your Breath Away. Can’t wait to return and hike the other recommended hikes.
- Garland Ranch Regional Park – located in Carmel Valley with steep trails and incredible views of the ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountains.
- Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail – go by foot or bike on this paved and mostly flat 18-mile trail that winds its way from Pacific Grove all the way to Castroville. If you want to do a small portion of this trail, opt for the popular section with the Old Fisherman’s Wharf and Lovers Point.
#10 Tour the Big Sur Lighthouse
The Point Sur Lighthouse and buildings stand atop a dramatic volcanic rock along Highway 1 at Big Sur. Tours are offered at this California State Historic Park on Saturdays at 10 am and Wednesdays at 1pm – check the schedule for more details.
More places along the Monterey Peninsula…
- The Lodge At Pebble Beach: Home to the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Links, this 1919 Lodge is a popular destination.. This is where the AT&T Pebble Beach National ProAm takes place. Golfers tee off on Pebble Beach’s well-manicured golf courses. Open to the public – dine at one of the restaurants and enjoy the breathtaking views.
- Spanish Bay: Stop for a memorable sunset drink and appetizers at the Inn at Spanish Bay.
- Pacific Grove: A quaint town adjacent to Monterey and easy to visit. Boutiques, antique shops and cafes line its main street.
- Carmel-by-the-Sea: click here to find out our favorite things to do. If you enjoy nature and love to hike, follow one of the trails at nearby Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.
- Carmel Valley: Visit the Carmel Valley and stop for wine tastings at some of the wineries along the way, or dine al fresco at Corkscrew Cafe.
- Big Sur: One of the most scenic drives in the world is from Monterey to Big Sur along Highway 1. Take a 1/2 day to drive this coastal stretch and stop at Nepenthes for lunch – great burgers and surreal views of the Pacific Ocean. Note: Due to recent erosion and landslides, check the road conditions.
- Pinnacles National Park: About 1-2 hours from Monterey, visit this Park with dramatic rock formations and caves.
- Salinas: Visit the National Steinbeck Center and follow in the writer’s footsteps.
STAY & DINE
There are a range of places to stay and dine throughout the Monterey Peninsula. Whether you’re visiting solo, on a romantic getaway or a family reunion, corporate retreat, here are some of our recommendations.
Carmel Highlands Inn
Perched on a hillside in the Carmel Highlands, this Hyatt hotel overlooks stunning vistas of the Pacific Coast along Highway 1. The Inn opened its doors in 1917 and quickly became THE place to stay for artists and travelers. Today, the Inn features 48 guest rooms, many with their own fireplace and spectacular views of the coast from Yankee Point to Point Lobos.
It’s an ideal place to stay as you drive along Highway 1 with many areas on the property to relax and enjoy the jaw dropping views, or take a plunge into the pool after a hike on the coast. We spent hours looking out at the sea…spotting whales, listening to the pounding surf, and viewed the sunsets from our balcony.
We can’t wait to return for another sunset and enjoy the views from the Sunset Lounge and California Market at Pacific’s Edge dining spot.
Casa Munras, Garden Hotel & Spa
Located in Old Town Monterey is the historic Casa Munras, a hacienda style hotel with bougainvillea growing around every bend. Ideal for a family who needs a little extra room. Our suite extended to a living area with a fold-out couch and we had a mini-fridge and dining area too.
The rooms are spacious, beds are cozy and we were well cared for by friendly accommodating staff. Casa Munras is within walking distance of Monterey Bay shoreline, art galleries and Cannery Row, we were beyond happy to have landed at this comfortable respite.
Old-World Spanish charm combined with modern amenities — there’s an outdoor pool, spa, gardens and you can even rent a bike to explore Cannery Row.
Don’t Miss! Dine at Estéban Restaurant, a chic spot for Spanish & Mediterranean fare with an indoor fireplace & outdoor patio with fire pits. Our family met Chef Mario Garcia who presented us with a medley of dishes including Octopus, Pork Belly, Harvest Salad, fresh catch-of-the-day Halibut. For dessert, crème brûlée & chocolate chip cookies. Chef Garcia adds weekly specials to the menu, and there’s a children’s menu for families. The relaxed atmosphere allowed our young family to enjoy ourselves, while dining with locally inspired fresh cuisine.
Good to know – there is a Tapas program nightly from 4pm-6:00pm as well as ½ bottled wines on Monday, Paella Tuesday three course meal and wine flights on Wednesday.
Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel
Located on the Del Monte Golf Course and nestled in the Monterey pines on 22 secluded acres. Located off Highway 1, this upscale modern hotel is 3 miles from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 2 miles from Monterey Regional Airport and 7 miles from Carmel River State Beach, just minutes from the scenic wonders of the Central Coast.
We stayed in a spacious suite with a bedroom, living room and work area, that overlooked the pool, and found our accommodations to be comfortable.
Amenities include a Tuscan restaurant (Searoot to open soon), a sports bar, and a lounge with a fireplace and jazz. There’s also a spa, a heated outdoor pool and a gym. The hotel shuttle offers complimentary transfers to/from the Monterey Airport.
Ventana Big Sur
If you’re looking for a coastal getaway and a place to reconnect with nature, check into Ventana Big Sur! This luxury coastal California resort is only 26 miles from the Monterey area, yet you feel a world away.
Nestled into a Redwood forest with dramatic views of the California Coastline in Big Sur, guests can star gaze, hike some of the best trails in California, soak in Japanese onsen baths, and forage for mushrooms. Rooms and Suites offer luxurious accommodations with modern amenities, wood burning fireplaces and soaking tubs.
The cuisine is delectable and the service is exquisite. Ventana is a place where you can roam freely, check into the spa, walk the resort trail or cozy up by the fire in your room.
Some signature activities include Tai Chi Class, morning hikes with a resort naturalist, evening campfires and s’mores treats. There are special private activities that can be arranged as well from elopements to renewal of vows within a Redwood forest sanctuary.
Global Adventuress thanks those mentioned in this article for hosting us during our stay.