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Three-Day Weekend: Monterey, CA
Approaching Monterey from the north remains one of my all-time favorite travel experiences. My wife, Michele, and I spent part of our road trip honeymoon in Monterey years ago, and the trip down from San Francisco still gives me a thrill: I love everything about the drive - from the top of Monterey Bay near the beaches and boardwalk of Santa Cruz, southward through the agricultural vistas of the Salinas Valley, and into the bustling coastal city that inspired literary heroes of mine, including Robert Louis Stevenson and John Steinbeck. We visited Monterey this past July, and it was all the more special because we’d been away for more than a decade and were essentially introducing both of our daughters, now 10 and 14, to this special community, bursting with local history, incredible seafood, local wines, and the opportunity to drink in the gorgeous Monterey Bay (mysteriously misty in the morning, shining bright turquoise at midday, achingly beautiful at sundown) at every turn. LUXE-FOR-LESS LODGING We were among the first guests to stay at the just-opened Wave Street Inn, conveniently located (as the name “Wave Street” might suggest) near the water. We loved waking up to views of Monterey Bay, the songs of seagulls, and the friendly, attentive hotel staff. The design of the hotel was so eye-popping, a playful homage to the industrial and maritime spaces in downtown Monterey, that my daughters, who don’t normally notice such details, were tossing around phrases like “exceptional interior design” and “imaginative architecture.” WHAT TO DO Our comfy, design-forward room was also just a few minutes’ walk from Cannery Row. In the first half of the 20th century, “Cannery Row” was a nickname for the hub of the sardine fishing and processing industries that made Monterey the busy, culturally diverse city that it remains to this day. Cannery Row is also the title of a hilarious, touching John Steinbeck novel, which famously opens, “Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise…”. A far cry from those noisy, smelly cannery days, the street is now the epicenter of incredible fresh-from-the-bay seafood, local wine-tasting, unique shops, family-friendly activities, and exhibits devoted to the history of the region’s Native peoples, Spanish colonists, and 19th- and 20th-century settlers. Start with a walking tour along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, with stops along the water to savor what Robert Louis Stevenson called “the most felicitous meeting of land and sea.” The trail is easily walkable from Cannery Town down toward Fisherman’s Wharf or up toward neighboring Pacific Grove, offering frequent overlooks, unbeatable photo opps, and (often) sightings of sea lions, sea otters, and even porpoises and dolphins. If you find yourself staring a bit too long at the water, don’t worry - it really is that beautiful and, no, it can’t really be captured in photographs. You’ll carry the memory home with you, I promise. Of course, if you’re visiting with kids, they’re eventually going to ask you to stop staring at the bay and “do something.” Cannery Row obliges with a seemingly endless array of unique shopping - way beyond the customary T-shirts and sweatshirts you’ve come to expect in other destinations, Monterey’s shops offers quality arts and crafts, jewelry, and a great selection of literature and local history books too. For a deeper dive into local history, book a visit to the Spirit of Monterey Wax Museum. My younger daughter and I also enjoyed the Monterey Mirror Maze - we “escaped” the maze in minutes on our first try, then got more and more (pleasantly) lost in the maze on each subsequent visit. My only advice to newbies is to hold hands, but that’s (almost) always good advice, right? Getting out on the bay is more ambitious, and very rewarding. Adventures by the Sea offers the chance to explore the water and waterfront. Founded by local Frank Knight, the company has several locations around town where you can rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, bicycles, and surreys. I recommend that you book a kayak tour, in which a knowledgeable guide will take you out on the bay and talk about the wildlife and history, and you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting up-close-and-personal (safely) with sea lions, seals, and sea otters. You may find the sea lions lounging on the decks of fishing boats, as my wife and daughter did, while the seals love to hide in the seaweed and slyly peek out at visitors. Sea otters, on the other hand, may swim right toward your kayak or even swim under you. Of course you’ll want to take pictures: Adventures by the Sea supplies you with a “dry bag” to keep valuables like cameras and smartphones safe. You’ll also get a waterproof jacket and pants to wear over your clothes, but do consider kayaking barefoot or in water-safe shoes because your lower legs and feet will almost certainly get wet out there. Our visit to Monterey was very much centered around Cannery Row and the outdoor activities nearby, but if you’re in town long enough, you ought to consider a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, housed in a former cannery and hosting sea life from the bay plus a variety of changing exhibits, presentations, and events. Fisherman’s Wharf, a few blocks north of Cannery Row, boasts some fine restaurants and a fun party scene in the evenings. And the entire Monterey Peninsula, including the quiet Victorian beauty of Pacific Grove, the drop-dead-gorgeous Carmel Valley, the town of Carmel, and the Pacific coastline to the south of Lovers’ Point, is the kind of place you may never want to leave. WHAT TO EAT Sipping from a flight of local Pinot Noirs while looking out at the impossible turquoise of the Monterey Bay in the late afternoon is just one reason to stop by A Taste of Monterey Wine Market and Bistro, on Cannery Row. In addition to the awesome wine tasting for grownups, the whole family loved passing small plates like crab dip, local artichokes, and hummus, and entrees like flatbread pizzas, New England clam chowder, and panini. Lunch at Lalla Oceanside Grill, including incredible calamari (“Wow! It’s bigger than back in New York!”) and fish tacos, was a pleasure not only for the food but also for the sleek mid-century modern decor inside and the bayside views out the window. When visiting Monterey, resistance to Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop is futile. By all means go, sit down, and indulge in one of the shop’s yes-it’s-too-big-and-yes-you’re-going-to-finish-it-anyway treats, towering ice cream concoctions named for Cali landmarks like the Golden Gate banana split and the Muir Woods black cherry vanilla sundae. (Experienced travelers, including yours truly, also note that the lines at the Monterey shop are much shorter than those at the Ghirardelli’s at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.) We celebrated our final evening in Monterey at The Fish Hopper, also on Cannery Row. The appetizers are incredibly satisfying, offering a medley of prawns, calamari, and crab in a variety of imaginative relishes like mango and papaya, plus awesome (and massive) local artichokes. Entrees like a bread bowl New England clam chowder, steaks, and sustainably sourced fish make this a nice place to end your day. We loved watching sea otters eating their own dinner right outside the window - floating on their backs and cracking clam shells on rocks on their chests. It crossed our minds that, this evening before we had to pack up and leave Monterey, the sea otters might have been putting on a little show for us, perhaps their way of saying, “Goodbye.” We decided that it’s much more likely they were saying, “Until we meet again...”
More Places to go
Monterey (Spanish: Monterrey; Ohlone: Aacistak) is a city located in Monterey County on the southern edge of Monterey Bay on the U.S. state of California's Central Coast. Founded on June 3, 1770, it functioned as the capital of Alta California under both Spain (1804 to 1821) and Mexico (1822 to 1836). During this period, Monterey hosted California's first theater, public building, public library, publicly-funded school, printing-press, and newspaper. It was originally the only port of entry for all taxable goods in California. In 1846, during the Mexican–American War of 1846–1848, the United States Flag was raised over the Customs House. After Mexico ceded California to the U.S. at the end of the war, Monterey hosted California's first constitutional convention in 1849. The city occupies a land area of 8.466 sq mi (21.93 km2) and the city hall is at 26 feet (8 m) above sea level. The 2010 census recorded a population of 27,810. Monterey and the surrounding area have attracted artists since the late 19th-century, and many celebrated painters and writers have lived in the area. Until the 1950s there was an abundant fishery. Monterey's present-day attractions include the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, Fisherman's Wharf, California Roots Music and Arts Festival, and the annual Monterey Jazz Festival.
Carmel by the Sea
Carmel-by-the-Sea (), often simply called Carmel, is a city in Monterey County, California, United States, founded in 1902 and incorporated on October 31, 1916. Situated on the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel is known for its natural scenery and rich artistic history. In 1906, the San Francisco Call devoted a full page to the "artists, writers and poets at Carmel-by-the-Sea", and in 1910 it reported that 60 percent of Carmel's houses were built by citizens who were "devoting their lives to work connected to the aesthetic arts." Early City Councils were dominated by artists, and several of the city's mayors have been poets or actors, including Herbert Heron, founder of the Forest Theater, bohemian writer and actor Perry Newberry, and actor-director Clint Eastwood. The town is known for being dog-friendly, with numerous hotels, restaurants and retail establishments admitting guests with dogs. Carmel is also known for several unusual laws, including a prohibition on wearing high-heel shoes without a permit, enacted to prevent lawsuits arising from tripping accidents caused by irregular pavement.Carmel-by-the-Sea is located on the Pacific coast, about 330 miles (531 km) north of Los Angeles and 120 miles (193 km) south of San Francisco. Communities near Carmel-by-the-Sea include Carmel Valley and Carmel Highlands. The larger town of Monterey borders Carmel to the north. As of the 2010 census, the town had a total population of 3,722, down from 4,081 at the 2000 census.
Santa Cruz (Spanish for 'Holy Cross') is the county seat and largest city of Santa Cruz County, California. As of 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated Santa Cruz's population at 64,608. Situated on the northern edge of Monterey Bay, about 32 mi (51 km) south of San Jose and 75 mi (120 km) south of San Francisco, the city is part of the 12-county San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland Combined Statistical Area. Santa Cruz is known for its moderate climate, natural environment, coastline, redwood forests, alternative community lifestyles, and socially liberal leanings. It is also home to the University of California, Santa Cruz, a premier research institution and educational hub, as well as the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an oceanfront amusement park operating continuously since 1907. The present-day site of Santa Cruz was the location of Spanish settlement beginning in 1791, including Mission Santa Cruz and the pueblo of Branciforte. The City of Santa Cruz was incorporated in 1866 and chartered in April 1876. Important early industries included lumber, gunpowder, lime and agriculture. Late in the 19th century, Santa Cruz established itself as a beach resort community.
Big Sur ['bɪg ˈsɝ] is a rugged and mountainous section of the Central Coast of California between Carmel and San Simeon, where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. It is frequently praised for its dramatic scenery. Big Sur has been called the "longest and most scenic stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States", a sublime "national treasure that demands extraordinary procedures to protect it from development", and "one of the most beautiful coastlines anywhere in the world, an isolated stretch of road, mythic in reputation". The views, redwood forests, hiking, beaches, and other recreational opportunities have made Big Sur a popular destination for about 7 million people who live within a day's drive and visitors from across the world. It is among the top 35 tourist destinations world-wide. The region receives about the same number of visitors as Yosemite National Park, but offers only limited bus service, few restrooms, and a narrow two-lane highway that for most of its length clings to the steep coastal cliffs. North-bound traffic during the peak summer season and holiday weekends is often backed up for about 20 miles (32 km) from Big Sur Village to Carmel Highlands. Due to the large number of visitors, congestion and slow traffic between Carmel and Posts is becoming the norm.The region is often confused with an unincorporated village, a collection of small roadside businesses and homes, also known as Big Sur.: 2 The larger region known as Big Sur does not have specific boundaries, but is generally considered to include the 71-mile (114 km) segment of California State Route 1 between Malpaso Creek near Carmel Highlands in the north and San Carpóforo Creek near San Simeon in the south, as well as the entire Santa Lucia range between these creeks. The interior region is mostly uninhabited, while the coast remains relatively isolated and sparsely populated, with between 1,800 and 2,000 year-round residents and relatively few visitor accommodations scattered among four small settlements. The region remained one of the most inaccessible areas of California and the entire United States until, after 18 years of construction, the Carmel–San Simeon Highway (now signed as part of State Route 1) was completed in 1937. Along with the ocean views, this winding, narrow road, often cut into the face of towering seaside cliffs, dominates the visitor's experience of Big Sur. The highway has been closed more than 55 times by landslides, and in May 2017, a 2,000,000-cubic-foot (57,000 m3) slide blocked the highway at Mud Creek, north of Salmon Creek near the San Luis Obispo County line, to just south of Gorda. The road was reopened on July 18, 2018. The region is protected by the Big Sur Local Coastal Plan, which preserves it as "open space, a small residential community, and agricultural ranching." Approved in 1986, the plan is one of the most restrictive local-use programs in the state, and is widely regarded as one of the most restrictive documents of its kind anywhere. The program protects viewsheds from the highway and many vantage points, and severely restricts the density of development. About 60% of the coastal region is owned by governmental or private agencies which do not allow any development. The majority of the interior region is part of the Los Padres National Forest, Ventana Wilderness, Silver Peak Wilderness or Fort Hunter Liggett.