The California Monterey Peninsula is on the northern part of California’s Central Coast. It is about 2 hours south of San Francisco and about 6 hours north of Los Angeles. The peninsula consists of Carmel, Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Pebble Beach.
The Monterey Peninsula is well known for its beautiful rugged shores, steep slopes, and beaches. The area has many things to do and ways to explore. Here are some suggestions.
- Visit and take a Behind the Scenes tour at the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium,
- Guided kayak trip through a Monterey Bay kelp forest;
- Horseback ride though a eucalyptus grove and sand dunes, next to a golf course and beautiful homes and along a beach; and
- Leisurely drive and strolls along the spectacular 17-Mile Drive. And don’t forget to grab a bite in one of their restaurants to get back your fee for going into the area.
- Taste wines in the many area wineries
- Grab a meal
- Hike along the coast or through one of the state parks
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is an incredible gem—always rated as one of the best aquariums in the world. In addition to visiting the aquarium, take a Behind the Scenes tour of the facility and learn more about the animals and what it takes to maintain the them. For more on the aquarium, see our in-depth blog.
Kayaking with Harbor Seals, Sea Lions and Sea Otters
Take a two hour Monterey Bay paddle with Monterey Bay Kayaks. After the required technique and safety briefing, we launched from a beach north of Fisherman’s Wharf. Our first stop was the end of the breakwater, which serves as a resting place for over 100 harbor seals. We are very accustomed to hearing seal and sea lion bellows and watching their behavior and even seeing their playfulness, as when snorkeling in the Galapagos, where sea lions raced up to our faces, only to stop at the last second to blow bubbles into our faces. On this trip, however, we discovered a new type of playful behavior, with dozens of harbor seals coming out to our kayaks (while maintaining respectful distance) and following us as we paddled gradually away.
We then headed to the kelp beds, where we learned about different types of kelp (a form of algae) and sea grass, and saw sea otters, a number of unusual types of crabs and a dead, but clearly discernable Mola Mola (a much smaller version of the sunfish that so enthralled us at the aquarium).
On the way back, we passed and explored the under-the-dock portion of the abalone farm that supplied what was soon to become our lunch. Overall, a very fun and educational way to spend a morning.
On our next trip, we plan to experience the Monterey Bay waters in two other ways:
- Kayak through the Elkhorn Slough coastal wetlands (which has larger populations of otters, birds, sea lions and harbor seals); and
- Snorkel through a coastal kelp forest.
Horseback Riding along the Beach
We took a 1.25-hour horseback ride with the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center. The ride went through wooded sand dunes, provided great views over the peninsula’s coastline and golf courses, and took us between classic Pebble Beach “cottages” and along the beach.
The Equestrian Center staff did all the work. Our guide provided good commentary and answered all of our questions about horses and the area.
So much fun and a great way to see the area.
How many times can you drive or walk along the 17-mile drive in Pebble Beach to see the incredible span of rocky coastline, windswept Monterey cypress trees, lovely golf courses, and mansions before you tire of it? We are nowhere near close to a limit. True, we don’t stop at as many of the sights or read as many of the signs as in the past. The views, however, continue to be magical and it’s always humbling to see how the other half (or at least the other 1 percent) lives.
The coastline, however, is about more than driving. It also has some great walks. A couple of our favorites are those along the:
- Boardwalks and beaches at the Inn at Spanish Bay (which is also a great place for a sunset drink around the fire pits, listening to the bagpiper saluting at the end of the day); and the
- Walk along Pacific Grove’s Ocean View Blvd, between Lovers’ Point and Perkins Parks.
If you are in season (beginning in mid-October) don’t miss Pacific Grove’s Monarch Grove Sanctuary, where you can see thousands of Monarch Butterflies resting in trees between the legs of their massive winter migrations. If you didn’t bring you own binoculars, you can typically use one of the docent’s spotting scopes while listening to the fascinating story of the beautiful insect’s migration and lifecycle.
Exit the drive in Carmel, to take a short detour to drive along Scenic Road, heading south from Ocean Avenue Beach.
And, while it is not exactly along the 17-mile drive, it is also worth another short detour—this time to the Carmel Mission, a lovely renovated structure that is central to the history of California.
The Monterey Peninsula has moderate temperatures thanks to the cooling fog. As a result, grapes here have a longer growing season and a more intense flavor.
Chardonnay is the primary grape grown in the northern part of Monterey Bay. Additional varietals that grow here include Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Pinot Blanc. The southern part of the Monterey Peninsula is a little warmer and focuses more on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel. Pinot Noir dominates the small Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) area.
Although wineries, wines, grapes, tasting rooms, and winemaker styles may change over each vintage, we particularly like the intense flavors of this region’s unoaked or moderately oaked Chardonnays and the dark (especially black cherry) fruits and leathery, earthy tones style of the Pinot Noirs produced here.
Although the area is mostly known for its seafood, you can find just about any type of food here.
The area has many hiking trails that take you past amazing scenery along the coast, in Big Sur and Point Lobos. And don’t forget to ditch the car and walk or bike through the quaint towns. Dash into interesting shops and galleries.
And after all of this activity, you need to find a place to stay. The area has many different types of accommodations from hotels to inns to B&Bs. Here are some places we have enjoyed staying at/
- Spindrift Inn, on Monterey’s Cannery Row, is a charming hotel with a multistory lobby that was serving complimentary wine, cheese, and crackers when we checked in at 5:30. The room was rather spacious and nicely decorated with overstuffed chairs, closet, and wood- burning fireplace with a fire starter. While we would have preferred slightly less furniture. The room was lovely and very comfortable. We were greeted in the morning with a complimentary continental breakfast delivered to our room.
- Vagabond Inn, in Carmel. This small inn has spacious rooms and nice touches. For example, our room had a wood-burning fireplace, an orchid, a bottle of local Cabernet, a carafe of after-dinner sherry, and in-room continental breakfast. The room also had a kitchen, with a full-size refrigerator, coffee maker, toaster, and silverware. Although the room had many nice touches, it was a bit rustic.
- Green Gables Inn. This inn is in Pacific Grove on the oceanfront. Our first night was in the coach house in a large king room with a jacuzzi which we didn’t use. Then we moved to the main house. This is a very nice inn with comfortable rooms. Not all have private baths but ours did. They have wine and appetizers at night, cookies, and a buffet breakfast with hot food and fruit. The only negative was when Joyce smashed her knee on the heavy cast iron leg of the breakfast table which prevented her from walking the entire day and has had long-term effects on knee pain. Ouch. Not their fault but ouch. Green-Gables-PAcific-Grove
- Coachman’s Inn is a 4 Sisters Inn in Carmel. This small boutique inn has 30 guestrooms. Like other 4 Sisters Inn San Carlos Street between 7th and 8th, (831) 624-6421 $462.22. We like the location but this is pricy place to stay.
- Carriage House Inn is a nice place in Carmel, but like everything there, it is pricy. The friendly staff goes out of their way to be helpful. Complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres are available each evening as are cookies and a continental breakfast. The location is great but you can’t find a bad location in Carmel by the sea. The tub was a large spa tub with an overhead rain shower.
- Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley is very nice but it comes with a large price tag and a resort fee. But you do get free parking and wifi. It also often has a minimum stay. This is definitely a place to stay if you can afford it. We enjoyed our stay but prefer to spend the money on other things.