Some people may think Monterey County is all about the aquarium. Indeed, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, on California's central coast, is one of the world’s finest. But it's just one part of this fascinating seaside destination, which offers travelers an incredible variety of sights, experiences and activities. Here are some ways to enjoy them.
Check into charming Mission Ranch Hotel, actor Clint Eastwood's historic Carmel lodge, which has spectacular views of Point Lobos State Reserve, Carmel River State Beach, and the Pacific Ocean. Stroll through the nearby town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, voted the most romantic beach town in America. Dozens of boutiques and wine tasting rooms line the streets in the center of town and you'll find specialty shops with a wide array of one-of-a-kind products, plus art galleries selling local works. Cruise into a special evening with a sunset dinner voyage with Monterey Bay Sailing. Then cozy up with a fire in your dreamy hotel room. Wake up late the next day, then venture to Lovers Point in Pacific Grove, where you can rent bikes, kayaks, or a stand-up paddleboard from Adventures by the Sea.
For Literary Buffs
Monterey County offers a plethora of special places for book lovers. Start your tour at Monterey's Cannery Row, the location (and name) of one of John Steinbeck's most famous books. You can also visit the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, which contains interactive exhibits about the Nobel Prize laureate. Author Robert Louis Stevenson also spent many years here; visit the former French Hotel, now known as the Robert Louis Stevenson House, where Stevenson once lived. Many scholars feel that the area inspired the author's novel Treasure Island.
Rock your world with some extreme fun at Pinnacles National Park, a top locale for rock climbing. Home to California condors and a crazy collection of crimson conical spires, the park is suited to both beginner and advanced climbers, with key areas rigged with permanent anchors. You can also get high in the sky at Marina State Beach, where hang gliders soar over the sand dunes and Monterey Bay. Other options for those who like to stay active: get out on the water with Monterey Bay Kayaks or zoom along the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail with an e-bike rental from Big Sur Adventures.
For Wine Aficionados
Raise a glass to the wines of Monterey County: the area was named one of "10 Best Wine Destinations" in the world by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. The county has three distinct wine tasting regions. The first, Carmel-by-the-Sea, has more than 18 tasting rooms in its downtown. In Carmel Valley Village, wine fans can find more than a dozen tasting rooms, all within walking distance, and the River Road Wine Trail in Salinas Valley includes more than two dozen wineries and many tasting rooms.
Monterey County is a paradise for food lovers. Explore its bounty of farms, wineries and seafood via fork and knife or by touring local producers. Among its many fine restaurants includes Nepenthe set on the dramatic cliffs in Big Sur. Or try Passionfish in Pacific Grove, which combines sustainable and organic food with a 2018 James Beard Award nominated wine program. Visit The Farm in Salinas to learn the story of contemporary farming. Another way to get the inside story: The Salinas Valley is known as "California's Salad Bowl" and is home to many farmers' markets. Check out the Monterey County Farmers Markets schedule.
Check into a family-friendly hotel like Monterey's InterContinental the Clement Monterey on Cannery Row, located in the center of the action. A highlight here is the Monterey Bay Aquarium; if you call ahead you can reserve a place on a behind-the-scenes tour and learn more about the Aquarium's creatures and how they live. Continue your ocean-oriented day by boarding a whale watching boat and take a mini-cruise in search of humpback, grey and blue whales. Next on your itinerary: MY Museum, where interactive exhibits like "My Day at the beach," are fun for kids and adults.
For Spa Lovers
Find your Zen moment in Monterey County, which has long been recognized for its five-star spas. One of the best-known is the Spa at Post Ranch Inn, located in a spectacular setting overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur. It consistently ranks high on lists of the top hotel spas in America. Spa Alila at Ventana Big Sur is another nationally known spa, famous for its creativity class, hot baths, and astrology readings. But you don't have to go to Big Sur to find a great spa. In Carmel Valley, try the Spa at Bernardus Lodge or the Spa Aiyana at Carmel Valley Ranch. Golfers and spa-goers alike will enjoy the The Spa at Pebble Beach, which has a Post-Golf Therapy package that focuses on tired forearms, neck and lower back.