Monterey County Food and Wine

Monterey County Food and Wine

Monterey County: California's Ultimate Food and Wine Destination By Gowri Chandra

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Monterey County, California is a premier food and wine destination. Carmel Valley’s vineyards benefit from excellent soil that nourishes its star varietals — pinot noir and chardonnay. And Salinas Valley is where much of California’s produce is grown; “farm-to-table” is much more than just a popular trend. Here are some more of the area’s foodie highlights.

The Wines

Monterey County is among California’s largest wine producing regions. Aside from the unique soil in Carmel Valley, fog and a moderate climate create the perfect conditions for developing complex flavor profiles across the entire area, including the Salinas Valley. If you’re looking for some standout vineyards, stop by the award-winning Folktale WineryHahn Family WinesCarmel Ridge Winery, or Paraiso Vineyards, all of which offer tastings for about $10-$20. Pierce Ranch Vineyards is another choice, with a tasting for just $5. In Carmel Valley, Cima CollinaHolman Ranch Vineyards, and Bernardus Winery are all within walking distance from each other, making for a convenient itinerary. If you’re looking for a guided, fully-car-free option, Monterey’s Wine Trolley takes you on a five-hour adventure – designated driver included. For a self-guided tour where you can go at your own pace, check out the Carmel Wine Walk-by-the-Sea. This $100 passport lets you taste four wines at ten different tasting rooms, and it doesn't expire, so it can be used over a weekend or several trips.

Where to Eat

Farms and fresh produce mean that the opportunity for memorable meals is everywhere in Monterey County, whether you’re searching for a quick bite with a breathtaking view or a multi-course tasting menu at an award-winning restaurant. In the latter category, you’ll find Aubergine at L'Auberge in Carmel-by-the-Sea, with a tasting menu that includes lobster, dry-aged ribeye, and caviar, all accompanied by a long list of seasonal fruits and vegetables. At Lucia restaurant, located at Bernardus Lodge and Spa in Carmel Valley, you’ll find local meats and seafood impeccably prepared plus an extensive wine cellar. Pacific Grove’s Passionfish made its name by sourcing from small farms and farmers markets and by focusing on sustainably harvested ingredients. A spicy seafood stew, basil-stuffed rainbow trout, and sea scallops with tomato-truffle butter are just a few things on the menu.

In the rugged coastal area of Big Sur, dine at Nepenthe for salads, burgers, and sandwiches with an unbeatable cliffside view over the Pacific. Big Sur River Inn is another delight. Its restaurant is situated right on the river and it offers a great burrito bar. There are even chairs where you can sip a beer while you dangle your feet in the water in warmer weather. Head to the stylish Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette at the Sanctuary Beach Resort in Marina and join the crowds at the oyster bar, or head to the patio to enjoy local seafood and shared plates. For a classic seafood experience, Schooners Coastal Kitchen and Bar at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa on Cannery Row is the place to go. Dine in the formal dining room or the more casual space next door for all the classics from lobster bisque to oysters Rockefeller. And their chowder is a must-try.

Beer and Bites

Monterey County isn’t just about wine. If you prefer craft beer, check out Peter B’s Brewpub inside the Portola Hotel & Spa. Whatever your preference -- blonde, sour, chocolate-y stout, or anything in between – it will go nicely with garlic fries or fried cheese curds. Alvarado Street Brewery & Grill has a tree-lined outdoor patio that’s a perfect place to sip and people watch. They also have a brewery and tasting room in Salinas. For true fans, check out the Monterey Beer Festival held each summer, featuring more than 80 beers and vendors from all over the world.

Farm-to-Fork Experiences and Tours

The farms of Monterey County are their own star attraction. The Farm in the Salinas Valley offers tours for $25 and also has a produce stand, as does Earthbound Farm in Carmel Valley, which offers tours and has an organic farm stand café. To learn more about the agricultural history of Salinas Valley, often called “the Salad Bowl of the World,” visit the National Steinbeck Center. The museum is not just for fans of Steinbeck and his work, although they’ll find plenty to enjoy here. It’s also an informative, engaging look at the farming community of the area and how it came to be.

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