Stand on seaside bluffs overlooking a majestic coastline, explore wondrous seaside villages and catch sight of sea lions lounging on rocky outcrops in Monterey County.
Even the most jaded traveler will be spellbound by the sights and sounds of Monterey County, California. Driving just two hours south of San Francisco will land you in a destination that stretches from the Pacific Ocean inland to thriving lush farmland and picturesque wine country. The only downside to visiting this enchanting place is when you have to say goodbye.
Whale Watching and Seaside Charm
Hidden underneath the Pacific Ocean waters off the coast of Monterey, there’s a sea canyon complete with cliffs, gorges and valleys that rival the Grand Canyon. This submarine trench attracts all manner of fish, which also entices hungry whales. To get an up close look at these magnificent creatures, sign up for a tour with Monterey Bay Whale Watch. Whale watching is a year-round activity in Monterey, and the diversity of wildlife is unparalleled. Keep your eyes peeled for humpbacks, gray whales and blue whales, but you might also see jovial otters swimming boat-side and dolphins gliding past you. Whether you catch a humpback breaching the cool waves or a gray whale lobbing his tail, it’s an unforgettable encounter from start to finish.
Back on land, Old Fisherman’s Wharf caters to visitors with a tidy collection of cafes and cute shops peddling everything from pearl jewelry to eye-catching souvenirs and apparel. Be sure to grab a bowl of award-winning clam chowder at Old Fisherman’s Grotto or dine at Paluca Trattoria, a popular Italian restaurant that was transformed into a coffee shop for the HBO series, Big Little Lies. For more wildlife encounters, plan a visit to the popular Monterey Bay Aquarium to see penguins, sea otters and more aquatic species up close.
Colorful marina views from Old Fisherman’s Wharf
Salinas Valley’s Wine Country & John Steinbeck History
Salinas’ restored historic buildings and wide sidewalks lined with trees exude nostalgia – making it a perfect home for The National Steinbeck Center. Famed American author John Steinbeck, a Salinas native, is celebrated for his honest depictions of local culture and people in his award-winning books like Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden and Cannery Row (which also is a waterfront street named after the book in Monterey). Housing the largest archive of his literary works, the museum includes film clips of movies based on his books, first editions and vintage photography displays of Steinbeck’s life and Salinas Valley history.
A short walk from the center, Steinbeck’s childhood home is now a volunteer-run restaurant open for a delicious made-from-scratch lunch. Volunteers are more than eager to share their knowledge of the home including behind-the-scenes stories. Don’t leave without a visit to The Best Cellar Gift Shop, where you can pick up a copy of a Steinbeck novel, postcards or a local handmade item.
The Salinas Valley is also home to an award-winning wine region, where the person filling your glass may just be the winemaker. Coastal fog and cool temperatures from Monterey Bay mix with Salinas Valley’s warmer climate to yield optimal conditions for growing grapes, specifically pinot noir and chardonnay. With 14 vineyards/wineries in Salinas Valley and 65 tasting rooms in Monterey County, this region is passionate about its intimate approach to sharing its varietals with wine enthusiasts. Wrath Wines in Soledad is nestled in the Salinas Valley with grand views of the Santa Lucia Highlands. This vineyard produces both pinot noir and chardonnay with wonderful results. Tours and tastings are available almost every weekend.
Strolling through the vineyards at Wrath Wines in Soledad
Cruise 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach
A rocky coastline with mesmerizing scenic outlooks and crashing waves welcomes visitors to some of the most photo-worthy coastal scenes in California along 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach. If there was ever a place to lose track of time, this 27-kilometer route is it. Download the 17-Mile Drive app, so you don’t miss a single stop. Spy the coastline through a viewfinder at Point Joe, walk down the boardwalk to get a closer view of the 250-year-old Lone Cypress tree and check out sunbathing sea lions and shore birds at Bird Rock.
Build time for a visit to The Lodge at Pebble Beach, a serene luxury resort with splendid coastal views and internationally known golf courses amid Monterey cypress trees. If you’re a golf aficionado, don’t miss the visitors center exhibits paying tribute to some of the sport’s greatest champions. End your day with a cozy bonfire and bagpipe celebration at Pebble Beach's The Links at Spanish Bay.
Coastal scenery along 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach
Fly directly into Monterey Regional Airport (MRY) from 95 worldwide destinations with just one stop. Visitors can also fly into San Francisco International Airport (SFO) or San Jose International Airport (SJC), rent a car and drive two hours or one hour, respectively, into Monterey County.
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