An exploration of California’s Central Coast wouldn’t be complete without spending some time on the Monterey County Peninsula, in particular Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey. This part of the peninsula is absolutely jaw-dropping and offers some of the state’s most epic views of sandy beaches, cliffs, cypress-covered outposts, and rugged coastline that is iconically California. Though you can find countless photos of these beautiful locations scrolling on Instagram, there’s nothing like experiencing these destinations first hand.
Aside from natural beauty, this area offers incredible places to eat and drink, with many if not most ingredients coming from local farms and fishermen; all the outdoor recreation including hiking, kayaking and surfing; luxury lodges, hotels, resorts and charming cottages to stay at; and countless boutiques, art galleries and shops to keep you busy in-between activities.
Here’s a two day guide of the best things to eat, drink, do and see while adventuring on the Monterey Peninsula.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is one of the most charming, seaside villages you’ll ever come across. This European-style town offers visitors quaint old world vibes and sophistication that will have you quickly falling in love with the picture-perfect town. Carmel-by-the-Sea is known for its fairytale cottages, art galleries, and storybook-looking boutique shops that ooze romance and whimsy, making it a one-of-a-kind destination.
Start your day off with breakfast at the spacious and modern Rise + Roam for some high-quality pastries and coffee. On the sweet side the have everything from cinnamon sugar morning bun and almond croissant to kougin-amann and bread pudding. Savory morning treats include toast like smoked salmon with pickled red onions, Persian cucumber, creme fraiche, capers and an egg on our seeded rye bread and savory quiches and egg muffins.
Mad Dogs & Englishmen
Best way to see the sights of Carmel? Hop on an electric bike! Stop by Mad Dogs & Englishmen and rent one of their shiny, top-of-the-line e-bikes or classic bikes for a tour of the coast. Popular, incredibly stunning routes include the Scenic Drive in Carmel, 17 Miles Drive in Pebble Beach and Point Lobos. You can start right at the bike shop and take a number of routes, each one featuring turquoise blue waters, white sand beaches, windswept cypress tress, cliffs and more.
Landmarks include Butterfly House, Carmel River State Beach, and Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch. Before hitting the highway, you’ll pass the Carmel Mission which is celebrating is 250th anniversary this year. Your guide will also lead you on a couple lovely mini-hikes in Point Lobos on foot. Perfect for all ages, it’s a great activity to take in the beauty of the coast. Be sure to bring your camera!
Carmel Food Tours
Once you get your workout in, it’s time to eat! Book a Bikes, Bites, & Bevs tour with Carmel Food Tours which is a two hour tour that includes five locations and a guide who gives excellent insight on the history architecture and culture of Carmel!
Popular tour spots include:
Grasings Restaurant – this charming bistro in situated right in the downtown area and features an impressive array of grilled USDA Prime steaks; Pan Seared Salmon with whole wheat soba noodles, bok choy, snow peas, ginger, soy sauce, sesame glaze; Grasing’s “Paella” with prawns, clams, mussels, Italian sausage, fennel, and saffron orzo; and “grasings” including housemade onion rings.
Pescadero Carmel – this lively Mexican restaurant offers Baja-inspired fare with local ingredients. Must-try items include the Tacos Baja Norte with Baja style fish or shrimp tacos, cabbage, pickled red onion, yusu, ginger, sesame; Chile Relleno with Pasilla pepper, queso Oaxaca, tomato and avocado leaf sauce, Mexican squash “ratatouille”; and the Burrito “El Naufrago” with choice of steak, chicken, al Pastor, or carnitas. Served wet with red or green sauce.
Bud’s at La Playa – from this upscale watering hole located in La Playa Carmel offers classic libations and elevated contemporary comfort fare in a historic, sleek lounge. They offer a selection of signature cocktails that include the Bud’s Martini with Gin, Vodka, and Lillet; The Mayor with Whisky, Bitters, Orange, and Bourbon Cherry; and the California Proof with Tequila, Grapefruit Juice, Lime, and Club Soda. Popular bites include the Prime Rib French Dip; Salmon Nicoise Salad; and Bud’s Burger.
Alvarado Street Brewery – this brewery and New American restaurant is in a vibrant, open aired shopping area. Known for it’s lively bar scene, great selection of beers and craft cocktails and barbecue that includes St. Louis ribs, smoked brisket, and half chicken served with a special house porter barbecue sauce.
If you’re looking for somewhere to spend the night, check in to Hotel Carmel, the boutique property is located just steps away from boutique shops, galleries, restaurants, and the beautiful Carmel Beach.
For a pre-dinner cocktail and bite stop by Brophy’s, located alongside the hotel. The fun pub fare includes braised short rib fries with house fries, braised short rib, chimichurri, scallions, queso fresco, pan jus; fish and chips with fresh halibut; Brophy’s burger with cremini & king trumpet mushrooms, smoked gouda, fontina, and house fries; and the crispy calamari.
And for dinner? Go all out and make a reservation at Forbes Four-Star Lucia Restaurant and Bar, a fine dining destination located at the Bernardus Lodge & Spa that futures a menu inspired by seasonality and locally sourced seafood, meat and produce. Set on 28 stunning Carmel Valley acres lush with vineyards, flowers, lavender, olive orchards, culinary gardens and more, Lucia showcases the best this area has to offer. Read here for more.
Monterey is an absolutely gorgeous coastal destination most famous for its rugged scenery, including cliffs, state parks, tide pools and more; wild marine life, think whales, otters and seabirds; one of the top aquariums around, The Monterey Bay Aquarium; wine tasting rooms and world-class dining; historic buildings and unique boutiques on Cannery Row; and outdoor activities like kayaking and paddle boarding.
Start your day off right with a luxurious breakfast spread overlooking the bay at Schooner’s Coastal Kitchen. Start with oysters on the half shell and mimosas, followed by heartier specialities such as the Dungeness crab Benedict with two poached eggs, Dungeness crab, spinach, english muffin, breakfast potatoes, hollandaise sauce; braised lamb hash with two poached eggs, roasted peppers, fingerling potatoes, and mint béarnaise sauce; or the oak smoked salmon & avocado toast with cream cheese, avocado, 7-grain bread arbequina olive oil. Indulge with out-of-this-world pastries including almond, chocolate croissants and cinnamon rolls from tidal bakery.
Keep the brunch party going with specialty cocktails such as the Supreme Plaza Mary with house-infused Absolut elyx vodka, bacon, grilled prawn, blue cheese olives, pickle spear, house-made spicy bloody Mary mix; and the Maritime Manhattan with Bulleit Bourbon, red grapefruit, rosemary and smoked sweet vermouth.
Keep an eye out for playful otters!
Great activities include the previously mentioned Monterey Bay Aquarium with it’s enormous variety of marine life including penguins, jelly fish and a variety of sharks, and exhibits which currently include the giant pacific octopus; the kelp forest; open sea; rocky shore; and sea otters.
Jump on a kayak and mingle with the sea otters or go on a whale watching tour. Or take a walk along the recreational trail which take you through Cannery Row to the American Tin Cannery shopping and outlet mall, to Fisherman’s Wharf and more—all while avoiding busy roads and parking hassles.
Pebble Beach + 17-Mile-Drive
Those in search of something a bit more exhilarating, need to stop by the iconic Pebble Beach Club and test out a top-of-the-line Lexus. What better place to do it than the also iconic 17-Mile-Drive? Take your Lexus for a spin through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula, hugging tight turns on the coastline, wind in your hair, and enjoying the sights.
Make stops at points of interest including the Lone Cypress, the extremely popular 250-year-old tree which is also the logo for Pebble Beach Company; Harbor Seals; Bird Rock; the 5,300-acre Del Monte Forest of Monterey Cypress trees; and more.
When hunger hits, take a seat at The Bench at Pebble Beach Resort. Overlooking the 18th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links, The Bench delivers an eclectic menu inspired by global styles and uses the innovative technique of wood roasting and open-flame cooking.
Enjoy a range of dishes including Korean style brisket sandwich with marinated brisket, carrot slaw, warm baguette, and togarashi fries; black mussels with coconut chili-lime broth, ginger, cilantro, and garlic rubbed grilled bread; and the tortiglioni bolognese with a hearty veal and pork sauce, pecorino cheese.
Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa
For an overnight stay, check into the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, which is ideally located on the historic beachfront property within Monterey Bay’s Cannery Row and walking distance to all the fun cafes, restaurants and boutiques. The only Forbes four-star rated hotel in Monterey, the Plaza also offers a penthouse-level Vista Blue Spa; Schooners Coastal Kitchen and the property’s newest addition, The Helmsman Lounge, perfect for imbibing on artisan spirits and delicious small plates.
The Sardine Factory
The Sardine Factory has become an iconic Central Coast seafood restaurant and a mainstay of Cannery Row’s restaurant scene. Established in 1968, the restaurant offers a huge wine collection and an epic wine cellar that holds over 20,000 bottles and more history than you could imagine.
Arched brick catacombs; wrought iron-gated wine vaults; a 25-foot banquet table made from a single piece of downed Big Sur redwood; antiques; and rare, historical artifacts are just a few of the authentic elements of this cellar. Guests can also pop over to the Sardine Factory Lounge to enjoy live piano music, specialty cocktails and tasty small bites.
The historic restaurant has served countless celebrities, pro-athletes, movie stars and public figures. Moreover, the signature Abalone Bisque was served by request at President Ronald Reagan’s inaugural dinners. Another fun fact? Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut film, Play Misty for Me, was filmed in the Sardine Factory in 1971.
The menu offers fresh, sustainable seafood and usda prime beef. Seafood entrees include everything from large diver scallops with wild mushroom polenta, crispy prosciutto, toasted pine nuts, sage brown butter; and grilled wild abalone medallions with light breading, oyster mushrooms, asparagus, butter sauce; to the maine lobster tail, 14 oz. With fingerling potatoes, chef’s choice of vegetables, drawn butter; and parmesan crusted calamari steak, scallop & prawns with chive risotto, sautéed asparagus, lemon-caper sauce.
Meat options include the classic surf and turf; medallions of filet mignon, périgourdine with mashed potatoes, sautéed broccolini & mushrooms, truffle demi cream sauce; prime boneless rib eye steak with truffle butter, roasted potatoes, fried onion straws; veal cardinal (since 1968) with loin of natural raised veal and petite Maine lobster tail; combined in sauce extraordinaire, Monterey jack potatoes, sautéed asparagus and buttered baby carrots; and more.