Monterey lures visitors with clear blue seas perfect for diving, the best aquarium in the country, and a bustling Cannery Row tourist district. Often people are so entranced with her outgoing side they miss out on the understated allure of this diva: that of gourmet restaurants, quiet walking paths, and historic buildings. All wrapped up, Monterey offers the ideal weekend escape for families, romance, and singles.
Where To Stay:
Portola Hotel and Spa offers sophisticated lodging in a casual atmosphere. Besides being in the heart of downtown, I like the seal toy in the bathtub, triple-sheeted comfy beds, and their concierge, who is the best in Monterey Bay. Amenities include a small pool, business center, two restaurants, lounge, fitness center, concierge, and a renovated spa.
Families might consider renting a house through Monterey Bay Property Management. They’ve got everything from that oceanfront villa to that cozy beach cottage.
Where to Eat:
Montrio Bistro is the best restaurant in the Central Coast. While you gaze at the fabric swaying from the ceiling, the exposed brick walls, and the packed tables, enjoying the delicious appetizers, know that you have made it to Monterey’s it destination. Crab stars on the menu, as do seasonal vegetables and lamb. Yet, you can also get a decent burger. I lean towards the small plates, so I can try a variety of tastes. There’s a sophisticated children’s menu. But make reservations in advance.
Monterey’s Fish House is a hole-in-the-wall. This local favorite for big portions of fresh seafood, so make a reservation, or be okay with sitting at the bar. Order oak-grilled oysters and wine, and experience why locals hesitate to tell anyone about this casual hideaway.
What to Do:
Most everyone knows that the best Central Coast experience is a visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium. Nothing brings visitors to the Monterey Coast as much as the sea, and this recently renovated tribute to all things oceanic does its part to lure visitors westward. And for a good reason: This is quite possibly the best aquarium in the country. At the forefront of conservation, research, and sustainability (check out their Seafood Watch card), you’ll most likely be astounded by the experience. Highlights include the sea otter tank, the giant tuna, penguin feedings, the cosmic jellyfish exhibit, the sharks, the anchovies, the petting area, the outdoor tide pools, and for kids, the upstairs play area. For the best deal, go at the end of the day and get your ticket stamped to return the next morning.
After learning about the water, rent a bike from Adventures By the Sea to explore the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail. This path spans from Marina to Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove and delights bikers and walkers with stunning coastal views, wildflowers, towering sand dunes, and rolling hills.
The next morning, you’ll want to get your feet wet in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Extending over 2 miles deep into the ocean, Monterey Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. For most of us, that fact won’t actually hit home. We won’t see the wealth of sea life thriving in this unique environment: the jellyfish, sharks, whales, lantern fish, kelp forests, rocky shores, reefs, eelgrass beds, whales, and other elusive fish. Even divers can only see a smidgen of what the canyon offers.
With 5,300 square miles of water and 300 miles of coastline, there is no shortage of areas to snorkel or dive in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Water temperatures average in the mid-50s year-round with temperatures dropping into the 40s at deeper sites. Aquarius Dive Shop takes novices and advanced divers out to explore the canyon.
For those less interested in a full body experience, Adventures By the Sea will gear you up, and teach you how to kayak, then set you off to the sea. You can either explore the crowded bay near Cannery Row, or near Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove. Plus you can explore sea caves, kelp forests, and even see whales.
If you are traveling with kids, you must book a space on Monterey Bay Whale Watch’s whale watching boats. Whales hang out around here all year long. The best time for spotting migrating gray whales is in winter when it is COLD, so dress really warm. In summer, humpbacks and blues hang around the coast, feeding on anchovies. These cruises tend to get crowded and can be bumpy. Trips last three to five hours, depending on the season.
After a day on the water, get your land legs (or continue the wooziness, if that’s more fun) back at A Taste of Monterey. Sample Carmel Valley wines without having to drive the winding roads of Carmel Valley. For a foggy coastal afternoon, this might be the perfect way to learn about local varietals.