Around the Monterey Peninsula is a string of
small seaside communities, each with its own flavor and appeal.
While no longer the county seat nor even its largest city (both honors rest with blue-collar Salinas), Monterey remains the areas best-known and most popular destination. A city of only 32,000, it attracts easily 100 times that many tourists each year.
Montereys carefully restored downtown is in fact the historical cradle of California. From 1775, when it became the capital of the Spanish colony of Alta California, through Mexican rule and the brief period of independent California, California was governed from Monterey. The California Constitutional Convention met here in 1849, in fact. Landmarks of each of these periods are preserved in the adobe Colonial-style houses that line the streets and calles of the district. Downtown is best explored by foot, taking the well-marked Path of History walking tour. Within walking distance is Fishermans Wharf, a well-touristed leftover from Montereys days as a Spanish colonial capital, cargo facility, whaling station, and, finally, fishing port. Now its home to some commendable seafood restaurants and more than a few tacky gift shops. Marine tours of Monterey bay leave from the wharf, including whale-watching trips.
A mile south is Cannery Row, whose sardine-packing factories are reminders of the hard life before the war depicted in Steinbecks novel of that name. Today restored to something of its former glory, the area is crammed with gift shops and other attractions aimed at the tourist dollar. Our favorite memento: chocolate sardines. Many of the areas restaurants rank among the best in the Monterey Bay Area. Cannery Rows biggest attraction, and the primary reason for its resurgence as a tourist destination, is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Arguably the finest aquarium in the world, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is as good as it is not only because of its imaginative presentation?and great funding?but because it focuses on whats just outside in the deep waters of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. You'll see otters at play, a towering kelp forest, trance-inducing jellyfish, the worlds largest aquarium window, and you can pet a velvety bat ray.
West of Monterey along Highway 1 lies the cozy seaside community of Pacific Grove. Three hundred and fifty-five days out of the year, Pacific Grove is as quiet a town as one could hope to find, with tree-lined streets fronting small quaint houses (the mix of Spanish adobe construction with Victorian accents is irresistible). But in November, a peaceful madness descends: Pacific Grove truly becomes the "City of the Butterflies" as hundreds of thousands of monarch butterflies stop off on their annual migration. Many of Pacific Groves Victorians double as bed and breakfasts, and some as noteworthy restaurants. This is also the site of the Julia Morgan-designed Asilomar Meeting Center, situated in the dunes at the shore. Next to the meeting center is Asilomar State Park, with plenty of dramatically crashing surf.
Famed as the site of the Pebble Beach Country Club and Resort and Spyglass Hill golf courses, and home to the yearly AT&T Celebrity Golf Tournament (where huge crowds wait for what Bill Murrays shtick), Pebble Beach has what may be one of the finest stretches of coast on the Monterey Peninsula. Craggy shoreline, crashing surf, and cypress groves mark the spot where Portola landed in 1769 on his first, fruitless expedition to find Monterey. Pebble Beach has long been the enclave of the very top tier of country club society.
Carmel-by-the-sea takes quality-of-life matters very seriously, which is why you will see no neon signs, telephone poles, or street numbers on houses, and will be scolded by a perfect stranger if you're caught eating in the street. Affluent Carmel preserves its idyllic gracefulness with a stern propriety one might associate with Marthas Vineyard. In spite, or perhaps because of this, the town, known far and wide for exclusive gift shops, award-winning restaurants, and secluded resort hotels, has been a popular tourist destination for more than a century. That the city fathers remain so adamantly opposed to the intrusions of the late 20th century (to say nothing of the 21st) has inevitably brought them into conflict with development-minded area businessmen. It was just this that swept Mayor Clint Eastwood into office. (Mr. Eastwoods intent on loosening the stricture over business permits of the sort needed for his now-closed Hogs Breath Inn restaurant.) Mr. Eastwood has served his term and stepped away from Carmel politics, though he remains a Carmel resident.
The 1771 Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, or more succinctly, Carmel Mission, is Carmels biggest single attraction. A handsomely preserved piece of Spanish colonial history, the missions bell tower was not the one that starred in Alfred Hitchcocks Vertigo. That was a bit of movie magic Hitch added when he found that the actual tower was not up to his cinematic standards.
For 90 miles south of Carmel, Highway 1 twists and turns along a dramatic shoreline. At the edge of the narrow road, high cliffs drop dizzyingly away to crashing surf below. The Pacific stretches away to the horizon. Big Sur is a virtually uninhabited stretch of the coast that ends only at the restored Mission San Antonio de Padua. There is something of a town to Big Sur, bordered by the Ventana Wilderness and Los Padres National Forest on one side and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park on the other. Its attractions are the Nepenthe restaurant and Center for the Arts, and the Ventana Inn across the road.
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