With a temperate climate year-round, a burgeoning food and drink scene, and numerous reasons to get outdoors—from hiking and golfing, to scuba diving and camping—Monterey has everything required for the perfect weekend getaway. Just 120 miles south of San Francisco, the region boasts the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Gabilan Range to the east, and road tripping routes in between that were made for showing off both. With more than 40,000 acres of grape-growing territory and enough local bounty to inspire Salinas Valley’s nickname as “The Salad Bowl of the Nation,” there’s no doubt about it: This is a region that takes full advantage of its pristine geography. Here are a few ways you can do the same over a long weekend.
After settling in at your hotel, head to local favorite Mundo’s for made-to-order mozzarella-chicken-pesto sandwiches. Forego the patio seating for a makeshift picnic at Carmel Beach, and stop along the way for a bottle of wine at Trio Carmel, where owner Karl Empey offers sips of Monterey varietals to patrons perusing the shop’s 50-plus olive oils and vinegars. With souvenir shopping complete, stroll to the beach via Junipero Street and 10th Avenue, where you’ll notice the disappearance of address numbers in exchange for property names (e.g. The Moose Club and Casablanca). Once you're on the beach, feel free to relax with your picnic—liberal beach regulations mean picnics, bonfires, and leash-free dogs are all welcome.
Carmel’s canine pride doesn’t stop there: Retrace your steps to town just in time for Cypress Inn’s Yappy Hour, proprietor Doris Day’s BYOD approach to the best time of day. In between sips of dressed up classics, catch scenes from the actress’s numerous films in Terry’s Restaurant & Lounge, or browse the storied memorabilia that adorns the hotel entrance. The sunsets here are taken seriously—join the crowd and head to Beach House at Lovers Point for dinner, where Sicilian sausage cassoulet reveals the Italian and French culinary backgrounds of chefs Briana Sammut and Guillaume D’Angio.
Set your alarm and head out for breakfast with early-rising locals at the Wagon Wheel, a cowboy-themed institution in operation for more than 40 years. After your fill of oatmeal pancakes, head across the street to Quail Lodge for an off-roading expedition at the property’s Land Rover Experience Driving School.
After two hours of rigorous rock crawls, refuel at Edgar’s, where chef Kenneth Macdonald relies on regular pickup truck deliveries from neighboring farmers for his locally driven and satisfying fare (think asparagus ravioli and roasted organic beet salad). Down the street you’ll find Chateau Julien, where Bob and Patty Brower have been producing wines since 1982, beginning with their flagship varietal, Merlot. After a tasting (and a quick tour of the 16-acre estate), get your camera and sunglasses ready—you’re heading to Big Sur. Allow extra time for a few stops along the 45-minute drive, where you'll be stunned by the coastline’s sweeping views of cow-speckled green pastures and cascading cliffs that plunge into the Pacific.
Continue winding your way up Highway 1 for your second sunset at Nepenthe, where road-trippers congregate to take in the view over margaritas or glasses of Santa Lucia Highlands-sourced Pinot Noir. Peel yourself away from the convivial patio for dinner at Big Sur Roadhouse, where chef Matt Glazer serves New Orleans-inspired plates in a recently renovated space. (Note: Depending on your mobile carrier, there’s little to no cell reception in Big Sur—an inconvenient truth that adds to its remote charm).
Head to Garland Ranch Regional Park to take in 4,462 acres of sky lupines, poppies, and fiesta flowers via any of the site’s routes, which range from the beginner-friendly and incline-free Buckeye Nature Trail, to the steeply carved Snively’s Ridge Trail. Once hunger strikes, head to the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium for lunch at the recently opened Cindy’s Waterfront, where James Beard Award-winning chef Cindy Pawlcyn serves seasonally-focused dishes that meticulously follow the aquarium’s Seafood Watch guidelines (don’t miss the "best-ever clam chowder"). Post-lunch, stroll through the aquarium’s 12 exhibits, including the 28-foot kelp forest and just-launched "Tentacles: The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, Squid and Cuttlefishes." Don't miss the underwater spectacle that occurs during scheduled feeding times at The Open Sea’s 90-foot window.
Where to Stay
Upon stepping foot into one of the 800-square-foot suites at Carmel Valley Ranch, complete with a travertine fireplace and deck overlooking its rambling 500 acres, you probably won’t want to leave your room—until you notice the property’s daily rotating roster of activities, including hilltop yoga and a four-hour s’mores fest. For a modest alternative, book a room at Vendange Carmel, where each of the 18 rooms is named after and decorated by neighboring wineries.
Fly into Monterey Regional Airport, which is a 10-minute drive from the center of town. Otherwise, arrive at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport or San Francisco International Airport and rent a car or opt for shuttle service with Monterey Airbus or Main Event Transportation for the one-to-two hour drive to Monterey.
Nicole Schnitzler is a freelance writer who covers travel, food, drink, lifestyle, and culture. When she is not planning her next adventure, she can be found exploring bakeries, record shops, and drink lists in her Brooklyn neighborhood. She is most comfortable with a pen in one hand and a fork in the other.