Monterey Bay Aquarium
Photo courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium
Behold: 13 Rare And Unforgettable Excursions That You Can Only Experience In Monterey Bay.
By Greg Archer
Monterey Bay Aquarium
No other Central Coast adventure marries this much fun with education. Come early. Linger for hours. Live webcams, a kelp forest, underwater explorations, sharks, thousands of surreal jellyfish, giant turtles, romance tours (be still our beating heart), sleepovers (hey, kids!), and one of the most dynamic sea otter sightings you may ever experience. All that and a famous giant squid, which, curiously, loves to keep an eye on you and your posse. Bottom line: Visitors become truly engaged here. Marine life education is streamlined and the aquarium's mission to inspire ocean conservation is easy to digest. Nothing like it.
It's Monterey Bay. Order the fish. The following dining venues craft their fresh fish plates to perfection.
Flying Fish Grill
Yin Yin Salmon. Almond seabass. Rare peppered ahi. No details are spared at this memorable East-meets-West dining excursion featured on The Rachael Ray Show.
Old Fisherman's Grotto
No menu item lacks creative concept. Make the Original Monterey Clam Chowder, Dungeness crab, or twin lobster tails your top considerations.
True, the entrées stand out, but with an imaginative appetizer menu that boasts the likes of crab tostadas, green lip mussels, and coconut shrimp, why not order a few plates and share?
PACIFIC GROVE, fishwife.com
Within walking distance to the beloved Monterey Bay Aquarium, lunch highlights include Bay shrimp cocktail or the crispy Monterey calamari. Come for dinner and you will be won over by the sesame crusted ahi tuna with papaya relish.
Crystal Fish Sushi
The best place for sushi along the Central Coast, with inspiring signature standout rolls and fresh offerings such as Tuna 3 Way: Tuna poki, tuna tataki, and flash grilled albacore arrive creatively arranged and seasoned by one of many sushi masters. A diverse menu delivers new takes on sashimi dishes, and the special rolls are downright sublime.
Jacques Cousteau once quipped: "Going to the sea and not being able to dive is just like going to the circus and then having to stand on the outside of the tent!" Indeed. So, unleash your inner explorer, grab the flippers, and head under water. Consider: Aquarius Dive Shop, which educates, trains, and provides the proper equipment for all of its guests to embark on outstanding guided tours of the marine sanctuary. Breakwater Scuba boasts similar options, but their specialty trips geared toward dive enthusiasts with a team of divemasters win high marks. Meanwhile, Monterey Blue Diving is best for guided dive tours right on the Bay in an 18-foot custom dive boat.
MONTEREY, aquariusdivers.com, breakwaterscuba.com, montereyblue.com
Bring layered clothing and sturdy shoes. Prepare to experience the area the way Mother Nature prefers — by hiking it.
Nearly 9 miles of hiking (and even horseback riding), from forest sanctuaries to bold ridge-top vistas. Check in and inquire about the Skyline Self-Guided Nature Trail. It traverses the summit and features fossils from the Miocene epoch.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park's most popular trail is somewhat challenging for kids and elders, but people can't pass up walking among California's giant redwoods or visiting a rocky waterfall.
BIG SUR, www.parks.ca.gov
The climb here may be determined, but the sweeping views of Salinas valley and Monterey Bay are something to cherish at Ollason Peak. Come during the right season and colorful wildflowers decorate your journey.
Garland Ranch Regional Park
The "granddaddy" of the county's properties represents the first parkland acquisition and ranges from 200 to 2,000 feet in elevation. Consider the Lupine Loop (1.4 miles round trip) and Garzas Creek (3 miles round trip). Spectacular all around.
CARMEL VALLEY, mprpd.org/garland-ranch-regional-park
San Lorenzo Park
With the Salinas River as its throughline and the majestic Santa Lucia Mountains as the powerful backdrop, this is the epitome of picturesque. Picnic areas and playgrounds rest here, too, but the walking trail along the riverbanks enchants.
Farm-To-Table To Palate
Monterey County is so ag-rich that it has generated international attention. Fresh, organic meals stand out in numerous establishments. However, these three manage to create signature dishes using locally grown or harvested foods that are refreshingly bold and inventive. Dig in.
Happy Girl Kitchen Co.
The café-cannery's commitment to offering simple, delicious, and farm-driven foods has created a culinary sea change in the area. Everything (including the freshest hummus and baked bread around) is made from scratch using organic food sources. Parties, recipe swaps, pop-up dinners, and workshops filter into the mix, too, with a strong emphasis on fun community involvement.
PACIFIC GROVE, happygirlkitchen.com
This James Beard–nominated eatery inspires with an eight-course tasting menu that changes daily and is catered to the season. What would you do with a tempting dish of abalone, cranberry bean, and celery? Two words: Savor it.
California Market at Pacific Edge Hyatt
Carmel Highlands' culinary lair features locally grown and raised ingredients from producers such as Sonoma's Bellwether Farms Creamery, Hollister's Swank Farms, and Monterey Abalone Company. A Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch champion, it also serves fresh cage- and GMO-free eggs in its dynamic dishes.
CARMEL HIGHLANDS, highlandsinn.hyatt.com
You. Inside a chopper. With an experienced pilot who happens to be a pretty stellar tour guide. Talk about memorable. Sky safaris and coastal tours vary at Specialized Helicopter, but all are dynamic and educational. Private charters are available, too. We suggest a wine tour that whisks you over the Monterey Bay, the robust Salinas Valley ag fields, and the Santa Lucia Mountains.
Don't Whine, Just Wine
Take the edge off by visiting several of the dozen or more wine bars in Carmel-by-the- Sea. To learn more about the wine culture in Monterey Bay, turn to "Vine to Vine."
Carmel Wine Walk-by-the-Sea
The Wine Tasting Passport is yours for $100 and includes a wine flight at 10 of 14 participating tasting rooms sprinkled around Carmel-by-the-Sea. Caraccioli Cellars, Galante Vineyards, Manzoni Cellars, and Windy Oaks Estate are just a handful of the renowned vineyards on board. Passports can be purchased at the Carmel Visitor Center located in Carmel Plaza.
River Road Wine Trail
The wineries along this scenic stretch on the edge of Monterey, near Salinas, are among California's finest: Hahn, Manzoni, Odonata, Ventana, and Smith Family Wines. The latter, in fact, is generations old and personally oversees growing, harvesting, processing, fermenting, and bottling its wine. Visit the Trail's website to stay abreast of special wine events. Regardless, you will appreciate the breathtaking views. Three tour companies oversee these standout excursions.
Prepare For "AG" Venture
Be curious — and hungry — because to really know and appreciate the Monterey Peninsula is to experience it firsthand in the fields. On this surprisingly inventive wine tasting and agricultural education tour, knowledgeable guides deliver the 411 on "California's Salad Bowl," with stops at the organic gardens of Earthbound Farms, Castroville's surreal artichoke fields, and the resplendent vineyards of Carmel Valley and Salinas Valley. Full-day, half-day, and VIP packages are available.
SALINAS VALLEY, CARMEL VALLEY, agventuretours.com
Race fans, racecar drivers, bikers, and even hikers experience thrills in and around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, which celebrated 60 years in 2017. The 11-turn, 2.2-mile road course is best known for The Corkscrew, a one-of-a-kind turn that requires a quick hard-left, hard-right combination. The courses host various racing, walking, and biking events throughout the year and are a must for anyone who loves a good thrill ride.
These three local portals topped our list for the ultimate coffee "experience."
East Village Coffee Lounge
Fabulous white mochas, expertly poured lattes, specialty teas, and treats.
Wild Plum Café & Bistro
Organic coffee and treats are made from scratch using locally sourced ingredients.
Parker-Lusseau Pastries & Café
Stunning sweets, pulled espresso drinks, and memorable chai.
MONTEREY, CARMEL, parkerlusseau.com
No question: Carmel-by-the-Sea is the place to view and experience remarkable works of art. Hundreds of galleries adorn the streets in this charming village. In the meantime, visit the following venues to experience art on an entirely new level.
Monterey Museum of Art
For openings, music nights, education, and compelling rotating exhibitions featuring the likes of documentary photographer Perkle Jones, vibrant watercolor artists, and other dynamos.
For a one-of-a-kind experience with permanent exhibitions of unparalleled art that includes the original etchings, mixed media, lithographs, and rare sculptures by celebrated surrealist Salvador Dalí.
Pacific Grove Art Center
For the works of emerging to established artists in a historic gallery. Plus: weekly and monthly events and various workshops and art classes.
PACIFIC GROVE, pgartcenter.org
Behind The Scenes
The stunning Monterey Bay coastline and its environs may always be the stars of the show here. However, there's nothing stopping you from playing a supporting role. Consider attending the Carmel International Film Festival in October and you will be among the first to screen films that may be Oscar contenders. If you really crave learning the backstory on the many films and TV shows shot locally over the years — from Turner & Hooch and We Were Soldiers to the recent HBO hit Big Little Lies — Monterey Movie Tours is the best option. They offer memorable two-hour tours spotlighting nearly 200 movies and TV shows filmed across the Peninsula. Bravo.
CARMEL, MONTEREY, carmelfilmfest.com, montereymovietours.com
Bakery Or Bust
The Monterey Peninsula loves its patisseries, brioche, quiche, baguettes, and insanely delicious cookies made from family recipes, from scratch, and right on the premises. Use two napkins.
At first glance, it looks unfathomable that your fork — or your mouth — is actually equipped to tackle one of the many sinfully delicious six-layer homemade cakes that this longtime, family-owned restaurant offers. (We measured the height of a single piece of cake: nearly half a foot.) The German chocolate cake is exceptional, and you may never find carrot cake like the kind created here. Bring pals and share.
A Peninsula institution with a broad range of sweets — from tarts and cakes to croissants and delicious baguettes. About that ... the bakery's baguettes are famous around these parts. Order a baguette sandwich, take a full one back to your hotel room with you — or to your hike or beach day.
All pastries are fresh and organic, and their creators offer a unique spin on what may seem like traditional offerings, such as currant or lemon crème scones. Morning Glory muffins go fast here, and the veggie frittata tastes as if your mother just made it.
PACIFIC GROVE, cremapg.com