Arts, Culture and Inspiration

Artists have long thrived in Monterey County’s rugged landscape. Photographer Ansel Adams, poet Robinson Jeffers, author Henry Miller, artist Salvador Dali, writer Jack Kerouac and musician Jimi Hendrix have all discovered inspiration here and the arts remain an important part of community life. The area also takes pains to preserve its storied past, from Carmel’s 300-year-old Spanish mission to Pacific Grove’s stately Victorian homes.

Pebble Beach’s The Inn at Spanish Bay, with views of the golf course and Carmel Bay, is a welcoming haven after a day of exploring. And it’s perfectly situated for touring the Monterey Peninsula with easy access to the towns of Pacific Grove, Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea. 

Day 1

Monterey’s History and Famous Aquarium

Start your day with breakfast at Crema in nearby Pacific Grove. Settle into a spot in this refurbished Victorian and savor espresso and a delicious combo of calamari and eggs or chicken and waffles. Continue to Monterey to stroll along Cannery Row, the street made famous by Nobel Prize–winning author John Steinbeck. The waterfront strip was once packed with sardine factories and is now lined with popular shops, restaurants and attractions. Walk or drive to the Pacific House Museum, where you can learn about local history and pick up a map for a self-guided walking tour. The route features the city’s historic adobes, built from clay bricks more than 175 years ago, when California had yet to become a state.

McAbee Beach Cannery Row Monterey

Then head to Old Fisherman’s Wharf to enjoy lunch with waterfront views. Old Fisherman’s Grotto, long a Monterey tradition, serves classic Italian seafood, steak and pasta dishes. At its sister restaurant, Scales, the view over the wharf and bay will make you want to linger long after your last bite of dessert. Cozy Café Fina showcases vegetables from its own farm whenever possible, including in its four different paella offerings.

After lunch, you can circle back to Cannery Row for an afternoon at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Catch at least one of the popular daily animal feedings: the sea otters at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m., the penguins at 3 p.m., or the animals of the kelp forest, including hand-fed sharks, at 4 p.m. Another worthy stop is A Taste of Monterey on Cannery Row, where you can sit at an ocean-view table and sample a variety of Monterey County wines in a 1918 building that was once a sardine cannery.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Return to The Inn at Spanish Bay for dinner at Pèppoli, with views over the fairway to the Pacific Ocean. Enjoy Tuscan dishes like pappardelle Bolognese and osso buco, plus the largest selection of famed Antinori wines outside of Italy.

Day 2

Carmel Mission, Point Lobos and 17-Mile Drive

Spend the morning exploring the sights of Carmel-by-the-Sea, starting with a docent-led tour at the Carmel Mission. Founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1770, it’s the second of California’s 21 missions. You’ll get a fascinating glimpse into early California life as you explore the courtyards, American Indian cemetery, museum and the Basilica, which is an active parish to this day. From there you can continue to Ocean Avenue, the heart of Carmel. Browse the boutiques and art galleries on your way to Carmel Plaza, where you can sample Monterey pinot noirs and chardonnays at Wrath Wine, Hahn, or Blair Estate’s tasting rooms.

When it’s time for lunch, it’s a short stroll to a patio table at Grasing’s. Chef Kurt Grasing’s approach to California cuisine includes dishes like a four-onion tart with grilled fennel sauce and bistro skirt steak with baby greens. Afterward, head to Point Lobos State Natural Preserve, where the emerald waters of China Cove are one of the most-photographed sights on the coast. Then make the leisurely drive from Carmel to Pacific Grove along famous 17-Mile Drive, where you’ll find another of the coast’s most photographed sites: the 250-year-old Lone Cypress tree.

17-Mile Drive

Finish your day with dinner in Pacific Grove at Passionfish, where chef Ted Walter’s creative menu changes daily, and the eclectic wine list draws wine lovers from near and far. Or get a table at Fandango, a popular local gem serving Italian, French and Spanish favorites.

Day 3

Steinbeck and Wine

From Pebble Beach, it’s an easy half-hour drive to Salinas, home of the National Steinbeck Center, anchoring the north end of historic Old Town Salinas. The museum dedicated to John Steinbeck offers a deeper understanding of the writer’s work through audio recordings, first-edition books, photographs and film clips of movies based on his novels, including The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, East of Eden and Of Mice and Men. Two blocks away, The Steinbeck House serves lunch in the Queen Anne Victorian that was Steinbeck’s birthplace and boyhood home. 

Steinbeck House

After lunch, a pastoral 18-mile drive south along the Monterey-Salinas Highway to Laureles Grade delivers you to Carmel Valley for afternoon wine tasting. Carmel Valley Village is chockablock with tasting rooms, including Bernardus, a converted bank building that became the village’s first tasting room. Be sure to have a designated driver as you continue along Carmel Valley Road to Folktale Winery & Vineyards, where you’ll be greeted with a glass of signature sparkling wine before choosing a flight to sample. The property is designed for visitors to linger, with lawn games and outdoor seating scattered about.

Folktale Winery

Back at Pebble Beach, relax with dinner at the seafood-centric Stillwater Bar and Grill. Splurge on an ounce of caviar while the sun sets over the 18th hole and Carmel Bay.

Extend Your Stay

Marquee Events

Monterey County plays host to a number of high-profile events throughout the year, and each provides compelling reasons for extended vacations.

WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca hosts a full calendar of thrilling car races as well as motorcycle and bicycle racing. In August, the annual Monterey Car Week is an extravaganza for fans of classic cars. It has grown so large that it runs a full 10 days, kicking off with a car show in downtown Monterey and culminating with the dazzling Concours d’Elegance at Pebble Beach. 

Pacific Grove Car Show

Each September, music fans descend on the fairgrounds for the Monterey Jazz Festival, the longest continually running jazz event in the world. World-renowned artists and notable up-and-comers attract nearly 40,000 people over three nights and two days.

Big Sur’s Henry Miller Library also hosts regular performances, often drawing musicians and bands traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The small library has an outsized reputation, hosting such artists as Philip Glass, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Patti Smith and Arcade Fire.