With the wind in your hair and an open road, life is a highway to be explored through California’s Central Coast and Monterey County’s beautiful countryside. We have created a fun itinerary mostly along Highway 101 for an epic journey of incredible eats, local wines and history. We hope you enjoy this great alternative route to avoid the current closures on Highway 1. Please note that this road trip starts from the north but can reversed if starting from the south.
Let’s start this adventure in Moss Landing, a small town about 10 miles west of Highway 101, where you can enjoy the seaside charm of Captain’s Inn, a Bed & Breakfast set amongst the California Coast's vast wetlands featuring lovely hospitality, unique nautical décor and breathtaking views. Explore Elkhorn Slough in the morning for a look at wildlife, such as sea otters, harbor seals, and California sea lions, in their natural habitat. Then grab some local produce found on roadside markets and head east on Highway 156 until you hit Highway 101 South.
First stop is Salinas and the fabulous National Steinbeck Center where you can discover Steinbeck’s world through interactive, multi-sensory exhibits for all ages, rare artifacts, and seven themed theaters showcasing East of Eden, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath and much more. On display is Steinbeck’s 1960 GMC truck “Rocinante” which he named after Don Quixote’s horse and drove a road trip across the country (resulting in the book Travels with Charley). Enjoy a delicious lunch at the restaurant at the Steinbeck House, a Queen Anne style Victorian, the birthplace and boyhood home of author John Steinbeck.
Experience one-of-a-kind shopping and dining at Salinas City Center. Giorgio’s at 201 Main offers upscale, California fresh cuisine, a highly renowned wine list and mixology menu. Visit Alvarado Street Brewery for an insider’s peek into the making of award-winning hand-crafted beers.
Then take a gander at the Monterey Zoo, a sanctuary for professionally and humanely trained wild/exotic and domestic birds and animals for film, television, live productions, and education in large and natural enclosures. For a truly unique experience, stay overnight in one of their private bungalows and hear the roar of tigers and lions and enjoy breakfast delivered by African elephants.
Quench your thirst at the River Road wine tasting rooms in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Wrath Wines produce site-driven Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc from their estate vineyard and properties. Guests of the Hahn Tasting Room are encouraged to bring a picnic and relax on the deck. ATV adventures and walking tours are offered daily, but must be booked in advance. The Paraiso tasting room is perched up on a hill with beautiful views of the surrounding vineyards. Scheid Wines is known for their wide variety of wines. Visit their beautiful tasting room between Greenfield and King City and discover why visitors call this place a wine-making gem. Most tasting rooms are open daily, but it’s always good to double-check the hours.
For more River Road adventures check out the official River Road Wine Trail or Ag Venture Tours & Consulting, a friendly, knowledgeable touring company specializing in wine tasting, sightseeing and agricultural education tours. Salinas Valley is often referred to as the “Salad Bowl Capital of the Nation” and these tours provide an exciting look into the agricultural heart of the country.
And just a couple of miles away, you can relax in the solitude and peace of the Soledad Mission, nestled in the Santa Lucia Highlands where you can learn about the slow and easy pace of Early California.
In just under an hour of driving, you will delight in the geologic wonderland of jutting volcanic spires, cliffs, and peaks at Pinnacles National Park, located in the dense chaparral country of the Gabilan Range, just east of Soledad. This mecca for rock climbing and day hiking, offers 32 miles of trails that climb among jumbled rock formations, through winding talus caves, and along shaded creeks. Always carry plenty of water and flashlights when heading into the caves. There are no lodging facilities, restaurants, or gas stations in the park, however supplies can be purchased at the Pinnacles Visitor Center at the east entrance near the campground.
Finally, enjoy docent-led tours through the San Antonio Mission. You may even be lucky enough to catch some of their events such as the Evening in the Garden, Mission Days or Las Posadas.
There’s nothing like a road trip to help you find the hidden gems and nowhere is so plentiful in unique charm as Highway 101 in Monterey County.