Tourists come from around the world to explore Monterey on the central coast of California. Many of them will pay the $9.25 a car to drive the historic 17 mile drive through the Monterey pines and the Lone Cypress, but for my money the best way to see Monterey is biking along the Monterey Bay Coastal Bike Trail from the Custom House Plaza and Fisherman’s Wharf to Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove.
Either the Monterey Marriott or the Monterey Hotel are can provide a convenient place to stay for this adventure. (Alternatively stay at the other end of the path in a B&B in Pacific Grove). The Custom House and the nearby plaza are part of the Monterey State Historic Park and the Custom House is a National Historic Landmark. It was built in 1821 by the Mexican government, is California’s oldest public building and is where California was declared to be annexed by the United States in 1846 at the outset of the Mexican American War. History buffs may want to take a quick tour of the building. The plaza often holds local celebrations or festivals.
Across from the plaza is Fisherman’s Wharf which is a great place to pick up a walk-away shrimp cocktail or a sweatshirt to replace the one you forgot to bring because you thought California would be warmer. Take the bike path (rent bikes from nearby Adventures by the Sea) to the left as you face the wharf to head toward Cannery Row pausing to enjoy the California sea lions sunning on the rocks, the numerous sea birds and the occasional sea kayak class paddling around the bay near the wharf.
Our first stop will be breakfast and I recommend the Trailside Cafe & Coffee House which is on the left just past the venerable Chart House restaurant. The cafe is popular with locals. Find a table out on the patio under the arbor if possible for better people watching.
Cannery Row was once the home to numerous sardine canneries until over fishing caused the canneries to close in the 1950s. It probably would have been torn down if the area had not been made famous by local author John Steinbeck’s 1945 book “Cannery Row”. Now the area is filled with antique shops, souvenir shops, restaurants like the popular Bubba Gump Shrimp Company as well as more high end restaurants like the Sardine Factory?.
The biggest attraction in Cannery Row is the Monterey Bay Aquarium which is housed in the old Portola cannery. The Aquarium features only marine life from the nearby Monterey Bay, but that includes a stunning amount of diversity including a kelp forest, sharks, sea otters and jelly fish. If you are riding your own bikes you may want to stop and visit but if you are paying for bikes by the hour, mark the spot to return here later. The lines can get long so it is best to get there early in the day.
Continuing along the bike path you will come to the Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station. While the station is not generally open for tours you can usually find harbor seals lounging on the beach just past the station. Unlike the solid brown color of the California seal lions the harbor seals are dappled gray and if you are not watching carefully you could ride by what appears at first glance to be rocks.
As you ride along keep an eye on the water near shore. Among the floating kelp on the surface of the water you may spot a sea otter. The otters will often be floating on their backs as they hit a mussel shell against a rock on their chest to break open the shell. When lunch is done the otter will roll over to wash off the leftovers.
The path from Cannery Row to Lover’s point is dotted with a number of large Victorian inns like the Seven Gables Inn, Green Gables Inn and Pacific Grove Inn. Pacific Grove has more Victorian houses per capita than any other city in America. You can also save money by staying in more Inns which are a few blocks off the path. My favorite of these inns is the Centrella Inn.
The path itself winds in and out of the shade of Cypress trees along the rocky coastline. One a sunny day the view is spectacular but it is equally beautiful on a foggy morning or when the wind whips the wave to crash into the rocks.
Lover’s point has a small sandy beach where you can often see locals doing shore dives from or surfing. Surfers in central California generally wear a wetsuit as the water temperatures are always cold. The Monterey Bay is deeper than the Grand Canyon and the prevailing currents are coming south from Alaska. Almost any time of year on a Saturday it is quite common to find a wedding party of some size.
The distance from Fisherman’s wharf to Lover’s point is only about a 2.3 miles so those who prefer can walk the level path in about 45 minutes. For the truly adventurous the Monterey Bay Coastal Bike Trail also extends to the North past Fisherman’s wharf through the rolling dunes along the bay all the way to nearby Marina.
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