Located north of Los Angeles is the Central Coast of California. Consisting of Big Sur to the south, Moss Landing at the center of Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz to the north, notable points along the bay include Marina, Seaside, Monterey, Pacific Grove and a peninsula of land filled with famous golf courses such as Cypress Point and Pebble Beach. The south side of the peninsula is Carmel Bay, the focal point of Carmel-By-The-Sea -— a picturesque town of understated luxury. The south point of Carmel Bay borders Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, and inland is Carmel Valley where wineries, spas and world-class hotels pamper their guests. Inland from Monterey Bay is Salinas — an agricultural town made famous by John Steinbeck novels such as Of Mice and Men, East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath. Running alongside the valley of Salinas are the Santa Lucia Highlands, where delicious California pinot noir grapes are grown and used by winemakers such as Pisoni Estates.
Excursions for Nature Lovers
Horseback riding on Salinas River State Beach with Monterey Bay Equestrian Center is a great way to bond with magnificent horses while enjoying the view of the bay. The horses are healthy and guides encourage a safe canter or gallop. An exhilarating ride on the beach is a perfect way to take in the splendor of the bay.
Elkhorn Slough is full of stunning birds, playful otters and bellowing seals and sea lions. Safari tours begin at Moss Landing as wildlife enthusiasts board a pontoon boat and aquatic wildlife experts lead the tour, explaining the geography and history of the area. The slough is called “Elkhorn” because it is shaped like a half of a huge elk horn. Elkhorn Slough is protected space offering wildlife a safe environment with plenty to eat. In addition to a safari tour on the pontoon boat, kayaking will bring you up close and personal with the birds and aquatic life of Elkhorn Slough.
Monterey Bay Aquarium is best for kids, a fun way to entertain the little ones and teach them about conservation and aquatic life. Located deep into the heart of downtown Monterey and surrounded by old cannery buildings, walking in downtown Monterey feels like stepping back in time to a Steinbeck novel.
Whale watching is a highlight of any trip to Monterey. Princess Monterey Whale Watching offers trips twice a day, morning or afternoon. We recommend the morning tour and be prepared for all kinds of weather and possible motion sickness. Because of changes in our climate, whales who used to travel south for food are staying in Monterey Bay and making this area their home. Humpback and Grey whales are glorious creatures and come right up to the boat. When we visited we spotted a huge pod of dolphins. There must have been over 100 dotted throughout the water. The photo opportunities on this tour are extensive and worth getting queasy on the boat.
A visit to Monterey is not complete without a hike in the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. It’s an easy hike, available to all levels and ages. If you really want to learn about the area then book in a guided hike with Big Sur Guides. Owned and founded by Los Angeles native Stephen Copeland, the hiking operation treats participants to “insider” information about the park and the history of the area, including the hippie days of Big Sur. The views on the trail are stunning and leave you in awe of nature’s wonderous beauty.
The food and wine in and around Monterey is world class. Wineries and farms dot the landscape deep into the Salinas Valley and up into the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Must Visit Farms
Artichokes are a major crop in the area and Pezzini Farms is one of the only family owned farms left. They have an adorable farm shop on the property selling various artichoke products. You’ll also find a food cart with a range of cooked artichokes including steamed, barbequed and fried.
Most consumers are familiar with Earthbound Farms products. Founded in Carmel Valley, they have become huge and supply Costco, Whole Foods and many other grocers with various leafy greens. At the site of their original 2.5-acre farm is a farm shop and community outreach center. The farm shop is a terrific place to grab lunch — of course they have a salad bar, or you can build a sandwich or enjoy homemade soup. Educational tours for all ages are an effective way to teach about healthy eating decisions.
The city of Carmel-By-The-Sea is tiny and incredibly cute. A number of wine tasting rooms have opened, and wine enthusiasts can purchase a Wine Tasting Passport. The passport includes seven passes to be used for tastings at participating tasting rooms. Some of the outstanding wine features selections from Alexander Smith, Wrath, and Scheid Vineyards.
Folktale Winery is new to Carmel Valley and they are out to impress the community. The space used to be Chateau Julien. The new owners have updated the grounds, bringing the classic space up to modern standards. Folktale Winery offers artisanal snacks served with delicious wine in a beautiful courtyard with live music. An onsite private residence is available to rent for special occasions, weddings or corporate retreats.
In the vicinity of Monterey are the Santa Lucia Highlands where Pinot grapes are grown and wine is made. Plan a full day of wine tasting with visits to Hahn Estate to experience the 2013 Lucienne Chardonnay Lone Oak Vineyard which is a beautifully crisp Chardonnay unique to Monterey County. No visit to the Santa Lucia Highlands would be complete without a visit to Pisoni Estate. They produce some of the very best pinot noir in California. As you make your way back to Monterey stop in at Scheid Vineyards to try their delightful bubbly.