One of the best things about living in the San Francisco Bay area is that there are many places to spend the weekend and are within a couple-hours drive. One fabulous place to go, especially in October and November, is the Monterey Bay. As a former longtime local, I’ve got some tips for a great weekend.
It’s the perfect time of year to visit; tourism season is mostly over, and the locals are beginning to enjoy their greatest secret – it’s the only time of year when the fog breaks.
When most people think of Monterey Bay, they think of two things: the Aquarium and golf. Both world-class no doubt, but if you’re looking for something more, like how the locals spend their time in this little slice of paradise, keep reading.
Bring everything from your swimsuit to a light parka. There are so many micro-climates between Pacific Grove and Carmel Valley that expert layering will come in handy. If you like to bike or hike at all, don’t miss this opportunity to pack your gear. This part of the coast has some of the most beautiful natural experiences in the world.
One of the first things you’ll notice is Monterey Bay’s lax vibe. It seeps right into you, too, like “island time” – things are just more relaxed there. Don’t plan on spending any time in your hotel room. There is too much to do and see to warrant that.
Let’s start with breakfast. There are two not-to-miss joints.
At First Awakenings, located in Pacific Grove, you simply cannot beat the huge portions, friendly faces, and outdoor patio. If you’re in Monterey, Lou Lou’s Griddle in the Middle, located on Wharf 2, will treat you right with its 500 square feet of kitsch and big ol’ breakfast lovin’. For $10 bucks you can share a meal and be satisfied.
If you’ve brought your bike, or are inclined to walk, both restaurants are located right off the path that snakes all along the bay. It’ll help you work off this first round of indulgence. There are plenty of benches along the way where you can stop for a morning read, listen to the symphony of waves, or just watch the otters play.
There are also many photo-ops with rock outcroppings, tide pools and seals. Take your time wandering about a bit and enjoy the sweet salty air.
Cannery Row is nearby if you’re into the touristy stuff, so is the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. There is also the sweet Natural History Museum of Pacific Grove if that is more your bag.
There is some great thrift shopping for the bargain hunter in you; there are seven different shops within a three block radius of Lighthouse Avenue and 17th Street in downtown PG, which will set you up nicely for lunch and is conveniently right around the corner. My favorite is Tailwaggers at 206 17th St., which supports animal welfare and always has really great vintage kitchen collectables, books, and the odd piece of local art that might be the perfect momento of your trip.
Peppers, a locals’ favorite, is a Mexicali café with awesome enchiladas and addictive soups. If that is not the flavor you are looking for, then head down Lighthouse Avenue to Red House Café. They have great soups and sandwiches and decadent but homey house made desserts from seasonal pies and cakes to cookies that melt in you mouth.
At this point you may want to take a nap to get ready for a night on the town because, believe it or not, Carmel has quite the nightlife, and it couldn’t be more fun.
One place you should definitely consider for dinner is Mundaka. This Spanish Tapas restaurant sports amazingly inventive food such as the Datils, which are bacon wrapped dates with goat cheese and almonds and killer drinks – my favorite is the El Jardin. It attracts a younger crowd than is typical in Carmel. There are disc jockeys spinning records and when things get going, owner Gabe Georis will pour wine into guests mouths from the stairs that house a cute little table for two underneath. People start dancing, and it’s a blast.
If an intimate dinner is on your list, try Basil. It is just across the street on San Carlos, between Ocean and Seventh. It has fresh, locally grown produce, artfully rendered food and a beautiful, heated patio. Reservations are recommended.
After dinner, if you’re ready for a little bar hopping, Barmel is the place to start. Located next door to Mundaka, it attracts the same fun crowd, and the drinks here are stellar. The sassy crowd and well-curated music make this place a not-to-miss.
After a few rounds it’s time to head out to hit some of the Carmel classics.
The Cypress Inn, owned by Doris Day, is quintessential Carmel. There are dogs everywhere, a piano lounge with fabulous musicians, and an outdoor patio that has been graced with a Banksy of Charlie Chaplin.
Once you are good and sauced then it’s time to head for Clint Eastwood’s place, Mission Ranch. They have live piano karaoke and some of the liveliest locals you will ever meet. This is the kind of place you want to be until the place shuts down. It gets rambunctious; some amazing, even famous singers sometimes show up. The staff here are pros and really good-humored about the drunken mayhem, tip them well and let them call you a cab for the ride home.
Stay tuned – Day 2 will knock your socks off!
This is part of a series which will be continued in a future issue of The Campanil.