Monterey and Carmel – Coastal Bliss


Monterey and Carmel and quaint towns about an hour south of Silicon Valley or two from San Francisco. These make for excellent weekend trip destinations or quick getaways. Given they are popular destinations the traffic gets pretty backed up on Friday afternoons, so try to plan your travel time during an off-peak hour. You’ll enjoy the costal views, lovely restaurants, plenty of activities for your trip.

Need to Know:

Currency: US Dollar

Language: English


SJC (1hr 20min drive)

SFO (1hr 45min drive)

Electrical Outlets: 120V supply voltage and 60Hz

Planning Your Trip

Accommodation – If you’re going with a partner or a small group, I’d recommend staying at one of the many hotels in Carmel or Monterey. There are Airbnb options, but they are limited and more expensive so I’d only recommend this if you have a big group or really need a gathering space. For a nicer place to stay I recommend the Embassy Suites, but for a more budget option I enjoyed staying at Monterey Bay Lodge. My parents stayed in Carmel for a week and enjoyed staying at the Hideaway to have more space and it came with bikes to use! There are plenty of high end places to stay as well, but I have personally preferred to spend my money on the activities rather than the accommodations.

Food – There are tons of lovely restaurants in Monterey and Carmel to explore. If you are a wine lover, I recommend venturing away from the coast into Carmel Valley where you will find numerous wineries and tasting rooms. My favorite is Folktale Winery and Vineyards because of their lovely patio atmosphere, great food options, and amazing wine. There are so many lovely restaurants in the area, see below for a list of my favorites! In Monterey a couple of my favorites are Schooners and Wave Street Cafe. In Carmel a couple of my favorite are Stationaery and Pangea Grill.

Wine – You can head into Carmel Valley and experience a whole region of wineries! I recommend heading to Joyce winery as it shares a beautiful patio space with Scratch and Parsonage. You can try a couple places in one spot and they have food options too!

Getting Around – I’ve only ever used a car to get around in Monterey and Carmel. The public transit is extremely limited so I highly recommend renting a car.

Things to see and do in Monterey

Monterey Bay Aquarium: Although pricey at about $50 for an adult ticket, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-see attraction at least once. Located right on the main street downtown, Cannery Row, I would recommend going on a week day because the weekends are always packed with kids. The aquarium is quite impressive with extensive explanation of the California aquatic ecosystem, marine conservation efforts, and of course, the opportunity to see beautiful sea life. My favorites are the otters and the jellyfish! 

Coastal Trail: Monterey has beautiful coastal views and my main goal during my trip was to enjoy as much of the scenery as possible. I loved strolling along the costal trail and taking in the ocean breeze. We even saw a big group of scuba divers working on their certifications. 

Old Fisherman’s Wharf: A similar vibe to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, but this time smaller and in Monterey. We walked around the wharf a bit, but If you continue around past Isabella’s to the right, and keep going to the end of the pier, you’ll see a bunch of loud somewhat active sea lions. 

Whale Watching: The best time to go whale watching in Monterey is March through November. There are multiple tour options available in the area, but my parents took the Sea Goddess out of Moss Landing. They took a 3 hour boat cruise that left at 9:30 am. They loved the tour and even saw a Humpback Whale! You won’t always see whales, but you’re best chance is on one of these boats with the experts!

Favorite Monterey Restaurants

Schooners Right on the water with great seafood. Be sure to make a reservation!
Wave Street Cafe Great breakfast spot, but get there early! They make a mean cup of coffee too.
Esteban Restaurant Upscale Mediterranean Spanish restaurant with fantastic tapas and seafood.
Captain + Stoker Fun coffee shop a short walk away from the boardwalk.

Things to see and do in Carmel-by-the-Sea

17-Mile Drive: Winding through Pebble Beach private property, you’ll need to pay a $10.50 fee to access this beautiful drive. I recommend going around sunset and stopping to enjoy the postcard worthy views. Bicyclists can explore at no charge, but unfortunately motorcycles are not allowed on the route. I’ve taken this drive both directions. One time to Pebble Beach and splurged on a nice dinner at the golf course, and once towards Monterey and caught the sunset on the way.

Pebble Beach: For all you golf enthusiasts, Carmel is home of the famous course, Pebble Beach. Just going to the clubhouse is an experience within itself. I’ve eaten at The Stillwater Bar & Grill enjoying detectible seafood and a gorgeous ocean view.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: Head to Point Lobos to see the beautiful blue-green sea, rocky coastline, and  marine mammals. You’ll have to pay a small fee to enter the park and park inside. The Sea Lion Point Trail is an obvious choice if you are in search of sea lion. You’ll head down steps to a view point of coves where sea lions are often out sunbathing. If you’re looking for otters, head to the Cypress Trail or the Granite Point Trail. I also recommend China Cove for beautiful turquoise waters. 

Carmel River State Beach: Bike along the scenic road in Carmel to Carmel River State Beach. I say to bike because there is not much parking here. Hang out on this 1 mile stretch of protected beach. Dogs are welcome here on-leash. 

Garrapata State Park: A great spot for less busy coastal hikes just south of Carmel. Especially if you are trying to go to Point Lobos State Park and there’s no parking – just drive further down the road to this state park. There are no signs on the highway, so just map it on google maps and pull over when it says you’re there. You’ll find the trails on the coastal side of the road.

Refuge: This is blissful spa experience with thermal and cold pools is a Carmel highlight! For $67 entrance fee, you can spend as long as you want exploring the steam rooms, saunas, warm and hot pools, and cold pools.

Favorite Carmel Restaurants

Pangea Excellent Korean fusion, a great meal!
Stillwater Bar and Grill Right at Pebble Beach, this restaurant has great food and great views.
Treehouse Cafe Great patio for an outdoor lunch
Yafa Mediterranean A more casual spot for great mediterranean food.
Vesuvio Upscale Italian place for a romantic meal.
La Bicyclette Cozy French/Italian bistro
Stationaery A fun brunch spot in downtown Carmel. You'll definitely want to make a reservation here for their small menu brunch.

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