The Monterey Peninsula (in beautiful Northern California) is a travel destination like no other. With miles of picturesque coastline, a plethora of fun outdoor recreation opportunities, and more restaurants than you could ever hope to visit, there’s always something new to explore here. If you’re looking for a relaxing weekend getaway or an extended vacation – this travel guide will surely inspire you.
As a native of the area, I’ve essentially spent my life sharing travel tips and ideas with out-of-towners. Even just this past weekend, I met several tourists visiting from other locales. So, naturally, as they asked me for recommendations, I started telling them about all of my go-to spots (which got me thinking about this post). From epic hiking trails (with unparalleled views) to unique restaurants with one-of-a-kind settings that set the stage for memorable moments, here are 5 of my favorite must-visit spots on the Monterey Peninsula.
Where to hike on the Monterey Peninsula
A couple of months ago, I decided to head down the Pacific Coast Highway to go exploring. I ended up hiking on a spectacular trail at the Garrapata State Park, which is situated on a bluff overlooking the expansive Pacific Ocean. About 20-minutes from Carmel, this relatively easy trail offers unbelievably stunning views everywhere you look. It also often features flourishing wildflowers and natural foliage, creating a scenic atmosphere for walking or jogging. The best part is – it’s usually pretty quiet (as it’s somewhat off the beaten path). So, if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, and just enjoy a little R&R on a beautiful trail, this is the spot.
Where to have a beach picnic on the Monterey Peninsula
Most people will tell you that Carmel Beach is a must-see, and while I’d agree, one of my other favorite beaches is just a little further down the road at Carmel River State Beach. It tends to be quieter, but it’s just as beautiful – as it offers both views of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve as well as the Carmel Valley hills in the far distance. It’s a gorgeous beach for picnics, sunbathing, or just hanging out with your crew. If you’re into water sports (like kayaking or standup paddleboarding), there’s even the Carmel River (which connects to it), that you can do a little paddling around in.
Where to enjoy drinks and appetizers on the Monterey Peninsula
Whether you want to enjoy a romantic date night or just a chill hangout session with your besties, head over to the firepits outside of the Lobby Lounge at The Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach. Every night between 5-6 pm, the bagpiper will stroll by to serenade the crowds with Scottish melodies. The vibrant and festive atmosphere is a great place to “see and be seen” especially on busy weekends (when you’re in the mood for that), but can be equally as low-key and relaxing (on quieter nights, like weekdays). You can also enjoy delicious appetizers (from Roy’s restaurant) while sipping on your beverage.
Where to dine on the Monterey Peninsula
To be honest – there are too many awesome restaurants to list in just one post. I could go on and on about all the eateries we have here – from fantastic Italian joints to delicious seafood restaurants. But, for the sake of getting to the point – here’s one of my favorite must-visit restaurants that you can’t miss here.
Ever since opening a few years ago, The Bench at Pebble Beach Resorts has quickly become a popular destination. Not only does it offer indoor and outdoor dining (with stunning views of the 18th Hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links, but it also offers vistas of Stillwater Cove and the rolling hillsides of Carmel in the far distance). Aside from the dramatic scenery, the cozy firepit seating areas create a warm ambiance that encourages you to just settle in and relax. Plus, the menu offers something for everyone – from delectable roasted beets and fresh salads to a mouthwatering mushroom flatbread pizza, seafood, and beyond, there are so many tasty options. Not to mention – the must-try Chocolate S’Mores Skillet is insanely good.
Where to enjoy the “social scene” on the Monterey Peninsula
While the Monterey Peninsula isn’t a big “nightclub or bar scene”, it offers a variety of wine tasting rooms and lounges, which are equally enjoyable for catching up with friends. One of my favorites is the Starlight Rooftop Lounge at the top of Vesuvio, an Italian restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea. With twinkling lights, cozy firepits, and a fun-filled atmosphere, it’s one of the most charming and inviting lounges in the area. Swing by for a glass of Prosecco or even their signature drink, the PèpeCello, which is an all-natural lemon liqueur that’s hand-crafted in small batches in Sorrento, Italy. And, this might surprise you – but they also make some of the best-tasting sushi you’ll ever try!
As you can see, there are a number of great places to visit on the Monterey Peninsula. To learn more about the area, I encourage you to check out the other travel guides on I&C. You’ll discover several of my favorite restaurants, outdoor activities, and much more.