Escaping to Magical Monterey

Seafood and scenic coastlines come together in historic Monterey, a remote outpost on the California coast.

If you're seeking escape and relaxation in an oceanic and scenic setting, Monterey in California certainly beckons. In my case, a need for a girlfriends getaway lured me to the West Coast, and Monterey proved to be a welcome retreat from the fast-paced days of Miami.

The city of Monterey is on the southern edge of Monterey Bay along central California’s serene Pacific Coast. Known as an artistic hub, Monterey housed California’s first theater, public library, publicly funded school, printing press and newspaper. It boasts about 30,000 year-round residents, all of whom are drawn to the area’s pine-filled hills and sweeping, pristine views of sparkling, blue ocean.

It was with this inspiration that I hopped on a flight to San Francisco from Miami. Once I arrived in San Francisco, a close girlfriend and I then headed on the 2-hour drive to the quaint city of Monterey, ready for discovery.

When to Go
My friend and I went to Monterey in March, which is part of the area’s low season, yet we experienced beautifully breezy weather in the upper 50s and were able to visit attractions comfortably. Just come prepared with a light coat and scarf. The area’s residency grows to around 70,000 in the peak season, which runs from May to October and brings higher temperatures, giving way to beach and pool days.

Getting There
Monterey is about two hours by car from San Francisco and just under six hours from Los Angeles. Flying into the airports in both of those major cities is relatively inexpensive, and the road trip toward Monterey from both airports is scenically breathtaking. Wind down the Big Sur coastline on Highway 1 and bring a camera for plenty of photo opportunities. Or, if you wish for a more speedy way to get there, fly into the Monterey Regional Airport or San Jose, which is only an hour and 15 minutes away from Monterey. Just be ready to pay a little more for your trip. The Monterey Airbus also offers transport from major airports for a relatively inexpensive price.

On the Ground (and by Ocean)
Our host hotel was the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa, which we found to be a haven of tranquility and close to a variety of entertainment options. The hotel offers breezy corridors, as well as comfortable and spacious guest rooms. It’s home to the Accista Spa, a 12,000-square-foot site that features massages, facials and salon services. For golf lovers, the hotel boasts the 100-plus-year-old Del Monte Golf Course, ranked by Golf Digest as one of the top five courses in America. Culinary options at the resort include TusCa Ristorante, which offers romantic views and an extensive wine list. The upbeat Knuckles Sports Bar features tables with built-in taps where you can pour your own draft beer (such as the area-based Lagunitas or San Francisco-brewed Anchor Steam), plus 24 flat-screen televisions; Knuckles has been named Monterey’s top sports bar for eight years. Then there’s the Fireplace Lounge, where one can cozy up next to a flickering fireplace and order perfectly crafted cocktails, beers and wines by the glass that are paired with select cheeses. On weekends, the lounge livens up with jazz musicians taking over with soothing beats.

Monterey's aquarium (©Aurora Rodriguez)

Beyond the comforts of the resort, a short drive around Monterey offers a variety of adventures. The Monterey Bay Aquarium, open since 1914, boasts a selection of exhibits in its two floors of space. Stop by and let the ocean breeze caress you on the second-floor “Open Sea” area, where you can explore water creatures via telescope. Be enchanted by the aquarium’s playful sea otter and penguin experiences, or browse the history of jellyfish, bright seahorses and edgy sharks. The Monterey Bay Habitat features an impressive, 200-pound giant sea bass. A visit to the aquarium will take hours, so make sure to come early to avoid crowds and wear comfortable shoes such as sneakers or flats.

Monterey has enjoyed a rich filmmaking history. Another top attraction is Monterey Movie Tours, which includes a scenic tour of the Monterey peninsula. The tour covers the Pacific Coast and Carmel areas, as well as a 17-mile drive through Pebble Beach. An upbeat and colorful host will guide the tour and point out where blockbuster films, such as 2002’s “We Were Soldiers” and 1992’s “Basic Instinct,” were filmed.

Dining and Nightlife
While Monterey’s scenic coastlines draw many visitors, the dining options are vast and attract many fans, too. They feature fresh bounty from the sea, chopped steaks and restaurants with views meant for romantic dining experiences as well as casual options. One top spot to visit is Fisherman’s Wharf, which offers not only dining but quaint stores that beckon visitors to pick the perfect souvenir gift. For those craving seafood, steaks or Italian bites, the 50-year-old Old Fisherman’s Grotto covers all bases for those who can’t decide—and it boasts sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Don’t leave without trying the award-winning clam chowder, served “Monterey-style” with carrots, onions, potatoes and even a touch of bacon.

A visit down historic Cannery Row takes you from drinks and dinner to dancing the night away. Before the fun dining, shopping and entertainment area existed as it does today, many people fished for a living from Monterey Bay. Now, you can still get exotic seafood bites and a view of the bay at The Fish Hopper, a lively bar and restaurant featuring fresh fish, chops and creative cocktails such as fresh-fruit martinis and oversized tropical drinks that are perfect for sharing with a friend or special someone.

Monterey’s Alvarado Street, minutes from the resort, offers bar- and lounge-hopping options for those seeking to end the night on a high note. The Mucky Duck Monterey offers inexpensive drinks, a live band playing Top 40 hits and an outside patio with warm fire pits for those evenings that get a little chilly. The upscale and cozy My Attic 1937 is a favorite amongst locals and features cozy chairs and low-lit rooms, giving it a saloon feel that’s perfect for slinging the spot’s old-fashioned and creative cocktails. End the night here with lively conversation and reminisce about all the wonderful experiences Monterey has to offer.