majestic Kelp Forest exhibit at the Monterey Bay
been called the American Riviera — a marriage of jagged
rocks and pounding surf, where sheltered coves hug the
coastline and wildflowers and vineyards carpet the valley
floor. Its attractions are both natural (rainforests of
rare pine, cypress and sequoia) and manmade (Pebble Beach
is just the most famous of a group of golf courses
unmatched in the continental United States).
is the Monterey Peninsula, between Los Angeles and San
Francisco on the central coast, and it is California’s
geography in microcosm — spectacular mountains, lush
valleys, scenic rivers, charming hamlets — dominated
always by the Pacific Ocean.
area provides a study in contrasts. On any given day,
Carmel Valley can be awash in sunshine, while a 10-minute
drive away, the coastline is obscured by dense fog. At the
same moment that a gentle mist dissolves over one end of
the peninsula, a chilly cloud descends on the other.
good place to begin any visit to the area is the
impossibly picturesque community of Carmel-by-the-Sea. The
town’s center is six blocks from the sea, but you won’t
mind the walk down Ocean Avenue, with its upscale art
galleries and artists’ studios, boutiques, and
visitors stop in for a beer or a bite at the
Western-themed Hog’s Breath Inn. Although no longer
owned by Clint Eastwood, who served a two-year stint as
town mayor from 1986 to 1988, it contains plenty of
has to hope that Clint, with or without his .357 Magnum,
had an easier time enforcing the law than some of his
earlier counterparts. At one point, statutes on the books
made it illegal in Carmel to — among other things —
wear high heels or eat ice cream cones.
far as historic sites go, the one not to be missed is
Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, or more
simply, Carmel Mission. The chapel and gardens are lovely,
but the real attraction is the tomb of Father Junipero
Serra, the Franciscan friar who founded California’s
chain of missions.
reclining bas-relief of Father Serra above his tomb has at
its foot a figure of a playful bear cub, symbol of the
might find yourself loath to leave Carmel, but awaiting
you at the opposite end of the peninsula is Monterey,
onetime state capital during the Spanish and Mexican rule
of California, immortalized in the pages of John Steinbeck’s
novels "Cannery Row" and "Tortilla
Steinbeck’s day, the Row was booming with sardine
canneries, but in the 1950s, something happened that was
more reminiscent of the plot of a Stephen King opus than a
Steinbeck novel. The sardines, as if hoping to escape
their tin-can coffins, vanished from Monterey Bay.
a four-decade absence, they are back — both on
restaurant menus and at an exhibit at the Monterey Bay
Aquarium, where thousands shimmer in a silvery spectacle.
The aquarium, one of the nation’s best, is home to
indigenous species living in the bay — from the shy
octopus and leopard shark to the delicately beautiful
jellyfish and the playful sea otter.
aquarium’s Outer Bay exhibit offers a million-gallon
indoor ocean viewed through an enormous window.
Monterey attractions include its distinctive Victorian
architecture, and one of the longest-running outdoor jazz
festivals in the country.
the peninsula from Monterey in the north to Carmel in the
south, the visitor encounters one staggering vista after
Point Pinos Lighthouse, the oldest continuously operating
lighthouse on the West Coast (1855). Its golden light
penetrates the ever-present fog like a Cyclops eye.
Carmel Point, where Jack London and other early Carmel
literati caught abalone and held their infamous drinking
the most often photographed spot on the peninsula is the
Lone Cypress, which, buffeted by relentless winds, clings
precariously to its perch on a stretch of the 17 Mile
Drive just west of the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf
of Carmel is Point Lobos State Reserve. Ansel Adams, who
photographed many of America’s most iconic landmarks,
called Point Lobos "a Place with a capital P,"
and viewing its craggy rock formations pummeled by wild
waves of salty spray, it’s easy to see why.
is a spot made for hiking. Starting at Whaler’s Cove, a
dramatic trail twists upward through Monterey pines to
level out on the cliffs overlooking Carmel Bay.
hikers can spot California brown pelicans diving for fish,
and comical sea otters swimming on their backs near the
shore, their furry faces within binocular range. Scottish
author Robert Louis Stevenson, who enjoyed hiking in this
area, reportedly used the hidden coves as settings for
"Kidnapped" and "Treasure Island."
Point Lobos, take California 1 south to Big Sur. This
rugged stretch of coastline has been called America’s
most beautiful, and anyone who has ever watched the play
of light on the water, transforming it from emerald to
turquoise to sapphire, would find it hard to disagree.
dramatic ribbon of road — writhing snakelike between
mountain and sea — demands a designated driver, one
person willing to concentrate on navigating the tortuous
twists, while everyone else gapes at the scenery. Not to
worry — there are plenty of places to pull over so even
the driver can enjoy that scenery.
of the best of those places is Nepenthe, a mountainside
aerie built in 1947 by actor-director Orson Welles for his
actress wife, Rita Hayworth, and now a popular restaurant.
Grab a table on the terrace, order the signature ambrosia
burger and a glass of California wine, and take in the
Sur is aptly named. Everything is immense: big green,
brown and gold mountains; big blue sky and sea. It’s
like watching an epic production on a giant screen in
grandeur is what the Monterey Peninsula is all about.
Still, it has a heart. You have to love a place where so
many literary ghosts roam, from Steinbeck and Stevenson to
Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, but where for
years the most popular feature of the Carmel Pine Cone
newspaper was a pet column written by Carmel resident,
actress and animal-rights activist Doris Day.