virtuoso global May 2019 How to Explore the Real Monterey County

How to Explore the Real Monterey County

There’s more to Monterey County than Big Sur.
There’s more to Monterey County than Big Sur.
From beachside hikes to flourishing farmers markets, this California destination has a few secrets to share.

Mention Monterey, California, and a highlight reel of must-sees comes to mind: the Monterey Bay Aquarium; the waterfront and Old Fisherman’s Wharf, which inspired novelist John Steinbeck; and the Pacific Ocean, cherished by nature lovers, artists, and hopeless romantics.
Beyond the city limits, however, there’s a sprawling county of the same name ready to win you over. From a burgeoning wine country to a commitment to oceans and the environment, Monterey County has more than a few surprises in store, in a setting rivaled by few places on earth. Here are our tips for learning more about this West Coast favorite.

Hit the Road

Only 100 miles south of the Golden Gate Bridge, Monterey County boasts the longest coastline in the state, offering a spectrum of beaches (from serene white sand to rugged outcroppings), hiking paths, and coastline drives along Highway 1. “Monterey County is a nice escape from the San Francisco Bay Area for whale-watching from shore and hiking Point Lobos State Natural Reserve,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Lisa Reyes. Many travelers know to drive south to Big Sur to view the area’s ancient redwood trees, but she recommends another natural phenomenon, located steps away from Monterey’s historic Colton Hall: “Visit Monterey’s own Moon Tree, which grew from seeds carried to the moon in 1971.”

In June 2019, Pebble Beach Resorts celebrates its centennial and the sixth U.S. Open welcomes golfers to explore the nearby towns of Carmel-by-the-Sea, with its storybook charm, and Pacific Grove, where you can visit Point Pinos Lighthouse, the oldest one still operating on the West Coast, as well as the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. A half-hour drive north you’ll find Moss Landing, a lesser-known area beloved by birders and kayakers, where you might spot sea otters playing in the surf.

Carmel-by-the-Sea’s quaint Ocean Avenue beckons with shopping boutiques.<br />
Carmel-by-the-Sea’s quaint Ocean Avenue beckons with shopping boutiques.
As you continue along the coast, most towns are within easy driving distance, making sightseeing a breeze. For a longer ride, the iconic 17-Mile Drive is legendary for its coastal views and million-dollar mansions. Pull over for a snapshot of the famed Lone Cypress, believed to be more than 250 years old, then head south out of Carmel Highlands along the coast of Big Sur. On the way is Garrapata State Park, ideally situated for a pit-stop hike through the redwoods or along the ocean. As you drive down this stretch, remember the Big Sur Pledge, a local initiative to encourage guests and locals alike to protect and respect the region’s natural beauty.

Take a Bite

Turn inland, and you’ll quickly discover a haven of fresh produce where more than 150 crops flourish. Monterey County’s fertile Salinas Valley grows millions of pounds of broccoli, cauliflower, celery, lettuce, spinach, and more every year, much of it available for tasting at the region’s farmers markets, which unfurl almost every day. In the summertime, keep your eyes peeled for strawberry fields – the region produces roughly one-third of entire state’s annual yield. In June, head to Castroville, the “Artichoke Capital of the World,” to celebrate the curious vegetable at the annual Artichoke Festival.

The booming agriculture isn’t limited to food: Monterey County is home to one of the largest wine-growing regions in California. Amidst the undulating vines of the Salinas Valley, Carmel Valley, and Santa Lucia Highlands, some 32 varietals are putting this underdog wine region on the map. If you prefer one-stop sipping, A Taste of Monterey is a wine market and bistro showcasing wines from more than 90 local winemakers. 
In Salinas Valley, walk among the vines at Paraiso Vineyards.
In Salinas Valley, walk among the vines at Paraiso Vineyards.
Local restaurants are stewards of responsible and sustainable practices. Salt Wood Kitchen and Oysterette in the town of Marina, with former Ventana Big Sur chef Paul Corsentino at the helm, showcases a kitchen committed to fresh, organic, and locally sourced ingredients. A good place to start on your own is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, an advisory list of recommended seafood that’s fished or farmed with minimal environmental impact. “This aquarium is simply remarkable, with a dedication to educating visitors about preserving our beautiful ocean and marine life,” says Virtuoso advisor Dani Johnson.

Go a Little Glam

Whether it’s celebrated art, fancy cars, or a dash of Hollywood stardust, Monterey County knows how to entertain. For an evening stroll through boutique art galleries, check out Carmel-by-the-Sea’s Art Walk, occurring the second Saturday of every month. In Salinas, bibliophiles can explore the region’s literary pedigree at the National Steinbeck Center or inside the Steinbeck House, the Queen Anne-style Victorian home where John Steinbeck spent his childhood. Farther south, the quirky Henry Miller Memorial Library pays homage to the namesake writer who spent almost 20 years in Big Sur. Cinephiles, take note: Actor Clint Eastwood, once the mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, currently owns the Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant, and actresses Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon shined a spotlight on Monterey County while filming the award-winning HBO series Big Little Lies.
The Henry Miller Memorial Library is a nonprofit arts center, bookstore, and performance venue.
The Henry Miller Memorial Library is a nonprofit arts center, bookstore, and performance venue.
Back at Pebble Beach, Bugattis, Ferraris, Zagatos, and many more historic luxury vehicles take center stage at the Concours d’Elegance car show every August. The following month, the Monterey Jazz Festival – the longest-running jazz festival in the world – brings more than 500 musicians to multiple stages at the Monterey County Fairgrounds.
Have a four-legged friend you’d like to bring along? Monterey County welcomes dogs with an abundance of pet-friendly hotels, shops, galleries, and beaches, adds Virtuoso advisor Donna Marguglio. “When you walk through the fairy-tale cottages and perfectly manicured streets, you think nothing can add to its charm. But then you see the dog bowls outside stores and galleries, and it’s the icing on the Carmel-by-the-Sea cake.”

Where to Stay 

Virtuoso amenities include breakfast daily and a $100 hotel credit.

For the Fine Dining Fanatic: One of Big Sur’s first homesteads is now an opulent 40-room hotel perched above the Pacific Ocean, with views as spectacular as the cuisine at Post Ranch Inn’s award-winning restaurant Sierra Mar.

For the Kid at Heart: At the 151-room Carmel Valley Ranch, visitors and locals can satiate their curiosity in activities themed around gardening, art, food and wine, fitness, and the outdoors (be sure to try the beehive experience) in a sprawling 500-acre paradise.
For the PGA Guru: Once a private mansion on 17-Mile Drive, Casa Palmero at Pebble Beach Resorts is now an intimate 24-room hotel tucked below the first and second fairways at Pebble Beach Golf Links. There’s also a billiard room and a heated outdoor pool, among other posh amenities.
For the Eco-Enthusiast: The serene 59-room Ventana Big Sur goes above and beyond with property-wide recycling, use of nontoxic and fair-trade products, and other green initiatives. Try the Canyon Glampsites for a breath of fresh air enhanced with ultraluxe amenities

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