Northern California is filled with many destination gems, and this one is at the top of my list! Recently, I got to see Monterey and Carmel for the first time, and I absolutely loved it! Nestled a couple hours away from the city, it is a perfect weekend getaway that offers amazing food, views, and experiences! With that said, I bring you my Monterey/Carmel travel guide to making the most of your upcoming trip! NOTE: all places mentioned below are linked for your viewing pleasure and convenience!
When to Travel to Monterey & Carmel
The weather mimics that of San Francisco and most of the Bay Area, so most of the year is a fitting time to venture there in terms of weather. I would recommend the summer months for the warmest temperatures. I went in November and wearing a light jacket was enough for me!
How to Best get There
If you are traveling from San Francisco, it is a 2 hour drive from the city. I would recommend driving in the morning (around 8-9am to avoid traffic). If you are flying in, the closest international airport is in San Jose (SJC), then a 1.5 hour drive to Monterey in a rental car that you can reserve and pick up at the airport. If you are renting a car for the weekend, I recommend the following vendors: Zipcar, Hertz, and Enterprise.
Where to Stay in Monterey & Carmel
We knew we wanted a location in Monterey, since we knew we were spending the first part of the weekend in Carmel, and wanted to easily explore Monterey during the second half of the weekend. We ended up choosing Casa Munras Garden Hotel & Spa and really loved it! It features Hacienda-style architecture and decor, and the amenities were beautiful! For everything we got, we believed the price of the hotel was very reasonable! An alternative hotel that has raving reviews and super glamorous is Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, which is built right on the Monterey Bay coastline! For that incredible view, the price per night is worth it for a one-of-a-kind experience!
Where to Eat and Drink in Monterey & Carmel
Here is a round-up of all the restaurants I did research on and have interest in trying but did not get to go to! My list of restaurants are Cassanova Restaurant, Katy’s Place, Dametra Cafe, Flaherty’s Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar, Carmel Belle, and Little Napoli. We ended up dining at Neilsen Bros. Market, Porta Bella, and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Neilsen Bros. Market: This is an actual full-service grocery store in Carmel with a deli in the back. At the deli, we got their well-known hot dogs and they were tasty!
Porta Bella: This is an upscale Italian restaurant in Carmel. We ordered the fish and mashed potatoes and the Bolognese pasta. The food was fantastic! We also ordered a bottle of red wine. Since we were limited to outdoor seating only, we did not get to experience this restaurant in its full capacity, but we still had a great time here.
Bubba Gump Shrimp: I think we all know this famous spot, named after the iconic movie Forrest Gump! This is a restaurant that PJ grew up going to, so we decided to come here for our last meal in the area. I have been to this chain before, so I was familiar with the menu and the food is good. We were seated with a perfect view of the water which made it extra special!
Wine Tasting Rooms
Carmel is known for their wine! Carmel Valley holds thousands of acres of vineyards, and the tasting rooms sit in the city! I found a website that maps out all of the tasting rooms and calls itself the “Carmel Wine Walk”, because all of them are in such close proximity to each other! Here are some that we heard good reviews about but did not get a chance to try: Galante, Scheid, Wrath, and Caraccioli Cellars. Here are the three we got to try:
Silvestri Vineyards: This tasting room is owned and operated by the one and only Alan Silvestri himself! For those who do not know him, he is a world famous music composer that takes credit for music composition and film scores of all the Avenger movies, Captain America, The Polar Express, The Parent Trap, and many more! We actually got some face-time with the iconic man, as he was in the building the day we stopped by! The wines were well-balanced and bold in flavor. We got 5 pours each for $20 per person!
Scratch Wines Tasting Room: This tasting room offered 7 pours for $15 per person which is an unbelievably amazing deal! We had a great time relaxing on the outdoor patio with the plush cushioned chairs, colorful decor, and heated lamps!
Bargetto Winery Tasting Room: We stumbled upon this one while we were waiting for our lunch reservation! This one is in Monterey, and it is a cute little shop with a big personality in terms of the wines they serve. I had a Nebbiolo pour that blew my mind! This place offered 5 pours for $15 per person!
In the past few months, I have taken a big interest in beer and I set out to find which beers I liked. Craft beer is truly a different beer-drinking experience altogether! Through my research, I found two breweries, both in Monterey, with great reviews and I was excited to try them!
Dust Bowl Brewing Co.: I cannot speak highly enough about this place! I loved it so much that I wanted to go again before we drove back to San Francisco but we did not have enough time. The beer I couldn’t stop talking about was “Son of Wrath” which is only available as a draft. The property is massive, has a view of the water, and hosts seating on the front and back patios. On the back patio they also have rotating food trucks from local vendors!
Alvarado Street Brewery: We came here right after Dust Bowl and this one is on one of the main streets in Monterey. A cool feature of this spot was that it has a lush green outdoor patio with string lights to provide the optimal aesthetic. They had an extensive draft list to choose from, and they serve four 5oz flight pours!
Sights to See in Monterey & Carmel
Old Fisherman’s Wharf and Monterey Bay: We spent the morning on a walk through the Wharf and noted that it was filled with quaint shops and amazing food! We heard the Grotto Fish market was very popular and known for their delicious seafood, and we popped into Water and Leaves to get a coffee. Water and Leaves had a honey and tea bar which we enjoyed learning more about! We stopped at the edge of the pier and basked in the awe of all the whimsical sea creatures (including seals and jellyfish!), and gazed at the expansive views of the water.
Carmel Beach: The term “Carmel by the Sea” derived from the fact that the town is on the beautiful California coastline! We made it to the beach by golden hour and hung out long enough to watch the sunset! It is an incredibly beautiful place.
Cannery Row: This is the main strip of road in Monterey. It houses countless stores and restaurants big and small. I loved walking around and seeing how vibrant the street was in terms of decorations and atmosphere. We came upon Louie Linguini’s restaurant and it specializes in clam chowder which we had to try! It was absolutely delicious and you MUST try it if you are a clam chowder fan!
Bixby Bridge: This notable bridge is actually a little past the Monterey area and towards Big Sur. If you have the time, I highly suggest making the trip to see the bridge! It is iconic and stunning in person! It is a 25 minute drive from Monterey.
Excursions to Try in Monterey & Carmel
Take a stroll in Downtown Carmel: Carmel is a super small town that is very walking-friendly! You can probably walk all the main blocks in less than 30 minutes! The architecture of the little town is a “storybook, fairytale cottage style” and it makes walking around such a whimsical experience! I felt it was easy to get lost (in the best way!) in the wonder of the secret streets and vintage storefronts.
Carmel Plaza Shopping Center: The town has an outdoor mall that takes up about two street blocks. It is filled with retail stores, restaurants, salons, grocery store, and a gym!
Lover’s Point Park & Beach: this was such a serene and tranquil place to hang out during our time in Monterey. From the waves crashing against the rocks, to the birds flying overhead, to the baby-soft sand and clear blue beach water that is calling for you to stick your feet in, I was happy to take the place in for all its natural beauty!
Pebble Beach’s 17-mile drive: We ran out of time and did not get to drive this, but we were told this is a must-do in the Carmel area!
Monterey Bay Aquarium: Due to the government restrictions, the aquarium is closed for the foreseeable future, but we are keeping this on our list to see at some point!
The Refuge Day Spa: I learned about this place on TikTok, and proceeded to do research! This is one of the coolest concepts EVER, being the first co-ed outdoor hot springs and spa in California! You are able to book slots in three-hour increments. With your admission, they give you a cozy robe to wear, your own locker and lock, and a bottle of water. There are 10 pools ranging from hot, warm, and cold, along with a sauna, several hammocks, and fire-pits dispersed throughout the property. My time here was one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve had in a long time.
I hope you enjoyed my post and found it helpful for your upcoming trip! Please comment thoughts and questions below, and share with your friends and family! Thank you for your continued support!
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