Top 10 things to do and see in Carmel and Monterey County:
(The top 6 are truly "MUST DOs".)
1. Carmel Beach (possibly the finest white sand on earth)- Drive down Ocean Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea and put your feet in the sand. Afterwards, go South on San Antonio Ave, Right on 8th Ave and Left on Scenic Rd. This is a fabulous short drive (or long walk) which meanders along the coast. You may even want to stop for a cocktail at the Mission Inn (Clint Eastwood's place near the end of Scenic Rd. where the Carmel River dumps out into the Ocean). www.missionranchcarmel.com/
2. Go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium- definitely the best aquarium in the world. Julie Packard has made this an intelligent and motivational place that is futuristic in ecology and sensitive with its animal habitats. The thing that makes it so special is it is mostly indigenous species from the deep canyon in the Monterey Bay (deeper than the Grand Canyon) and much of it has yet to be explored. www.montereybayaquarium.org/ You may even want to stop for a wine tasting at "Taste of Monterey' which over looks the bay and serves wine from hundreds of local vintners. www.tastemonterey.com/ (note: they close at 6 pm).
3. Eat fresh Fish. The Sicilians are big here. Those who don't own farms and grow food for the rest of the country (in Salinas Valley) have chosen to fish and own restaurants on the coast. My favorite is The Fish House restaurant on Del Monte Boulevard in Monterey. It doesn't look like much but the oysters are awesome and Anchor Steam beer is served in a frosty mug. My favorite is the Calamari Eggplant Parmesan but everything here is great. www.yelp.com/biz/monterey-fish-house-monterey
4. Experience Carmel Valley: hike beautiful Garland Park (trails from easy to tough) www.mprpd.org/parks/garland.htm and eat great Mexican food afterwards at Baja Cantina, or for something more relaxing, go wine tasting in Carmel Valley Village and have lunch or dinner at Bernardus Lodge & Spa (also a great place to stay if you like the sunshine). www.bernardus.com/
5. Walk around Point Lobos: Point Lobos is on the West side of Highway One as you leave Carmel and as you head south towards Big Sur. It is a State Reserve and one of the top diving spots in the world. Due to its rare beauty, it was made famous by the California Impressonist painters. You can see the famous Cypress trees here and beautiful China Bay. If you are there in December or January, the waves are mighty and you can spot whales migrating from Oregon to Mexico. All year round you can see the harbor seals and the sea otters so bring binoculars. Animal watching is best early morning when they open.
pt-lobos.parks.state.ca.us/ (On another note there is a nearby hotel 5 minutes south of Pt. Lobos called Highlands Inn that serves an amazing breakfast, lunch and fixed prix dinner. Cocktails at the piano bar at sunset are very memorable)
6. Experience The Big Sur. Drive with the convertible top down and take in the grandest meeting of land and water in the America. Find local flavor at Napenthe Restaurant where the burgers are good and the Gary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir is famous. Or just pamper yourself and stop at Ventana Inn www.ventanainn.com or Post Ranch Inn www.postranchinn.com (they are directly across the street from each other). Either place is worth a night stay or at least a fancy lunch or dinner. They do star gazing at Post Ranch if there is no fog.
7. Drive 17 Mile Drive, see the famous golf courses, beautiful cypress trees, massive homes and renown lodges (Spyglass, Spanish Bay and Pebble Beach). Have lunch at the Pebble Beach lodge overlooking the 18th green (and get reimbursed the silly entrance fee.) www.pebblebeach.com/page.asp?pageName=_17_Mile_Home
8. If you are up for a challenge and some of the best views of your life, Hike the local’s favorite 'Soberanes'. www.redwoodhikes.com/Big%20Sur/Garrapata.html
It is off highway one (at the beginning of Big Sur) on the East side of the road. It is only a few miles South of Point Lobos (approx 15 minutes). You will see cars parked on the side of the road and you will see an old tin barn on the left. That is the trailhead. It’s a big loop and it takes 1 hour if you are insanely fit and want to run or 3 hours for the mere mortal. Bring water and trail mix. Also carry a walking stick in dry weather, as it tends to be steep and slippery on the face. Therefore, it’s better to walk UP the face (so go left when there is a choice to be made)
9. Take in a festival: Garlic festival of Gilroy, the Artichoke Festival in Castroville, or the Strawberry Festival in Watsonville or watch the car races at Laguna Seca Raceway. www.mazdaraceway.com/
10. Do something Outdoors: a) Kayak the Monterey Bay or Elkorn Slough at Monterey Bay Kayaks. (Bring your sunscreen and pray for the morning fog to burn off) www.montereybaykayaks.com b.) Horseback ride on the beach at Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur molerahorsebacktours.com/ c.) Skydive at Imjin Rd, Marina Airport www.skydivemontereybay.com or d.) go hang out at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and ride the Giant Dipper (but that is north of Monterey County, so it shouldn't really be on this list)
Tassajara Hot Springs- Famous and exclusive Buddist Monk retreat (open from about May- Sept) deep in the heart of Carmel Valley. Also known for their fresh vegetarian cuisine. Early reservations required. www.sfzc.org/tassajara/
Esalen Institute- Hot Springs that were made famous from the hippies of the 70s. Great yoga and other workshops offered or just go for total relaxation and massages. The views cannot be beat as the pools are perched on the cliffs of Big Sur above the Pacific Ocean. www.esalen.org