Any traveler would be hard pressed to find another California city with such history, scenic beauty and romantic mythology. It’s all just a tank of gas away. Enjoy the stunning Monterey Bay Aquarium, eat at the restaurant locals wish you didn’t know about, and be sure to stop and snag a parting gift from the perfumer to the stars on this awesome one-tank trip to Monterey.
While the Pacific Coast Highway is, by far, the most beautiful and scenic route to Monterey Bay, it narrows down to a single lane and is quickly crowded by San Fran’s summer traffic. For the fastest route, U.S. 101 runs to south to Monterey for a two to three-hour drive, depending on traffic. It’s still a one-tanker at about 115 miles, but — as with any Bay Area drive — check traffic reports beforehand if you’re on a schedule.
For your exact route click on MapQuest.
Stop Along the Way
Garlic City Cafe
461 Monterrey St.
Gilroy, CA 95020
Leave San Francisco by mid-morning and be ordering everything garlic at this establishment by noon. Devoted customers return for its cream of garlic soup and — don’t knock it ’til you try it — garlic ice cream. Don’t worry, ambivalent garlic eaters will find plenty to munch here, from pastas to carrot cake, everything at Garlic City aims to please. Oh, and this place loves those generous portions.
Once You Get There
Spin Drift Inn
652 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940-4908
Click here for rates
Monterey offers an array of unique inns and bed and breakfast options, but for the experience of waking up to the breathtaking vista of Monterey Bay, look no further than this inn. Ask for an ocean-view room and enjoy your continental breakfast, served (at your request) directly to your door. Monterey nights can get chilly, so settle back and relax in the warmth of your own wood-burning fireplace. Valet parking is pricey, but should you want to shop on Cannery Row or visit the nearby Monterey Aquarium, it’s money well spent because parking spots are at a premium in this popular and very historic section of Monterey.
Related: Eye on the Bay
Monterey Bay Aquarium
886 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
Price: $32.95 adults 18 to 64 not in college/$29.95 seniors/$19.95 children ages 3 to 12/free children 3 and younger
Hats off to this venerable institution for spearheading the cleanup of Monterey Bay a few decades ago. Its pristine waters are now so clear that guests may stand on the aquarium’s balconies and watch seals and otters frolic underneath the water. There’s always plenty to watch inside too. Giant tanks feature denizens of these waters and special exhibits combine education and artistry in memorable ways.
Adventures by the Sea
299 Cannery Row #1
Monterey, CA. 93940
Click here for reservations/pricing
Monterey Bay just invites visitors into its crystal waters and onto its stunning shoreline. This outfitter is your go-to place whether you want to hop on a two-person surrey or head out into the water for a little kayaking adventure. Other fun adventures include scavenger hunts and beach Olympics, so don’t miss out on the best fun in the bay. No matter the excursion, repeat visitors appreciate Adventures’ friendly staff, which stands ready to suggest the best ways to enjoy Monterey Bay.
Randy’s Fishing Trips and Whale-Watching
66 Old Fisherman’s Wharf #1
Monterey, CA. 93940
Fishermen flock to Randy’s for its party fishing boats, but step inside its store and it’s clear why anglers return. A fabulous picture of whales broaching ooh so close to its boat. This subtle marketing tool brings anglers back time and again for whale watching trips. Whale watchers benefit from the onboard guide who provides a little bit of education regarding these massive aquatic wonders on each trip.
Sea Harvest Fish Market and Restaurant
598 Foam St.
Monterey, CA 93940
Within shouting distance of the aquarium, locals recommend this no-frills restaurant as the best place in town to enjoy seafood. Buy a wide variety of fish to go or sit down for a fine meal at a price that doesn’t ruin your appetite. For a slice of those killer Monterey Bay views while you dine, there are better places to do so, but for pure value (plus free parking) it’s hard to beat this destination.
Before You Head Home
Ajne Organic Botanical Scents
Court of the Fountains
Mission at 7th
Carmel, CA 93921
If you’ve taken the time to travel to Monterey, spend just a little more to visit the unique town of Carmel. Ajne is one of those specialty shops that give Carmel its aura of luxury. Owner and perfumer Jane Hendler has built her legendary reputation as a perfumer to the stars by sourcing ingredients from her own organic farm. Her proprietary questionnaire helps her create custom scents that celebrities worship. Don’t leave her shop without checking out Hendler’s recently launched line of pet scents. With names like Kennel No. 5, you’re bound to find a fun gift for pooch lovers back home.
Patricia Kutza is a San Francisco Bay Area-based travel, business and lifestyle journalist who writes for a wide variety of regional, national and global titles. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.