Carmel and Monterey Are Worth A Stop on the PCH
We left San Francisco on Hwy 1 again headed for Carmel and Monterey. This provided us yet more awesome vistas of California surf. There were two decisions we had to make on our drive – would we drive through Monterey on our way to Carmel and then if we did that, would we follow the famous “17 Mile Drive” along the coast through the Pebble Beach Golf Course. Given we were tired from the drive by the time we arrived, both decisions were put off for another day.
Checking into the Horizon Inn in Carmel, we were interested to see if the “room with a view” we had booked lived up to the internet advertising. If we really looked on an angle we could see the ocean over the tree tops and we could see the sunset lighting the landscape but not the sunset itself – when the view was not shrouded in the persistent fog. This would be a great spot for seeing Carmel and Monterey.
Probably the nicest part of the package was the morning delivery of our breakfast basket. Each day was different and we would pour through the contents looking for each day’s surprise. It was a good way to get some nourishment and breakfast in bed.
Having been warned that the hotel was both up the hill from the beach and up the hill from the main road down to the Carmel beach, we set off downhill to find a spot for dinner. We made town that night but not the beach. Arriving at Flaherty’s Seafood, we debated the two seating options, the bar or the more formal restaurant. Take the restaurant — the menu is the same but we were not at the bar drinking, so we found the service slow. Both the mussels and the special risotto with crab and scallops were delicious and had us cleaning the plate with our bread. The walk back uphill was much slower but we took advantage of the romance package fireplace and jacuzzi to ease out some of the aches.
No longer surprised when the morning arrived cloaked in fog, we started our day slowly before the short drive to Monterey. Having booked our aquarium tickets online to make sure we could see the Jelly Experience, we were free to wander around Cannery Row when we arrived, until we found a spot overlooking the water for yet another seafood lunch. I would soon start dreaming of beef!!
The Aquarium and the private tour of the jellyfish were delightful.
There were a wide variety of exhibits and we got a good education on jellys with behind the scenes views.
This did not make me less squeamish about the jellies, especially when David pushed me to touch one with the other “kids”.
Tired after walking for several hours, we boarded the free Monterey trolley to get to the parking but with a second wind we decided to go to Fisherman’s Wharf. It reminded us very much of the Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, if smaller. In typical fashion, we could not agree on where to eat among the multitude of options …
so we grabbed take out calamari and chips to hold us over.
Walking along the wharf provided entertainment by the sea lions lounging on the docks or trying valiantly to jump up.
We talked to a couple of tour operators, trying to find a whale watching trip but finally decided we would be better going to Moss Harbour since that was where the whales seemed to be lounging and feeding at the mouth of the river at this time of year. Tired again after almost 2 hours of walking we got back on the trolley to finally reach the parking lot.
That night David booked our whale watching tickets online and put our supplies together (food, layers of clothes, water, sunscreen, camera and lots of spare batteries). We set our alarm, a not frequent task on vacation, since we had to drive back north to Moss Harbour and we didn’t want to miss this adventure.
The fog worried us a little when we woke up, but in now predictable fashion, by 10am when the boat pushed off, the sun was shining and the weather could not have been better for our entire 4 hours on the water. We saw whales almost immediately and on a regular basis. There were quite a few boats out constantly changing spots to track the whales but the boat etiquette generally kept good distances back from the whales. Over the 4 hours we saw dozens of whales, often 2 or 3 at a time. Much to our delight, the whales often nudged up quite close to the boats, providing great photo opportunities (see WhaleTails ).
The harbour seals provided entertainment interludes when we were waiting for the next batch of whales – frolicking alone or rafting together. Returning to the marina, we found yet another group of sea lions typically lounging on the decks. While they were much noisier than the whales or harbour seals, they seemed quite tame by comparison. The sound of honking sea lions seemed to be the one constant we were hearing in California!
Heading back south to Carmel, we detoured into Monterey to pick up the starting point for the 17 Mile Drive. No trip to Carmel and Monterey could be complete without this drive. While you have to pay for the pleasure of the drive through this seaside golf course and community, it was worth the money, even if we only did the water side of the trip before exiting at the Carmel gate.
The sea vistas were great with lots of places to pull off and take pics or walk on the beach. We watched for the various holes of the Pebble Beach Golf course, although we found it harder to find golfers on the course.
The drive provided a great view of luxurious houses and I snapped several pics of ones that I was sure would be just perfect for my best friend Rob if he ever decided to abandon his 6,000 sqft Bahamas condo.
Our last stop on this long day was the actual beach in Carmel. We didn’t have swimwear with us but we wanted to be sure to see it in case we did not get back. The broad expanse of white sand was sparsely populated but stretched in both directions from town. We were hoping we would find some time to just laze on the beach but we never did make it back. It will go on the list for a return visit for sure.
Totally exhausted we got take out pizza and picnicked in the room. We had been pointed to Bicyclette Pizza with a strong recommendation to try the mushroom pizza but it had too much mushrooms even for me (since David would not touch it). The two alternates we ordered were “ok” (one with crispy kale and another authentic Margerita style) but we have been so spoiled by real Italian pizza that it is hard to wow us.
When planning our trip, we talked with my friend Donna who had just returned from 2 weeks in California. While we had initially only booked one night at our next stop in Santa Barbara, she convinced us to add another night, at the expense of Carmel. She further told us that the trip from Carmel to Santa Barbara had so much to do that we probably would want to cover part of it as a day trip from Carmel. Thus advised, our last full day in Carmel, saw us heading down Hwy 1 to Big Sur and beyond to the Hearst Castle.
It was another slow twisty turny road mostly hugging the cliff walls over the ocean. In the morning, the fog surged and receded along the coast as we went up and down, creating spectacular views from on high with many drops down to sea level.
We moved at Saturday spectator pace, made ever slower by the drivers that refused to pull over to view the sights but slowed to gawk as they drove. I was looking for waves and surfers and didn’t see them even though there were lots of places with mighty breakers. We really weren’t sure when we got to Big Sur, with no road marker other then the Big Sur park sign (which may or may not have gotten us down to the Coast).
Located just north of the turnoff for the Hearst Castle was the vista point for the elephant seals. Parking at the north end, we were able to take the walkway above 3 or more full coves of beaches covered with lounging seals. We saw them wiggling up on the beach, flipping sand on themselves to cool down and talking to the crowd. You could see them swimming in the kelp beds, eating away until it was time to sun.
We had been told to book tickets for Hearst Castle but since we were not sure where our trip along Hwy 1 would take us, we arrived at the castle to see if we could get lucky. Unfortunately, the castle had closed early for a private event so we only could do a quick walk around the reception area before it was closing time. We turned around after the Heast Castle and headed inland for Hwy 101 back to Carmel, certain we did not have the stamina for a return trip up Hwy 1. It was a surprising trip across a large valley of wine growing country with vines on the hills and surrounding a large number of smaller wineries. This day trip convinced us that we would take the more direct route when we headed the next day to Santa Barbara.
While tired after our long day trip, we were starved by the time we returned to Carmel. The Vesuvio restaurant was a quick walk from our hotel and the menu looked great. Our dinner was a perfect combination and made for sharing between David and I – Italian Caprese salad with fresh Roma tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella cheese, mussels in a tomato sauce, seafood risotto with a lobster sauce and I finally got my beef with a medium rare fillet mignon. Local California wine and white chocolate creme brûlée were the perfect complements to dinner.
Our stop visiting Carmel and Monterey provided us with 4 days of great natural sights (animal and nature), good food but too little little time to enjoy the great white sand beach when the fog finally stayed away. We wondered if we would lose the fog when we got to Santa Barbara next?