Travel 4 minutes 08 May 2024

How to Spend a Weekend in Monterey, California

Discover why this slice of California is at the top of so many travelers' bucket lists.

For anyone who’s ever cruised top down in a vintage convertible along the 17-Mile Drive from Pebble Beach to Carmel Valley, they’ll confirm touring Monterey by car is the best way to experience this slice of California. Home to the annual Monterey Car Week in August, prospective buyers can start planning their own adventures at the series of events and races throughout the week.

Of course, there’s also world-famous golf courses, plenty of wildlife viewing from whales to sea otters, 99 miles of coastline to surf or lounge by, as well as a bounty of coastal excellence on display at Michelin restaurants across the 12 naturally connected jurisdictions that comprise Monterey. There’s certainly an overflow of activities for only one weekend, and perhaps not enough time to complete the chunk of famed Pacific Coast Highway, but if you hone in on the most important aspects to your party, then you’ll no doubt recognize why this region is an iconic bucket list destination for so many travelers. 

Where to stay

For a quintessential Carmel-by-the-Sea stay, La Playa is reputed as “The Grand Dame of Carmel.” The 74-room hotel was formerly an artist retreat built for Angela Ghirardelli, and recently underwent a $15 million renovation in October 2023 to maintain the edifice’s heritage, all while offering a modern oasis for savvy travelers. 

For something slightly more intimate, L’Auberge Carmel is a block and half over with only 20 boutique rooms, originally from 1929. There’s an elegant fusion of classic and contemporary, here, with four poster canopy beds and clawfoot tubs in the rooms, world-class service throughout the resort, and onsite MICHELIN-Starred restaurant, Aubergine

For a rustic mountain getaway, head to Carmel Valley; just outside Garland Regional Park lies Bernardus Lodge & Spa (associated with the eponymous winery) where 57 rooms certainly emphasize its locale in the Santa Lucia Mountain Range. Decor focuses on natural elements from wooden floors to seagrass wall coverings and a spa uses botanicals from the region in its alluring treatment menu. 

Carmel Valley Ranch is just down the road and calls to the golf aficionado with its par-70 course designed by Pete Dye as part of its 500 rolling acres. The all-suite accommodations overlook the sprawling grounds, some equipped with tubs on the terrace and every room outfitted with a fireplace.

La Playa
La Playa

Where to eat 

Led by Chef Justin Cogley, Aubergine serves a multicourse tasting menu that changes each of the five nights a week that it’s open. The ingredients are hyper local and hyper seasonal, all presented with an artistic touch, beginning with the tray of amuse bouche that likens a purely natural landscape rather than a collection of edible goodies. 

Chez Noir is a concept from husband-and-wife team, Chef Jonny and Monique Black, who quite literally welcome you into their home for a menu inspired by French bistro fare with a California twist. There’s an emphasis on seafood here, with a four-course menu that offers tantalizing add-ons like grilled oysters and caviar croquettes. (Note: they can accommodate vegetarians, but not vegans). 

Maligne is all about combining traditional European and American dishes into one—all while in a California-cool dining room. The ethos is a depiction of Chef Klaus Georis’ past, having immigrated to California from Europe; he started his career at Quince and now he’s made a name for himself in Monterey with this unique concept at Maligne. 

Manny Espinoza | Josh Rose / Aubergine
Manny Espinoza | Josh Rose / Aubergine
As the onsite restaurant at Bernardus Lodge & Spa, Lucia Restaurant & Bar still attracts its own crowd for its California country cuisine. They offer a monthly tasting menu that highlights a singular ingredient (in spring that could be asparagus for the month of April) or theme (like a past feature of “love foods” or aphrodisiacs in February). They also serve breakfast, lunch, dinner, weekend brunch and elevated in-room dining for hotel guests. 

In Carmel Plaza, Jeju Kitchen presents casual, yet flavorful fare from South Korea and Jeju Island; Ad Astra is a local’s favorite bakery for old-world style sourdoughs (including flavors like olive, seeded and focaccia) as well as rotating sweets (seek out their croissants). Stop by Pearl Hour for creative cocktails adjacent to San Carlos Beach or Shearwater Tavern for happy hour libations paired with delicately crunchy yucca fries.


What to do

As cliche as they may be, there are just some activities you simply must do to say you’ve been to Monterey. These include: a visit to Old Fisherman’s Wharf, a historic district full of coastal-inspired dining and boutique venues where truthfully you could spend an entire day, a meander along Cannery Row for an eye-opening peek into the former sardine-cannery factories, and you must spot a whale, or at least attempt to. 

Whale watching cruises are a popular pastime here with various operators departing from Monterey and Moss Landing. If you think this cuts into your precious time, there are other ways to try your luck at a whale sighting—Lovers Point Beach and Marina State Beach are renowned for their onshore whale watching. If all else fails, the iconic Monterey Bay Aquarium (celebrating 40 years in 2024) educates on the marine mammals that are frequently spotted in Monterey waters. The Aquarium is respected for its dedication to pioneering sustainable seafood initiatives through their Seafood Watch Program; founded in 1999 to empower consumers, chefs and businesses to make environmentally responsible choices for a healthier ocean through impactful, global guidelines.

Knock off two more must-do items on your Monterey checklist by hiking through Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. The North Shore Trail runs for a leisurely 1.4 miles, offering sweeping vistas of the Carmel coastline and Pebble Beach before concluding at the Sea Lion Point parking area. For those looking to work up more of a sweat, continue on the Cypress Grove loop. 

Next, hit the beaches. Carmel River State Beach is known for their record days of bird spotting while Asilomar State Beach has long-attracted surfers. If a picnic is what you’re seeking, the dunes at Moss Landing State Beach make for an idyllic setting; pick up a curated charcuterie board (featuring all local produce and cheese) from Lady & Larder for an effortless but elevated afternoon.

Carmel Beach Sunset
Carmel Beach Sunset
After checking off your outdoor orders, it’s time to further explore the flavors of Monterey. This region’s wineries impress with high elevation and coastal views that emphasize the matching minerality characteristics of their wines. There are some 349 vineyards from Arroyo Seco to the Santa Lucia Highlands, producing for must-visit tasting rooms like Scratch Wines, Holman Ranch, Albatross Ridge, Hahn Wines and Chalone Vineyard.

Hops fans will want to visit Pacific Grove Brewing Company or Hops and Fog Brewing Company, the latter being a newly opened brewpub fitted with a wood-fired oven.

Catch some live music in Salinas at Live @ Heirloom Pizza Co. The 10,000-square-foot venue debuted in October 2023 but have already made a name for themselves with their coveted deep dish and thin crust pizzas.

Take a yoga class at Word of Mouth Yoga at The Village then depending on your definition of #balance, stay for a healthful lunch at Solstice or visit Bodega for a glass of wine.

Daniel James Photography / Albatross Ridge
Daniel James Photography / Albatross Ridge


Foodies will want to plan a trip around Pebble Beach Food & Wine – the springtime event is a mega deal that features epicurean icons including winemakers, mixologists and chefs for a star-studded weekend. (Next year’s dates are April 10-13, 2025).

Spread over 10 days, Monterey Car Week spotlights the best in the auto world, from shows to races to auctions featuring classic cars and vintage memorabilia. 

Pebble Beach Golf Links has hosted dozens of world-class golf championships, including six U.S. Opens and the 1977 PGA Championship. They still host a number of watch-worthy events including AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am as well as PURE Insurance Championship.

Every October, monarch butterflies flock together at Pacific Monarch Butterfly Grove Sanctuary and cluster together on pine, cypress and eucalyptus trees for a stunning, fluttering blanket of marigold and black. 

 Spencer Davis on Unsplash /  Monterey Car Week
 Spencer Davis on Unsplash /  Monterey Car Week

Hero image: Daivik Goel on Unsplash / 17 Mile Drive


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