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Beyond the Vines: Things to do in Monterey County

There is A LOT to Uncork in Monterey County Wine Country!

Monterey Bay is one of my favorite spots in California. Not only are there panoramic views from every angle, but there are endless outdoor activities, cute villages and towns tucked away in the rolling hills AND a ton of GREAT wine. So, when one of my clients asked me to book a fairly last-minute corporate event for their team – where they could also sip wine among the vines – I turned to Monterey County wine country. Just to be clear, planning a “fairly last minute” corporate event is not easy to pull together.

I’ve been to the Monterey wine country in the past and knew I could pull off a good event with limited time and budget. And, I did. Yeah me! Actually, “yeah” to Carmel-by-the-Sea, the awesome Monterey wineries, the Bernardus Lodge and all the sunshine. While I ended up spending most of the time dealing with IT issues for my client, I was able to sip-in a few of the things I had outlined for the team to do during their off time.

17 mile drvie in Monterey is something great to do
Photo by Carpe Travel

To really pour into Monterey County, you need to spend three to five days. Seriously. There are so many things to do Monterey wine country!!

There is so much I still want to do that I didn’t have the chance to that The Husband and I are planning to head back out there this summer. (Fingers crossed!) Here are just a few of the amazing things to do in on Monterey…

Have you been to Monterey? Do you have others things that must be sipped-in? Let us know in the comments.

Uncorking Things to do Monterey County Wine Country

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is not just any aquarium. It is a world renowned aquarium situated on the bay holding thousands of plants and animals, representing more than 600 species on display. When you talk about things to in Monterey, this is M.U.S.T. The aquarium is not only a destination to view all things sea life but it’s responsible for research within the bay, as well as along the coast – providing information on sustainability and ocean conservation. When you go to The Monterey Bay Aquarium, make it a point to spend some time in the Tentacles exhibit. OMG! The jelly fish are insane!!!

Cannery Row

Cannery Row is the waterfront street in Monterey lined with a number of now-defunct sardine canning factories. It’s also home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a number of restaurants, boutiques and art galleries. Fun fact – John Steinbeck based his novel, “Cannery Row” published in 1945, on the people living and working here during the Great Depression. That said, the area is steeped in history and colorful stories. To really sip it in, do a guided walking tour of the area.  .

Taste Wine at A Taste of Monterey

If you want to see/taste/buy wine produced in Monterey County, but don’t have time to get out among the view then take a visit over to A Taste of Monterey on Cannery Row. They feature more than 90 local wineries so it’s a great way to sample a lot of different varieties. I personally suggest you do a flight so you can really sip it in. While there snack on a  few tapas while sipping in the ocean view. It might just be the best view in town, especially when paired with wine.

Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail

Monterey Bay Coastal recreation trail is an abandoned turned 18-mile recreational trial. The paved path hugs the rocky coast line of the Pacific Coast from Castroville in the north to Pacific Grove in the south. Filled with colorful flowers, cypress trees and a secret beach near Cannery Row, it is a perfect way to get around the area on bike, foot or just sip-in the views. (Ok, I’ll let you in on the secret beach, behind the Spindrift Inn there is a sheltered cove, the area is called McAbee Beach. It’s a perfect spot to look for seals and stick your feet in the sand. Can you see the seals in the picture below?!?)

Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary

During their migration Monarch Butterflys make their way to the Monarch Butterfly Grove on Pismo Beach for a much needed rest and refresh. You’ll find the trees covered with these fluttering orange and black beauties from October through February, when they continue their migration south. The sanctuary is free, and visitors are invited to visit, watch, admire and take Monarch butterfly photos and videos, so long as they don’t touch.

Pack a picnic and sit back on the beach before or after your butterfly outing.

Carmel-by-the-Sea – Shopping, Wine Tasting & FOOD!

Rated a top-10 destination in the U.S. year after year, Carmel-by-the-Sea is an amazing, European-style village nestled above a picturesque white-sand beach. I personally suggest you visit a few of the 20+ wine tasting rooms, all within four blocks of one another. Yes, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a wine lovers paradise and a must do if you’re in Monterey County. Between the tasting rooms, make sure to stop into the variety of art galleries and boutiques. One gallery in particular, you should visit is the Thomas Kinkade Gallery on Ocean Ave. Between Lincoln and Dolores. For those of you with a sweet tooth, pop into the Cottage of Sweets. A traditional British-style sweets shop with a selection of homemade fudge, imported licorices, and other assorted candies.

Take a Spa Day

Spa lovers take note, you have several fabulous, award-winning choices in and around Monterey.  The Spa at Pebble Beach is one of only 60 spas in the world to receive the coveted Forbes Five-Star Award. If you have the chance, go get pampered. Just as luxurious and awarded, yet a bit more laid back is the The Spa at Bernardus. I may have spent a few hours on my last trip in the steam room and soaking in the views from the Jacuzzi…

Another spa in Monterey to look into is the Vista Blue Spa at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa. While the services are great, it’s the view you really want. OMG! Soaking in the hot tubs on the rooftop while sipping in the views of the Pacific…Calgon take me away!!!

Sailing Cruises & Whale Watching

There are a lot of different day cruises offered in Monterey County. Sail Monterey offers public group sailing cruises starting at $45 per adult for one hour or romantic sunset cruises starting at $85 for two hours. You might also want to get out and look for whales, this area is a great spot since it’s along their migration route. Located in the town of Monterey, Princess Whale Watching is a popular tour company for whale watching. Its fleet includes The Princess Monterey or The Atlantis Monterey, each standing at 100 ft with a heated cabin, snack bar with hot and cold beverages (not included in cruise price) and spacious seating. Tickets start at $50 per adult (ages 12 years and older) for the lower deck; typically, the upper deck will be an additional $20.

Point Lobos State Reserve

Long considered the “crown jewel” of California’s 280 state parks, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a magnet for nature lovers. This scenic coastal area features a variety of sea animals, wildlife, hiking, diving and even a cute little whaling museum. It’s a stunning and fairly easy hike that winds you along the coast, through forests and back to the ocean. Make sure to stop into the whaling museum if you have time. I had no idea how much history there was tied to this in the U.S. They’ve done a great job capturing it here, it’s something for all ages.

Hikes in Monterey County

There are a slew of hikes in Monterey County, including Point Lobos, which might be my favorite. But, here are a few additional ones in the area to check out. If you need more ideas, download AllTrails.
• Soberanes Canyon Loop – Panoramic coastal views, considered moderate to intermediate
• Molera Beach Super Loop – This trail is considered easy to moderate hike and features ocean views
• Garland Ranch – Just a quick 5-minute drive from Bernardus Lodge offering views of the rustic Carmel Valley.

Visit the Carmel Mission

One of the popular sites to see is the Carmel Mission Basilica, Shrine of Saint Junipero Serra, the Founding Father of California. Serra is also the first one to plant wine vines in Cali. This site has the great designation of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is both a National and State Historic Landmark.

17-Mile Drive

Along this scenic drive between Pacific Grove and Carmel you’ll be blown away by the coastal views. If you’re lucky, you might just witness the wild life the area is known for – new born baby seals! They’re soooooo cute.  Make sure to stop at the beach of Carmel-by-the-Sea, where you can hunt for moonstones along the shore.

Golf

There are 19 championship courses on the Monterey Peninsula, all located within a few miles of one another. The legendary Pebble Beach Golf Links is on every golfer’s bucket list but a few that often get overlooked and are a lot less expensive are The Links at Spanish Bay, Poppy Hills, Spy Glass Hill, the course at Carmel Valley Ranch and Quail Lodge.

Pebble Beach

Golfing at Pebble Beach isn’t the only thing to do at this famed spot. The shops at Pebble Beach are fun for any golf enthusiast. Plan your visit in the afternoon and you will be able to see the Bagpiper at Spanish Bay play each day from 4:30pm – 5:15 pm. Grab a glass of wine, sit by the firepits and sip-in the ocean views. (Read more… Three Perfect Pairings for Wine Tasting and Golfing)

The National Steinbeck Center

Literary lovers take note! About 30 minutes outside of Carmel-by-the-Sea is the National Steinbeck Center. John Steinbeck left his mark on Monterey Country, not to mention a number of famous literary works that have drawn people to the area for more than 80 years. The Steinbeck Center features his literary works and showcases additional artists throughout the museum.

Carmel Valley Village

Looking to sip-in a few more tasting rooms? Carmel Valley Village is home to 15+ tasting rooms, a handful of amazing restaurants – Café Rustica & Corkscrew Café – several cute boutiques and even an olive oil tasting room.

Where to Eat in Monterey County Wine Country

There are so many amazing restaurants in Monterey County wine country. These are a few I personally suggest…so far.

Monterey

Montrio, The Sardine Factory, Tarpys, Taste of Monterey

Carmel-by-the Sea

Cassanova, 7th & Dolores, Grasing’s, Anton & Michel,  La Bicyclette, La Balena, Brophy’s Tavern, Portabella, Carmel Bistro Giovanni, Baja Cantina, The Beach House, Rio Grill, Pacific’s Edge, The Forge, Vesuvio’s

Carmel Valley Village

Roux, Corkscrew Cafe

Map It!

The following Google Map shows each location featured in this article to help you map out your perfect pairing of  things to do in Monterey County wine country.


Sip in More Monterey Wine Country

Elaine Schoch

Elaine N. Schoch

Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.

Touristby

Tuesday 11th of February 2020

Thanks for sharing amazing tips for this type of trip. There are looking amazing & wonderful pics. I would be definitely planning a trip like this.