Just so you know, this blog post is going to be a lot better if you turn on Cold Little Heart by Michael Kiwanuka in the background while you read. For those of you who don’t watch Big Little Lies and have no idea what I’m talking about…turn it on anyway haha!
I am an avid Liane Moriarty fan and so, along with every other one of her books, I read Big Little Lies and then watched both seasons of the show! I was so excited to live out my Big Little Lies dreams in Monterey, but even if the show and the story mean nothing to you, Monterey is still a great little town to go spend time in!
Recently, my husband and I went out for a little California adventure and after spending three days in Napa, we hit the road for Monterey. I’ve spent time in San Francisco, Tiburon, Napa and Sonoma, but I’ve never been further down the southern coast, so it was so much fun to go see more of the beautiful state of California! If you’re planning a California trip and are looking for some inspiration of worthy spots to go check out or if you’re already planning on heading to Monterey, this blog post is for you! We spent a short amount of time there, but I’ve still got a great amount of honest insight for what to do, what to see, where to eat and how to truly maximize on your time!
I literally cannot even tell you how gorgeous this hotel is. It is oozing in California chic, is open and airy and honestly just a total class act.
Monterey Plaza Hotel has a restaurant called Schooners Coastal Kitchen and Bar and to be honest, I could have eaten every meal in Monterey right there at that restaurant. The outdoor patio has views for DAYS. Upon arrival, we went straight to Schooners, sat on a bar top made out of a surfboard on the patio and it was beyond perfect. Soaked up the sun, ate amazing food, kicked off our time in Monterey with cocktails (mine were Big Little Lies themed), watched kayakers, spotted seals and even watched starfish attach themselves to rocks. It was beautiful.
What To Do
After we were done eating, we left the hotel and checked out Cannery Row. The hotel is actually on Cannery Row so all we had to do was the leave the front doors and start exploring. Now…you’ll notice that every single list on the internet about “what to do in Monterey” will say to go to Cannery Row. Our honest opinion? It’s not worth it at all. Like imagine the cheesiest tourist trap strip of souvenir shops with crappy t-shirts, pirate themed schemes, Ripley’s Believe it or Not nonsense and more. We were sorely disappointed. But we had a good time just walking around in the sunshine and heading to a beach off of Cannery.
Once you’ve had enough of Cannery Row cheesiness (honestly the highlight of that experience was stopping for a slightly mediocre banana and nutella crepe), get in your rental car and head out to do the 17 Mile Drive. THIS IS SO WORTH IT! Literally, we put Cold Little Heart on repeat, rolled our windows down for a little salty sea breeze and leisurely drove this stretch. We stopped at almost every available pull off to admire the views. Think: massive luxury homes with insane architecture, a gorgeous golf course, ocean views, crashing waves, watching surfers, getting your toes in the sand, spotting seals napping on rock formations and stopping at Pebble Beach.
That’s right. The world famous Pebble Beach is on the 17 Mile Drive. Lesser known facts: you actually pay about $10 to drive on 17 Mile Drive. But if you stop at Pebble Beach and order a drink, meal, appetizer or whatever then you can get a reimbursement! We went during Covid so things were a little shut down. The Pebble Beach shops (and pro shop) were all closed. The restaurants were open, but only at half capacity and without making a reservation in advance we didn’t have a prayer to get in. This was such a mistake on our part. We would have loved to have drinks and dinner at Pebble Beach, but just did not even plan that one out like we should have! Learn from our mistakes and do this!
When you’re ready to head back to town – and if you didn’t eat dinner at Pebble Beach – it’s time to head to the Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner. There are actually two wharves. We decided to explore both! We went to the Old Wharf first for a glass of wine and appetizer at the adorable (and modest) Sandbar and Grill. Honestly the appeal to this place is that aesthetic entrance and the fact that you can watch otters play in the water from the open windows by your table. Don’t expect much from the food or drink menu. It is what it is and we thought it was a great spot to enjoy views of the harbor.
But then we were ready to get some actual food in our stomachs so we headed over to the new Fisherman’s Wharf. It is pretty gimmicky and is built for pleasing tourists. There’s even some carnival games and things of that nature. To be fair, it was a chilly night and I was thankful for a souvenir shop to dip into and grab a Monterey sweater since dinner was going to be seated outdoors! We walked to the end of the wharf checking everything out and then picked our dinner spot. I will say that as touristy as the wharf is, there are actually some really decent foodie spots littered here and there on the wharf and I’m sure the lobster rolls to be found in them are to die for. But…my Big Little Lies moment would not have been complete if I didn’t seek out dinner where I did. We wound up going to a joint right at the beginning of the wharf called Paluca Trattoria. It’s a beautiful Italian joint in real life, but in Big Little Lies it was the location of the coffee shop!
Because of Covid, all dining was outdoors and so even though the air was crisp and chilly and we got a lot of breeze coming in from the bay, we really enjoyed our outdoor Italian dinner. I got super cozy and started of with a Lavazza cappuccino, followed by a plate of piping hot housemade spaghetti and meatballs. I was NOT disappointed. Ermaghersh. Have dinner here. Do it. Watching the beautiful sunset over the bay was an added bonus! We then went back to the Monterey Plaza Hotel to finish off our night with some hot tub time on the roof (yes, that’s a thing there) and met a lovely couple from LA that we chatted with until closing time!
In the morning, we stopped at a local bakery for a coffee and a ham and cheese croissant (plus complimentary cookies!) at The Perfect Crumb Bakery. I’m really a sucker for a local coffee shop and although Covid made things a little different since the inside was closed, we still got to enjoy their delicious drinks and food before beginning our day! And I can confidently suggest it to you!
The last thing you should consider doing in Monterey? Surfing. When Adam and I travel, we really like to focus on drinks, dining and shopping but the one thing we will never ever miss an opportunity to do is find a unique and fun activity and a chance to try something new. While I had been surfing before, Adam had not. So we hired a personal instructor for two hours out on the waves! We booked through Monterey Surf Lessons and would highly recommend to anyone looking to book a day of surfing! They’re highly efficient in communicating when to meet them based on the tides that day and where they would be located. Super easy. Honestly could not have been more effortless. Other than, ya know, the actual work you do out on the water. Which, in fact, is NOT effortless LOL!
A few notes for anyone looking to book a surfing lesson:
Wear a bathing suit. If you show up in your street clothes (and a bra and underwear), you’ll either be stripping down to your skivvies or ducking behind a tumbleweed to get naked and shimmy into your wetsuit.
Wetsuits (plus hoods and shoes for cooler months) are provided in the cost of your lesson
Your lesson will start on dry land. You’ll take your surfboards down to the beach where your instructor will cover the basics with you and you can practice maneuvering on your board before getting in the water.
Lessons are about 2 hours in length. While out in the water, you could have convinced me that I was out there for 5. Trust me, two hours winds up being plenty of time although you do have an opportunity to add on time at the end or tack on an extra day for a discounted cost and do it all again the next morning!
Beware of sharks in the water. A good indication that you’ll see them out is if you see any baby seals in the surf. I saw a baby seal in the surf and then had an extremely close encounter with a shark (as I was taking my board into a huge wave and was about to dive under it, a shark swam through my wave!!!!), which is a whole other story because sharks just happen to be my worst fear on dry land, much less IN THEIR TERRITORY! But…I escaped alive and would still drag my board out tomorrow that’s how much I love surfing.
After your surfing adventure, I would suggest a late lunch at the Monterey Fish House. Unfortunately, since they don’t have outdoor seating we were not able to go because of Covid. But this place was high on my list. We surfed on Del Monte Beach which is where the Monterey Fish House is located and it would have fit into our day perfectly, but alas it was not meant to be. The Monterey Fish House was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and I was SO sad we didn’t get to experience it! But I hear its the freshest and yummiest seafood in Monterey!
After surfing, we went back to our hotel to clean up and then “hit the road” for a seven minute roadtrip down the way to Carmel-by-the-Sea which is where we spent the last of our time in California. If you know anything about Carmel-by-the-Sea it is probably that its a storybook town and it truly is. It just looks like Hansel & Gretel type houses literally everywhere you look. Chain restaurants are banned and so all you’ll find are local culinary adventures (which obviously my husband and I loved). It’s also a funky town with some weird laws…for example, wearing high heels is illegal. So just picture a totally unique town with adorable buildings, cobbled streets and a laid-back California vibe but with high luxury shopping and seriously yummy food.
Clint Eastwood used to be the mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea and originally opened the restaurant Hogs Breath Inn, which is where we had dinner! Honorable mention goes to La Bicyclette which just looks like a little fairy tale village and I would love to return for a meal there!
Every single trip to California is a total dream and it quickly has become my most-visited state. We seem to go to California once a year and that’s a trend I’m not willing to give up. So what do you think, where should we go next?? Leave a suggestion in the comments!