Monterey is one of my favorite places in California. It was the first place where I saw the ocean, and it will always have a special place in my heart. There is plenty to do in and around Monterey for all sorts of visitors: a world-famous aquarium (and shooting location for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home); beautiful hikes and nature walks; delicious food (including locally-grown vegetables and fruits and freshly-caught seafood); historical sites; and literary monuments for Steinbeck enthusiasts. While it’s impossible to see everything that the Monterey area has to offer in just two days, here is one stab at a 48-hour itinerary that captures some of my favorite sights (and eats).
If you’re coming from the San Francisco Bay Area and don’t have a car, you can get to Monterey via public transportation. Caltrain leaves from San Francisco and goes to either San Jose or Gilroy (depending on the time and day). From either city, you can then take a Monterey-Salinas Transit bus to Monterey. Other options are the Capital Corridor train or the Amtrak Coast Starlight train.
Morning: Take a leisurely stroll around downtown Monterey–check out some of the city’s most well-known sights like Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row. After that, pop over to the local Trader Joe’s and grab some food for a picnic lunch.
Afternoon: Drive to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, called “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world.” Enjoy your lunch in a sanctioned picnic area, and then explore the numerous breathtaking seaside hiking trails. Depending the time of year, you might see otters, seals, sea lions, or even whales and dolphins.
Evening: Once you’ve had your fill of hiking (if that’s ever truly possible), take a drive to nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea for a cup of coffee and a leisurely stroll through this quaint little town. By now, you should have worked up a strong appetite, so head over to New Korea Restaurant in Marina for mouthwatering, spicy, and generous portions of bi bim bap, kimchi soup, and BBQ pork.
At the park, you can hike through ancient redwood forests to waterfalls and beautiful valley vistas.
Afternoon: After your hike, drive to Nepenthe, a restaurant I think has one of the most beautiful views in the world. You can enjoy a burger or a salad while overlooking the dramatic, verdant coastline of Big Sur below.
After lunch, you will still have time to squeeze in the famous 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach before the sun sets. Gawk at the enormous beachside homes and, better yet, take in some beautiful coastlines and iconic California landmarks like the Lonely Cypress. You’ll also see plenty of adorable, blubbery seals along the way.
Evening: From the 17-Mile Drive, follow Sunset Drive and Ocean View Boulevard along the coast of Pacific Grove. Then, head to Pepper’s MexiCali Cafe, consistently voted one of the best Mexican restaurants in the area. They always have specials that feature fresh, locally-grown ingredients like artichokes.