The vision of Charles Crocker, the tycoon who put Monterey on the map in terms of development in the 1800s, sparks a 21st-century boom in this seaside enclave committed to the great outdoors, live music, and a reimagined downtown scene.
To do Monterey right, it helps to have a room with a bay view. Monterey Plaza Hotel (montereyplazahotel.com) encourages the eyes to wander outside, where long glances at the cerulean splendor inspire the soul. Lavish offerings include a spa package for two and a Monterey Bay Aquarium Family Package.
Portola Hotel & Spa in downtown Monterey impresses with a newly remodeled lobby showcasing all the AAA Four- Diamond joy. Inquire about regional standout activities like beer tasting or scuba diving. Unwind further at the Spa on the Plaza (spaontheplaza.com), a 6,000-square-foot oasis for revival. Casa Munras Garden Hotel & Spa (hotelcasamunras.com) has many charms, such as Chef Thomas Snyder's innovative spin on food. Experience Paella Tuesday and you will understand.
American International Transportation Services (aitstransportation.com) will help transport you to whatever luxury outpost you choose. The familyowned business offers airport transportation, as well as golf transfers and full-service trips for big tournaments and events.
The Sardine Factory (sardinefactory.com) celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018, and you can bet your wine cork that owners Ted Balestreri and Bert Cutino consider how best to utilize Chef Cutino's culinary brilliance in this Cannery Row hot spot. Parmesan crusted calamari steak, scallop, and prawns; Pacific Coast sand dabs; or grilled wild abalone medallions, anyone?
Old Fisherman's Grotto (oldfishermansgrotto.com) is a must for any seafood enthusiast. Located on historic Fisherman's Wharf, this "old school" restaurant features fresh seafood from sustainable sources. Our favorites? macadamia crusted halibut and, of course, their worldfamous clam chowder.
Fish House (montereyfishhouse.com) is a palate-pleasing mainstay for fresh, classic seafood dishes (think sole, snapper, and swordfish), while the social hour at Restaurant 1833 (restaurant1833.com) finds a Red Thai Marin Coast Dungeness Crab sitting well with a 2014 Napa Valley chardonnay or The Bitter Truth (Campari, lemon, demerara sugar, Carpano Antica vermouth, and soda). Bakai Wine + Tapas Bar's (831-324-0862) recent culinary rebirth includes live music Saturdays and a passionate pan-Latin wine list.
Del Monte Center (delmontecenter.com), consistently voted Best Shopping Center by the Monterey Peninsula community, is an upscale outdoor mall with more than 75 stores, including Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, and Apple.
For gifts, art, and specialty items found only on the Peninsula, Cannery Row is the best hub. We recommend Cannery Row Antique Mall (canneryrowantiquemall.com) or On the Beach Surf Shop (onthebeachsurfshop.com).
Combine quick meals with a bit of lingering along Fisherman's Wharf Monterey (montereywharf.com). Those with a sweet tooth will appreciate the many candy shops. Souvenir seekers come for themed keychains, drinking glasses, or T-shirts.
Cibo Ristorante Italiano (cibo.com) has invigorated locals and visitors with live jazz for decades. If you appreciate festive crowds, Peter B's Brewpub, Alvarado Street Brewing Company (alvaradostreetbrewery.com), and Cannery Row Brewing Company (canneryrowbrewingcompany.com) are winners, receiving high honors for their custom beers. Planet Gemini is your comedy and dancing destination, featuring local and nationally known headliners and everyone's favorite: karaoke night.
Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row, located in the same area along the bay, are bona fide destinations. For the former, sea otters and the giant squid steal the show, but mystical jellyfish have been known to mesmerize, too. Check online (montereybayaquarium.com) for evening events. Meanwhile, specialty gift shops, award-winning restaurants, and premium wine tasting make Cannery Row — the No. 1 vacation destination on California's Central Coast — even more vibrant.
For whale watching and other bay excursions, turn to Monterey Bay Whale Watch (gowhales.com) and Chris' Fishing and Whale Watching (chrissfishing.com). Or get closer: Marvel Monterey Bay by floating right above it in a kayak with Monterey Bay Kayaks (montereybaykayaks.com).
Monterey County Fair, August/September
A dynamic annual area tradition with concerts, entertainment, food — and more food — carnival rides, livestock, and always a few surprises along the way.
Monterey Farmers Markets, Tuesdays, Downtown Monterey
Meet local farmers and crafters. Peruse the many booths. Nosh on regional foods. Enjoy the local entertainment.
Monterey delivers ample coastal adventures. Explore the waters via a boating excursion or take in the views at an oceanfront restaurant.
Photo Courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium