Fall 2014 / Monterey County, CA

Oh Hey, Monterey!

I first visited Monterey on a scout for an ad campaign about 5 years ago. Ever since traipsing around Point Lobos in search of a cypress tree with the perfect, dramatic coastal backdrop, I was in awe. A few years later, a close friend from NY traded in fashion week parties for pie making contests when she moved to Big Sur with her future husband. They wed in a breathtaking ceremony at the edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific; and over that weekend my friends and I hiked amongst towering redwoods, took car commercial-worthy rides along the coast, and basked in the culture and artistic allure that made this place a haven for the likes of Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller; all sharing the itch to trade city life for this blissful, inspiring place.

I haven’t had a love affair like this since discovering Montauk in the early 2000’s; but while the East End has become a bit too Hamptonized for my low-key liking over the years, Monterey Country continues to deliver charm and authenticity while offering up-to-date options for food, culture and beyond.

After a few trips to Big Sur, I decided to venture into Monterey proper this Fall to take on some more touristy adventures. The result is this photo diary slash guide to my top new discoveries in the area.  Whether it’s a romantic weekend, girls getaway or family trip – Monterey is a must add to your 2015 travel bucket list.

It’s one of the only beaches in Cali that allows alcohol and bonfires, so what more do you need to know? Sunset here offers a great glimpse at the idyllic local culture, with families and friends gathering to wind down the day and take in the gorgeousness. www.carmelcalifornia.com

There are plenty of spots along the coast where you can stop to see sea lions basking on the beach, but nothing gets you as up close and personal to their natural habitat as this excellent boat tour. An entertaining, educational guide walks you through the precious species inhabiting the land and water, and closes off the journey with hot coffee and cookies! www.elkhornslough.com

I gushed about this in my review of Deetjen’s a few years back, but it’s worth mentioning again that this magical spot, widely known as the most dramatic meeting of land and sea on earth, is like stepping into nature’s fairytale. With landscapes that vary from rocky beach walks to dramatic cliffs lined with mossy cypress trees and succulents, a few hours spent wandering around Point Lobos will be truly memorable.

You might be hungry by now… Upscale foodie types and burger & fry lovers alike could spend an entire weekend eating if there weren’t so many lovely things to see and do outside. Here are some favs:

1. Big Sur Roadhouse – Just off Highway 1 about 40 minutes south of Carmel, it’s a local favorite known for its seasonally fresh Cajun meets Cali menu.

2. Jeninni Kitchen & Wine Bar – Pacific Grove. Authentic Mediterranean cuisine (like the killer paella pictured) and a variety of tapas made with straight-from-the-farm produce, along with an impressive wine list!

3. Restaurant 1833 – Monterey. Seven separate dim & romantic dining areas inhabit a storied (and some say haunted) old mansion, making 1833 a truly unique experience. The food was phenom & creative, but the true hits were the over-the-top cocktails (think dry ice) and dessert presentations, like this head exploding mega-trifle.

4. Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn – Big Sur. If you can’t shell out for the expensive room rate, A reservation for Sierra Mar’s prix fixe lunch is your ticket to their dramatic ocean views and the chef’s signature menu of flavors and ingredients inspired by Big Sur.

5. Carmel-By-The-Sea Wine Passport – Carmel. For the liquid luncher in you, this is the ideal way to wander around this quaint village and taste a variety of local vinos without trekking outside of town to visit the individual wineries.

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