Monterey, Calif.: Stars and Secrets

Of course you’ll want to visit the favorites. Just be sure to leave time to check out Monterey's hidden sweet spots.

Cypress arch, 17-Mile Drive, Monterey, Calif., image

A cypress arch beckons on Monterey's curvaceous 17-Mile Drive.

Royal Presidio Chapel, Monterey, Calif., image

The Royal Presidio Chapel in Monterey was California’s first cathedral.

Sticky monkey flower, Monterey, Calif., image

California's sticky monkey flower greets the sun.

Visitors check out Fresnel lens in Museum of Monterey, Monterey, Calif., image

A 126-year-old, two-ton Fresnel lens once guided ships in Monterey, Calif.

Grilled octopus fritter, Ocean Sushi Deli, Monterey, Calif., image

Savor a bite-sized ball filled with grilled octopus at Ocean Sushi Deli.

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Star 17-Mile Drive

When 17-Mile Drive opened in 1881, tourists traversed the stellar stretch of California’s coast in horse-drawn carriages. Today carriages are horseless and their occupants see more mansions and golf courses. Here’s what hasn’t changed: the unparalleled views of the mighty Pacific as it pounds the boulders at Point Joe. Autos pay a $9.75 toll, but walkers and bicyclists enjoy the scenery for free. Pebble Beach, (800) 654-9300, pebblebeach.com.

Secret Jacks Peak Skyline Nature Trail

Nineteenth-century landowner David Jacks gave his name to two Monterey superlatives: its most famous cheese and its highest point, 1,068-foot Jacks Peak. This heavily wooded area is threaded with trails, but choose the shady, mile-long Skyline Nature Trail to start with. Extensive interpretive signs offer an introduction to the inland ecosystem. You’ll wander past native Monterey pines and sticky monkey flowers, and may spot pygmy nuthatches and chestnut-backed chickadees. In a bank of exposed shale, you can make out marine fossils, evidence that the whole region was once underwater. Breaks in the trees reveal stunning views of the Pacific, but Jacks Peak is a reminder that there’s more to Monterey than coastline. 25020 Jacks Peak Park Rd., (888) 588-2267, www.co.monterey.ca.us/parks.

Star Cannery Row

Immortalized in John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel, Cannery Row, the buildings along this half-mile stretch of waterfront now house shops and restaurants catering to every taste and budget. For a memento, visit the Monterey Peninsula Art Foundation where you can buy paintings—all by local artists and many depicting Monterey seascapes—some for less than $150.

Secret Path of History

Stroll the whole length of this self-guided walking tour and you’re talking two miles and 55 historic landmarks ranging from a Moorish 1926 theater to California’s first post office. As you walk around downtown, keep an eye out for the gold tiles in the sidewalk that mark the route, then follow for as long as you like. Or, for the entire tour, start from one end at the Presidio Museum on Corporal Ewing Road or the other end at the Royal Presidio Chapel on Church Street. The small, elegant chapel, built of sandstone and adorned with two bronze bells, was founded in 1770. The adjoining museum brims with artifacts, such as an old iron press once used to flatten Communion wafers. Five minutes away, you can visit the house where Robert Louis Stevenson briefly lodged, now a museum dedicated to his life, and view gleaming furniture from his childhood home and antique editions of his works. Even on the noisiest day, it is silent and serene within the thick adobe walls. To print a map, visit mtycounty.com/pgs-path/apath.html.

Star Monterey Bay Aquarium

Some people visit the aquarium as part of a trip to Monterey; others visit Monterey as part of a trip to the aquarium. Home to 550 unique sea species, the aquarium pumps 2,000 gallons of seawater straight from Monterey Bay into its tanks every minute, to supply nearly natural habitats such as the 28-foot-tall Kelp Forest exhibit. Join 1.8 million visitors a year for a close look at sea slugs, sea otters, bluefin tuna, and a host of otherworldly creatures such as the intelligent giant Pacific octopus. 886 Cannery Row, (831) 648-4800, montereybayaquarium.org.

Secret Museum of Monterey

Fish were once so abundant in Monterey Bay that immigrants flocked to partake of the bounty. The compact and eclectic museum commemorates those bygone days and the rollicking ocean-centric culture of the region. You’ll find a model of a sailboat called a felucca—its design imported by Italian fishermen—which evolved into the motorized craft called a Monterey. Japanese divers dominated the once booming abalone industry, descending into the perilous waters for the prized mollusk. You can see a replica of one of their diving helmets, which resembles a robot’s head. Like many cultural collections, this one displays some wonderful curiosities, such as a gnarled albatross beak, macabre and strangely beautiful, that was used as a receptacle for beeswax. What does beeswax have to do with Monterey Bay? Fishermen used it to wax their needles for mending heavy canvas sails. 5 Custom House Plaza, (831) 372-2608, museumofmonterey.org.

Star Restaurant 1833

This imposing adobe house, built in 1833, opened as a restaurant in 2011, with four outdoor fire pits and seven eating areas, ranging from an intimate balcony setting to a large dining room lit by vintage chandeliers. A creative menu offers bacon-cheddar biscuits with maple chile butter, gnocchi with braised rabbit, and Parmesan-crusted chicken. The bar stocks over 20 bourbons and 16 brands of absinthe. You can order the fabled green spirit to be served flaming at your table or mixed in a cocktail. 500 Hartnell St., (831) 643-1833, restaurant1833.com.

Secret Ocean Sushi Deli

A petite storefront serves a steady stream of locals who come for . . . well, what don’t they come for? The tiny kitchen turns out gyoza, donburi, teriyaki salmon, and beef curry. In the mood for udon? They’ve got it. Ramen? No problem. Octopus fritters? Why not? As the name suggests, you’ll find sushi, and the selections are endless. Grab a bottle of sparkling sake from the refrigerator case and mochi, the sticky Japanese rice confection, for dessert. Not a mochi fan? Walk a few blocks to Paris Bakery for a princess cake draped with marzipan and perched on a sugar cookie. In its intricate beauty, it could almost be Japanese. Ocean Sushi Deli: 165 Webster St., (831) 645-9876, oceansushi.com. Paris Bakery: 271 Bonifacio Place, (831) 646-1620, parisbakery.us.

Photography by David H. Collier

This article was first published in November 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

If You're Going: 

Request the Northern California TourBook and Monterey Peninsula–Salinas Valley map at AAA.com or any AAA branch. To find a place to stay, visit AAA.com/hotels. For information, contact the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau: 401 Camino El Estero, (888) 221-1010, seemonterey.com.

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