Salinas to Monterey Road Trip

It’s a mere 20 miles from Salinas to Monterey on Highway 68, but the drive delivers an enticing range of the culture and food of Central California.

a bigfin reef squid at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, image

A bigfin reef squid is one of the creatures featured in the Tentacles exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

antique car at National Steinbeck Center, image

At the National Steinbeck Center, a vintage Model T Ford evokes nostalgia for some, history for others.

interior of Pessagno winery, image

Sip hand-crafted wines in the welcoming tasting room at Pessagno Winery.

seared wild salmon with crab and artichoke at the Sardine Factory, image

Try the wild salmon with crab and artichoke at the Sardine Factory.

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Highway 68, from Salinas to Monterey, delivers a rich sampling of Central California's great bounty. From the sprawling farms Steinbeck immortalized to the marine wonderland of Monterey Bay, literary, agricultural, and nautical vibes all coalesce here. Area code is 831.

You needn't be a devotee of the Nobel Prize winner to enjoy a couple of happy hours at the National Steinbeck Center. A shrine to Salinas's literary son, the museum doubles as a primer on the region's complex history. 1 Main St., 775-4721, steinbeck.org.

The town's Mexican-American population makes for stiff competition among Salinas taquerías. Find some of the best tacos at Gutierrez Drive-In, a charming dive with a vast menu and excellent carnitas. 61 Sherwood Dr., 424-8383.

Napa gets all the love, but Monterey's vineyards and wineries are world class and crowd free. Intimate and refreshingly unpretentious, Pessagno Winery is an essential stop on the tucked-away River Road Wine Trail. 1645 River Rd., 675-9463, pessagnowines.com.

Presidential proclamation reclassified Fort Ord National Monument from a military service area to public lands in 2012. Some of the last undeveloped wilds on the peninsula, the rolling hills are home to badger, golden eagle, the rare mountain lion, and 86 miles of trails. blm.gov/pgdata/content/ca/en/fo/hollister/fort_ord/index.html.

Taking a page from San Francisco’s Ferry Building, the small but well-stocked Wharf Marketplace opened last year in an old train depot on Monterey's waterfront, offering juicy honeydews, dry-cured bacon, fresh-caught salmon, and other local and seasonal offerings. 290 Figueroa St., 649-1116, thewharfmarketplace.com.

Cannery Row is touristy for good reason, and the same goes for the Sardine Factory, the venerable, ornate seafood restaurant. The abalone is great, the lavish Victorian dining rooms even better. 701 Wave St., 373-3775, sardinefactory.com.

At the churning water’s edge, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one for the bucket list. With more than 600 species housed in the gorgeous, glassy complex, it would take weeks to see everything. Start with the gripping new Tentacles exhibit, which includes the rare flamboyant cuttlefish and the wily, chameleon-like giant Pacific octopus. 886 Cannery Row, 648-4800, montereybayaquarium.org.

Photography courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder (bigfin reef squid); by Nick Colin (3)

This article was first published in June 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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