Places to Love: Monterey & Big Sur
There’s nothing like road tripping the Pacific Coast Highway. My favorite section? The picturesque drive from Monterey to Big Sur. Along the way, I learn about underwater sea life at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, then pay a visit to the “Artichoke Center of the World.” In Carmel by the Sea, I shadow a 14-year-old beekeeper who took a homework assignment to a full-fledged family business. Throw in an incredible bike ride followed by a ping-pong game with epic views, and you’ll see why Monterey and Big Sur are places to love.
PLACES AND STORIES TO LOVE
Aquatic awe at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
The wellbeing of our oceans is critical to sustaining life on planet earth, but sometimes it’s hard to really wrap your head around what that means. That’s just one of many reasons why you should visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. A pioneer in the preservation and protection of marine life, this institution is all about inspiring ocean conservation. Don’t worry—this message isn’t delivered in a preachy way. It’s effortlessly communicated, one stunning aquarium at a time.
Visiting the signature kelp forest is a must. Open since 1984, this exhibit mimics what divers in the Monterey Bay region experience. It feels completely wild, even though it’s housed within the aquarium. Another favorite is the million-gallon, open-water aquarium. Look on as tuna, schools of sardines, turtles and hammerhead sharks mesmerizingly swim through the deep blue water.
IF YOU GO
Check out the Kelp Forest feeding show. Twice a day divers jump into this iconic exhibit to feed all the fishes—including fan favorites like the leopard shark and giant sea bass.
886 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
How one family planted roots along the Pacific Coast
In 1929, the Pezzini family started an artichoke farm in Castroville, California—all with a root they carried over from Italy. Eighty years later, this farm, known as the “Artichoke Capital of the World, remains in the Pezzini family. Carefully selected for optimum tenderness and flavor, each artichoke is harvested and packed by hand. For a taste of their incredible, meaty artichokes, visit their farm stand. Buy heirloom green globe artichokes, as well as fresh produce, dips and sauces, vinaigarettes and oils, seasoning, chips and dips, snacks and more.
IF YOU GO
The retail store opens daily from 8 am to 5 pm. If you don’t have a kitchen available on your trip, don’t worry—they do offer ready-to-eat foods, including artichoke cupcakes! Sounds weird, but why not try one?
460 Nashua Rd
Salinas, CA 93908
Moss Landing—a welcome surprise on the PCH!
When Charles Moss and his family journeyed from Texas to California in 1866, he homesteaded in a lovely spot known today as Moss Landing. Today, this quaint fishing village (population: 204) features antique shops, art studios, fresh seafood markets and delightful restaurants.
On my trip, I visited the Haute Enchilada, a Latin fusion restaurant owned and operated by chef Kim Solano. The menu reads like a love letter to both Latin America and local ingredients. Try the Quimixto—grilled salmon served on bed of arugula, topped with fresh mango salsa fresca and chipotle aioli. If you’re in town for a few meals, also check out The Whole Enchilada, a Mexican restaurant run by Solano’s father.
IF YOU GO
Visit the restaurant’s art gallery, featuring the work of Luis Solano as well as over 65 other local artists.
The Haute Enchilada
7902 Moss Landing Rd
Moss Landing, CA 95039
Phone (831) 633-5843
Wine tasting in a surfer’s paradise
When you think of Santa Cruz, a surfer-filled beach town probably comes to mind. However, there’s a lot more happening in one of the happiest places to live in the USA. In the Corralitos foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, you’ll find Nicholson Vineyards.
Owned by the Nicholsons, ninth generation Californians, this estate specializes in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Sample their wines onsite, poured by the Nicholsons themselves. It’s one of the most intimate and relaxed wine tasting experiences in the area.
IF YOU GO
The tasting room is open Saturdays and summer Sundays (June through August) from 12-5 pm. Wine pouring ends at 5 pm. Reservations are appreciated for groups of 8 or more.
2800 Pleasant Valley Road
Aptos, CA, 95003
Scream for ice cream in Santa Cruz
There’s nothing quite like stopping for ice cream on a road trip. For something extra special, visit the Penny Ice Creamery in Santa Cruz. Kendra Baker and Zachary Davis create amazing ice creams with local, seasonal ingredients. Try the chocolate sorbet, a recipe that Kendra spent four years perfecting, or go for the vanilla made from Thomas Jefferson’s original recipe.
IF YOU GO
Customers rave about the toasted marshmallow fluff– added on top of your cone at your request.
The Penny Ice Creamery
913 Cedar Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
A homework assignment gone right
Most kids dream of becoming a firefighter, astronaut or professional athlete. Not Jake Reisdorf. He simply dreams of saving the world, one honeycomb at a time. This 14-year-old learned about beekeeping through a homework assignment three years ago. Today, he tends to 70 beehives, and started Carmel Honey Company, along with his parents.
I had no idea how involved honey tasting can be—it’s like sampling wine! In addition to starting his own impressive company, Jake also gives back to help fund bee education. Did you know that bees pollinate one in three bites of food you take—no matter where you live? As Jake says, “No bees, no food, no people.” I really do think the next generation is going to save us all!
IF YOU GO
Carmel Honey Company has dedicated a special room to honey bee education. Contact them to learn more about booking an exclusive honey bee experience.
Carmel Honey Company
Carmel Plaza Shopping Center
Ocean Ave & Mission St, Suite 118
Carmel By-the-Sea, CA 93921
Get up close and personal with the Pacific
The curving highway gets all the press when it comes to Big Sur. But I’m the kind of person who doesn’t just want to see the beach—I want to feel it! If you’re like me, a stop at Garrapata State Park is a must.
This secluded area is nearly devoid of development, sans cell service and allows you an opportunity to get right down on the sand. The park has two miles of beach front, with coastal hiking and a 50-foot climb to a beautiful view of the Pacific. Sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters frequent the coastal waters. You can even see California gray whales during their yearly migration.
IF YOU GO
Be mindful of the weather. The coastal climate is moderate, with a mean average of 50–65 degrees year-round. Variable weather includes cool, foggy mornings, strong onshore winds, and hot summer days in the backcountry.
The park is located on Highway 1, 6.7 miles south of Rio Road in Carmel (18 miles north of Big Sur).
Explore Big Sur on two wheels
I love cycling, and this trip along Highway One remains one of the best trips I’ve ever experienced. Rent an electric “fat-bike” from Big Sur Adventures and explore the coast. You do still need to pedal with these electric fat-bikes, however, you’ll end up easily cruising at a comfortable 20 mph. Imagine flying by Lover’s Point and Asilomar all while smelling the ocean, hearing the waves, and stopping easily at all the amazing viewpoints..
IF YOU GO
You can just rent a bike, but why not book a tour? It’s the best way to gain insight on one of the most scenic roads in the United States. Check out their tour offerings here.
Big Sur Adventures
The American Tin Cannery
125 Ocean View Blvd
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
A meal (and ping-pong game) with a view
Perched high above the Pacific along the majestic Santa Lucia Mountains, you’ll find a little slice of paradise. Nepenthe stands on the site of The Log House, Big Sur, 808 feet above sea level. In 1947, Lolly and Bill Fassett took over the property (from Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles… maybe you’ve heard of them?) and moved in with their five children.
Open since April 24, 1949, Nepenthe is the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine and famous Ambrosia burger while sitting on the terrace. Or maybe enjoying a game of ping-pong. Really—they have a table on the patio and it’s just as much fun as I remember!
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IF YOU GO
Visit the Phoenix Shop, a unique gift shop featuring exceptional merchandise from around the world as well as from local artisans. Open daily from 10:30am – 6:00pm.
48510 Highway One
Big Sur, California 93920