Fora Favorites: An Essential Guide to the Monterey Peninsula

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  • California

  • Carmel-by-the-Sea

  • Food & Wine

  • Beaches

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Fora’s Take

Cozy beach towns meet natural beauty on the Monterey Peninsula of California.

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Where to stay

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Villa Mara Carmel

A newly remodeled 16-room luxury boutique hotel nestled in Carmel Point, this intimate, yet airy coastal getaway caters to an adults-only clientele.

Villa Mara Carmel

Small boutique hotel with warmly decorated rooms and a complimentary wine hour located less than a mile from Carmel Sunset Beach.

Carmel Valley Ranch - The Unbound Collection by Hyatt

This 500-acre stunner is a one-stop playground for golf, farm adventures, spa time and top cuisine, all with epic Santa Lucia Mountains views.

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  • $100 hotel / resort credit.

  • Breakfast daily.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

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The Monterey Peninsula's greatest hits

aerial view of a bay of blue ocean water

Iconic attractions like Cannery Row, Old Fisherman's Wharf and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have helped put Monterey on the map, and you can hit all three in a day. Start at the aquarium and work your way south to Cannery Row for restaurants and shopping before ending your day at Old Fisherman’s Wharf. 

Go on a whale watching cruise with a company like Fast Raft Ocean Safari, one of the few local businesses with marine biologists on board, and their smaller, more nimble boats allow for a more intimate experience in nature. The best time of the year to see humpback whales is March through November, with peak seasons generally during July and August.

Where to eat & drink on the Monterey Peninsula

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Carmel Food Tours: Eat your way through Carmel with this locally-owned small walking tour.  

Cultura Comida y Bebida: Mexican cuisine with particular attention paid to the region of Oaxaca. Order family style and save room for dessert.  ​​

Edwin’s: A tribute to the chef’s Filopino roots, Edwin’s takes a modern twist on traditional dishes. 

Stationæry: Coffee by day, vino by night.  


Alta Bakery: Lines can be lengthy, so plan ahead to beat the morning crowds, and you’ll be rewarded with some of the best baked goods in town. 

Crystal Fish Sushi: No-frills sushi joint with high-quality seafood.

El Cantar: Vegan Mexican food that will even satisfy the meat eaters. 

Pearl Hour: Amazing cocktails and lively atmosphere. 

The Sardine Factory: A Monterey staple for more than 50 years, serving classic American fare in an upscale setting that’s not too stuffy. 

Pacific Grove

Fandango: Family-owned, upscale restaurant in a quaint, converted old house.

Jeninni Kitchen & Wine Bar: Contemporary cuisine that celebrates the diverse flavors around the Mediterranean, from Spanish paella to Tunisian merguez.

Passionfish: Seasonal and rotating menu with fresh, sustainably-sourced seafood, alongside an extensive bottle list at close-to-retail prices.  

Poppy Hall: Hidden little gem with a cozy vibe. 

Microbreweries & wineries on the Monterey Peninsula

people cheers-ing glasses of red wine


Alvarado Street Brewery (locations in downtown Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea): Best-known for brewing progressive, hop-forward ales in a West-Coast style. 

Carmel Craft Brewing (Carmel-by-the-Sea): Artisan-brewed craft operating on a small, one-barrel system. 

Peter B’s Brewpub (Monterey): Billed as the first microbrewery in Monterey and has been serving fresh brews since 1996.


There’s no shortage of good wine in California, and the Monterey Peninsula is no exception. Opt to visit a tasting room in town with a selection of local options, or take a short drive to the vineyards themselves. 

De Tierra Vineyards (Carmel-by-the-Sea): Sustainably-grown and harvested wines from the Monterey region. 

Hahn Winery (Soledad, one hour from Monterey): More of a trek than the other options, but well worth the visit. Even the drive is worthwhile, offering stunning views of Salinas Valley on the way. Reservations required. Hahn also has a tasting room in Carmel-by-the-Sea. 

Odonata Wines South (Salinas, 30 minutes from Monterey): Old-World methods with New-World techniques.

Pierce Ranch Vineyard (Monterey): Enjoy wines with Spanish and Portuguese varieties at the family-owned vineyard’s Cannery Row tasting room.

Taste of Monterey-Wine Market & Bistro (Monterey): Looking to sample it all? Look no further than the Wine & Market Bistro in Cannery Row, a marketplace that showcases nearly 100 local wineries. 

What to see & do on the Monterey Peninsula

tree atop a rocky formation overlooking the sea

17-Mile Drive: Whether it’s your first or 50th time in the region, the 17-Mile Drive doesn’t disappoint. Take in breathtaking coastal views and marvel at multi-million dollar real estate. 

Big Sur: Take a (mini) road trip to Big Sur, famous for Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which is home to McWay Falls, a California gem you’ve likely seen on Instagram (which, albeit touristy, is worth the stop). Head to Post Ranch Inn for dining at Sierra Mar with the best possible views (dinner is available to non-hotel guests). 

Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary (Pacific Grove): If you’re fortunate enough to be in the area in the right season (fall / winter), don’t miss this fairytale nature experience to witness the annual migration of Monarch butterflies.

Point Pinos Lighthouse (Pacific Grove): The oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast. 

Sand City: A West Coast version of the Bushwick Collective, Sand City is a tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town with a treasure trove of street art.   


Asilomar Coastal Trail (Pacific Grove): Take an evening to watch the sunset and walk the coastal bluff for spectacular ocean views. To get there, take the quick drive to Asilomar Coastal Trail from Monterey for stunning coastal views along Ocean View Boulevard (if you visit in spring, you’ll see the “magic carpet” of purple ice plants). 

Monterey Bay Coastal recreation trail: The perfect trail to take in all of the region’s coastal offerings. Go just beyond the normal touristy trails at Cannery Row and head toward McAbee Beach, where you’ll find a sheltered cove behind the Spindrift Inn. 

Point Lobos: One of your best bets to spot nature, especially sea lions. 


Lover's Point (Pacific Grove): One of the only places on the West Coast where you can watch the sun rise over the water. 

Del Monte Beach (Monterey): A local’s favorite and quintessential Monterey beach.

Garrapata State Beach, part of Garrapata State Park (Carmel-by-the-Sea): Breathtaking views along this two-mile stretch of coastline. You have to know where to look to find this hidden gem. There are no signs to mark the location other than three numbered turnouts along the highway.

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to California.