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The driving time from Monterey, California to San Diego, California is:

Driving time from Monterey, CA to San Diego, CA

How long is the drive from Monterey, CA to San Diego, CA? The total driving time is 6 hours, 58 minutes.

Your trip begins in Monterey, California. It ends in San Diego, California.

If you’re planning a road trip, you might be interested in seeing the total driving distance from Monterey, CA to San Diego, CA.

You can also calculate the cost to drive from Monterey, CA to San Diego, CA based on current local gas prices and an estimate of your car’s best gas mileage.

If you’re meeting a friend, you might be interested in finding the city that is halfway between Monterey, CA and San Diego, CA.

Planning to fly a plane instead? You might be more interested in calculating the flight time from Monterey, CA to San Diego, CA.

Monterey, California

City: Monterey
State: California
Country: United States
Category: cities

San Diego, California

City: San Diego
State: California
Country: United States
Category: cities

Driving time calculator

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Top Tips For Driving Highway 1: Ultimate California Road Trip

Highway 1 is open! However, due to the nature of this road, you should always check for updates on possible road closures before embarking on your road trip. Recent rains temporarily closed a section of the highway. You can always find updates here

Now may be one of the best times to enjoy the Ultimate California Road Trip!

UPDATE, 28, October 2019

You can also find updates for the entire area on the website for See Monterey.

Photo courtesy of See Monterey

Want to take the ultimate California road trip? Drive California’s Highway 1 along the Central Coast. It’s rightfully rated as one of the top road trips in the world.

This is a particularly breathtaking drive, especially through Big Sur where the Santa Lucia mountains plunge into the sea, and the surf and wind relentlessly pound the rocks and shore below and bend the native cypress trees into otherworldly shapes. You’ll see coves painted in shades of turquoise, sapphire, and teal, that will make you long to plant your flag and declare that beach your own. It’s a wild remote beauty that will definitely have you pondering the mystery of the universe if you’re the pondering type.

Before you embark on the ultimate California road trip, let me share some of my top tips to help you along the way. While it’s a fun drive, it can be very challenging and demands 100 percent of your attention.

I’ll also share some of the top attractions from Monterey to Cambria. Keep in mind this is a small selection. Honestly, there is so much to see and do especially if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, I can’t cover it all in one article.

The Ultimate California Road Trip

The trip takes about five hours if driven at a leisurely pace. You can drive from the north to the south (Monterey to San Luis Obispo), or south to north. I drove it both directions, taking longer to drive back because I had no place I had to be at the end of the day. I also liked driving north to south best, because the ocean was on my right side and it was easier to pull off in the turn-outs to take pictures.

Top Tips For Driving Highway 1

Tip: 1
Driving a comfortable and reliable car is a must. This is a two-lane mountain road. In some places, the shoulder is quite narrow and there’s not much between you and the sea below. There’s a forty to fifty mile stretch that’s full of hairpin twists and turns. I drove a 2015 Kia Forte which handled the curves perfectly. I actually felt kind of proud of myself making this drive on my own. Honestly, I’d not have done it my own car, a gently worn Nissan Sentra – it just doesn’t have the same turning radius or get up and go as the Kia did. I was happy I could pick up speed quickly, and I think that’s an important consideration. You’ll be pulling over a lot to admire the sweeping vistas – and of course snapping lots of photos.

Asilomar Beach, Pacific Grove

There’s plenty of room for passengers if you don’t fancy traveling solo.

Tip 2:

Go in the offseason. The main reason to go in the offseason is probably obvious, but let me be clear: driving this road with heavy traffic would make it that much more challenging. The distance from Cambria to Big Sur is only 60 miles but it takes at least two hours depending on how many stops you make.

California gets plenty of sunshine, and it’s not that cold in the winter; even in the off- season, the weather is temperate. I was there the first week of the year and it was chilly in the mornings but sunny, and warmed as the day went by. Just be sure to dress appropriately and layer.

If you go during the off-season, the only activity that you may miss out on is working on your tan. You can still surf, hike, go whale-watching, and enjoy everything else that makes California so popular.

There is one possible drawback to the winter season – that’s the rainy season. Be sure to check for updates on the road conditions. Excess rain in California can mean road closures due to mudslides.

Here’s a great article from USA Today about whale watching on the California coast.

Tip 3:

Be sure you’ve filled up the car with gas before you hit the road. Between Cambria and Big Sur, there are 40 miles of highway – and no gas stations.

Tip 4:

If you need to use the bathroom, don’t wait. Again, there’s no place to stop, even on the roadside. The only places to pull over are turnouts, where there will be other tourists. No privacy.

Tip 5:

Don’t rush it. This drive is truly one of the bucket list experiences that people dream about. Take your time. Smell the ocean air, notice the natural beauty around you, stop and look for whales migrating up the coast, and feel the tension leave your body as the relaxed California atmosphere permeates every cell. Do you feel it?

Just a typical view along California’s Highway 1

Tip 6:

Make sure you have a great camera with you, and that you have a fully charged battery and plenty of memory on the card. Be sure to ask someone to snap a photo of you in that stunning scenery. I saw plenty of people with selfie sticks, a trend I won’t imbibe in, but it is an option if you’re traveling alone.

Tip 7:

If you suffer from carsickness, be the driver. Once you enter the Big Sur area, the road is a bit of a roller coaster. If for some reason you cannot drive, be prepared with some non-drowsy Dramamine; you don’t want to fall asleep and miss all the gorgeous scenery.

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Top attractions

Hearst Castle

About twenty miles north of San Luis Obispo is San Simeon and Hearst Castle. Once the home of publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst, the castle is now a state park and a vacation destination in itself. Hearst and his father spent a lot of time camping on this land and when young William Randolph inherited the land from his mother, the story goes that he told the architect, Julia Morgan, he wanted to “build a little something.”

Hearst Castle

I took the Grand Rooms tour when I visited this time.Though the house is a magnificent example of Mediterranean and Gothic architecture, and filled with antiquities from all over the world, my favorite part of the tour remains the indoor Roman pool. From the exquisite blue tile work to the beautiful soft ambient lights and the mirror reflection of the water, this pool begs you to lose yourself in its deep blue calm.

I love the stories of famous personalities, frequent guests at the castle, sneaking out to the pool after hours for a little romantic interlude in one of the many secluded corners. Cary Grant was quoted as saying “The Roman pool is a great place to get to know someone just a little bit better.” I wouldn’t mind meeting up with him there at all.

The Roman Pool at Hearst Castle

You’ll want to book a castle tour in advance. After the tour, you can wander around the grounds outside to your heart’s content. Plan to spend at least two hours here.

To book online and more information visit the website: www.hearstcastle.org

Elephant Seal Viewing Area
Just past Hearst Castle is the Pieras Blancas Elephant seal rookery. These animals are actually quite ugly, but interesting to watch. They’re also really noisy, especially during mating season. The shore area is dotted with large lava rock, and it can be hard to distinguish the seals from the rocks when they are in the water. The day I drove past, there was a backup of cars waiting to get into the parking lot. This is another good reason to go off season, or a weekday.

Elephant seals on the beach near San Simeon.

Attractions in the Big Sur Area

Bixby Bridge

This may be the most photographed bridge in California, aside from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Bixby Bridge is a single-span concrete arch more than 260 feet high and 700 feet long. You can park at a turn out at either end to take photographs. Bixby Bridge, along with Garrapata and Rocky Creek Bridge, were built in the 1930s and paved the way for tourism to come to Big Sur. The only road prior to Highway 1 was the Old Coast Road. It remains an unpaved road and not suitable for standard passenger automobiles.

Imagine building bridges along this road.

Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park

A great place for hiking, this park is best known for McWay Falls, a 100-foot waterfall that cascades from an 80 foot high drop off into the cove below.

The trail to get there is quite easy and it’s such an iconic spot, you really do have to see it. Don’t park on the side of the road. You’ll see that a lot of people do, but I think it could be dangerous; there’s plenty of parking in the park itself, at least in the off-season.

The falls used to drop into the ocean, but due to a landslide several years ago, now drop on the sandy cove. It’s an idyllic spot and one that makes you wish you could actually get to it. There is signage everywhere warning against it. Be smart and admire safely from afar.

McWay Falls, a top attraction in Big Sur

Nepenthe

Nepenthe is an indoor/outdoor restaurant best known for its views, but it also has an interesting history. The restaurant and surrounding land has been in the family for over 50 years. It’s still a popular spot with locals and tourists alike. There’s a very nice gift shop with handcrafted jewelry, unique fragrances, books, and children’s gifts carefully curated from around the world.

The view from Nepenthe, Big Sur

North of Big Sur

After you pass Big Sur it’s about thirty or forty minutes to Carmel by the Sea. Carmel is also known as “the little town in the forest by the sea,” which is a lovely and quaint description. It has a bit of a European feel because it’s really a place to walk. There are many unique shops, galleries, and great restaurants. The beach there is known as one of the best places on the Monterey Peninsula to watch the sunset.

Carmel was voted #2 Best Small City in the USA by Conde Nast Traveler last year.

Carmel by the Sea

Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
From wikipedia:

The black-and-orange butterflies spend much of the fall and winter in the local Monterey Pine trees, roughly from Halloween until Valentine’s Day. Residents of Pacific Grove help the butterfly’s habitat by planting purple and yellow flowers, such as lantana, yellow aster, Pride of Madera, and Mexican Sage, in what are called Butterfly Gardens.

Point Pinos Lighthouse

Since 1855, the Point Pinos Lighthouse has been a beacon for ships on the Pacific coast. It’s the oldest continually operating lighthouse on the west coast, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Need to know: the hours of operation are Thursday – Monday 1:00 – 4:00 pm.

A personal side note: I left a ring in the bathroom at the lighthouse and didn’t realize it until I was back in my room several hours later. I miraculously thought to check if they had a Facebook page. Lo and behold, they do! I left a message about leaving the ring in the ladies room and asked if it had been found. The next morning, I was on my way to pick it up. You might say the lighthouse cast some illumination on how to best make contact with them, thereby reuniting me with my ring. Ok, it’s a stretch, but I will never forget the lighthouse.

From there you’re just minutes from Monterey and the world-famous Monterey Aquarium and Cannery Row.

Monterey Bay Aquarium opened in 1984 and quickly became one of the most visited aquariums in the world, receiving over 2 million visitors per year. Located on the north end of Cannery Row, it’s on the former site of the Hovden Cannery, the last cannery to close, in 1973.

Cannery Row, originally Ocean View Avenue, is famous largely due to John Steinbeck’s novel for which the street is named. The book was the basis for a film named Cannery Row, featuring Debra Winger and Nick Nolte. One of the main characters, Doc, was a real person – a scientist- named Edward F. Rickets. His lab still exists and across the street is a Chinese-American owned store, also mentioned in the novel.

(I am reading an excellent book about Steinbeck and Monterey by author Susan Shillinglaw, A Journey Into Steinbeck’s California. You can purchase this book at the Aquarium or the Steinbeck house in Salinas. You can also obtain a copy through Roaring Forties Press).

Today, Cannery Row is filled with shops, restaurants, and hotels, and is a tourist attraction in Monterey.

Where To Stay

The Monterey Bay area has a good selection of places to stay from bed and breakfasts to cottages and modern hotels. If you want to be in the middle of it all, stay in Monterey. You are five to ten minutes from Carmel, twenty from Big Sur and only two hours from San Francisco. I stayed at the historic Casa Munras, one of the Inns of Monterey. Located just off the 101, it’s an excellent location for walking downtown and to the Fisherman’s Wharf.

If you truly want to be in the thick of it, or you just want a hotel with a more modern flair, stay at the Intercontinental on Cannery Row.

Just Go!

Great weather almost 365 days a year, a laid back attitude, and scenery that has inspired romantics, creatives, explorers, and adventurers for centuries – any time of year is a great time to take the Ultimate California Road Trip.

No matter when you go, California’s Highway 1 is the Ultimate California Road Trip.

Looking north from McWay Falls, Big Sur.

My road trip was sponsored by Kia and See Monterey. However, all content is editorial and I am under no obligation to write anything at all.

Like the images you see? Please be respectful. If you’d like usage just shoot me an email.

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This post is sponsored by See Monterey. All opinions are my own.

The beautiful coastal town of Monterey, California is about as good as it gets as a family travel destination. Beaches, hiking, and a world-class aquarium make for a memorable vacation for travelers with kids.

Less than a 2 hour drive from San Francisco, it is easy to visit as an overnight or weekend trip for Bay Area visitors and locals. It is also a popular stop along the scenic Highway 1 coastal drive between Southern and Northern California.

My family has been to Monterey several times, both with and without kids, and are planning another trip ourselves again soon.

Basics for Travel to Monterey with Kids

What are the essentials you need to know before visiting Monterey with kids? First of all don’t limit yourself to the city proper. The whole county, which is surprisingly large and diverse in its offerings, works well for travelers with kids.

Monterey County covers the coastal cities of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea as well as the inland city of Salinas. It also encompasses all of the breathtaking coastal area known as Big Sur, noted for its state parks, beaches, and sea cliff views. Monterey County further includes the Carmel and Salinas Valleys, wine-making regions along the Central Coast.

Things to Do in Monterey, California with Kids

If you are planning a visit to the area, there’s more to do and see than you can accomplish in a few days. Here are some of our favorite kid-friendly Monterey activities that our family has experienced, as well as a few experiences on our family’s list for our next Monterey trip.

1. Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is truly one of the world’s top aquariums. It is a can’t-miss for travelers of all types. It’s also extraordinarily popular, so go early for weekend visits or try to aim for a weekday if you have travel flexibility.

Kids will love the touch pools and the daily shows and feedings (especially the sea otters and penguins – adorable!). Don’t miss the window with the bay waves crashing onto a see-through glass wall or the illuminated jellyfish exhibit. The aquarium also offers a number of entertaining and educational shows about marine life in the auditorium.

Plan on nearly a full day to make the most of a visit. Or, if you are staying at a participating hotel partner, ask about their two day ticket packages that are the price of a single day visit.

2. Dennis the Menace Park

Created by the man who created the Dennis the Menace comic strips, this public park and playground is one of the best in the state. It’s enormous, and has multiple play structures of various heights so that every child can find one that provides the right challenge. Bring a picnic and some sunscreen (the only downside is that there is not much shade) and plan to spend several hours wearing your children out.

3. Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles is the newest national park in the system (designated in 2013), and is obscure enough that even most Northern Californians have not heard of it. They are missing out! That also makes it a bit of a hidden gem in a state where more well-known national parks can get super-crowded.

Pinnacles spans the border of Monterey County and neighboring San Benito County and offers a unique look at some of the geological features that make the San Andreas fault both so fascinating and so dangerous. There are a number of kid-friendly hikes in the park, but just be prepared for hot inland weather if you visit during summer months.

4. Point Sur State Historic Park Lighthouse

Just south of the Monterey peninsula on the way into Big Sur is the Point Sur Lighthouse and State Historic Park. Walking tours are offered seasonally and the overlook can offer the perfect vantage point for viewing migrating whales. Brave older kids might enjoy one of the evening ghost tours.

5. Monterey Zoo

After seeing all the sea creatures in the Monterey Aquarium, animal loving kiddos also might enjoy a stop to see a few land creatures. The Monterey Zoo in Salinas is a refuge for many retired animals who previously worked in entertainment. Kids can see tigers, lions, elephants, and more. The zoo offers guided tours (1:00 pm daily and also 3:00 pm in summer months) rather than self-paced experiences, so plan accordingly.

6. Whale Watching Tours

Migrating whales are regulars to Monterey Bay, offering a chance for children to get up close and personal with several whale species on a sea cruise. A number of tour operators are available out of Monterey and Moss Landing. Book in advance to avoid disappointment and bring lots of warm layers for the cold Pacific air!

7. Cannery Row

Cannery Row is a stretch of seaside shops and restaurants in Monterey that ends by the Aquarium (much like San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf). It can get a bit touristy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a ton of fun. You can find a lot of delicious and authentic seafood choices for a family meal. Travelers with kids will love the mini golf course, wax museum, or a Segway tour. Also hop down to the beach below to build some sand castles.

8. MY Museum

For the toddler and preschooler set, MY Museum is a must-stop, especially on cold or iffy weather days. This indoor children’s museum offers a variety of themed play spaces to learn and explore. It’s just a few blocks from the Dennis the Menace park so the two make a perfect combination for a morning or afternoon out with little ones.

9. McWay Falls & Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

(Editor’s Note 5/2017: Due to damage from 2017’s record-breaking winter storms, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and McWay Falls access are completely closed at the moment, along with part of Highway 1 in Big Sur where a major bridge has collapsed. Hopefully the coming months will bring needed repairs so families can visit this natural wonder again soon!)

Photo credit: See Monterey

McWay falls, a dramatic waterfall landing right onto a secret beach and into the Pacific Ocean, may be one of Big Sur’s most photographed sights. Hike with your kids out on the cliffs a short distance to catch this epic view. Enjoy some of the other family-friendly hikes in the area when the area reopens.

10. Hit the Beach

Last but not least, no trip to Monterey County is complete without some serious time on the beach. On glorious days when the coastal fog retreats and the sun shines through, they are magnificent.

Some of the best beaches include Moss Landing, Lovers Point, Asilomar State Beach, and Del Monte Beach. (Add Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur to the must-do list once it reopens). Depending on which beach you choose, you can look for marine life, watch the surfers, or even – if you can brave the cold Pacific water – swim yourself. Pack up the sand toys and towels and make a very inexpensive day of beach-hopping with your little ones.

For more things to do in Monterey County with kids, check out family-friendly ideas from See Monterey and See Monterey’s other travel resources.

Highbridge Falls

Nearby Beaches

  • 1.4 miles away, W

    Andrew Molera State Park Beach is a long sandy, rocky, and driftwood-covered beach along the base of the Big Sur headlands. This is the largest state park along the Big

    See details


  • Swiss Canyon Beach

    1.9 miles away, W

    When viewing Google Maps anyone can see this lovely beach. It is the long sandy beach that’s visible when looking north from Andrew Molera State Park. The name comes from

    See details


  • Pfeiffer Beach

    2.6 miles away, SSE

    Pfeiffer Beach in the Big Sur area is definitely off the beaten path, but well worth the drive. Just south of Big Sur Station on Highway 1 is unsigned Sycamore

    See details


  • Wreck Beach

    3.1 miles away, SSE

    Wreck Beach is below private property on Los Padres National Forest lands near Big Sur Station. The beach has been shown on USGS maps for many years, but it is

    See details


  • Rancho Rico Beach

    3.6 miles away, SE

    Rancho Rico is a privately-owned ranch in the Big Sur area. Based on what we can see from aerial photos like those on Google Maps, Ranch Rico has one of

    See details

The Best of Big Sur: Hiking, Camping, Beaches, and Waterfalls

Big Sur epitomizes the grandeur of California’s Highway 1. From Bixby Bridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean, to redwood-filled canyons, and with waterfalls and tranquil ocean views throughout, it’s one of America’s must-see destinations and one of the world’s iconic coastal landscapes.

Given Big Sur’s draw as a road trip destination, the majority of visitors tend to wing it and drive the 90-mile stretch of California coastline between San Simeon and Carmel, taking in the views through their car window with short stops at popular spots. Yet some of Big Sur’s greatest gems are easily missed from the highway. With a bit of planning and additional time, you can experience an entirely different side of Big Sur. In our view, it’s simply too much to see and do in one day. The only way to really get to know a place is to spend time there, exploring beyond the pavement.

Sand Dollar Beach

Photo by Aron Bosworth.

Sand Dollar Beach is Big Sur’s longest and widest continuous strand of beach, running nearly three-quarters of a mile. This is an ideal spot for beachcombing, lounging, tide pooling, and surfing. Pitch a tent in one of the 40 sites at Plaskett Creek Campground right across the highway from Sand Dollar Beach and be the first to hit the waves with the sunrise. Nearby Willow Creek, Pacific Valley and Mill Creek beaches offer additional beach and ocean access where you may find you have the beach to yourself.

Kirk Creek Campground

Just a few miles north from Plaskett Creek Campground you’ll find Kirk Creek Campground. This is one of coastal California’s most scenic campgrounds, making it difficult to get reservations. Plan ahead and aim for mid-week to make booking a site easier. All the sites here and at Plaskett Creek are available for reservation six months in advance, and there are no sites held for first-come, first-served visitors. For a nice hike with scenic Big Sur coastal views, head across Highway 1 from the campground and head up the Kirk Creek Trail.

Limekiln State Park + Campground

Photo by Denis LeBlanc.

Limekiln State Park provides access to a quieter, less visited side of Big Sur. Compared to Pfeiffer Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns to the north, Limekiln’s ambiance is more local and low-key. Take a walk down Limekiln Trail to escape from the heat and discover the historic limekilns tucked in the redwood forest. Another quiet and peaceful hike takes the Hare Creek Trail.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Photo by Patrick Mueller.

When one first pictures the Big Sur iconic coastline, it’s often images of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park that come to mind. Here the Santa Lucia mountains run into the Pacific Ocean, forested canyons fill gaps between exposed dry ridges, and near-shore kelp forests buffer the coves and shoreline. The park is best known for it’s main attraction: 80-foot McWay Falls. There are plenty of other gems within Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park that most folks miss. A short walk up McWay Creek from the main parking area accesses a network of trails that include the Ewoldsen, Canyon Falls, and Tan Bark Trails. These trails explore redwood-lined canyons and traverse the Santa Lucia mountainsides, offering an elevated perspective on this magnificent landscape.

Partington Cove

Photo by Aron Bosworth.

This inconspicuous cove is situated at the north corner of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park 2 miles north of McWay Falls in one of the most dramatic sections of the Big Sur coastline. This trail is often overlooked when driving Highway 1, but it’s certainly worth a stop. Follow a 1-mile trail along a creek and through a 60-foot tunnel to a small cove with a big view.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park + Campground

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is the most centrally located camping area for exploring Big Sur, and it’s also the largest of Big Sur’s campgrounds, offering nearly 200 sites. The park is home diverse hiking trails, the rustic yet comfortable Big Sur Lodge, and over 3 miles of Big Sur River access, including the swimming holes of the Big Sur River Gorge. Popular trails include Valley View and Pfeiffer Falls, Buzzards Roost, and the nearby Pine Ridge Trail, all of which head up into the Santa Lucia Mountains above the Big Sur River Canyon. The Gorge Trail leads to crystal swimming holes in a narrow gorge roughly a half mile up the Big Sur River, a perfect respite for warm summer days.

Pfeiffer Beach

Photo by Patrick Mueller.

Pfeiffer Beach in the heart of Big Sur is one of the region’s most popular beaches, drawing tourists, locals, photographers, and many a Highway-1 road tripper to its scenic coves and famed sea arch rocks. During December and January, when the sun sets at it’s furthest south, sunsets can be captured through the Keyhole Rock. Arrive early if you are attempting to take shots of the keyhole, as the prime photographic real estate can go quickly.

Andrew Molera State Park

Andrew Molera State Park is the largest of the state parks within the Big Sur area. With over 20 miles of hiking trails, a scenic and accessible beach, an abundance of wildlife, and the Big Sur River, the park offers something for just about everyone. The main attractions here include Andrew Molera State Beach, the Beach Trail, the 24 walk-in sites at Trail Camp, the Headlands Trail, and the Headlands Trail to Creamery Meadow Loop.

Fall is an amazing time to visit Big Sur in general, but especially Andrew Molera State Park for improved surfing conditions and the monarch butterfly migration. The Headland Trail is a popular stopover for the butterflies.

Bixby Bridge

What would a visit to Big Sur be without a photo of Bixby Bridge?!

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

On the northern edge of Big Sur, located slightly south of Carmel, is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. While often overlooked by road trippers heading south to better known locales in the heart of Big Sur, Point Lobos offers some of the up-close-and-personal marine life viewing in the area. An abundance of wildlife, scenic coves, and pleasant hiking trails makes Point Lobos a highlight of Big Sur that should not be missed in our opinion. Check out the Cypress Grove Trail, which explores one of only two naturally occurring old-growth Monterey Cypress forests remaining in the wild. Other recommended trails include North Shore Trail, Bird Island Trail and the Granite Point + Moss Cove Trails.
With so much to see and explore, plan for a few days of hiking, swimming, beachcombing, and relaxing to fully take in the beauty of this magnificent area.

WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT driving the iconic Highway One, it’s here that they’re picturing in their heads. This is some of the most gorgeous coastline in the States — possibly the world — with the culture to match. Vineyards, artist communities, lighthouses, a world-renowned aquarium — it’s all in Monterey County. Here are 11 spots that prove it.

1. Pinnacles National Park

Photo: Michael E. Lee

Photo: Miguel Vieira

If you’d been standing in Lancaster, California, 23 million years ago, you would’ve been within eyeshot of the Neenach Volcano. The famous San Andreas Fault carried its lava for miles, and what’s left today is Pinnacles National Park. Here, you can hike through caves, climb over ancient lava fields, and chase condors and roadrunners (preferably not with ACME dynamite). Not to mention, you’ll catch views like the ones above.

For those of you who are counting, this is America’s 59th and newest national park. It’s been a national monument since 1908, but it received a much-deserved upgrade in 2013 — making it California’s ninth national pillar of beauty.

2. Ford Ord National Monument

Photo: Anza Trail NPS

Photo: Bureau of Land Management

What was once a military base — where the likes of Clint Eastwood, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, and Leonard Nimoy all lived or served — is now part national monument, with 80+ miles of trails, tons of wildlife, and terrain for mountain biking jammed into 14,000-some acres. Yep, even the spots in Monterey County that you don’t expect to be beautiful totally are.

From the Creekside Terrace Trailhead, near the intersection of Reservation Road with Highway 68, you can access a dense network of hiking trails that run on top of and between the sparsely wooded hills and ridges of the area. For a scenic bike ride, start at the Badger Hills Trailhead and follow the unpaved Guidotti Road south and west until you hit Trail 47. This will loop you over and around great bald hills and within site of the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

3. Salinas and Salinas Valley

Photo: Malcolm Carlaw

Photo: SeeMonterey.com

Salinas — even if the name rings a bell courtesy of Janis Joplin, it’s time to create some new associations. This is the home of John Steinbeck (in addition to the setting of East of Eden), prime wine country, and the largest city in Monterey County. Located about eight miles from the ocean, it sits near the northwest end of the Salinas Valley.

Make sure to check out the National Steinbeck Center, which pays tribute to one of America’s best-known authors. It’s located in historic Oldtown Salinas, itself a great spot to wander and get in touch with the city’s colorful past as a railroad town and agricultural hub. But you can’t do Salinas without hitting the vineyards. Wrath Vineyards, Paraiso Vineyards, and Hahn Estates are solid options, and along the way you’ll see the grapes spanning the hillsides, until the landscape turns into highlands and sea.

4. Pebble Beach

Photo: mtxh3l

Photo: neekoh.fi

If you know anything about golf, you’ve heard of Pebble Beach. It has some of the most famous courses in the country, some sitting atop craggy outcrops right on the ocean. Pebble Beach Golf Links, The Links at Spanish Bay, and Spyglass Hill are three of the most popular.

Beyond golf, this place is known for 17-Mile Drive. The main entrance is via Highway One, and on it you’ll see landmarks like the Lone Cypress, Fanshell Overlook, Spanish Bay, and Point Joe (not to mention plenty of seals). It’s 17 miles of rugged Pacific coastline, widely regarded as one of the best scenic drives in the world.

5. Carmel-by-the-Sea

Photo: Michael Troutman / SeeMonterey.com

Photo: Michael Troutman / SeeMonterey.com

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a city by, from, and for artists. Its roots are as a laid-back artist community, and the result is a fairytale-style vibe that gives the town a super romantic feel. In fact, Travel + Leisure rated Carmel the “#3 Best City for Romance in the World.” Its white-sand beach doesn’t hurt, either.

Ocean Ave, which runs from Highway One straight to the sea, anchors the town. It’s along and around this road that you’ll find the eclectic boutiques, art galleries, tasting rooms, and inns that define the Carmel experience. There aren’t many better places to find a bite to eat, either. Hit up Village Corner Bistro for Mediterranean flavors, A.W. Shucks for oysters, and Little Napoli for authentic Italian — among many, many others.

6. Big Sur

Photo: Dave Ungar

Photo: SeeMonterey.com

If the rest of Monterey County is a 10 on the traditional scale, Big Sur needs a new scale. Here, the Santa Lucia Mountains rise swiftly out of the water, contributing to the area’s status as one of the “most beautiful coastlines in the world.” Because of the precipitous terrain, it’s almost entirely undeveloped, rare for any section of coastal California.

If you haven’t hopped on Highway One and done the stretch around Big Sur, you haven’t done California. Cross the Bixby Creek Bridge once, and you’ll be a believer. (Please note that you’ll need to access Big Sur Village from the north, as Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge is currently being repaired due to winter storms. Be sure to check out the latest travel updates here.)

7. Pacific Grove

Photo: Armando Infante

Photo: Dennis Jarvis

History in Monterey County runs deep in Pacific Grove. The oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast is here, and most of the homes are considered historic. Steinbeck had roots here, too, though fewer know it — a house of his on 11th St stands alone with no plaque or sign to alert tourists, and his grandmother’s home is on Central Ave.

Apart from its history (including the spot just off the coast where John Denver’s plane crashed), Pacific Grove hosts millions of monarch butterflies during their annual migration October-February. In spring, fields near the coastline turn shades of purple with ice plants and daisy flowers, which is known to locals as the “purple carpet.” And if that sounds romantic, you’ll definitely also want to check out Lovers Point Park, a manicured green space jutting into the sea at the end of 17th Street. The views are hard to beat.

8. Carmel Valley

Photo: Toddco13

Photo: Michael Troutman / SeeMonterey.com

You guessed it — a short drive from Carmel-by-the-Sea is Carmel Valley, a river valley with vineyard after vineyard, golf courses, and mansions built by Old Hollywood-ians back in the day. If Carmel-by-the-Sea is for artists, Carmel Valley is for artists on vacation.

To act like a local, start by eating the food and drinking the wine. A good place to begin is Earthbound Farm, 50,000 acres of entirely local, entirely organic produce (they started with 2.5 acres of raspberries more than 30 years ago). After you’re berried and vegged out, stow the car and step onto the Grapevine Express. Monterey-Salinas Transit bus 24 stops at almost all the wineries in the area. Yep, Carmel Valley is more than happy to be your designated driver. The only question left is whether Bernardus Winery, Holman Ranch Vineyards, Cima Collina, or Joullian Vineyards will be your favorite.

9. Monterey

Photo: SeeMonterey.com

Photo: Ed Bierman

Monterey County is home to the city of Monterey, and you’ve probably heard of it either from Steinbeck and his novel Cannery Row (an actual street in Monterey lined with old sardine-packing factories) or because of the unparalleled Monterey Bay Aquarium. Today, Cannery Row and the surrounding factories and warehouses have been converted into shops, restaurants, hotels, and boutiques, though Monterey’s history lives on — California’s first theater, public building, public library, and public school were built in the city. Even the aquarium is an old converted cannery.

But apart from its history, Monterey is. Right. On. The. Ocean. It’s literature and art and culture and history and some of the best views in the state. Head to Old Fisherman’s Wharf or take a whale watching tour and you’ll see what we mean. The city is easy to navigate, too — you can walk to the tourist hot spots as conveniently as taking a taxi. When you need a break from the hubbub of the Bay or L.A., this is where to go.

10. Marina and Seaside

Photo: Michael Troutman / SeeMonterey.com

Photo: SeeMonterey.com

North of Monterey, the coast is all sandy beach for miles on end, and some of the most notable of those miles are in the city of Marina. Find them at Marina State Beach and Marina Dunes Preserve, site of the Central Coast’s tallest dunes and the rare flora and fauna that call them home. The name of the game here is adrenaline and adventure. Steady winds whip up reliable waves, making this a popular surf spot — on land, those ocean breezes combined with the soft, sandy dunes mean this is one of the best places in California to paraglide and hang glide. If that’s not enough for you, get this: Marina is home to the highest tandem skydive drop in the world, at 18,000 feet.

Just to the south of Marina, you can bring things back to earth with a round at Bayonet & Blackhorse Golf Course in the city of Seaside. The two 18-hole courses here were renovated in 2008 and provide views out to Monterey Bay. They’re also considered some of the most challenging in the area, so bring your A-game.

11. Moss Landing

Photo credit: David Gubernick / SeeMonterey.com

Photo: Don DeBold

As paragliding is to Marina, so wildlife is to Moss Landing. It’s one of the best places in the world to see sea otters, and it’s continually regarded as one of the best birding spots in the States, with more than 350 species noted so far. And the fishing? That’s a given. It’s so good (and the waters so picturesque) that the ratio of boats in the harbor to residents is somewhere around three to one. Everything about Moss Landing centers on the beach and the water…and the local art, with people from all over California coming to attend the town-wide arts and crafts sales.

That’s pretty much Monterey County in a nutshell. Start planning your trip at SeeMonterey.com.

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Everything You Need to See on a Trip to the Monterey Peninsula

Drive 45 minutes north, south or east of Pebble Beach, and you’ll arrive at:

  • Surf City, USA
  • The Wine Capital of Monterey County
  • The grandiose untouched beauty of Big Sur

Don’t have a car on your trip to Pebble Beach Resorts? Or want to upgrade that rental car you squeezed into?

As a guest at Pebble Beach Resorts, you can reserve a complimentary two-hour Lexus test drive and spin around the Monterey Peninsula in style. Hop into the latest Lexus models and tour around one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Here’s all you can see around the Monterey Peninsula:

17-MILE DRIVE

Drive off into the sunset.

A post shared by D. Kane (@ramble507) on May 9, 2017 at 5:10pm PDT

Just follow the red-dotted line to explore one of the Most Scenic Drives in America. (The official Pebble Beach app can also feed you fun facts throughout your drive.) The tight handling of your ride will be appreciated as you wrap around towering pines, disappear into tunnels of Cypress, and cruise along craggy coastline overlooking crashing waves and snow-white beaches. Build in some time to pull over and marvel at the inspiring Lone Cypress, investigate the spooky Ghost Trees at Pescadero Point, gawk at the marine life swarming Bird Rock, contemplate the power of the Restless Sea at Point Joe, take a long walk on Spanish Bay Beach, and gravitate toward whatever else steals your heart.

CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA

#CarmelByTheSea PC: @Joooooeysays

A post shared by Carmel By The Sea (@carmelbythesea) on Oct 15, 2015 at 2:58pm PDT

Fall in love with the charming European vibes of this quaint village crammed with character and killer cuisine. Just outside the Pebble Beach gates, cruise down Ocean Avenue and discover endless shops, art galleries and renowned restaurants before you bottom out at pristine Carmel Beach. Hang a left and crawl along Scenic Road while drinking in the sea, cypress trees and when-I-win-the-lottery dream homes.

CARMEL VALLEY VILLAGE

We just love when the vines change and are decked out in their fall colors! ?? Photo by @mishoobi ?

A post shared by Monterey Wines (@montereywines) on Dec 2, 2016 at 1:36pm PST

Scenic Road will usher you past the tucked-away River Beach, around the 18th century Carmel Mission, and out to the famed Pacific Coast Highway. But instead of staying on the coast, push inland on Carmel Valley Road. Watch the temperature climb a degree for every mile you drive, as you leave any looming fog behind. A dozen miles later, you’ll hit the rustic Carmel Valley Village, where cowboy meets chardonnay. Welcome to the hotbed of Monterey County Wine Country, where you can stumble into 21 tasting rooms — most hailing from wineries in the celebrated Santa Lucia Highlands — within 1,000 steps of each other. An artisan culinary culture has sprung up as well, uniquely mingling with the Village’s rancher roots.

PACIFIC GROVE

Sunrise in Pacific Grove! #pacificgrove #sunrise #wakeup #cupoftea

A post shared by rfvdevil (@rfvdevil) on Dec 28, 2017 at 7:26am PST

The beach behind The Links at Spanish Bay dances down the coastline into Pacific Grove, continuing a stacked stretch of sensational ocean views. Sunset Drive snakes along the stunning Asilomar State Beach and past the iconic Point Pinos Lighthouse, before morphing into the aptly named Ocean View Boulevard. The best views seduce at the romantic Lovers Point, an east-facing tip of the Monterey Bay where you can see the rare West Coast ocean sunrise. Venture downtown and you’ll drive through neighborhoods of historic Victorian homes and a throwback main street, earning Pacific Grove the affectionate nickname, “America’s Last Hometown.”

MONTEREY

Sunrise and shimmering seas! Visitors seasonal and seasoned—shall we set sail for a sumptuous sojourn in stunning surroundings? Certainly! #montereybayaquarium #seariouslygorgeous #helloworld #fourstarswouldwakeuptothisagain

A post shared by Monterey Bay Aquarium (@montereybayaquarium) on Apr 10, 2017 at 10:10am PDT

The original capital of California is a favorite setting for stories ranging from John Steinbeck’s classic “Cannery Row” to HBO’s addicting mini-series “Big Little Lies.” Just a short drive from the Pebble Beach gates, you’ll want to stretch your legs and play tourist at the historic movie-set-like Cannery Row, explore the depths of the Monterey Bay at its world-acclaimed (and “Finding Dory” inspiring) aquarium, and grab a bread-bowled clam chowder while wandering Fisherman’s Wharf.

SANTA CRUZ

A post shared by Jeff Schwab (@jschwab_24) on Jan 23, 2017 at 7:09pm PST

Looking for a longer oceanfront drive? Head north on the Pacific Coast Highway and whip around the crescent-shaped Monterey Bay toward Santa Cruz. For seafood lovers, a pit stop at Food Network favorite Phil’s Fish Market in Moss Landing is a must. Detour to toasty Capitola Beach, accented by its unmistakable fluorescent hotel suites, before winding along the coast to Surf City, USA, and legendary Santa Cruz surf spots Pleasure Point and Steamer Lane for spectacular spectating. If you are continuing your trip to San Francisco, spend the extra hour to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway and take in Davenport’s Swanton Berry Farm and Shark Fin Cove, Ano Nuevo’s belching elephant seals, Pescadero’s picturesque Pigeon Point Lighthouse and Half Moon Bay’s expansive clifftop beauty.

BIG SUR

A post shared by Jeff Schwab (@jschwab_24) on Dec 25, 2016 at 9:10pm PST

Choose to drive south from Pebble Beach and you’ll feel like a stunt double for a car commercial. This stretch of twisting, tight-roping Pacific Coast Highway perched high above the Pacific Ocean is perhaps the most filmed in all of cliff-swept California. Cross over the shapely Bixby Bridge, hunt for the purple sands of Pfeiffer Beach and take a where-is-that!?! selfie in front of the aqua McWay Falls shortly after emerging from a trail of towering redwoods. Big Sur is hiking and camping, one-with-nature paradise. Another memorable option is to save your steps for a 7-mile loop through the cypress trees and dramatic coastline and coves at Point Lobos in Carmel Highlands.

What is a must-see stop for you when you visit the Monterey Peninsula?

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Monterey bay weekend getaway

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