Big Sur + Monterey See And Do
Carmel-by-the-Sea , California
Originally founded as an artists' colony in the early 20th century, Carmel (also known as Carmel-by-the-Sea) has the look and feel of a Christmas snow-globe villagewithout the snow. Streets are paved with cobblestones, giant Monterey pines make whooshing sounds in the sea breeze, and the houses resemble picturesque Mediterranean villas and miniature castles. The artists have long since been priced out, and major celebrities (Doris Day, Clint Eastwood) have taken their place, but you'll still find more galleries per capita than perhaps anywhere else on the California coast. Head to Dolores Street between Fifth and Sixth for the best gallery-hopping. Stop into the Carmel Art Association, the only gallery that exclusively shows local works (831-624-6176; www.carmelart.org); Masterpiece Gallery, which has a collection of early Californian and American paintings (831-624-2163; www.masterpiecegallerycarmel.com); and Gallery Sur, specializing in landscape photography (831-626-2615; www.gallerysur.com). The best time to visit Carmel is midweek; avoid coming on Saturday in summer, when it gets overrun with oohing-and-aahing tourists. If you want to meet locals, head for the beach in the early evening; the whole community seems to turn out to watch the sunset.
3080 Rio Road
Carmel-by-the-Sea , California
Tel: 831 624 1271
Though currently surrounded by ranch-house subdivisions, the Carmel Mission was once the only building for miles around. Spanish missionary Father Junípero Serra established the mission in 1771 to convert Native Americans to Christianity. Today, it's still an important site for Catholicsprimarily because Father Serra's remains are interred under the altarbut even nonbelievers will find it worth a visit. The primitive statuary and ornately carved altar are beautifully preserved, as are unexpected details like the charming cherubs peeping from behind the pipes of the organ loft. Adjoining the church are the living quarters of the missionaries. One of the most interesting rooms is the tiny library (California's first), where you can peer through a glass doorway at decaying leather-bound texts frozen in time. Outside in the courtyard, baseball-size roses grow in the lovely gardens. (Shutterbugs: One of the best spots to pose for pictures is behind the Basilica, beneath the bell tower.)
California's missions were positioned one day apart by horseback, so you can see several in a day traveling by car. If you're heading south on Highway 1, it's easy to make a detour to Mission San Antonio de Padua, in the middle of nowhere near the tiny town of Jolon (Mission Rd.; 831-385-4478). It provides a glimpse of how the missions looked before modern-day civilization grew up around them.
Pebble Beach , California
The marquee course at Pebble Beach, Pebble Beach Golf Links (pictured) is every bit as gorgeous as it looks in the hundreds of pictures you've seen of it. It's tough to get a tee time, and you'll pay through the nose once you do—upwards of $450 per player—but this is the quintessential California golf experience (1700 17-Mile Dr.; 800-654-9300; www.pebblebeach.com). If you can't schedule a tee or stomach the fee, take heart: You can still have drop-dead water views from the Links at Spanish Bay, a traditional Scottish course on the same peninsula, where greens fees are $200 lower. There's also Pebble Beach's third course, Spyglass Hill, where only the first nine holes overlook the ocean; the second half of the course moves inland among forested areas. Greens fees are about the same as at the Links at Spanish Bay.
If even that's too rich for your blood, try the independent Poppy Hills Golf Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. The course sits slightly inland, near the other Pebble Beach courses, and lacks the spectacular ocean views of its neighbors. Greens fees hover around $200, however, which is the best you'll find in Pebble Beach (3200 Lopez Dr., at 17-Mile Drive; 831-625-2035; www.poppyhillsgolf.com).
Golf in this area isn't limited to Pebble Beach, of course; Quail Lodge and Carmel Valley Ranch are two top-rated resorts in Carmel Valley, and Bayonet was built by the U.S. Army at Monterey's old Fort Ord. For more information, visit www.seemonterey.com/golf-courses.
750 Hearst Castle Drive
San Simeon , California
Tel: 800 444 4445 or 805 927 2010
Publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst's monument to himself is by far the best-known attraction on the California coast. Perched high atop La Cuesta Encantada (the enchanted hill) and modeled after the grandest European châteaux, it really is a castle, occupying a whopping 90,000 square feet, with 56 bedrooms and 61 bathrooms divided between four buildings. You can't possibly see it all in one day, but for most people, one of the five different tours suffices. If you've never been here, take Tour No. 1 to get an overview. (Make reservations well in advance; spots are limited.) If you're staying in Big Sur or Monterey, plan for a long day trip. It takes two to three hours to make the one-way trek, depending on traffic, and you'll want to spend at least a few hours at the castle. If you want to break the visit into two days, note that San Simeon has notoriously lousy lodging (the nicest place is the Best Western). For greater selection, head to nearby Cambria instead, which has better food, some cute B&Bs, and several passable seaside motels, but nothing that we believe merits a write-up here.
Highway 1 (¼ mile of south of Nepenthe)
Big Sur , California
Tel: 831 667 2574
The brilliant and controversial writer was a native New Yorker, but his archive is here, in the town where he lived for 18 years and wrote some of his best work. If you like Miller, or think you might after having seen Henry & June, check out the library. It's a coffeehouse and cultural center of sorts, with open-mike nights and an outdoor film series in summer (call ahead to see what's on the calendar). The wooded grounds and funky little sculpture garden are lovely places to curl up with a book, and you're welcome to linger as long as you like. There's even Wi-Fi access, as well as an old blue iMac on an outdoor deck where you can check your e-mail.
Open Wednesdays through Sundays 11 am to 6 pm.
Big Sur , California
The best hiking in Big Sur isn't right along the coastline. Because the cliffs here tower a thousand feet high and drop precipitously to the pounding surf below, there are countless rocky coves and tiny sand beaches that are entirely inaccessible; the land is just too steep for trails.On the inland side of Highway 1, though, it's a different story. Here, the terrain is manageable enough that you can get those stunning viewswithout plummeting to your death. For major visual impact and only minor physical output, head to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, south of the town of Big Sur. Take the flat Waterfall Trail (about a half mile, round-trip), which leads to a fabulous overlook with a year-round waterfall. Hardier souls can reach the tops of the coastal ridges via the Tan Bark Trail, a 6.5 mile round-trip hike into the hills.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, abutting the town of Big Sur, has lots of great trails, including Pfeiffer Falls, an easy 1.4-mile round-trip walk through redwood groves to a 60-foot waterfall. Serious hikers should continue into the adjacent Ventana Wilderness, part of Los Padres National Forest. Be prepared for some intense elevation gains: Some of the mountains rise nearly 5,000 feet within two miles of the coast. This is rugged countryyou'll need proper hiking boots and physical stamina. You should also bring water and wear layers you can remove. Although it may look foggy near the water in all these hiking areas, once you climb high enough, you'll emerge into the blazing-hot sun.
Andrew Molera State Park , California
If you can't commit to a hike but want to go where cars can't, consider hitting the trail on horseback. Molera Horseback Tours runs guided rides that wind through Andrew Molera State Park to the beach; some pass through forests of redwood and oak, and along the mouth of the Big Sur River. Group rides last from one to 2.5 hours; prices for most rides are between $25 and $60. You can also book a private guided ride for as little as $36. (831-625-5486 or 800-942-5486; www.molerahorsebacktours.com).
Monterey , California
Monterey Bay supports one of the world's most diverse ecosystems and spans a whopping 5,300 square miles. A National Marine Sanctuary since 1992, it's an absolute must to explore by water, with frolicking sea lions and sea otters, low-flying pelicans, and giant orange starfish common sights.
If you've never gone kayaking, don't worry: It's fairly easy—assuming you're in reasonable shape and you stick to relatively sheltered areas (if you head out to sea, you're on your own). Monterey Bay Kayaks provides rentals, instruction, and tours for all levels; most tours last three hours and cost about $60 (800-649-5357; www.montereybaykayaks.com ) . If you want real drama, take a sunset paddle, or time your trip by the lunar cycles and take a full-moon tour.
886 Cannery Row
Monterey , California
Tel: 831 648 4800
This aquarium is one of the best in the world, and the top reason to visit touristy downtown Monterey. Press your nose against the glass of a million-gallon tank,the world's largest,for a window into the sea life that dwells in the bay, including hammerhead sharks and translucent jellyfish. You can also watch otters performing their daily ablutions and see divers feeding swarms of hungry fish in the giant kelp forest tank (daily at 11:30 am and 4 pm). Other exhibits and events cover everything from tide pools to cooking demonstrations. Kids get their own special activities and educational programs, with penguins and touch tanks and patient staff members to keep things entertaining. Education is a big deal at the aquarium. Pick up a copy of the Seafood Watch: Sustainable Seafood Choices brochure, which tells you which edible fish are endangered. To avoid having to wait in long lines to enter, particularly on weekends and in the summer, book tickets ahead of time, by phone or online (some hotels also sell tickets). If you prefer the swishing of fins to the patter of thousands of little feet, call ahead to ask about adult-only visiting hours.
Open daily 10 am to 6 pm.
Big Sur + Monterey , California
The famous annual Monterey Jazz Festival brings in jazz and blues luminaries from around the world the third weekend in September. Past performers have included Bonnie Raitt and Dave Brubeck (831-373-3366; www.montereyjazzfestival.org).
The Carmel Bach Festival, which has been running since 1935, draws international artists to venues throughout the area; for maximum atmosphere, attend a performance at the 18th-century Carmel Mission (831-624-2046; www.bachfestival.org). The music performed is—obviously—Bach-centric, but pieces by other 17th- and 18th-century luminaries such Mozart and Vivaldi are also included.
Highway 1 (just south of Carmel)
Point Lobos State Reserve , California
Tel: 831 624 4909
This blustery jewel of a state park is famous for its wind-blown cypress trees clinging to the rocky cliffs, and for its hundreds of barking, braying, sunbathing sea lions. At low tide, tiny crabs and snails cling to the ink-black rocks and crawl in tide pools; you'll want to roll up your pant legs and explore. Harbor seals are born in the end of April and early May (bring binoculars if you want to see them from shore), and migrating gray whales pass by from December to May, making this a primo spot for whale-watching. There are several hiking trails; call ahead to ask about free guided walks. On weekends, though, be sure to show up early: Parking spaces are limited.
Carmel Valley , California
If you can't swing a trip to Napa during your visit to northern California, don't sweat it: Monterey County produces some damn good wines. The cool and foggy coastal regions yield fine pinot noir; the inland valleys produce excellent heat-loving varietals like cabernet and chardonnay. Since the county is huge3,322 square miles compared with Napa's 754and the 75 wineries here are far apart, maximize your wine-tasting time by visiting the très civilized Carmel Valley Village. Tasting rooms here are spread across five blocks; park your car and you can walk between many of them along Carmel Valley Road. Among the wineries represented are Bernardus, famous for its stellar Bordeaux blends; Heller Estate, which makes excellent certified-organic reds; Talbott Vineyards, known for top-notch chardonnays across the board; Joullian, known for its sauvignon blanc and zinfandel; and Chateau Sinnet, which makes sparkling winea rarity in Monterey Countyand also some heady dessert wines. But the prettiest is Georis, where you can sample merlot in a lush outdoor garden. To visit an actual winery, head to lovely Château Julien Wine Estate, where you can take a crash course in winemaking and sample some respectable reds. Tours are free but require reservations.