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So You Think You Know Monterey County?

So You Think You Know Monterey County?

Check out these 15 lesser-known spots, including a Shakespeare showcase and a bar that serves 10-cent cocktails

When most people dream of visiting Monterey County, they picture themselves browsing the shops at Cannery Row, marveling at sea life at the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, hitting the links at Pebble Beach, or cruising scenic 17-Mile Drive. But locals know there is so much more to discover beyond the region’s most famous attractions. Here are 16 ways to take a deeper dive into Monterey County’s best eating, sipping, shopping, and sightseeing experiences.

Tortas al 100, Salinas

This fusion food truck puts a flavorful spin on traditional Mexican tortas, filling fluffy buns with a variety of mouthwatering toppings including chorizo, grilled pineapple, pork al pastor, and even Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Tortas al 100 is owned by young locals Orlando and Denise Orsonio, who longed to bring something unique to the Salinas food scene. Lines tend to be long, but the tortas are worth the wait.

Big Sur Smokehouse, Big Sur

A welcome new stop along Highway 1, this roadside barbecue joint in Big Sur pays homage to the pitmasters of Texas, the Carolinas, Kansas City, and California. Big Sur Smokehouse is housed inside a sleekly renovated 1860s building, now outfitted with subway tiles and marble counters. Choose from tri-tip, pork ribs, hot links, or—here’s the California twist—dry-rubbed organic cauliflower. Don’t forget the coffee-stout barbecue sauce, made with local beer and java.

Pearl Hour, Monterey

Accessible through an alleyway in Monterey’s Lighthouse District, this coffee shop by day/craft cocktail bar by night mixes up inventive delights like the Pearlescent—a blend of mezcal, gin, dry vermouth, and yarrow—and the After Dark, combining rum, passion fruit, lemon, honey, and bitters. Along with a vintage wooden bar, Pearl Hour includes a small stage for live music and a backyard patio.

The Hay, Pebble Beach

This short course was redesigned by Tiger Woods in 2021 to include an exact replica of the famous hole No. 7 at Pebble Beach Golf Links, making it a must-visit for casual and serious golfers alike. Woods sums up the revamped attraction: "We know not everyone who comes to Pebble Beach will have a chance to play the U.S. Open course, so we wanted to create the opportunity for all visitors to experience one of its most famous holes." The Hay also includes holes designed to be played with any club in the bag, and an additional 20,000 square-foot putting course that sprawls 100 yards, yielding endless routings.

Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey

Built in 1845 to service passenger boats and sea commerce, today Old Fisherman’s Wharf is home to more than half a dozen restaurants, plus companies that offer whale-watching and fishing excursions, bay cruises, glass-bottomed boat rides, and sailboat rentals. Or stay on dry land and just come for an ice cream cone and wildlife watching—sea otters, seals, pelicans, and other bay life thrive here.

Michaud Vineyard, Soledad

Michaud Vineyard is perched 1,500 feet above sea level in the Gabilan Mountains, providing dramatic views of the rocky crags and peaks of nearby Pinnacles National Park. Located in the heart of the mountainous Chalone appellation, where an arid climate and lean soils add complexity and mineral structure to the wines, Michaud specializes in age-worthy Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Bring a picnic and enjoy the incredible views.

Palo Corona Regional Park, Carmel-by-the-Sea

The largest land conservation project in Monterey County history, Palo Corona stretches nearly 10 miles in length and covers 4,500 acres. Amid its spectacular, rugged terrain, 500 plant species and a diverse collection of wildlife thrive—including California red-legged frogs, endangered Smith’s blue butterflies, rare spotted owls, and the occasional black bear. Take the moderately strenuous Inspiration Point trail 850 feet up the mountain and you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the Carmel coast.

Fort Ord Dunes State Park Beach, Marina

For nearly a century, Fort Ord’s pristine, four-mile ocean beach was only accessible to the military, but now everyone can make their way through the dunes or along the boardwalk trail to enjoy its breathtaking panoramic views of Monterey Bay. When you’ve had your fill of beachcombing, pedal your way around the park’s four miles of paved, scenic cycling trails.

Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary

The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, Pacific Grove

Each October, thousands of monarch butterflies arrive in Pacific Grove to spend the winter, clustering together in magnificent bunches on the pine, cypress, and eucalyptus trees within the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. Through February, visitors can join docents for a stroll through the grove to learn about the delicate, beautiful insects that fly up to 3,000 miles each year in search of warmer climates.

The Monterey County Artichoke Trail

Lovers of coastal views, ocean breezes, and above all, artichokes will find much to appreciate along the Monterey County Artichoke Trail. Learn about the rich history of artichoke cultivation, then taste the fruits of this generations-old pursuit by sampling local delicacies such as artichoke-stuffed pastries, artichoke dips, artichoke ice cream, and other artichoke-infused dishes at local restaurants. In the middle of it all is Castroville, known—naturally—as the Artichoke Capital of the World. Looking for a souvenir? There’s even artwork inspired by the oversized thistle.

Classic Car Rentals, various locations

Looking for a memorable and fun way to explore 17-Mile Drive, Highway 1, or Monterey wine country? Monterey Touring Vehicles-Classic Car Rentals has 35 sets of eye-catching wheels to choose from, to be delivered to you in the Monterey, Big Sur, Pebble Beach, or Carmel-by-the-Sea areas. Whether it’s a vintage two-seater, a muscle car, or a luxurious sedan that appeals to you, there’s something here that will fit the bill (a few even include a chauffeur).

The Shakespeare Society of America, Moss Landing

Fans of The Bard won’t want to miss this gem of a Shakespeare museum and learning center, home to an extensive collection of rare books, memorabilia, playbills, costumes, and props relocated to Moss Landing from the SSA Globe Theater in Los Angeles. You’ll also find lots of fun items in the American Shakespeare Society gift shop, like playing cards that depict all of the flowers mentioned in Shakespeare’s works.

The Farm, Salinas Valley

A fun stop for Salinas Valley road-trippers, The Farm sells fresh organic produce at its farm store from April through November, and offers educational farm tours in the summer months. Visit the on-site bakery to pick up freshly baked fruit pies and preserves, and be sure to check out the collection of giant sculptures depicting past employees.

La Playa Hotel, Carmel-by-the-Sea

This historic 1905 mansion was converted to a hotel in 1922 and underwent a grand $3.5 million restoration in 2012. True to its name, the 75-room La Playa stands just steps from Carmel Beach and includes the iconic Bud’s Bar, named for the hotel’s former owner Howard “Bud” Allen. Each day, at a random time decided at the bartender’s whim, Dime Time kicks in. For 10 glorious minutes, well drinks sell for just 10 cents each to patrons with exact change.

Nick Leonoff Studios, Carmel Valley

Local artist Nick Leonoff is known for his hand-blown glass creations, especially his colorful harvest pumpkins. Leonoff’s unique and beautiful pieces can be found in fine art galleries throughout the region and across the country, but his Carmel Valley artist’s studio and gallery is the place to catch a glass-blowing demonstration by the artist himself.

Bayonet & Black Horse, Seaside

Pebble Beach isn’t the only Monterey County golf course boasting dramatic ocean views. Playing host over the years to PGA Tour greats including Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, Bayonet & Black Horse in Seaside offers two 72-par courses, including Bayonet—considered the most difficult test of golf on the Monterey Peninsula—and Black Horse, offering beautiful Pacific vistas to admire between swings.

Before you explore, be sure to visit our Responsible Travel Hub, which includes helpful Travel Updates. Also, find more hidden gems around the state here.


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