Six day trips ideal for your next visitThere's plenty to do in Monterey California, whether it's going to the Aquarium, taking the 17-mile drive, dining at Fisherman's Wharf, browsing the art galleries in Carmel or walking along the Pacific Grove shoreline. But if you're itching to branch out a little and explore some of the fabulous central coast offerings nearby, here's a short list of day trip ideas to start you off.
1. Pinnacles National Monument -- East of Soledad, which lies south of Salinas on the 101 is this magical place of stunning geographical beauty. Trails wind around bizarre rock formations that make you wonder if you're still on planet earth. Don't forget to bring plenty of water and pack a lunch. Chalone Winery is nearby, in case you want to pay them a little wine tasting visit.
2. Point Lobos -- Just south of Carmel is Point Lobos State Reserve. It costs $8 per car, ($4 if there is a senior citizen inside) and once in the park there are several small lots to choose from. From these lots you can access various trails, some inland and others leading to pristine beach coves.
3. Santa Cruz -- Venture north up the coast from Monterey and eventually you will be in Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk boasts a popular oceanfront roller coaster and fun zone, while the beach has warmer waters than most in Northern California and is popular with surfers. The redwoods studded Santa Cruz mountains area has several wineries you can visit, as well as a narrow gauge steam train, which leaves out of Felton.
4. Big Sur -- South of Monterey on Highway 1 is the Big Sur area, famous land of artists, writers, nature lovers, photographers and other solitary souls. There isn't really a single destination that is called Big Sur, but to drive through is to experience magnificent scenery on a winding road between dramatic mountain cliffs and crashing sea below. There are some very special places to dine, such as Nepenthe, which hangs out there on the ocean side of the road. There are several hiking trails in Big Sur, or you can go beachcombing at one of the beaches.
5. Wine tasting in Carmel Valley -- If you've had enough of the fog, you'll often find relief by driving up Carmel Valley Road for about 15 minutes into (sometimes considerable) warmth and sunshine. Several wine tasting rooms are located in or around this small village. Chateau Julien is a winery with a tasting room found off the road before you get into Carmel Valley proper. In the village, you can visit the tasting rooms of Joullian Vineyards, Heller Estate, Robert Talbott Vineyards and Bernardus Winery and Vineyard. If you really want to get away from it all, Galante Vineyards is remotely located well inland.
6. Steinbeck Museum -- Lastly, why not take a drive into Old Town Salinas and visit the National Steinbeck Center? Inspired by the Salinas Valley and its people, John Steinbeck was the Nobel Prize winning author of works such as "Cannery Row", "Tequila Flats" and "Grapes Of Wrath". The museum holds art exhibits, cultural exhibits, a museum store and a café. Additionally, they will soon feature the Valley of the World Agricultural History and Education Center.
Then, when you're done with your excursion out of town, head on back to Monterey and count yourself lucky to be visiting one of the best places on earth: the California central coast.
Laura Eggers Underhill is the author and publisher of the online travel guide www.monterey-getaway.com.
PHOTOS: Big Sur
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