Trendy, laid-back beach escape does not disappoint
One of California's most laid back and trendy beachside destinations is just two hours south of San Francisco and is one of those "hidden" getaways that travelers from other parts of the state may inadvertently just drive on by.
Pacific Grove is an immensely popular destination for Bay Area residents and visitors alike, offering a wide range of recreational activities. Sights and fresh seafood dining add to the popularity, but there is more to this unique destination.
Actually, there is so much more to see and do here that you will easily feel overwhelmed with all the options. I recommend cruising around the peninsula on Ocean View Boulevard to get a first impression. Stop at Lovers Point or any of the pullouts to enjoy the spectacular views. Lovers Point also hides a small cove with a sandy beach, where daring individuals plunge into the cold waters, only a good idea if you are a seal or an otter.
If you are lucky, you can even spot a real sea otter from here -- their population is on the rise again, giving us a chance to enjoy the playful creatures. Watching them dive for shells and snails -- which they then crack open using stones -- reveals an astonishing level of intelligence. Watching them gives me an enormous pleasure and makes me feel connected with nature. Should you not find any sea otters, try nearby Moss Landing (north) or any other place along Ocean View Boulevard and the 17-Mile Drive (fee required).
Sea Otters are not the only unique wildlife attraction in Pacific Grove. Pacific Grove is home to the Monarch Grove Sanctuary, a parcel on Ridge Road that harbors tens if not hundreds of thousands of Monarch Butterflies, seeking refuge for the winter. If you come to Pacific Grove in winter and early spring, you should visit the volunteer-staffed sanctuary and learn about the migration of the butterflies. The full droves of butterflies hanging from the trees are a remarkable sight. At first, you won't notice the shapes for what they are; but look closer and your mind will unravel the awesome sight. Suddenly you will realize that the shapes are hundreds of butterflies huddling together.
This spectacle is so unique to Pacific Grove that the city has imposed fines on butterfly molestation. Drive slowly when you visit and do not touch any of the butterflies. The thrill of witnessing such an amazing sight makes you appreciate the wonders of nature like never before.
You have the option to spot seals on the 17-mile drive or deer near Point Pinos if you still desire more wildlife or you could simply visit the Point Pinos lighthouse. Take a trip back in time and discover what life was like for the former lighthouse keepers.
If history is not your thing and you have seen enough of the breathtaking beach scenery, play a round of golf on the green of Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Links at Point Pinos. Ranked as one of America's best golf courses, it benefits from breathtaking views of famous landmarks and an exquisite old English style design, embracing natural features. The Monterey Peninsula harbors a large number of golf courses, including the famous Pebble Beach course, host to the US open and the Pebble Beach Pro Am.
You do not have to identify with the secluded jet-set society of Pebble Beach to enjoy the vistas of the 17-Mile Drive, home of the renowned Lone Cypress tree, which is the icon of the rugged California coast.
I find the entrance fee for the 17-Mile Drive too expensive, especially considering the multitude of sights along Ocean View Boulevard that compare well with those of the drive. Since I live close, I have taken many visitors on the drive, but I usually find it disappointing for the price.
There are several lodgings in Pacific Grove, some with spectacular views, but accommodations in Pacific Grove can be expensive depending on the property. The convenience of the location, closeness to good seafood restaurants and the option to go for a moonlight beach walk in one of the most livable places in California add to the value of every room in the city. If you're short on time, you can still take advantage of all Pacific Grove has to offer without spending the night.
This part of California almost requires that you dine on fresh seafood. One of my favorite seafood restaurants is Massaro & Santos on the Coast Guard Pier in Monterey. The oysters are outstanding, the salmon just wonderful and the sanddabs to die for. Sanddabs are small flounder-like fish that literally melt in your mouth when done right. They are breaded, pan-fried in butter and are simply the most delicious fish you can ever have. Some restaurants on Fisherman's Wharf are equally good as Massaro & Santos but they are usually much pricier.
Lighthouse Avenue in downtown Pacific Grove is another great place to have lunch or dinner. One of the least expensive places for lunch is the International restaurant at the intersection of Lighthouse and 17th street. The food is not outstanding but the selection across all continents is amazing. If your family always argues about the type of cuisine, you should come here. Everyone will find something.
AT A GLANCE
WHERE: You can find Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula, about two hours south of San Francisco.
WHAT: What not? Discover California sea otters, butterflies, flower carpets, hiking and biking trails, a lighthouse and the 17-Mile Drive. If you are hungry for more, explore nearby Monterey and Carmel.
WHEN: The butterflies are in town from November through March. The flower carpets bloom between April and July. July is also a good time to see some of the young harbor seals.
WHY: Bay Area residents come here to regain their sanity, kick back from their stressful days and take in the fresh sea air. You will never run out of sights to see, things to do and restaurants to try.
HOW: To learn more about this wonderful place, start with my posts on Pacific Grove and Monarch Grove Sanctuary. Check out some of the other places in the area on my blog California Photo Scout. For up to date information you can always call the Chamber of Commerce toll-free at: 800-656-6650.
Click here for a list of recommended Pacific Grove accommodations.
Photos, from top: Flower carpets in Pacific Grove; a lone cypress tree stands guard over the coast; butterflies of Pacific Grove; amazing sunset shows why area is so popular
Photos by Andre Gunther