Monterey VacationMonterey - Off the Wagon
Good For: Outdoor adventurers, romancing couples, gal pals on a girlfriend getaway, and anyone who loves wine – and wants to recreate a scene or two from Sideways.
The Highlights: Stargazing from lodging hidden by the expansive cliffs of Big Sur; dining at farm-to-fork restaurants; being silenced by natural beauty. Relaxation reigns, but it feels so much better after you’ve earned it: Trek the Central Coast and then unwind at the inviting Refuge spa.
What to Know: High-end accommodation ranges from rustic to contemporary cool, but all keep the luxury traveler in mind. Monterey’s historic wine region may be one of the largest in California, but it’s also intimate – it’s Napa Valley without the crowds. Plus, Monterey has variety and convenience: The contrast of communities keeps things interesting, and key areas are just ten to fifteen minutes apart.
Suggested Stay: 3 days
Where relaxation isn’t a privilege, it’s a way of life, Monterey County is the refuge for Silicon Valley to abandon high tech and tend to their organic gardens. And it’s where suit-and-ties convert into casual kicks to open quaint B&Bs. In short, it’s the kind of place that’ll make you want to leave everything behind. Or at least seriously consider telecommuting.
This is also Eastwood territory, where Clint, pre-Invisible Obama, once ruled as mayor. And then there’s the wine: Led by cult vintners, Monterey is the casual version of Napa –a low-key wine region where you can tour quiet vineyards and sample tasting flights poured by the winemakers themselves. In between bottles, hit the coastal trails: The oceanfront region is known as “the greatest meeting of land and sea,” where the Pacific pounds the coast at Big Sur.
Five-star luxe properties can be found throughout the Monterey Peninsula, but some of the region’s best sanctuaries are only accessible via private homes, like Elite Carmel’s country-chic, ocean-view Big Sur cabin. No mainstream property delivers such a low vantage point and personal view of the Pacific while positioning you near phenomenal hiking spots. The secluded two-bedroom property is revealed only after an adventurous drive down a path just past the famed Bixby Bridge. Sunsets and stargazing take on new meaning here. Amenities are not forgotten though, as Elite Carmel’s off-site concierge services are just a quick call away.
In Clint’s day, Carmel-by-the-Sea was all cobblestone streets and quaint boutiques. It still has a small-town charm, but a youthful energy is gaining momentum. One result is the multi-million-dollar renovation of La Playa Carmel hotel, with eco-friendly rooms that command ocean views. Just two blocks from the village, the hotel is convenient to the area’s new wine-tasting rooms and charming restaurants like Andre’s Bouchee. Carmel has no street addresses and very little street lighting, but there is nightlife in the shadows. Mingle with locals over Pinot Noir at the new wine bar Constance, and sip cocktails on the rooftop lounge of Vesuvio, where California girls (and boys) are showing off more than their tans. Or, bond over a Spanish porron and live DJ tunes at the cozy tapas restaurant Mundaka.
For those who have a heart for wine, brace yourself to fall in love – hard. Monterey County’s wine country has an impressive history: The Franciscan Friars of Soledad Mission first introduced wine grapes here over 200 years ago. The wine region is one of the largest in California yet it’s not overwhelmed with tourists. Try Monterey’s must-sip varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, at wineries like Wrath Wines in Carmel and the organic Heller Estate in Carmel Valley.
Pampering is perfected at Carmel Valley’s spacious spa Refuge, which bills itself as “America’s first co-ed relaxation spa” – perfect for that first weekend away with your hot date. Refuge has 10 mineral pools, zero-gravity chairs, a eucalyptus steam room, and the nation’s largest Finnish cedar sauna. Do as the locals and go at sunset, as the surrounding Monterey landscape slowly fades to black, and the stars brighten the sky.
Here on the Central Coast, one of California’s chief agricultural regions, farm-to-table isn’t just a trendy catchphrase. In Carmel Valley, head to LokaL to feast on organic dishes that are enhanced by herbs from the garden. Explore the different stylish rooms of the James Beard-nominated Restaurant 1833 in Monterey, where social hour means truffle popcorn and inventive cocktails from the bar’s spirits guru. At dinner, go for the truffle chicken or olive oil-poached sea bass – you can work it off with hikes in Point Lobos. And, for those seeking something more elicit, order the tableside absinthe service. Just watch that absinthe, lest you find yourself getting Dirtier than Harry.
(Photo: La Playa Carmel, courtesy of La Playa Carmel, LokaL Restaurant, courtesy of LokaL Restaurant)