Recently my husband and I made the trip — staying in unique properties and enjoying the verdant region with its knockout views.
We started on Monterey’s Cannery Row. Don’t dismiss this out of hand as “too touristy.” The area is steeped in history as the epicenter of Steinbeck country. It’s the ideal place to jumpstart the fun. We checked into the InterContinental The Clement Monterey — the perfect location (for us and the car). The modern hotel sits on Monterey Bay (and a national marine sanctuary) and fits into its seaside locale with a weathered exterior and boardwalk. The interior is upscale and inviting and the rooms are comfortable, spacious, loaded with amenities, and many have views (some with balconies) of the main street and the scenic bay. From here it’s a quick walk around town.
For lunch we tried the Monterey Bay Aquarium Restaurant, Cindy Pawlcyn’s latest adventure serving up fresh, local and sustainable creations. Every seat has bay views — all the better because with borrowed binoculars and a guide, you’ll be able to identify the birds you spot. Hog Farms grilled asparagus, wild Pacific Dungeness crab cakes and the Thai-style mussels are hits.
• Afterward we set out on the Cannery Row Wine Walk. Each tasting room has a unique vibe and friendly staff.
• A Taste of Monterey (representing more than 70 wineries): Don’t miss the 2007 Cobblestone Chardonnay and Boëté’s 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and 2006 Reserve Cabernet Franc.
• Scheid Vineyards: Find great reserve wines, especially the 2007 Chardonnay and 2006 Claret. Their 2008 50/50 is a unique Cabernet/Syrah blend.
• Baywood Cellars: Try the sweet wines — the 2003 Symphony Late Harvest, 2000 10-year Tawny Port and the Grappa Limoncello.
• Pierce Ranch: The 2010 Albariño, 2007 Tourbillon and 2007 Tempranillo are outstanding.
Dinner that night was at the hotel’s C Restaurant, where we experienced a spectacular view of the marine sanctuary, the setting sun, and the endless ocean. The restaurant is an avid supporter of the aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, serving only what’s sustainable. Because local ingredients rule, we opted for the smoked trout sashimi with radishes, cured lemon and miso-yuzu vinaigrette; pork shank terrine with Dungeness crab and beluga lentils; and caramelized day boat sea scallops served with a porcini-mushroom-leek stew. We paired local wines with each delectable course. It was an easy elevator ride home to be lulled to sleep by crashing waves and glow from the fireplace.
On our way south to Carmel the next morning, we stopped at Morgan Winery, tucked into a shopping area just outside of downtown. Bright and airy, taste both Morgan and Lee Family Farm wines including the 2008 Double L Syrah and the 2008 Garys’ Pinot Noir.
From there, it’s a five-minute drive to the picture perfect (and one of the pet friendliest) towns — Carmel-by-the-Sea. This charming enclave is home to shopping, galleries, cafes, and a captivating beach. Lunch was at Cantinetta Luca with its colorful interior, brick-lined walls and wood-burning oven. The classic Italian food is simple and rustic. We ate the best grilled king prawns with corona beans, roasted peppers and salsa verde; house-made salumi, and a funghi pizza with crimini, spinach and Gorgonzola. Matched with vibrant Italian wines, it was heaven.
• Figge Cellars: The 2009 Pelio Chardonnay, 2006 Syrah and 2008 Paraiso Pinot Noir are not to be missed.
• Cima Collina: Favorites include the 2005 Hilltop Estate Pinot Noir and 2009 Tondre Grapefield Riesling.
• Caraccioli Cellars: Love the 2006 Brut Cuvee, 2008 Chardonnay and 2007 Pinot Noir.
• Galante Vineyards: Enjoy the 2005 “Blackjack Pasture” Cabernet, 2008 “Olive Hill” Petite Sirah and an interesting blend in the 2007 Grand Champion.
Nestled in the midst of downtown is a serene and beautiful French country oasis — L’Auberge Carmel. This Relais & Châteaux offers luxe accommodations in a boutique setting. The landscaped courtyard awash in bright flora is a lovely place to relax. Each of the 20 rooms is distinctive: all boast rich fabrics, warm interiors and large bathrooms (some with soaking tubs).
Dinner at Aubergine, the cozy 12-table restaurant in the hotel was memorable. Four luscious courses featured ingredients delivered by local farmers. The amuse-bouches were awesome, especially the English pea sponge cake with pea puree and pea shoots. We savored hamachi with sea beans, seawater, bonito jelly and uni; ocean trout with crispy skin; halibut with sea lettuce, oyster and pigtail. And the international wine selections were incredible. We ended the delicious evening with a strawberry cream cheese parfait.
Next morning, the full breakfast (included with our room) gave us the fuel to make the scenic drive home to the Northside.
Now is the time to visit Monterey and Carmel — September weather is gorgeous. You know you’ll eat, drink and sleep well!
Monterey & Carmel, Calif.: about a two-and-one-half hour drive south of San Francisco. Highway 1 south on a clear day is exceptional. More direct is 101 south to 156 west to 1 south.
Tourist Information: www.carmelcalifornia.com; www.monterey.org; www.canneryrowwinewalk.com.
Where to Stay
Intercontinental The Clement Monterey: 750 Cannery Row, 866-781-2406, www.ictheclementmonterey.com. Internet specials.
L’Auberge Carmel: Monte Verde Street at Seventh Avenue, 831-624-8578, www.laubergecarmel.com. Rooms from $425 (ask for a room on the second floor to avoid overhead noise).
Where to Eat
Monterey Bay Aquarium Restaurant: 886 Cannery Row, 831-648-4870, www.montereybayaquarium.org. Soups & appetizers from $7, large plates from $18.
The C Restaurant & Bar: 750 Cannery Row, 831-375-4800, www.thecrestaurant-monterey.com.
C-food bar from $1.50, appetizers from $9.50, entrées from $21, wines by the glass from $8.50.
Cantinetta Luca: Dolores Street between Ocean and Seventh, 831-625-6500, www.cantinettaluca.comAntipasti from $8, house-made salumi $18/selection, pizza from $13, 3-ounce wine pours from $4, 6-ounce wine pours from $8.
Aubergine: In L’Auberge Carmel, 831-524-8578, www.laubergecarmel.com/dining. Four courses $89/person, with wine $75/person.
Monterey Bay Aquarium: 886 Cannery Row, 831-648-4800, www.montereybayaquarium.org
A Taste of Monterey: 700 Cannery Row, 2nd floor, 888-646-5446, www.tastemonterey.com
Scheid Vineyards: 751 Cannery Row, 831-656-9463, www.scheidwines.com
Baywood Cellars: 381 Cannery Row, 831-645-9037, www.baywood-cellars.com
Pierce Ranch: 499 Wave Street, 831-372-8900, www.piercevineyards.com
Morgan: 204 Crossroads Boulevard, 831-626-3700, www.morganwinery.com
Figge Cellars: Winfield Gallery, Dolores between Ocean and Seventh, 831-384-4149, www.figgecellars.com
Cima Collina: San Carlos between Ocean and Seventh, 831-620-0645, www.cimacollina.com
Caraccioli Cellars: Dolores between Ocean and Seventh, 831-262-4148, www.caracciolicellars.com
Galante: Dolores between Ocean and Seventh, 831-624-3800, www.galantevineyards.com
Samsonite Wind Guard Umbrella: 800-593-5251, www.csnstores.com. Protects against the wind, automatic open/close, fits in your bag, $27.
Verilux ReadyLight Flashlight: 800-454-4408, www.verilux.com. Solar powered, rechargeable, durable, lightweight, $30.
Caorunn Gin: www.caorunngin.com. Scottish, handcrafted, small batch, delicious.
Hovercraft 2 In-Flight Bag: 800-962-4943, www.magellans.com. Multiple compartments, fits under the seat, made of ballistic nylon, $82.50.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Patty on Twitter @pattygb.