I asked you guys about a quick SF trip a year and a half ago and got a huge amount of unbelievably useful amount of feedback. Followed 90% of it and had a fantastic time. This time we are looking at a small break flying in and out of SFO between Christmas and New Years and I'm leaning towards Carmel and the Husband wants to be anywhere close to Santa Rosa for the Russian River Brewery. If anyone has any tips on Carmel/Monterey I'd love to hear it. Places to stay, restaurants, attractions, etc. Also any plusses to a non beer drinking girl staying in Santa Rosa. Just FYI, we have a 7 month old (courtesy of SF ;) ) and hubby went to Santa Rosa on my 8th month pregnancy! so I'm looking for more justification on my Carmel choice and we have a limited time to leave our little princess. Open to all though. I love Pliny too and can be swayed towards the North side so any places not to miss would be appreciated. Thanks for your time!
The Monterey Bay Aquarium gets a huge crowd, but I had success getting in promptly just by arriving 15 minutes before it opened.
Thanks Inbsig, going west is the only way we get to beat the crowds :). The aquarium is on the list. Went there years ago as a kid and we have an oddly impressive one in Atlanta but I remember that one being special!
Point Lobos State Park, about 4 miles south of Carmel, is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove is also very beautiful.
One of the best things I did there was a small boat tour in Elkhorn Slough - lots of wildlife, up close - especially sea otters. http://www.elkhornslough.com/brochure.html You need to book in advance.
Ano Nuevo State Park has one of the largest populations of elephant seals. The end of December is the beginning of the birthing and mating season. It's an amazing experience to walk through the dunes (with a park ranger on a guided walk, of course) and get quite close to the animals. You may even get to see a couple of males battling over a harem. Reservations are usually required - and the places generally fill up pretty quickly. The park is on Highway 1, a beautiful scenic drive from San Francisco. If you pick up a car at the airport, then take 92 down to the coast and head south, pretty much scenic all the way to, well, a lot farther than you're going :-)
Drive up to Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz (or stop on your way down) to see the monarch butterflies wintering there. It's an incredible sight if you catch a warm sunny day when they flit around - so best time to visit is usually mid-afternoon.
Point Lobos State Park has great hiking trails. Check if there will be any docent-led hikes on the trails or through the tide pools They are reputed to be pretty good. If the weather's good, sunset is great there.
Instead of the pricey 17-Mile Drive, you can drive for free along the coast through Pacific Grove. It's not as touristy as Carmel, so you may want to stay there. The Fishwife - 1996 1/2 Sunset Drive Pacific Grove - had such good food (and desserts) that we went back the next day.
If you drink alcohol, the Bargetto Winery is pretty close. They have a tasting room in Monterey. Besides good red wines, they produce a line of "Chaucer wines" - mead (so good mulled, especially at Christmastime) and light, sweet fruit wines.
I forgot to mention it, but Chani is absolutely correct about skipping the 17 Mile Drive. IMO, the scenery is actually better on the free road along the coast. I also second her recommendation for the Fishwife. In addition to really good food, the prices are very reasonable.
Assume that neither you or your husband are not golfers, otherwise the subject of Pebble Beach would have come up. While I understand what some have said about the 17 mile drive, having played golf at Pebble several times I believe it is worth the small amount of money it costs to take it. In addition, you will be able to go to The Lodge at Pebble Beach, have lunch or a glass of wine on the veranda overlooking the world famous 18th hole and do some gift shopping for friends are a golfer. Those will be treasured gifts. The outdoor fire pits at The Inn at Spanish Bay, which is on the 17 mile drive is a great environment to relax with a hot or cold drink and every night around 6:00 a bagpiper plays as he walks down the 18th hole toward the hotel. Also, go south to Big Sur, and on down the PCH. Great scenery and you can stop and relax anywhere you want. Have a great time in one of my favorite places in the world.
Thanks Rosalyn, Chani, and Jim. Great tips. I'll check out Point Lobos and Asilomar. Last trip we actually made it to Ana Nuevo due to a recommendation from here, probably Chani. Loved it. I will definitely look up the Fishwife and winery. I'm a wine drinker. Hubby likes beer and bourbon but we will both try whatever is the specialty. I like Jim's idea about Pebble Beach too. The husband is a golfer and has been to a lot of big courses like Augusta (just to watch!) so that may be a neat surprise I could sneak in. If you have any recommendations on where to stay and any other restaurant recommendations I'd love to hear them. We don't have to be budget conscious on this trip and intend to eat and sleep well. Thanks for the thoughtful replies!
I grew up in the Russian River Valley just northwest of Santa Rosa and can give you a few ideas if you end up going north instead of south!
There are some really nice places to stay, two of which I'll recommend here. If you want to be fairly close to Santa Rosa but also in good proximity to the wineries of the Russian River Valley then stay near or in Healdsburg. I would recommend the Hotel Healdsburg right on the town square or, for a more B&B type experience, stay at the beautiful Madrona Manor just outside of town among the vineyards. There are many small, family operated wineries up and down the valley. My favorite is Hop Kiln Winery - it's very rustic and their wine is truly handmade.
Visit Armstrong Redwood Grove, drive to the coast out along the Russian River, and pop up the hill to Safari West and take a jeep tour. There is lots to do in the area! I do like Carmel and Monterey but, in my opinion, both have become a little kitschy/touristy. The coast around there is beautiful though!
If you end up going north instead of south, come back. I have a few ideas for that too - but I'm with you, I'd go south instead.
We like the beach at Carmel as a place to take our dog, and the town is nice, but we prefer the scenery on the coast north of San Francisco. So if it is to be north, perhaps you could persuade your husband to stay on the coast instead of inland (although if you must stay inland, I agree with Anita that Healdsburg is the place. After that, Sonoma.)
0n a wine-tasting trip last spring, we stayed in Sebastapol with friends and visited wineries from there. But my favorite thing that trip was lunch at River's End in Jenner:
The food was excellent. They have cabins and I would love to stay there. Views are incredible, and so romantic.
Leslie, All of the information above is great! The elephant seals at Ano Nuevo State Beach are a site to see. Monterey is the epicenter of California becoming a State in 1850. Here are a few links about Historic Monterey and the historic Missions in California with Carmel Mission being the jewel in the crown of missions. Have a great trip!
Thanks everyone! I'm making notes of all the recommendations. Just fyi, I'm from Long Beach and spent my childhood in the back of a station wagon traveling the PCH in the late 70's/80's. It's been a while since I've been there and have not even seen a small percentage of it. A cousin said Carmel was the touristy Cinque Terre of the West Coast. I was afraid of that. We may head there anyway as I have fond memories of it as a kid. Thanks for all of your thoughtful replies!
Seems like everyone I meet has some connection to Long Beach! Small world.....enjoy your trip!
I didn't find Carmel nearly as touristy as Monterrey. Pacific Grove is quieter and probably cheaper. Same beautiful coastline. I lived in the Bay Area for 8 years, been back several times to visit, and reading this thread has me yearning for another visit. One of the best places on earth. Have a great trip, Leslie!