At first glance you may think that the small towns of Monterey and Carmel deserve just quick stops on a day trip from San Francisco, but think again. Monterey County is an area that demands lingering. The coastline is a dramatic bounty of natural beauty and wildlife, and the towns teem with historical riches. Three days in the area gives you the opportunity to see the best of Monterey and Carmel, as well as a trip a little further down the coast.
Day 1: Experience Monterey
Assuming that you are traveling down from San Francisco, your trip will begin with one of the most scenic drives in the world: Highway 1. Put the top down if you can and take a leisurely drive along the coast until the route turns into a freeway and you arrive in Monterey.
Stretch your legs and brush up on Californian history with a walk through Customs House Plaza and then down to Fisherman’s Wharf for a lunch of clam chowder served in a sourdough bowl.
After lunch take a stroll through Cannery Row, made famous by the John Steinbeck book of the same name, and then to Monterey Bay Aquarium. Hopefully by this point the school groups will have moved on, leaving you in peace to contemplate the ghostly jellyfish and adorable sea otters.
Day 2: Carmel by Car
Get back in the car and on to the 17-Mile Drive, taking your time to stop at the designated lookout spots where you will see harbor seals and the iconic Lone Cypress.
Afterward, head down to the Carmel Mission and give yourself time to enjoy the peaceful gardens and learn about the history of California’s missions.
Try to fit in at least a few hours at Point Lobos State Reserve where you can hike, check out tide pools, scuba dive or spot wildlife. Then, spend the rest of the day sampling the treasures of Monterey County’s many wineries with a trolley tour that visits a selection of tasting rooms.
Day 3: Beautiful Big Sur
Leave a whole day to enjoy Big Sur. Hike through redwoods and past waterfalls along one of the many trails, unleash your creative potential in the landscape that inspired Jack Kerouac, Ansel Adams and Henry Miller, then set up camp under the star-dotted sky that seems to go on forever.