Time: 2.5-hour drive
What you get: Windswept coast, world’s best aquarium, rickety charm
Monterey lodging, especially those properties near the historic ruins of Cannery Row, can be a bit funky. However, jutting out over the water, the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa is an oasis of luxury. Grab lunch alfresco on Schooner’s sprawling heated patio. After your spa treatment on the top floor, head out to the cozy rooftop deck to lounge, hit the steam room or soak in one of two whirlpools overlooking the bay. You’re only steps from Monterey Bay Aquarium—the world’s finest—so of course you have to schedule a visit. Luckily, there's no rush. Starting July 4, the aquarium is open until 8 p.m. on weekends for their "Evenings by the Bay" series.
But for an up-close look at the local sea life, go on a guided two-hour kayak tour with Adventures by the Sea. You’ll paddle in sit-atop kayaks through the kelp beds to see otter families, jellies, sea lions, seals—and possibly even a few small dolphins—in their natural habitat. Don’t fear the cold water; you’re supplied with a warm, splash-resistant suit. Another option: If you’ve seen the cypresses and cliffs of 17-Mile Drive only from your car window, try taking in the scenery instead from a bike, which you can also rent from Adventures by the Sea. A groomed bike path leads straight from Cannery Row to the Drive, which has a dedicated bike lane. Turn around anytime if you’re not up for the 34-mile round trip. Along the way, make sure to stop at the Inn at Spanish Bay to have a drink at Roy’s, where, between 5:45 and 6:45 p.m. each day, a bagpiper shows up to herald the dusk. For a full-on dinner though, make a reservation at Montrio back in downtown Monterey—this isn’t a foodie town, but the red-brick firehouse and Euro-influenced comfort food is as good as it gets on the Central Coast. Everyone orders the crab cakes; for dessert you must try the warm white chocolate-brioche bread pudding with passion fruit ice cream. Monday will come too quickly.