With storybook architecture, perennial morning mist, and more fireplaces per capita than anywhere on the planet (or so it would seem), the Monterey Peninsula is one of Northern California's most charming enclaves—it's been compared to Cinque Terre, Italy by Condé Nast Traveler.
The Monterey Peninsula recently announced its reopening to visitors, however it's important to note that Monterey County remains on the state's Covid-19 watchlist. Stores are open for distanced shopping; more outdoor dining and imbibing is being made available at restaurants, wineries, and breweries; and you can safely explore beaches, parks, and the famous 17-Mile Drive.
Whether you are a Monterey Peninsula local looking for the latest openings in your area, or if you are planning to visit from the Bay Area, be sure to check Monterey's official safety updates and rules before heading out, and always wear a mask when exploring in proximity to others.
Explore Monterey Peninsula's Beaches, Nature Preserves + More
Full of picturesque beaches and picnic spots, the Monterey Peninsula lends itself best to discovery. In other words, wander Carmel Beach, peruse the galleries, stop in here and there. If you must have an itinerary, here are a few of our favorite stops.
Nature: Even if you're from the Bay Area, the scenery here is captivating. No trip is complete without a winding tour of 17-Mile Drive (Pebble Beach)—ready your iPhones for photo ops of the Lone Cypress and the beach at Spanish Bay. // Hikers won't want to miss Point Lobos (Carmel), a natural reserve where you're guaranteed an up-close view of the local wildlife including dolphins, sea lions, and more. Bring a mask and be sure to social-distance on the walking trails, and plan ahead for limited vehicle parking. // While picnicking, lounging, and bonfires at Carmel Beach are currently prohibited to ensure social-distancing, you can still swim, surf, walk, or run (while maintaining at least six feet of distance) on the picturesque beach, conveniently located within steps of downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea. // At Carmel River State Beach, currently open with limited parking for physical activity only, you'll find a mile-long stretch of sand plus the Carmel River Lagoon and Wetlands Natural Reserve. Bring binoculars and look for birds including Great Blue Heron, Brown Pelican, Greater Yellowlegs, and more. // Get your energy out on the 18-mile long Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, which has two lanes perfect for a socially-distanced long walk or run. Kayak and bicycle rentals are available with increased sanitation courtesy of Adventures by the Sea and Monterey Bay Kayaks. // Meander Monterey's Secret Gardens (525 Polk St., Monterey) full of fruit trees, cacti, and grapevines. (Note that the Cooper-Molera Adobe is currently closed.) // In winter (November through February), you can see the queen of all butterflies feed and rest at The Monarch Sanctuary (250 Ridge Rd., Pacific Grove), one of the biggest overwintering sites for the species in the country. Early afternoon is your best bet to catch the stunning creatures in flight.
See: Take your Pradas over to City Hall (Monte Verde St. between Ocean and 7th, Carmel-by-the-Sea)—whose groovy signage is more '60s movie title than municipality—and get a permit for heels in excess of two inches. Once legal to strut the town's dimly lit cobblestone streets, feel free to openly enjoy an ice cream, which was legalized in 1987 thanks to the city's former mayor, Clint Eastwood. // With the 63rd annual, in-person Monterey Jazz Festival cancelled this year, you can still get your jazz fix virtually from September 25th to 27th. Cross your fingers for IRL performances in 2021.
Art + Shop: Please, by all means, skip the Thomas Kinkade art cottage and seek out some real art. Currently open by appointment only, Weston Gallery (6th Ave. between Dolores and Lincoln, Carmel-by-the-Sea) is one of the country's oldest spaces dedicated to photography; you'll find plenty of works by Ansel Adams, of course. // For more contemporary fare, check out rock-and-roll photography and more at Gallery Exposed (San Carlos between Ocean and 7th Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea) on Saturday afternoons, or by appointment. // For artful finds including ceramics, handmade jewelry, and home decor, Lilify (281 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey) is awash in soothing earth tones. Shop in store with social-distancing guidelines and increased routine cleaning—or online for curbside pickup. // Opened in 1987 and currently run by the founders' twin daughters, Tancredi & Morgen (7174 Carmel Valley Rd., Carrmel) offers homeware and apparel from near and far. Shop in person with a limited number of fellow customers for finds including antique oyster plates from France, handmade pillows from found textiles, and colorful glassware. // While Carmel is more about art glass than avant-garde fashions, there are a pair of boutiques here worthy of your hard-earned cash: In Carmel-by-the-Sea, sister shops Paloosh (100 Dolores St., Carmel-by-the-Sea) and Girl Boy Girl (Mission and 7th Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea) keep style mavens shelling out for designer labels. Shop in store with a mask or order online for nationwide shipping.
Where to Eat + Drink Outdoors on the Monterey Peninsula
Bay Area food snobs will feel right at home on the Monterey Peninsula, which serves up plenty of chef-driven fare, craft beer, and tastings of local wine. While indoor dining rooms are currently closed, you'll find plenty of outdoor patios for socially distanced revelry.
In Monterey: Paluca Trattoria (6 Fisherman's Wharf) might have gained some notoriety as the site of the coffee shop in Big Little Lies, but it's the homemade pastas and sauces that have kept this Italian restaurant in business for years. Make a lunch or dinner reservation on the waterfront patio Sunday through Thursday—or join the Yelp waitlist on Fridays and Saturdays—and don't forget to save room for the housemade tiramisu. // Cult Taco (481 Alvarado St.) brings casual, Mexican street food to downtown Monterey. Munch on street tacos, tortas, burritos, and chips and salsa outside on Tuesday through Saturday afternoons or schedule a pickup online. Wash it all down with a hibiscus margarita—and grab Take & Bake frozen enchiladas for later. // If you miss stylish Carmel coffee shop Bright (stay tuned for news about their new location), visit Monterey sister spot Cafe Lumiere (365 Calle Principal), where you can enjoy a cold brew, latte or even a frosé—alongside an avocado tartine, fresh pastry, or superfood salad—on the patio. // Help Captain + Stoker (398 E Franklin St.) celebrate two years in Monterey with an espresso drink and breakfast eats. // Venture over to neighboring Pacific Grove to scope out Lucy's on Lighthouse (1120 Lighthouse Ave.). Find a seat in the outdoor beer garden for handcrafted Marianne's Ice Cream and cheat-day-worthy hot dogs named for local surf spots.
There's a burgeoning craft beer scene in the area. Downtown's Alvarado Street Brewery (426 Alvarado St.) has more than 30 rotating taps, several beers brewed on site, and an outdoor beer garden. // Opened last summer, Dust Bowl Brewing Company's (290 Figueroa St.) Monterey taproom is open for distanced outdoor seating and pickup. Order the summery Kash Crop Orange Mango Ale or Change Order IPA, plus pineapple shrimp or hot agave chicken tacos from Wedo's Food Truck, parked on site. // Just looking to pick up 16-ounce cans by the four pack or crowlers for later? Preorder from Berkeley-based craft brewer Fieldwork's (560 Munras Ave.) Monterey outpost. // Lighthouse Avenue newcomer Pearl Hour (214 Lighthouse Ave.) is currently closed, but you can order cocktail kits for delivery Wednesdays through Sundays.
In Carmel: Oversized plates of traditional breakfasts are served in cozy cafes throughout Carmel-by-the-Sea. For a more a refined take, head to Carmel Belle (at Doud Craft Studios, San Carlos St. between Ocean Ave. & 7th Ave, Carmel-by-the-Sea), for patio dining or takeout dishes featuring ingredients from sustainable farmers. // For an epic Mediterranean-style dinner—think too many bottles of French whites to be paired with French- and Italian-inflected fare, reserve a table on the too-charming patio at Casanova (5th Ave. between Mission and San Carlos, Carmel-by-the-Sea) and order the braised beef cannelloni. Don't miss $5 glasses of prosecco and $2.50 oysters during happy hour. // For Casanova quality on a budget, La Bicyclette (Dolores at 7th Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea) serves rustic-yet-gorgeous lunches and dinners. Order ahead for wood-fired pizzas and salads to go; they also have outdoor seating. // Get your carb fix outside of Roman-style pizzeria and bakery Rise + Roam (Mission St. and 7th Ave.). Choose from various pies made with organic sourdough crust (including vegan options), handmade pasta, and salads. Take advantage of free delivery. // Up for something more festive? Pescadero Mexican Restaurant serves Baja-inspired plates on its patio all day Tuesday through Sunday at (San Carlos St. between Ocean Ave. and 7th Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea). You can also order for curbside pickup or delivery. // In such a quirky little town, Cultura (Dolores St. between 5th and 6th Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea) still manages to stand out thanks to its outdoor fire pits and Oaxacan-inspired menu. Make reservations in advance for dinner—or lunch on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays—and don't miss the traditional chapulines. // Stop by Stationæry's (San Carlos Square, San Carlos St. between 5th & 6th Ave.) new parklet—complete with heat lamps— for brunch or dinner Wednesdays through Sundays. Healthy-ish offerings include salmon and brown rice salad and black cod ceviche; indulgences include blueberry pancakes, Tsar Nicolai caviar and chips, and olive oil cake. // Opened mid-pandemic, The Pocket (Lincoln St. 5 NE of 6th Ave.) offers heated patio seating and California coastal cuisine for lunch and dinner—think waygu beef burgers, pan-seared salmon filet, and burrata salad with prosciutto—plus specialty cocktails and wine from around the world. // If it's cold in town, hop in the car and head to Carmel Valley where there's almost always sun on the patio at Corkscrew Cafe (55 W. Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel). Mac and cheese, pizzas, charcuterie—what's not to like? You can also order dishes to go daily online.
After lunch at Corkscrew, mosey next door for an outdoor, dog-friendly tasting—for small groups, there's no need to reserve in advance—and take home a bottle of rosé from the restaurant's own wine label, Georis (1 Pilot Rd., Carmel). If you skipped lunch, you can even enjoy Corkscrew Cafe dishes while you taste. // Woman-owned Scratch Winery (Dolores between Ocean St. and 7th Ave.) is offering by-reservation pours and caviar in the stylish new parklet it shares with Winfield Gallery.
The Best Hotels in Carmel, Monterey + Big Sur
Next to its vistas, the best thing about the Monterey Peninsula may be its hotels—whether rustic or all-out luxurious, there's no skimping on charm—and safety precautions.
In Carmel-by-the-Sea and Pebble Beach: Beloved local icon and film star Doris Day passed away in 2019, but you can still stay at her 1920s Spanish-Moroccan-style Cypress Inn (Lincoln Street & 7th Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea) which is famously dog-friendly. The bar shows the actress' old films, a ridiculously cozy living room is warmed by a roaring fireplace, and an artwork by Thierry Guetta (aka Mr. Brainwash) dominates the courtyard. It's especially popular for pet owners come weekend brunch. Wear a mask in common areas or while using the outdoor facilities, and rest assured that precautions including extensive cleaning procedures (except in your room during your stay) are in place. // Follow the cypress-tree-lined 17-Mile Drive to The Inn at Spanish Bay (2700 17-Mile Dr., Pebble Beach), a luxuriously relaxed golf resort that awaits with sunset drinks around blazing fire pits overlooking Monterey Bay. Cuddle up in fleece blankets and sip a hot toddy while the bagpiper plays on. Expect new cleaning protocols and hand sanitizer stations, bring your own clubs if you plan to golf, and reserve spots at the pool and restaurants in advance. // Just steps away from Carmel's endless eateries, shops, and the coast, The Getaway (Junipero St. and Ocean Ave., Carmel-by-the-Sea) offers 34 light-filled, beachy rooms completely revamped by the PlumpJack group. Bonus points for dog-friendly rooms and a curated list of attractions for you and your furry friend. Uncrowded public spaces and enhanced cleanliness procedures—but no housekeeping during your stay to minimize contact—ensure safety.
In Monterey: There's nothing like feeling the tide beneath your feet—or your room, for that matter. Perched right over the ocean, Monterey Plaza Hotel (400 Cannery Row) is all about relaxing to the sound of the waves. Although you can't book an appointment at the newly renovated spa, you can still hang out and enjoy water views from the rooftop spa deck. Expect expanded outdoor seating at Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar, contactless check-in, a more flexible cancellation policy, and additional sanitation measures.
In Big Sur: Perched on the coastal cliffs on the way to Big Sur, Hyatt Carmel Highlands (120 Highland Dr, Carmel) is a gorgeous property with cavernous jacuzzi bath tubs and oh-so-comfy beds. The bar and spa are currently closed, but you can still hang out by the pool with limited capacity. // Among our favorite stays anywhere, Ventana Big Sur (48123 Highway 1, Big Sur) unveiled a major renovation back in the summer of 2017. Planted with lavender, towering redwoods, and many other wild things, the North American debut of Alila Hotels & Resorts includes 59 refreshed guest rooms and suites, a new Glass House gallery, and 15 safari-style glamping tents along with a bathhouse with teak showers and heated floors. For now, each booking at the newly reopened Ventana is all-inclusive and keeps guest safety in mind. Meals will be served in your room, a dedicated chaise lounge, or at the spacious Sur House. You'll also have access to reservation-only indoor and outdoor wellness studios, outdoor lounging nooks, and complimentary hiking and adventuring equipment.
In Carmel Valley: If you don't mind the after-wining-and-dining drive from town, a stay in the valley is worth the peaceful night's sleep and sunny mornings. The four-star Bernardus Lodge & Spa (415 W. Carmel Valley Rd.) is a cozy place to hole up—we love a glass of Champagne and a friendly game of croquet on the lawn in the afternoon. Back in 2019, it was named one of the world's 41 best hotel rooms by Forbes. Choose from various housekeeping options, reserve a seat at Lucia Restaurant & Bar in advance (opt for indoor or outdoor seating with social-distanced spacing), access your room via private, outside entry, and chill on the spaced-out, regularly cleaned pool deck. // Carmel Valley Ranch (One Old Ranch Rd.), with its multi-bedroom suites, three saltwater pools, two restaurants featuring expanded outdoor seating, and plenty of acreage for socially distanced hikes, is a terrific spot for families (and for couples with a playful spirit) looking to safely escape for a few days. Updated policies include events and activities limited to six guests at a time, housekeeping by request only, contact-free or distanced check-ins, and increased disinfecting. // Grownups looking to hide out can do so happily at Quail Lodge & Golf Club (8205 Valley Greens Dr.), on a historic 850-acre ranch. Sporting types can hit balls on the 18-hole championship golf course, while those less inclined may enjoy farm-to-table fare outside at Edgar's Restaurant by reservation only, peaceful walks around the sprawling property, or sun by the outdoor heated swimming pool. Receive your room keys via curbside check-in, then rest easy thanks to new sanitation protocols.