Monterey County: An adventurer’s dream, a photographer’s fantasy, a place of unbridled beauty

No matter what your travel style, Monterey County is sure to please. Deemed one of the most breathtaking areas in the world, this coastal gem will undoubtedly leave travelers in a state of speechless awe at the wonder of natural beauty that is so much bigger than themselves. Monterey County boasts that kind of exquisite beauty that makes us contemplate our own existential insignificance in the vast and incredible beauty of nature.

My adventure in Monterey County began picking my family up at SFO airport and then driving down the Pacific Coast Highway to Monterey. The drive was absolutely gorgeous—crystal waters, rock formations, and mountains all drenched in the spectacular California summer sun. Along the way we stopped at a fruit stand and had a wonderful homemade walnut pie, organic strawberries, raspberries, and coffee. Everything was fresh and delicious. We got back on the road, but it wasn’t long before I was saying “Grandma we have to stop and take pictures here!” This happened approximately every twenty minutes—I was just so overwhelmed by the beauty of the California coast that I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

We arrived in beautiful Monterey and drove down famous Cannery Row to our exquisite hotel—The Monterey Plaza. The Plaza is the first hotel in the city of Monterey to be honored as a Mobil Travel Guide Four-Star Awarded property. Situated right on the bay, this gorgeous hotel took my breath away with its classic elegance combined with the natural beauty of its location.

My grandma sat down while I got in line to check in and my little brother explored the lobby and veranda. I was next in line to check-in when my grandma came up to me and told me she wanted me to come outside; there was something I had to see. I told her I’d be out in just a minute but she told me I needed to come right then. I walked out onto the plaza and instantly understood—a couple was getting married. What a spectacular location for a wedding!

After we checked-in and got settled into our beautiful balcony room we decided to head out and explore. We spent the afternoon walking down Cannery Row, checking out all the cute little shops and just enjoying being together in such a charming place. My little brother absolutely loved every minute of the vacation and said that he was “definitely moving to Monterey!”

On our walk back up Cannery Row my grandma saw this beautiful little gallery with illustrated pictures that reminded her of England so we decided to go in. The walls of the Rip Squeak Gallery were lined with framed images from the books and I was taken back to my childhood and the bedtime stories of the field mice of Strawberry Fields that my grandma used to tell me as a little girl. She saw that I had fallen in love with these beautiful books and bought me the set. Not only did I find these beautiful books to add to my collection, but that day the illustrator of the Rip Squeak series, Julia Harnett Harvey, was there doing a book signing and signed my books for me.

After spending most of the afternoon on Cannery Row, we decided to go back to the Plaza to shower and get ready for dinner. That night we went to the Sardine Factory and had an incredible dinner. The atmosphere in this restaurant was indescribable. Each room had a different ambiance to it that was entirely its own. I had never been in a restaurant like the Sardine Factory before and was absolutely enchanted.

There are four different dining rooms: The Steinbeck Room, The Conservatory, The Captain’s Room, and the Wine Cellar. Walking into each of them was pure sensory delight. We ate in the conservatory room and our taste buds were tantalized with each course—calamari, aged steak, garlic potatoes, fresh asparagus, and molten chocolate cake for desert.

Our second day in Monterey we decided to go on the Pacific Coast drive to Big Sur. It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day. The shutter of my camera was clicking non-stop as we drove down the stunning California Coast. It was so surreal to look around me and relish in the fact that I was driving down Highway 1 on a beautiful summer’s day. I had always dreamt of doing that and it was the most wonderful indescribable feeling of pure happiness as I shared this experience with my family.

We finally decided to turn around after hours of driving up the coastline and the views were just as breathtaking the second time around. I was filled with that same feeling that had been filling me all summer of being completely unable to wipe the smile from my face. There was something magical about California, something that spoke to me, and made me feel like I belonged there.

We stopped in Carmel on the way back to Monterey and toured the historic Carmel mission and then walked around quaint downtown Carmel, looked at the fabulous artwork in the galleries, stopped for ice-cream, and then spent the late afternoon and early evening at the lovely Carmel beach. After our full day we decided to spend the evening in and had a simple dinner of French bread, brie, and raspberries on our balcony listening to the soothing sound of the waves and marine life.

Our final day in Monterey was spent at the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. My family and I were all extremely impressed by the conservation efforts of the aquarium and of the way the staff got visitors involved with things such as e-cards to Governor Schwarzenegger supporting marine conservation. The aquarium is a beautiful facility and it was a really enjoyable and educational experience watching the sea otters frolic, the feeding of the penguins, and discovering the magic world of seahorses. It is a definite must when visiting Monterey.

That evening we got all dressed up and took the historic 17-mile drive out to the Inn at Spanish Bay. We sat out on the patio which was right on the golf-course and had an amazing view of the bay. As dusk settled in the air was filled with the highland sounds of the Scottish bagpipes. After listening to the beautiful music of the bagpiper we ate at Roy’s Hawaiian fusion restaurant for dinner. It was exquisite, delightful, decadent. We started off with a delectable appetizer of shrimp, scallops, and spare ribs, shared the coconut crusted New York strip steak and the crab crusted sea bass for our main course and ended with our favorite, sinfully delicious chocolate soufflé.

Filled to perfection by our wonderful meal we headed back to Monterey. Along the way we stopped at Pebble Beach so I could take nighttime pictures of this beautiful beach. I took my heels off, felt the sand beneath my toes, the salty sea breeze flowing through my hair and I breathed a sigh of total contentment as I willed my Nikon to fully capture the stunning scene before me.

The next morning it was time to bid farewell to Monterey. It was difficult to say goodbye to a place so beautiful and so filled with wonderful memories, but I knew we’d be back. And so it was with a twinkle in our eyes that we said adieu to Monterey with the silent promise that we’d soon return.

Though I had a fantastic experience in Monterey it does not even begin to cover all the amazing things Monterey County offers. Monterey County is a culinary haven. This county boasts a sinful round-up of local calamari, red abalone, artichokes, sardines every-which-way, stellar Salinas greens and a cornucopia of events. The lineup of fall events includes the Big Sur Food and Wine Festival November 6-7, Cal Stamenov’s 13th Annual Truffle Dinner at Bernardus Lodge December 11, and the 13th Annual Great Wine Escape Weekend November 13-15.

For the traveler looking for a true walk on the wild side, Vision Quest Ranch, a one-of-a-kind bed & breakfast where resident elephants deliver breakfast and guests bed down in one of four safari tents is the place to stay. This magical site, tucked deep in Steinbeck Country on 50 acres, is also home to Wild Things, an exotic animal training facility with 100+ critters. Outdoors is for the birds, or at least all about the birds: a trek to Moss Landing, flanked by Monterey Bay and Elkhorn Slough, it is a nature lover’s paradise and one of the nation’s top birding sites.

For the adventure-seeking traveler surfer Laird Hamilton‘s newest thrill, stand-up paddle, offers a new and interesting skill to master. The trend combines surfing with canoe-style paddling in a stand up position, exercising the core and sense of balance.

From haute hotels and foodie festivals to stunning scenery and awesome adventures Monterey County is a destination overflowing with attractions to please every traveler. A place as exquisitely beautiful as Monterey County cannot be done justice through even the most eloquent words, let me simply say it is a place to be seen and hope that my words have ignited your travel bug.

For more information on Monterey County visit their website.