Why I Fail as a Northern Californian
It’s amazing how easily you can take the location you live in for granted. I have wanted to explore Monterey, Carmel and Santa Cruz, all an easy drive from my Bay Area home, for years. The last time I was in Monterey and Carmel, I was so young I remember being excited by a stuffed animal my mom bought me at the aquarium. I’ve been to Santa Cruz more recently, but only barely—it was for my uncle’s wedding at least 10 years ago.
Now that I’ve returned from a fabulous visit to the area, I am especially annoyed by my inability to mobilize. These are towns with so much natural grandeur, laid-back coolness and historical interest, not taking the chance to visit them at every opportunity seems downright criminal.
To prevent others from transgressing as I have, I have compiled a handy list of the Top 3 Reasons to See or Meet in Monterey, Carmel or Santa Cruz Right Now—No Excuses. (A lengthy list name, but accurate.) Here goes:
1. The Ocean (obviously)
I can think of nothing else as immediately inspiring as the Pacific Ocean, which in all three areas is conveniently visible from balconies, patios, walkways and restaurants. My favorite views are from the aptly named Pacific Edge restaurant at Hyatt Carmel Highlands, overlooking the jagged rocks and endless blue of the Big Sur coast; the spa at Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, where R&R is immediate thanks to vistas of the sea; the also-aptly named Surfview Room meeting space at Dream Inn in Santa Cruz; and from a deck outside of the fabulous Monterey Bay Aquarium, where you can see wild versions of the marine life inside. Another memorable way to see the ocean: via stand-up paddleboarding with Adventures by the Sea. Rowing past sea lions and ducking under a pier to view starfish clinging to the underwater beams is an experience I will not soon forget.
2. The Charm
“Charm” is a tricky word. It’s hard to qualify exactly what it means, and it’s thrown about often, but in certain places there is no better way to capture that indefinable something. Carmel-by-the-Sea fits “charming” to a T. Mom-and-pop shops, organic eateries, upscale restaurants and wineries round out a parcel of land just blocks from the water. My favorite charm-filled spots were Ajne, a wonderful perfumery and apothecary that blends customized scents, and the newly launched Wine Walk, which guides visitors through a collection of local wineries, each different in aesthetic than the last.
3. The Food
Really, food should be No. 1 on the list; it is this, more than anything, which makes or breaks a place. In this respect, this coastal trifecta excels. The lamb paired with basmati rice at Will’s Fargo Dining House & Saloon in Carmel Valley was succulent and spiced to perfection, and the cassoulet at the wonderfully warm and eclectic Fandango Restaurant in Pacific Grove was exactly as cassoulet should be: hearty and satisfying but not too heavy. Paired with a local pinot noir, it was a savory treat. In Santa Cruz, the culinary kicker was a stop at True Olive Connection for exotically flavored olive oil and balsamic vinegars—including a surprisingly terrific balsamic vinegar-sparkling water concoction.
This only touches on the wonders of the area. I haven’t even mentioned one of my favorite spots: Carmel Valley’s Holman Ranch, 400 acres of rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves rife with roaming deer and horses and filled with venues abundant in upscale cowboy appeal. Or the newly renovated, über-meeting-friendly Hyatt Regency Monterey or sleek waterfront InterContinental The Clement Monterey. And the list goes on from there. I know one thing: I will never go so long without visiting the area again. In fact, I’m already planning a return trip back.
Stay tuned for our June story on the area to discover even more reasons to bring your group there!
Image: Dream Inn in Santa Cruz, Calif.
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