Story and photos by Melanie Votaw
Mythical Monterey, California
Made mythical by John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row,” Monterey, California is now a tourism mecca on the unforgettable California coastline. Just outside of the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the best aquariums in the world, I saw the circle of life unfold right in front of me. While photographing a small, bright red crab swimming alone on the surface of the Pacific, a gull swooped down and turned that crab into lunch. This is one of the things I love most about the aquarium there. You can see captive animals indoors and watch wild ones just outside from a raised platform.
Monterey Bay is a protected national marine sanctuary that extends 35 miles offshore, covers more than 5,000 square miles, and contains nearly 350 species of fish. If you want to check out the water yourself, it’s a popular cold-water diving location, or you can rent a kayak.
The exhibits inside the aquarium include a kelp forest, squid, giant Pacific octopus, penguins, and otters. There is also an array of jellyfish. Most exciting for me was seeing rare comb jellyfish that light up in rainbow colors from within. I had never seen them in person before, and it’s difficult to believe their lights are real without electricity.
One of the most popular activities in Monterey is cruising on the water for whale watching or fishing. Depending on the time of year, you can see orcas (killer whales), humpbacks, gray whales, dolphins, and even the largest mammal that has ever lived – the blue whale. There aren’t many places where you can see blue whales, so spotting one is a special treat. Just be careful. The day I chose to take a cruise, the water was so choppy that the excursion was pointless. No one could stand up on the deck. We got a fleeting glimpse of whale tale flukes, while a woman near me propelled her breakfast onto the floor. They never should have taken us out that morning and should have provided refunds. But they didn’t. Meanwhile, all companies cancelled the remaining cruises of the day. My advice would be to trust the weather forecast rather than the decision of the boating establishments.
While safely on land, I kept myself busy for hours just stepping into shops in Monterey, mostly on Cannery Row or the historic Fisherman’s Wharf. You won’t find so many chain stores here, which makes it much more interesting. There are art galleries and a large number of jewelers – even one named after Steinbeck.
As you walk along Cannery Row, you won’t be allowed to forget about Steinbeck for long. There are statues of him, and the Spirit of Monterey Wax Museum has a 20-minute history exhibit about his life and the sardine canneries. Won Yee’s Wing Chong Market still stands and is still owned by his family since it opened in 1918. He was the inspiration for Lee Chong in Steinbeck’s novel. Historic buildings are everywhere in the area. The oceanview Spindrift Inn was built in 1927, and the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa was constructed in 1901.
One of my favorite shops in town is Monterey’s Tasty Olive Bar. The store contains more than 70 varieties of oils and vinegars, and you can taste nearly every one of them while you’re there. Then, they bottle your choices on the spot, or you can order from their website. I especially loved the vegan butter-flavored olive oil and have ordered another bottle since my visit in September. It’s great with popcorn.
As you stroll, you can pose for an old time portrait at Doc Wenzel’s and pick up some delicious salt water taffy to munch on. Then, rent a surrey or bike, and ride around the Monterey Recreational Trail.
Most of what you want to see in Monterey is walkable, but if you rent a car, you can explore some of the other nearby towns. It isn’t far to Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pacific Grove, and Pebble Beach, among others, as well as some of the local wineries. Cannery Row even has its own Taste of Monterey Wine Market & Bistro. There are also a number of restaurants throughout the region that provide a view as you eat. In Monterey, one such restaurant is The C at The Clement Hotel.
Of course, seafood is the number one cuisine choice in Monterey, but there’s a wide variety of food available for discerning palates. I enjoyed Louie Linguini’s. Don’t let the silly name fool you. I had an excellent Piccata Pacific Snapper filet there. They also serve pasta and have a kids’ menu.
Monterey County is artichoke country, so you’ll see plenty of artichokes on the local menus. A Grilled artichoke with garlic mayonnaise is a popular dish. I enjoyed mine at the highly recommended Domenico’s on Fisherman’s Wharf.
While the number one hotel in Monterey for luxury travelers is probably The Clement, now an Intercontinental property right on the water, I stayed in the 3-star Monterey Hotel in the old downtown area, which is a short walk from Cannery Row and the waterfront. The rooms in the old part of the property are tiny and with spotty WiFi, so steer clear of those. But I stayed in the Fireplace Suite in the newer building. It was on par with luxury hotels and is recommended if other luxury properties aren’t available.
Monterey is one of those places that lives up to its reputation. It’s a great mix of the natural world and the manmade world. The pace is leisurely, allowing you to fill your days as much or as little as you like with a variety of activities for all ages.
© January 2017 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.