The scenic drive south to Monterey from San Francisco along the famous Highway One hugs California’s spectacular Pacific coastline, delivering stunning views on the way. Take it at a leisurely pace along the 115 miles, where lay-bys and turn-offs invite travelers to pause for the incredible vistas the rugged cliffs and churning Pacific waves create for our pleasure.
Named by National Geographic and AAA as the nation’s most scenic drive and by the U.S. Department of Transportation as an All-American Road, Mother Nature meets tarmac in surprising and delightful moments of awe. This is the way to Monterey, a narrow and winding road upon the cliffs. In a hurry? Take Highway 101 or join a motor coach tour, as more great sights await on arrival in Monterey.
A Dash of History
Prior to California’s statehood in 1850, Monterey was the capital of Baja and Alta California under the Spanish, then the Mexican flag. Following statehood, Sacramento and the Gold Rush diverted attention northward. In the decades to follow, it was whaling and sardines, rather than gold and state politics, that became the engines of Monterey’s economy.
For more than a century, tourism, music and the arts have been important to this seaside resort with a cultural heritage, perfect golf courses and a stunning coastline enjoyed by boating enthusiasts and barking sea lions lazing in the sun.
A Sea of Silver
The enormous growth of Monterey’s sardine industry was spurred on by wartime production. Struggling through the Great Depression years and given a jolt during World War II, production finally collapsed as over-fished waters were silver with sardine no more. The “Sardine Capital of the World” and the parade of cultures associated with the odious work at these canneries was immortalized through the writings of native son John Steinbeck, author of Monterey tales such as “Cannery Row,” “East of Eden” and “Sweet Thursday.”
Cannery Row and Old Fisherman’s Wharf
In 1958, Ocean View Avenue was re-named Cannery Row in honor of the Steinbeck novel. Along the waterfront street, defunct sardine fisheries tell their stories and buildings are re-purposed as art galleries, shops, restaurants and hotels. At the end of Cannery Row, the world-famous, research-driven Monterey Bay Aquarium provides a fun learning experience while providing a wealth of information about marine biology, sea life, sustainability and oceanic preservation, engaging audiences via 100 tanks and do-touch exhibits.
Walk a few minutes to reach Old Fisherman’s Wharf, where bay cruises, kayak rentals and whale watching tours depart from the piers with superb views of Monterey Bay. From salt water taffy to surf-and-turf specials, visitors can grab it and go or settle in at a table on an outdoor patio overlooking boats and the beautiful bay beyond. Specialties of the many restaurants include catch of the day from local fishermen, Dungeness crab, clam chowder, farm produce from nearby Salinas Valley, wines from the 80 vintners of Monterey County and aromatic coffee from fairtrade, certified organic Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company.
It’s a journey of only 17 miles from the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast at Pacific Grove to the white sandy beach and charming tree-lined shopping streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Take the 17-Mile Drive through the Del Monte Forest on the Monterey Peninsula for some of the most dramatic vistas along the Pacific coast.
At Pebble Beach, the Lone Cypress may be the most-photographed tree in all of North America, currently braced against the wind with wires and a retaining wall built to help secure it in place. Looking rather lonely, yet extremely proud to have withstood the elements on its rocky perch above the ocean, this 250-year-old tree is so special it has been trademarked by its custodians. The gnarled and windswept shape is instantly recognizable as the logo for the Pebble Beach Company, operators of America’s most expensive municipal round of golf.
Peer across immaculately landscaped emerald green links seen on televised golf championship tournaments, admire the ‘ghost trees’ and snap views of Monterey Bay, where an undersea canyon reaches depths greater than the Grand Canyon.
Did You Know?
- The non-profit Monterey Bay Aquarium has been voted the #1 aquarium in the world based on user reviews at TripAdvisor.
- A red-dashed line down the center of the main road keeps visitors on the correct path as the 17-Mile Drive winds through a gated neighborhood of multi-million dollar residences.
- The Monterey cypress grows only in this forest and at Point Lobos State Reserve, three miles south of Carmel on Highway One.
- Author John Steinbeck was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962. His boyhood home and the National Steinbeck Center museum are open to the public in Salinas, near Monterey.