Archive for the ‘Explore Monterey’ Category

8 Attractions Not to be Missed on the Monterey Peninsula

Friday, September 27th, 2013
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 Head Concierge, Anne Roberts

Guest Post!

8 Attractions Not to be Missed on the Monterey Peninsula

By Anne Roberts, Portola Hotel & Spa, Head Concierge & Member of Les Clefs d’Or USA

Nearly four million people visit the Monterey Peninsula every year and whether they are traveling for business or pleasure, visitors are all are faced with the same problem – how to fit everything into one trip.

As Head Concierge at the Portola Hotel & Spa, I have the pleasure of playing tourist, visiting all the amazing destinations throughout the local region.  I love receiving recommendations and feedback from both locals and tourists alike, and along with my personal experiences, am excited to share my list of the top eight activities not to be missed when exploring the Monterey Peninsula.

1.  Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium should be at the top of everyone’s “to do” list when visiting the Monterey Peninsula, it truly is the best aquarium in the world! Located on historical Cannery Row (right off the Coastal Recreation Trail) at the site of an actual former sardine cannery, the Aquarium is not only home to thousands of plants and animals (more than 600 species are on display), but it also serves as a non-profit to inspire conservation of the world’s oceans. Visitors to the aquarium will be wowed by its giant live kelp forest and the popular sea life found in its many exhibits including stingrays, jellyfish, sea otters, hammerhead sharks, penguins, seahorses, blue fin tuna, yellow fin tuna and, if you are lucky, great white sharks that are temporarily housed at the aquarium from time to time. There are interactive exhibits for children and the adults can take part in special evening events that include wine and live music during the summer.

If you go…there are less  people there in the afternoon. Buy your tickets at our Front Desk and you won’t have to wait in line.

 

2.  Whale Watching

Attracting permanent marine residence and passerbies, the Monterey Bay is home to an underwater canyon that is actually much deeper than the Grand Canyon and creates a super highway for both creatures or the sea and sky. Some of the most famous visitors include a number of whale species that migrate through the area throughout the year including killer whales, humpbacks, blue whales and grey whales. There are many whale watching tours offered around the Monterey Bay, including one that is a five-minute walk from the Portola, located on Fisherman’s Wharf. Tourists and locals flock to these tours to see not only whales, but also catch a glimpse of dolphins, rare birds, seals, sea otters, pelicans, sharks and other creatures that are cruising through or have made their home in the Monterey Bay.

If you go… dress warmly with lots of layers including a waterproof option. Also, book a morning trip, as it is the best time to spot sea life.

 

3. Carmel-By-The-Sea

Located about 10 minutes south of Portola is the beautiful town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. This charming town provides visitors with shops, art galleries, restaurants and wine tasting all within one-square mile. Home to Clint Eastwood, who was once the Mayor, Carmel’s unique European-style village attracts fans from all over the world. The food choices range from superior French cuisine to American hamburgers and fries. Shopaholics will be welcomed by familiar brand names and one-of-a kind boutiques and art lovers can spend hours roaming the galleries that contain both modern and contemporary art along with everything in between. The Monterey Peninsula is lush with wineries and many of the most famous have tasting rooms located right in downtown Carmel. Wine fans should not miss the new Wine Walk By-the-Sea Passport, which guides visitors through seven Carmel tasting rooms.

If you go…don’t miss out on talking a stroll or packing a picnic to enjoy at the famous Carmel Beach, with its teal waters, white sand and views of the world famous Pebble Beach Golf Course, it is quintessential California!

 

4.  Big Sur for Lunch

The world famous beauty of Big Sur is located about 45 minutes from Portola and offers spectacular scenery that can be easily viewed through the car window.  Highway 1 provides its visitors with views of jagged cliffs, lush green pastures, waterfalls and gorgeous redwoods. Take a drive down Highway 1 and fuel up at one of Big Sur’s five-star restaurants or local watering hole. Many of the restaurants themselves offer unique views, friendly staff and spectacular, farm to table offerings.

If you go… due to its rugged terrain, the weather in Big Sur can be unpredictable so be sure to dress in layers.

 

5.  Hike Point Lobos

Known for its breathtaking views, easy to manage hiking trails and abundant sea life, Point Lobos is a great place to spend a few hours or an entire day. There are a number of hiking trails that start from the parking lot with the majority of them being perfect for beginners. The wildlife is spectacular – humpback whales migrate through the area from April until December and gray whales can be seen during their migration mid-December until mid-April. During low tide, explore the tide pools to view starfish and sand dollars and often times there is a sea otter to spot amongst seals and sea birds.

If you go… pick up a trail map at the entrance kiosk to navigate the park and beware of waves crashing on the rocks – if you get to close you will get wet!

 

6.  Carmel Valley Wine Tasting

Head down Highway 1 toward Carmel and go inland about 20 miles and you will be right in the middle of Carmel Valley, home to approximately 20 tasting rooms, restaurants, shops and galleries. Located far enough inland to avoid coastal fog and nestled next to the Santa Lucia Range, Carmel Valley provides a warm environment that is favorable to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and other red varietals. The Valley is also known to produce exceptionally good Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandels. From elegant French-style tasting rooms at the Chateau Julien Winery to the laid-back walk-able environment of Carmel Valley Village, wine and food enthusiasts alike will delight in a day the taste buds are sure to enjoy.

If you go… be sure to bring clothes appropriate for warm weather especially during the summer and fall months, as it can be 20-30 degrees warmer than along the coast.

 

7.  Carmel Mission

A great stop during a day visit to Carmel is the Carmel Mission, one of the most famous missions in California. Known formally as the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission, this Roman Catholic mission church dates back to 1770 when Father Junipero Serra served until his death in 1784. Today, it is one of the most authentically restored mission churches in all of California and is still an active parish church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey. Visitors can tour the property and its museum’s that take visitors on a journey through the Mission’s history and restoration efforts. The grounds are completely breathtaking with ancient structures and sculptures, lush gardens and beautiful stained glass windows.

If you go… remember it is still an active parish so there may be weddings, funerals and other activities that prevent you from seeing everything on the grounds.

 

8.  Walking Tour of Monterey State Historical Park

Did you know that Monterey was the first state Capital of California? The Monterey State Historical Park, located just outside the doors of Portola, is rich in history providing a collection of significant historical houses and buildings with colorful gardens and overall beautiful scenery. The historical park stands to preserve places and objects that are of historical significance including 12 buildings and several residences. Among the attractions stands the spot where the Spanish explorers first landed in Monterey in 1602, the oldest building in California known as the Custom House and one of the nation’s last remaining whalebone sidewalks.

If you go…be sure and stop by the Pacific House Museum for more information on the buildings and their viewing options, as many of the historic adobes can only be viewed with a State Park Guide. Stop by my desk for a self guided walking map.

 

Visit one or all on your next trip to Monterey and stop by my desk at the Portola to say “hi”! I look forward to your impressions and receiving YOUR insider tips and tricks for getting the most out of your Monterey Bay vacation. Every day I look forward to learning something new!

Happy Travels!

 

 

 

State Parks in Our Own Backyard

Monday, August 12th, 2013
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The Monterey Peninsula is known worldwide for its magical scenery, both by land and sea, and in order to ensure this beauty remains for our children and our children’s children, many of these most gorgeous sights are protected by the California State Parks system. The Monterey Peninsula offers California State Parks and Reserves that will delight both land lovers and beach goers alike. Keeping friends and family of all ages entertained in these parks is easy, as there are endless activities to choose from including hiking, kayaking, walking paths, surfing, horseback riding, fishing, mountain biking, diving, birding, tide pooling and more!

Take a look at some of my favorites in the local area easily accessible from the Portola Hotel & Spa!

Monterey State Historic Park

Located just steps away from the Portola is the Monterey State Historic Park, which boasts a collection of significant historical houses and buildings that can be found throughout Old Monterey. Visitors can discover Monterey’s unique history by taking a stroll on the “Monterey Walking Path of History,” a two-mile path that is marked by yellow-tiled markers – Robert Louis Stevenson walked the same trail in 1879. The historical park stands to preserve places and objects that are of historical significance including 12 buildings and several residences. Visitors should be sure to check out the spot where the Spanish explorers first landed in Monterey in 1602; Custom House, which is the oldest building in California and one of the nation’s last remaining whalebone sidewalks. Many of the historic adobes can only be viewed with a State Park Guide so be sure and stop by the Pacific House Museum to get tickets.

Asilomar State Beach

Located about 10-15 minutes from the Portola in Pacific Grove, is Asilomar State Beach offering gorgeous white sand beaches and tide pools galore! Friends, families and their dogs are always welcome to come explore this one-mile strip of white sandy beach and its rocky coves. Visitors can pack a picnic, go surfing, explore the tide pools and take a stroll on the short boardwalk loop that winds through the natural dune preserve. The State Beach is free of charge and vehicle parking and a bicycle lane are adjacent to the state beach on Sunset Drive.

Point Lobos State Reserve

About 25 minutes from the Portola heading south on Highway 1 toward Big Sur, is the Point Lobos State Reserve, which represents some of the greatest coastal beauty that Monterey County has to offer. With teal waters, white sand beaches, cypress trees and an abundance of wildlife including sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, birds and even whales, Point Lobos should not be missed. There are a number of hiking trails that are easily accessible from the parking lot with the majority of them being perfect for beginners. Visitors should be sure to check out Whalers Cove, which offers spectacular views that often include whales. Humpback whales migrate through the area from April until December and Gray whales can be seen during their migration mid-December until mid-April. Another great spot within the park to view wildlife or simply take in the calm atmosphere is China Beach, a secluded beach that harbor seals and sea otters also use as a quiet refuge. Trail maps are available at the entrance kiosk and there is also signage located throughout the park.

Andrew Molera State Park

For spectacular views and an overall great outdoor experience, head south on infamous Highway 1 to Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur. The journey will begin long before entering the park as Highway 1 is packed full of breathtaking scenery that includes dramatic coastal cliffs, giant redwood trees and the famous Bixby Creek Bridge. Andrew Molera State Park is located right off Highway 1 and is a great place to go on a long walk and experience the dramatic scenery of Big Sur. There are great swimming beaches at this park and for those who want to stay off their feet; horseback riding is available from commercial stables nearby. Be sure to pack layers as it can be windy at Andrew Molera State Park and also pay attention to signs that point out dangers such as jagged cliffs and poison oak.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Just 20 minutes south of Andrew Molera State Park is the home of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. This is another State Park that is not to be missed as it offers extensive views of the powerful Big Sur coastline, ginormous redwood trees and an abundance of wildlife. The famous McWay Falls is not to be missed and is probably the most spectacular feature at the park. An easy five to 10 minute walk from Highway 1, McWay Falls is an 80-foot waterfall that drops right onto a white sand beach and then straight into the Pacific Ocean. There is scuba diving available at the Underwater Area of the park, but special permitting is required. In December and January, Gray Whales can be seen from Overlook trail migrating southward to their breeding and calving grounds off the Baja California coast. Springtime is also a great time to visit, as it is lush with wildflowers and the smell of sage. Be sure to bring layers no matter the time of year.

From divers to hikers, whale watchers to bikers and history buffs to kayakers, there is a State Park for everyone’s taste right here in our own backyard. The Concierge at Portola is always happy to help plan the perfect day trip so grab family, friends and a camera and get out there and enjoy the Central Coast at its finest!

Stroll the Row, Steinbeck Style

Friday, July 5th, 2013
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Most remember John Steinbeck’s classic work of fiction, Cannery Row from required school reading lists. Others, have lost themselves in the pages of the famous novel time and time again as adults. But when it comes to Cannery Row and its sequel, Sweet Thursday, the vivid pictures they paint of historic Cannery Row and the surrounding areas are unforgettable.

Straight from the pages of the classic novel, the historical streets of the Cannery Row area sit just a little over a mile from downtown Monterey and the Portola Hotel & Spa. These streets and alleys are packed full of literary history that both fans of the novel and history in general will enjoy.

There are a number of not to be missed attractions from both Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday that allow visitors to take a walk in Steinbeck’s shoes, experience the breathtaking views of the Monterey Bay and develop a complete understanding of why Steinbeck had such a deep love for the Central Coast.

Steinbeck’s Homes:

Two of Steinbeck’s homes still stand today. The little red cottage Steinbeck shared with his first wife in the 1930’s can be found at 147 11th Street in Pacific Grove. The home is privately owned, but fans can walk or drive by to get a peak of the house from the outside.

The home where Steinbeck, his wife and son lived in 1945, the year Cannery Row was published, is just a short 10 minute walk from the Portola. The Lara-Soto Adobe in Monterey, located at 460 Pierce Street, is now the Admissions Center at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and is only two blocks up from the great food and shopping in historic downtown Monterey.

 Old Fisherman’s Wharf:

Located on the water, across from Historic Custom House Plaza is Old Fishman’s Wharf, which was featured in Steinbeck’s novel Sweet Thursday. During Steinbeck’s time, the wharf was full of immigrant and native California fisherman who caught the abundance of sardines, squid and abalone that flourished in the Monterey Bay during that time. The canning industry that helped to establish the Monterey we know today gives much of the local flavor in both of Steinbeck’s works. Visitors to present day Fisherman’s Wharf  will find it lined with restaurants, whale watching and fishing charters and fun local shops to explore.

Doc’s Lab:

Still standing at 800 Cannery Row and straight from the pages of the novel of the same name is Doc Rickett’s Lab.  Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, his friend who himself was the inspiration for the character Doc in Cannery Row, were great friends and would together collect marine life in the Monterey Bay and prep it in this facility before shipping it to schools and medical facilities.  Tours of the lab are available on select dates and interested parties can talk to the Portola concierge about availability or contact the Cannery Row Foundation.

 Wing Chong’s Market and La Ida Café:  

Located at across from Doc’s Lab at 835 Cannery Row is the Wing Chong building that was the location of Wing Chong’s Market in Cannery Row. Steinbeck referred to the market in the novel as “not a model of neatness, but a miracle of supply.” Next door to the Wing Chong building is the location of the La Ida Café from Cannery Row where Eddie, the part-time bartender, poured leftover drinks into a jug for Mack and the boys. The La Ida Café is now home to Austino’s Patisserie, where visitors can go to enjoy a cup of coffee and speculate whether the local legends are true about a under ground tunnel connecting Wing Chong’s Market to Austino’s.

Hop in the car, on a bike or put or on those walking shoes and take in the unique experience of being able to view the locations that will continue to live forever frozen in time on the pages of both Cannery Row and Sweet Tuesday.

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, “The Serengeti of the Sea”

Monday, June 3rd, 2013
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For locals and visitors alike, the Monterey Bay offers something for everyone. Whether a source of income for local fishermen, recreation for kayakers and scuba divers, a muse for artists or an educational opportunity for students and scientists waters surrounding the Monterey Peninsula are near and dear us all. But who helps to monitor and protect this iconic part of the Central Coast?

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) is 276 miles of coastline and 6094 square miles of ocean stretching from Marin in the north to Cambria in the south. The Sanctuary was established in 1992 by the Federal Government for the purpose of protection, education, public use and research. The area includes one of the United States’ largest kelp forests, one of North America’s underwater canyons which is part of the closest deep ocean to shore ecosystems in the continental U.S. This rich and diverse area which features 33 species of Marine Mammals, 94 species of sea birds and 345 species of fish and countless invertebrates and plants has earned the MBNMS the moniker, “Serengeti of the Sea”.

Visitors to the Sanctuary can experience its beauty in a variety of ways. Organized kayaking, boating, diving and camping are all available to the general public, as are wildlife tours and whale watching. A great way to experience the wonders of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is through a series of virtual tours and live web cams. The Monterey Bay Aquarium features a live cam from within its kelp forest exhibit as well as one from its observation deck. Educational opportunities also abound as classes, tours and exhibitions are featured year round through a variety of local, regional and national agencies and organizations.

So experience one of the most important ocean areas in the world as you visit the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. It’s “fin-tastic”

Memories Are Made of This

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
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With its breathtaking shores and beautiful foothills, the Monterey Peninsula has long been known as one of the country’s foremost places for a destination wedding. Thousands of couples, their families and friends flock to Monterey and beyond to celebrate their nuptials and enjoy the wide-ranging choices in location, world class food and other activities. Everyone knows Pebble Beach of course,  and if you are Sean Parker, the founder of Napster and Facebook’s first president you can pretty much build your own venue in Big Sur. (Yes, he is actually doing that to the tune of $10 million!) A special perk, however, for those who make the Peninsula home is the “insider” knowledge about some of the most beautiful locations that fly way under the radar.

 

One of those hidden gems is the Memory Garden located at 20 Custom House Plaza in Monterey. The garden, located just outside the Portola Hotel & Spa, was designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead Jr. in 1927 and is enclosed by eight foot adobe walls which gives this venue a peaceful and private tranquility. The Garden is managed by the California State Parks and counts the Monterey State Historic Park office and the historic Pacific House Museum as part of the property. Featuring a 15-foot diameter fountain, a beautiful historic flower garden and a 5×16 foot barbeque, the garden has Southern Magnolia trees throughout the grounds that offer peaceful shade and lend to the park-like quality of the venue. The grounds also include a small dressing room and bathroom, but with its proximity to the Portola Hotel, wedding guests will often make their way directly from the hotel. The natural beauty of the garden juxtaposed with the historic adobe of California’s first state capital create a photographer’s dream and a location that can serve as wedding or reception location, or both!

The staff at the Portola Hotel can provide you with information on group rates for you and your guests and the folks at the State Parks can offer additional information on the Memory Garden itself. So if you are looking for something more intimate than Pebble Beach and don’t quite have the coin to build your own venue in Big Sur, consider the Memory Garden on Monterey’s Custom House Plaza. As the song goes, Memories are made of this!