Monterey - California

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The Monterey Peninsula

Monterey Bay -- wide and crescent-shaped -- is one of the most fertile aquatic ecosystems in the world. The continuous welling-up of the waters from the deep canyon constantly nourishes its plant and animal life.

This was the reason that made Monterey an early, prosperous fishing center, and it is the feature that brings people to the peninsula to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which displays the sea life nurtured in the bay. Above the water, the Monterey cypress dominates the landscape. The area has become home to artists, photographers and writers, attracted by the beauty of the area and the moderate climate as a felicitous place to live and work.

Richard Henry Dana, in his book Two Years Before the Mast, wrote "Monterey is decidedly the pleasantest and most civilized-looking place in California." Recent years have brought changes to the area, particularly the plethora of tourist shops, but Monterey still has the civilized charm that entranced Dana in 1825.

What to See & Do

Three communities share the Monterey Peninsula: Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel. To the south is Carmel-by-the-Sea, a town that looks like a village, without stop lights or parking meters, with 48 art and crafts galleries, high-fashion boutiques and fine dining. Carmel is the gateway to the famed 17-mile Drive, a private toll road ($6 per car) that snakes along the coast, passing the deluxe golf resorts including Pebble Beach. There are 19 golf courses on the peninsula. The lone cypress that clings to a rock beside the ocean is probably the most photographed tree in the nation. The drive takes more than an hour (including a few stops at viewpoints), and ends in the town of Pacific Grove, which occupies the point of the peninsula. To the north is Monterey, long the commercial center of the region -- now the main attraction for visitors who come to Fisherman's Wharf, Cannery Row, and the famed Monterey Aquarium.

Old Monterey, the historic original community, spreads out from Fisherman's Wharf and the Municipal Wharf. A walking tour leads visitors to the essential historical buildings including the Royal Presidio Chapel, the Mexican Customs House, Colton Hall, the site of the California Constitutional Conference held in 1849 and the rustic building, which was California's first theater -- originally a saloon with apartments on each side of the building that became the site of plays performed by soldiers of the New York Volunteers. The Cooper-Molera House was the home of one of the first families in the area -- the Coopers, who constructed the adobe home in 1827. With a fine garden, the house is open to the public daily. A map for the walking tour is available at the State Park Visitor Center -- at the Maritime Museum -- which is across the Plaza from the Customs House. Guided walking tours of Old Monterey are conducted daily from the same location. Many of the old buildings are part of the State Historic Park.

Other highlights for visitors include Cannery Row, with boutiques, a wax museum and restaurants occupying the refurbished old cannery buildings. Fishing boats still depart for the bay and ocean from the Municipal Wharf. Nearby, the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium is the biggest attraction in the area and a must to visit, even though the entrance fee is high. Huge tank displays and hands-on exhibits impress adults and children alike. Racing fans will be excited by Laguna Seca Raceway. The racetrack is open year-round and has 180 campsites. At non-race periods, the campground is a county park, and reservations can be made by calling (408) 755-4899.

The newest major attraction is the Maritime Museum of Monterey and Stanton Center, near the Fisherman's Wharf, opened in 1992 and featuring artifacts of the seafaring history of the region. The large Stanton Center is being developed to include a theater and a research library plus rotating exhibits on maritime lore and an orientation film.

While the Monterey County wineries are inland&emdash;a drive of about 1/2 hour, the Paul Masson Museum and wine tasting room is located at 700 Cannery Row, overlooking the bay.

Pacific Grove is largely a residential community, but you are advised to visit the Natural History Museum, as well as to stay in one of the distinctive bed and breakfast inns. A stay in this delightful town will get you away from the busier tourist-packed parts of the peninsula. A major attraction is the large colony of monarch buttertflies, which spends the winter in Pacific Grove. Asilomar is a large and scenic conference center with lodge rooms open to the public for overnight accommodation, and family-style dining. Asilomar Beach is one of the chief attractions of the area, with approaches to the beach through sand dunes.

People with some diving experience will enjoy taking a guided underwater tour of the bay, through the Aquarius Dive Shop, with two locations in Monterey (Del Monte Ave. and Cannery Row). You can even arrange for still or video photography as a souvenir.

From December through April, the migration of California gray whales brings people who view the huge migrants passing close to the tip of the peninsula on their journey to and from the Baja lagoons.

During the year, the peninsula is the site of a procession of festivals, ranging from the Masters of Food and Wine (Carmel, February), the Monterey Wine Festival (March), Good Old Days (Pacific Grove, April), Blues Festival (Monterey, June), Bach Festival (Carmel, July) and the renowned Jazz Festival (Monterey, September).

Where to Stay -- Hotel Guide

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Campgrounds include the county park inside the Laguna Seca racetrack grounds.

Private camping parks include Marina Dunes RV Park, north of Monterey at Marina (nine miles), with hookups, showers, laundry, dump station and store. For reservations, call (408) 384-6914.

Saddle Mountain Recreation Park is in Carmel Valley at the end of Shulte Road (408-624-1617) with RV and tent sites, teepees, hookups, pool, walking trails and picnic area.

© 1997/2005 - Fraser Bridges

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