One of my wife and my favorite places to go for a romantic getaway is the Monterey Peninsula. We have spent something like half of our anniversaries in the area. Here are some romantic things to do on a weekend for two in Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel.
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- Stay In an Inn
- Go for a Drive on Seventeen Mile Drive
- Take a Walk Along the Shore
- Take a Bike or Surrey Ride
- Rent a Sea Kayak
- Go for a Drive on Highway 1
- Take a Hike
- Try Wine Tasting
- Romantic Dinner
- Attend the Monterey Jazz Festival
- Play Golf with Two
- See the Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Take a Food Tour
- Go Sailing
- See a Sunset on the Beach
Stay In an Inn
There are some great hotels on the peninsula, including some right on the water in Monterey or in the middle of touristy Cannery Row, but for my money, a stay in one of the many inns in Pacific Grove is more romantic.
A number of Victorian-era homes and boarding houses in Pacific Grove have been converted to inns. The Seven Gables Inn, the Martine Inn (see my review), and the Green Gables Inn have great locations right on the water between the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Lover’s Point.
They are also some less expensive options inland a couple of blocks including the Gosby House, and our perennial favorite, the Centrella Inn. For an extra splurge at the Centrella book one of the cottages or the Lover’s Loft. This is the kind of place where you can get a glass of wine and a treat with the other guests in the evening and a great breakfast in the morning. This is not a place you go to watch movies on the TV… because there isn’t one.
Go for a Drive on Seventeen Mile Drive
Seventeen Mile Drive has been attracting tourists since before I moved to Monterey County in the 1960s. If you are a golfer, a visit to Pebble Beach is nearly mandatory, although whether that fits in a romantic weekend I would leave to you and your sweetie.
Stop at the Lone Cypress for a photo opportunity at what is reputed to be the most photographed tree in the world. Be grateful that unlike the Cypress you are not alone.
Take a Walk Along the Shore
While Seventeen Mile Drive may be a big draw, it is mostly mansions and golf courses. I would recommend a walk along the shore in Pacific Grove instead. Our favorite walk is the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail from Lover’s Point to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You will certainly see harbor seals at the Beach by the Hopkins Marine Station. You are also likely to see sea otters floating on their back among the kelp, so bring binoculars. Sea otters mate for life. Be inspired by that.
If you are down in the area on the weekend you are likely to see a wedding or at least a wedding party or two taking pictures at Lover’s Point or somewhere along the path. I can think of worse places to propose if you have a mind to do that.
You can combine a walk with a dinner at the Beach House which has some of the best views of the coast or at one of the restaurants near Cannery Row. For a high-end splurge restaurant, you can try The Sardine Factory or Chart House.
Take a Bike or Surrey Ride
You can rent a bike or even a surrey and explore further on the coast trail. The trail continues on from the Aquarium to Fisherman’s Wharf and then miles up the coast to Marina. The part of the trail from Lover’s Point to Fisherman’s Wharf is flat and is the prettiest section. But further north along the bay is where you will find large sand dunes, starting around the Monterey Tides Hotel.
Rent a Sea Kayak
Whether you take a guided sea kayak tour or just rent a kayak, nothing can quite test your love for each other than trying to maneuver a double sea kayak together (there is a reason some guides call these divorce boats). Even if you have to rent two separate boats for the good of your long-term relationship, exploring the coast of the bay from a kayak can be a great experience.
Go for a Drive on Highway 1
In my opinion, a better drive for 2 is down the coast of California on the iconic Highway 1. You can drive Highway 1 as a way to get from one end of the state to the other… when you have time, but what I am recommended here is a drive from the Monterey Peninsula down to the Big Sur area and back as a road trip.
If you do this drive leave enough time to get out of the car to walk to a waterfall at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park or walk to the beach at Andrew Molera State Beach.
Pack a picnic to enjoy along the way. Get a bottle of wine from a local winery, some Monterey Jack (yes it was invented here) and top at one of the parks or even just one of the pullouts along the way to enjoy a lunch with just you, your beloved, and a picnic.
Stop for a romantic dinner at one of a handful of restaurants near Big Sur. My favorite is Nepenthe which is just south of Big Sur. Nepenthe has been around since the 1940s. Sit on the terrace in the back with great views of the rugged coastline. The food is great and the ambiance is better.
End your drive with a stop at the Highland’s Inn in Carmel Highlands for a drink on their terrace as you watch the sunset. You don’t want to be driving Highway 1 at night so getting back to Carmel Highlands before dark is a great idea in any case.
Take a Hike
There are a number of great state and regional parks in the area but the gem is Point Lobos State Reserve. This point is covered with gnarled Cypress trees and Spanish moss. It has beautiful walks along the coast. What it doesn’t have is parking. So this is the park to go to for the early risers. Those of you who like to sleep in may need to park along the highway and walk into the reserve.
There are no bad hikes at Point Lobos but one of my favorite short hikes is out to Sea Lion Point with a view of Sea Lion Cove. You used to be able to swim in the cold water at this cove until the Sea Lions laid claim to it.
Jacks Peak is the highest point in the area at 1,068 feet which has made Jacks Peak Park a popular spot with locals for hikes. The newer Fort Ord National Monument has opened up hiking trails between Salinas and Monterey on what used to be the home for the 7th Light Infantry Division. These trails and the trails in nearby Toro County Park will be warmer as a rule than those on the coast.
Try Wine Tasting
Carmel used to be just about art galleries, restaurants, and small shops but it is hard to run a small shop in the days of Amazon.com.Â A new trend in Carmel is wine tasting rooms. There are at least 16 different wine tasting rooms in Carmel these days. Many of the wineries will wave the cost of a tasting when you buy a bottle.
Our favorite tasting room is the comfortable De Tierra where you don’t have to stand at the bar. We know we will undoubtedly pick up a bottle of their red wine blend Franan, but we might also discover something new. During COVID tasting rooms and restaurants in Carmel each got a parking space or two to move outside.
If you want to visit a winery and not just a tasting room, you don’t have to drive all the way to Napa and Sonoma. The two nearest areas for wineries are Carmel Valley and the Santa Lucia Highlands near Soledad in the Salinas Valley. See my reviews of Folktale in Carmel Valley and Hahn Family Winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands.
If you can’t find a great restaurant for a romantic dinner on the Monterey Peninsula then you just are not trying.
For seafood, you can try one of the restaurants on the wharf like Old Fisherman’s Grotto or one of the local favorites like Monterey’s Fish House on busy Del Monte Ave or the Fishwife off the beaten path in Pacific Grove.
If your budget is set on “splurge”, The Chart House on Pacific Grove has been there longer than I have been alive, but still gets good reviews. The Beach House at Lovers Point has one of the best views but in a more affordable price range. Our favorite is Peppers Mexicali Cafe in Pacific Grove.
Attend the Monterey Jazz Festival
Of all the events that happen on the Monterey Peninsula, the Monterey Jazz Festival seems to me to be the most romantic. The Monterey Jazz Festival is held in September during normal years. Other festivals and events in the area include the Carmel Bach Festival, the Monterey Scottish Games & Celtic Festival, Monterey Festa Italia Fisherman’s Festival, and the Castroville Artichoke Festival.
Play Golf with Two
Golf is not my game. I hold the course record for the municipal course in Salinas… for the most strokes. But if you and your beloved are both golf fans there are legendary courses in the area like Pebble Beach and Spyglass. You can make a reservation to play a round of golf but do well so in advance.
If the price of a round of golf at Pebble Beach is outside of your budget consider the Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course which has been called the “Poor Man’s Pebble Beach”. The back nine is along the coast with great views.
See the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Any list of things to do in Monterey seems like it needs to include the area’s number one tourism attraction which is the aquarium. But what, you ask, is romantic about an aquarium. I will grant you that watching the jellyfish or watching the sharks swim through the kelp forest may not seem romantic, but let me say two words: sea otters. Nothing says cute and cuddly like sea otters and you may easily be lucky enough to see one as you walk along the coast, but you will certainly see some at the aquarium.
Take a Food Tour
If the easiest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, how about a food tour of the Monterey area that focuses as much on what to eat as it does what to see. Get a dose of history but served with a side of beer, pizza, wine, chocolate, ice cream, and pasta or some other combination of local food. Do this at the start of your weekend to discover where to go back later.
A sunset cruise can be a great romantic treat but do pick your cruise with care. While deep-sea fishing is available, it might not be the right trip to pitch to your sweetie. Similarly, a Monterey Bay whale watching trip can be great fun… but these trips do often head out of the calm bay and into rougher seas. Getting seasick might not be the highlight of your trip so bring Dramamine or check the weather first.
A better option might be boarding one of the local sailing boats with a captain and exploring the beautiful Monterey Bay.
See a Sunset on the Beach
Monterey actually faces mostly North so it is probably not the best place to see the sunset. You can get some better sunset views from the white sand Carmel Beach or further north at Fort Ord Dunes State Park.
My favorite beach for sunsets is Asilomar Stare Beach which is a bit further along the coast from Lover’s Point. Here you can see the sunset as well as watch the waves crash along the shore. During the COVID pandemic, we brought camp chairs and just sat and watched the ocean at this beautiful spot.
That’s 15 things you can do in the Monterey Area. There are many more. We have been coming to Monterey for over 30 years and we are not tired of it yet. What would you add to my list?