Favorite memory: So many. Strolling the beach at sunset with my wife, Judy. Kayaking on Monterey Bay with my younger son, Alex. Going on a whale watching trip with Alex when he was pretty young, and seeing amazing, massive blue whales. Gobbling platters of calamari with Judy, Alex and my older son, Mitch, at Fisherman’s Wharf after one of Mitch’s tennis matches.
What is Monterey famous for: Early on, the abundance of noisy, frenetic canneries and the seemingly endless numbers of fish harvested from the bay. Somewhat later, the writer John Steinbeck, a personal favorite, and his book, “Cannery Row.” Now, Monterey is probably best known for its magnificent aquarium, built and funded largely by the family of David Packard, a founder of Hewlett-Packard. His daughter, Julie, is a marine biologist who’s been the guiding light for the aquarium since it opened in 1984.
Where to sleep: We’ve tried numerous lodgings, from moderate to pricey. A favorite is The Portola Hotel and Spa, just far enough from the water to be more affordable, but still very clean, well-located, and with first-rate amenities. A real draw for us: The Portola is famously dog-friendly. We take our little corgi mix, Jake, on our travels, and we’ve always been embraced by the staff at The Portola. Tip for other pet-loving travelers: The staff at Jack’s, one of the hotel restaurants, will gladly serve you and your pooch dinner on the patio next to the firepit. The food is sublime, the view is excellent, the firepit warming.
Best coffee: La Strada, which is attached to the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa on Cannery Row. It is a beautiful coffee house, with big windows and lots of polished brass and copper. Major bonus: You can take your brew outside to the plaza itself, a grand people-watching venue with striking views of Monterey Bay.
Wake up and: Kayak the bay. It’s wet, but not all that wild. Being on the water, close to kelp and otters and pelicans, is invigorating. (Kayaking Elkhorn Slough, north of Monterey, is not as spectacular or memorable, though worthwhile for hearty sorts.)
Where to grub: Casanova in Carmel is great, especially for brunch. Intimate and relaxed. Considering that Fisherman’s Wharf is a tourist hub, the food there is generally fresh and good. We like Domenico’s for its chowder, petrale sole, friendly service and (yes, this is a bit of a theme) their hospitality toward Jake and his human sidekicks.
What to do during the day: Cruise the 17-mile drive and gawk at the views of ocean — and oceanside mansions. If you like biking, you might consider cycling the 17-mile drive, but be warned the pedaling is a little difficult at times and you may have to share the road with cars driven by denizens and tourists alike. Head to Salinas and visit the Steinbeck Center. Drop by Carmel for a stroll and check out the Photography West Gallery at the corner of Delores and Mission, exhibiting works by Ansel Adams, Brett Weston and other photographic icons who made the Monterey area their home.
— Rich Hanner, editor