A Pocket Guide to Monterey, California

Ocean-gazing Monterey is enjoying something of a renaissance right now, both on the small screen and IRL. Quieter than San Francisco, with a cooler climate than California’s blistering southern stretches and a world away from edgy LA, the Golden State’s lesser-known city is where burnt-out urbanites are heading to rest and reset.

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Monterey has come a long way since it served as the setting for John Steinbeck's 1945-published novel Cannery Row, which opens with a description of the city's docks. While you'd be hard pressed to recognise Steinbeck's Cannery Row - or its salubrious fictional characters - in the revamped sardine factories lining Monterey's waterfront today, Cali's most overlooked town retains a magical, Janus-like character.

This is a city of contrasts. The backdrop to HBO's hit series Big Little Lies, Monterey is inhabited by glossy-haired families living in sprawling beachfront properties along the Carmel Highlands (both on screen and for real), and home to one of the state's most manic tourist destinations (thanks, Steinbeck). Jump into a car or on a bike and dip in and out of the peninsula's secreted-away settlements: prim-and-proper Pacific Grove, with its Victorian clapboard cottages, the chocolate-box cobbles and unusual architecture of bougie Carmel-by-the-Sea and the artist enclave of Moss Landing, just a 25-minute drive away.

Like its residents, the Monterey peninsula is well-heeled and well-kept, so there's digging required to find the quirkier, under-the-radar spots. San Francisco urbanites are starting to recognise the bubble of calm that surrounds this area, but guarded residents keep their favourite hangouts under wraps. A stroll away from the carnival of the waterfront's Cannery Row, you'll find sleepy Italian restaurants and chic French bistros. Venture further afield to the satellite villages dotting the peninsula and local brew houses and sustainable vineyards to rival Napa's begin to appear. Wherever you go, however, you'll encounter glorious landscapes - the shimmering sea mists, stretching shorelines, endless horizons and boulder-strewn coastline punctuated by wind-whipped beaches that led Steinbeck to call Monterey "a dream".

Just two hours' by car from San Francisco (and another five from Los Angeles), Monterey is the perfect pit stop on a road trip down the Pacific coast. Whether you're a literary pilgrim seeking what Steinbeck described as the city's "quality of light" or a BLL fanatic wanting to get lost in the show's setting, it's time to turn up that Michael Kiwanuka track and hit the highway. Let's hit the road.

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The Hotel Carmel

On the south side of the Monterey Peninsula sits arty, village-like Carmel-by-the-Sea, a quaint, old-English-style town packed with galleries, local boutiques and smartly dressed residents. Clean-cut – and recently revamped – The Hotel Carmel, owned by boutique hotelier Classic Hotels, offers 30 spacious, white-shuttered rooms decked out in soft neutrals, warm wood and woven prints. Step into the courtyard for a glass of aromatic chardonnay, then head to nearby Stationæry for a dozen Morro Bay oysters, Monterey Bay halibut and a large glass of a blousy Redwood Valley sauvignon blanc.

Address

Corner of 4th and San Carlos St, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93923

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Post Ranch Inn

We’d suggest adding on a few extra days to your road-trip itinerary to enjoy some pine-infused R&R at this luxurious ranch stay, about an hour from Monterey. Post Ranch Inn perches precariously above a verdant slope tumbling down into the Pacific, in an area whose coastal roads are known for their statuesque beach houses. The adults-only retreat is sympathetic in design to its surroundings: cabins made with recycled redwood sport floor-to-ceiling windows that frame the vistas beyond, and are warmed by flickering fires. Most come equipped with outdoor soaking tubs and private desk space from which to drink in views across the ocean or gaze at richly scented pine forests. Savour a nightcap Lavender Martini from the restaurant bar and then enjoy your best night’s sleep in a long time, after nodding off to the gentle sound of the waves hitting the shore.

Address

47900 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920

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Lavender Scales

Built in 1916, this fairy-tale cottage in Pacific Grove seems almost iridescent at first glance. Painted in every shade of purple possible, it toes the line between kitsch and cute – and we’re totally here for it. Village vibes continue behind the candy-coloured facade, with a claw-footed bath and iron bedsteads adding serious Little Women feels. Although technically sleeping six, we’d stick to just four to avoid it feeling cramped. Outside the lilac front door, the cinematic scenery of Lovers Point Park is just 10 minutes’ away, and you’ll find a handful of independent boutiques down the road. And if that all seems too fantastical, listen to this: a stay includes complimentary cheese and wine when you walk through the door, plus wine-tasting passes to a local vineyard.

Address

Pacific Grove, CA 93950