What to Do in Monterey County, California

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 Big Little Lies fanatic wanting to get lost in the show’s setting, a city slicker looking for an ocean-gazing reset or a oenophile sniffing out the next big vino, it’s time to turn up that Michael Kiwanuka track and hit the highway. These are the must-do experiences on our Monterey itinerary.

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Monterey Bay Aquarium

We can count on one finn the number of aquariums we’d recommend worldwide. Making it worthy of an extended stopover, this non-profit aquarium is a world-leader in rebuilding marine populations and conserving ocean habits. Peer through the glass into a living kelp forest to spot shy leopard sharks between the seaweed, catch cute sea otters in the Open Sea wing, and get your camera ready for those fluorescent jellyfish – the ones featured in the Big Little Lies opening credits. And the best part? The aquarium is a world leader in rebuilding marine populations and conserving ocean habitats.


886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940


Cruise 17-Mile Drive

Hugging the coastline between Carmel and Pacific Grove, this curving highway teeters above cinematic peaks of the area’s windswept cliffs. Beat the traffic jams by switching four wheels for two with an e-bike rental from Mad Dogs & Englishmen (a sidecar for your pup is optional, but very much encouraged). Start your ride early to catch the atmospheric morning sea fog roll back from the coastline, make like local legend Ansel Adams and snap the lone 250-year-old cypress bravely growing from a granite cliff halfway round and watch out for wayward golf balls flying overhead – the peninsula’s renowned Pebble Beach in on your way. Once you’ve had your fill of wave-watching on this jaw-dropping road, venture further afield to explore 30km of cycle paths, some of which take you through Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.


Test your nose in the Santa Lucia Mountains

Move over Napa and Sonoma: our new viticulture obsessions are the elegant chardonnays and pinot noirs coming out of this breezy coastal region. Mountain air, ocean winds and sandy, loamy soils are putting this landscape top of the pile for a fresh wave of cool-loving grapes and even cooler bins. Stretching from the Santa Lucia Mountains down to Monterey’s edges, the seaside terroir adds a touch of minerality to whites and a sweet cherry touch to reds. Make a day of it by heading inland to explore the tasting rooms of chocolate-box Carmel Valley Village. Our favourite is the family-run Boekenoogen Wines.