Monterey Escape

It’s been a long rainy cold winter for us this year. We had a break in between Joe’s classes and decided to take a trip to Monterey for a visit to the Aquarium and some hiking. 

We arrived in time for a late lunch at the Cannery Row Brewing Company. It’s fun for us to visit tap rooms in other cities as they feature local craft breweries beers. 
After lunch we wandered around downtown and stopped in at the Monterey Bay Aquarium to purchase our tickets for the following day so we wouldn’t have to wait in line. There’s this great little secret that we discovered today… You can go to the aquarium an hour before closing and buy tickets for the following day. They then will let you in for the last hour of the day. There’s so much going on in the aquarium aside from the exhibits themselves that it’s really important to plan your visit. We were able to watch the kelp forest feeding which was so fantastic to see all the little children be so enthralled by the diver inside the massive tank. We then watched “Behind the Glass” a short film in the auditorium that showed how the staff cared for the more than 40,000 plants and animals at the aquarium. 

Our hotel was in Pacific Grove only couple minutes walk from Asilomar Conference Center and the beach. We walked along the boardwalk in Asilomar and then went out to dinner at Peter B’s Brew pub in the Portola hotel complex. They only served their brews, but we managed to find a couple that we liked. Nothing spectacular but they went perfectly with the largest plate of nachos we’ve had in a long time. It was really delicious. 

Day 2 – A Full Day at the Aquarium

We whisked our way through the entrance at exactly 10am with our pre-purchased tickets. With the help of the Monterey Bay Aquarium iPhone app we had organized a full day of feedings and auditorium shows interspersed with visits to all the areas of the aquarium. 
African Penguin Feeding:

The Open Sea Feeding happens only once a day at 11:00am. It was pretty spectacular. Best viewing spot was in the front row of the upper balcony. 

Over to the auditorium for an 11:30 showing of “Luna: A sea otters story”. A 15 minute touching story of an abandoned sea otter that was rescued by the aquarium. 

We visited the new iViva Baja exhibit which was really good.

Then we went over to the Jellies exhibit which is by far our favorite of the entire aquarium. The minute you walk in to the exhibit you are totally wow’d by the massive tanks with the blue lights with mood music. There was also an interactive touch display called “A Closer Look” was super interesting. One could touch the tiny bits of plankton and they’d enlarge with the name as well as the ability to spin the image to view all the sides. So well done. 

After lunch we returned to the auditorium for three more programs:
2:30pm – Journey to Baja – A tale of three travelers: Follow the migrations of three far-ranging animals—gray whales, brown pelicans and elephant seals
3:00pm – Mysteries of the Deep: The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute is using the deep waters of the Monterey Canyon as their laboratory
3:30pm – Project White Shark: Learn about our work to better understand the life history of these threatened and fascinating ocean predators…

We ended the day visiting the Monterey Bay Habitats which included an interactive diner that promoted their Seafood Watch awareness program. You would sit down at the counter and select something from the menu and the videos play explaining why it’s a sustainable wise choice or not. 

and the Sandy Shore and Aviary exhibit. 

With a final look out on the coastline we headed over to Fieldwork Brewing on Munras for a much needed (and deserved) reviving brew. Unfortunately our current favorite, High Sea, was not on tap. Their location is an outdoor patio area next to Peet’s coffee. They have two containers installed on the site – one for the restrooms (essential when drinking beer) and the other for their bar with all their taps. There’s no protection from the rain which would be a real plus here as the seats were all damp from the rain earlier in the day. Wet bottoms did not deter us from enjoying a reviving sampling. 

That evening we returned to the area to eat at Alvarado Street Brewery & Grill. This place was very cool. Right on Alvarado Street where the Tuesday Farmers Market takes place (mostly food stands). There’s a large patio with comfortable seating if you’re just wanting to have a beer and a little something to nibble. The inside area is busy and a bit noisy but the food was very good. They served only their brews and again we found a couple that were enjoyable.

Day 3 – Big Sur

We would be in the area for two more days and I had organized two full days of hikes… one in Big Sur and one at Garrapata point and Point Lobos. Since the hikes in Big Sur were supposed to be the most spectacular I had to decide which of the two remaining days we had would be the best. Both days were forecast for quite a bit of clouds and a storm was coming in Friday making Thursday a more iffy day weather-wise. So off we headed south towards Big Sur. The drive itself was worth the trip. The sun popped out for most of the day and it was just glorious. 

We started at the southernmost spot at McWay Falls. The Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and the majority of the trails were closed due to this winters storms. Ironically, the storm that came through at the end of the week created further serious damage to the park that it closed indefinitely. 

There is a very nice park overlook trail that takes you along the edge below the road for a better view of the waterfall and beach access but that was closed. So we parked at the scenic viewpoint and walked down for a view of the waterfall. It really was beautiful. 

Moving north we stopped at Partington Cove Trail, one of the few trails that remained open. It’s a somewhat steep well groomed trail down to a 3-way intersection. We crossed a little wooden bridge and passed through this cool historic wood timber tunnel to an overlook which once was a loading dock for ships. 

We then retraced our steps and took the trail that brought us to a small rocky beach.

By now it was around 2pm and we had worked up an appetite and thirst (read: time for lunch). We stopped at Nepenthe, thinking that this late in the day we could get in for lunch. Hah! The parking lot was full and we had to park on Hwy 1. This should have been a sign, but we walked up the driveway and admired some beautiful flowers where we found not an empty seat available.

We moved on to another spot that we had noted. Man were we glad that Nepenthe’s was full. The Big Sur Deli & Tap room was exactly what we wanted! They have lots of Alvarado beers as well as others. Their menu was yummy. Joe had a massive quesadilla platter and I had a delicious angus beef burger. We were able to bring the left overs back to the kitchen in our room so we wouldn’t have to go out on our last night. 

Our next stop was the much anticipated purple sand beach at Pfeiffer. The purple color of the sand comes from manganese garnet in the hills being eroded and washed down the creek to the beach. You are more likely to see the purple sand after winter storms. Sometimes the color appears more pinkish and others report some green color at times. Not all the sand at Pfeiffer is purple and sometimes you have to brush away the top layer of sand from the surf or wind. It’s a very pretty beach and the famous Keyhole Rock is there also. 

The beach access is down the rough 2-1/2 mile Sycamore Canyon Road with private houses on it. The parking lot (as well as the beach) is small and sometimes fills up. Nothing else to do than be disappointed and turn back. There are park staff members at the beginning of Sycamore Canyon Road to either turn you away or let you in. We actually had for ford a 12″ stream before getting to the park entrance to pay our fee. 

We ended our day having dinner with Stevie, Gerry, Shannon, Adam and Nia. They were in Monterey for one night on their way home from a vacation. Their hotel was 5 minutes walk from ours. How fun was that?!

Day 4 – Garrapata & Point Lobos State Parks

Our waiter at Alvarado Tap room told us that Garrapta State Park was one of his favorite hiking spots in the area. After a little research we could understand why. We hiked the Soberanes Point, Whale Peak and the Bluff trail. It really was spectacular. 

We had worked up an excellent appetite as well as thirst (of course). We were chatting with our family expert beer advisor the previous night and mentioned a place called Yeast of Eden in Carmel Plaza. He said it was the sister tap room of Alvarado and we should definitely go. Well, what a place! The ambiance, the menu, the beers, the service, just everything blew us away. It had a much more upscale menu with an Asian and Mexican touch. Take a look…

We finished off our last day at Point Lobos State Park. The Alvarado Street waiter was right about Point Lobos too. It was a nice hike. Very different coastal views but our morning hike far outshined this one. 

Alas we’ve come to the end of our Monterey escape. We had decent weather, loved our aquarium visit, ate and drank at some super tap rooms, had two full days of incredible hikes, and best of all… we didn’t get rained on!