Pacific Grove: Monterey County's Scenic Retreat

The Grimms of Laguna Beach are authors of "Away for the Weekend," a travel guide to Southern California.

If you've been searching the Golden State for its quintessential hometown, Pacific Grove could very well be at the top of the list. This Monterey County community seems blessed by the gods.

It began, in fact, as a religious retreat. Drawn by the fresh ocean breezes and pine-scented woods, 450 Methodists arrived by horse and wagon to camp out and "sing praises to God in open air." That was in 1875.

Some decided the spot was heaven on earth and began building board-and-batten houses right over their tents, using the canvas for insulation. By 1889 the campground of the Methodist Pacific Grove Retreat Assn. had 1,300 permanent residents and incorporated as a city.

During the past century, the town's population has grown to 16,000 and its boundaries now surround 2.6 square miles, but Pacific Grove remains a peaceful and beautiful refuge.

Its location is spectacular--at the tip of a broad, wooded peninsula overlooking Monterey Bay and the Pacific. Best of all, a scenic road meanders along the five miles of shoreline.

Ablaze in Springtime

Ocean View Boulevard and Sunset Drive take you past rugged sea cliffs and waterfront parks that are ablaze in springtime with flowers, especially the pink blossoms of ice plant. Along the way are ocean-view homes, some of them elegant Victorians that now welcome visitors with bed and breakfast.

City fathers have outlined a walking tour to 14 of Pacific Grove's historical sites, including the century-old St. Mary's Church, which boasts two Tiffany stained-glass windows. On weekends you can visit the West Coast's oldest lighthouse. The town also is home to a museum of natural history founded in 1881.

Artists and craftsmen find Pacific Grove an inspiring place to work, and you're invited to a number of their studios and galleries that are under one roof in the Pacific Grove Art Center.

Also creative are the chefs that inhabit the town and tempt visitors into La Provence, Fandango, Bertolucci's, Old Europe, Victorian Corner, Fishwife and other popular restaurants.

To sample the pleasures of Pacific Grove, drive north from Los Angeles on U.S. 101 and take the Main Street exit at Salinas to pick up California 68 to Monterey. It joins California 1 south before exiting (California 68 West) to Pacific Grove.

At the junction with Sunset Drive, follow Forest Avenue north to the town center and the chamber of commerce office just across Central Avenue. It's open from 9 to 11:45 a.m. and 1 to 5 p.m. daily except Sunday; telephone (408) 373-3304. Request the Historic Trail brochure and embark on a self-guided walking or driving tour.

Forest Avenue continues to the seashore, where Ocean View Boulevard leads to the tour's start at Lovers Point. In this grassy coastal park, look for the granite butterfly sculpture. It's in honor of the orange-and-black Monarchs that migrate to Pacific Grove every winter.

Who sculpted the butterfly? That's the first of 23 questions in the tour brochure that turn the outing into a mini-treasure hunt as you seek the answers at the various sites. Your reward is a Historic Trail patch available at the chamber office.

If your time is limited, at least drive along Ocean View Boulevard. Heading east from Lovers Point you'll pass the Old Bath House, now a restaurant serving dinner nightly and brunch on Sundays. Opposite is the Tinnery with daily meals dished up to go with bay views.

At the corner of Fountain Avenue you're sure to spot the landmark Seven Gables Inn, a striking 101-year-old Victorian that's become a family-run B&B.; Its 14 guest rooms, all with private bath, include a continental breakfast. Prices range from $85 to $145. There's a two-day minimum on weekends. Phone (408) 372-4341.

Antique-Filled B&B;

A few blocks away at 255 Ocean View Blvd. is a turn-of-the-century mansion once owned by James Parke of Parke Davis Pharmaceuticals. Since 1984 it's been an antique-filled B&B; that carries the name of innkeepers Marion and Don Martine. All 19 rooms have private bath. Rates range from $95 to $175 with full breakfast. The Martine Inn: (408) 373-3388.

Continuing east you'll see the garish red, white and blue American Tin Cannery that's been remodeled as a restaurant and shopping complex. Go inside to enjoy a bit of Europe that Pierre Coutou has created with trompe l'oeil decor to complement the country French cuisine he serves for lunch and dinner.

More coastal panoramas are in store if you drive west from Lovers Point on Ocean View Drive. A left turn on Asilomar Avenue brings you to the Point Pinos Light Station, a low-profile lighthouse that's been flashing its warnings every night for 132 years. Visitors are welcome from 1 to 4 p.m. on weekends.

From there, Lighthouse Avenue leads inland through woodsy residential areas to the business center of Pacific Grove. At No. 643 is the vintage Gosby House Inn that's been operating as a small hotel since 1894. Rates $80 to $115; phone (408) 375-1287.

On a parallel street at 612 Central Ave. you'll find the Centralla, another Victorian hotel renovated as a B&B.; Rooms $65 to $125, cottages $150 to $175; call (408) 372-3372. Around town are four other bed-and-breakfast inns: Green Gables, Maison Bleue, Old St. Angela and Pacific Grove.

Keeping the Past Alive

At Central and Forest avenues, visitors can learn more about local plants and animals at the free Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. Look for the Monarch butterfly and California condor exhibits. Open daily except Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Pacific Grove Heritage Society helps keep the town's past alive, and local artifacts are displayed at its headquarters in a 96-year-old barn at Laurel Avenue and 17th Street. Even older is the Chautauqua Hall on 16th Street, where retreaters met for lectures.

Next month you can join in the annual Feast of Lanterns that celebrates Pacific Grove's early days and climaxes with a community barbecue and pageant at Lovers Point on July 25.

For the return to Los Angeles, continue south on coastal California 1 and rejoin U.S. 101 at San Luis Obispo.

Round trip from Los Angeles to picturesque Pacific Grove is 662 miles.

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