Home to the Big Sur stretch of Highway 1 and the scenic Salinas Valley portion of U.S. 101, Monterey County is ideal for road-tripping through California-flavored Americana. Don’t skip these unique pit stops.
Highway 1, northbound
Salmon Creek Falls: Only steps off the highway, this wilderness cascade tumbles 100 feet into cool pools. The trail continues upwards to Silver Peak Wilderness Area.
Esalen Institute: This hippy-dippy holdover from the 1960s is now a globally respected cultural institution with an ongoing slate of lectures, workshops and healing arts.
Henry Miller Memorial Library: This majestic blend of bookstore, performance venue and arts center celebrates the life and times of an author who spent two decades living at Big Sur.
Big Sur River Inn: Founded in 1934 on one of the original Big Sur homesteads, the restaurant is still renowned for its hot apple pie. Have a slice and relax on one of the inn’s iconic Adirondack chairs, which sit right in the middle of a shallow portion of the Big Sur River.
Andrew Molera State Park: Forest, meadow, marsh and beach flank the hiking trails that meander through this gorgeous shoreline park.
Bixby Creek Bridge: Erected in 1931, this spectacular span is best seen (and photographed) by turning up Coast Road on the north side.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: Lobos is Spanish for “wolves,” but the “wolves” in the reserve’s name actually refer the playful sea otters that frolic in the coves of this popular state park, which features picnic areas for relaxing and multiple trails for hiking.
Carmel Mission: The second of the missions established by Franciscan padres in California, the church is both a National Historic Landmark and active place of Roman Catholic worship. It’s also the national shrine and final resting place of recently canonized Saint Junipero Serra.
Fisherman’s Wharf: No trip up Highway 1 would be complete without a stop at the wharf in downtown Monterey, bustling with fishermen, sea lions and otters. The wharf’s many unique offerings include some very tasty clam chowder and popular whale-watching boat tours.
Fort Ord Dunes: Off-limits to the public for years when the fort was an active U.S. Army base, the seaside dunes are one of California’s newest state parks. Hiking and biking trails lead to four miles of pristine beach.
The Sanctuary Beach Resort: Nestled between the Marina Dunes Preserve and Marina State Beach, this coastal hideaway offers recreation and relaxation amid the sound of the waves — and fire pits on the sand to help you keep warm during those chilly nights.
Monterey Bay Equestrian Center: Saddle up and gallop along the beach on a horse from this seaside stable.
Whole Enchilada: Margaritas and Mexican seafood dishes flavor this roadside eatery in Moss Landing.
Highway 101 (El Camino Real)
San Lorenzo Park: Early California comes alive in this green space in King City, a collection of vintage buildings that includes a blacksmith shop, old train depot and 1887 schoolhouse.
Pinnacles National Park: A brief eastward jog on Highway 146 takes you to the entrance of this spectacular park, with its wild rock formations and topography. Pinnacles is also a habitat of sorts for the rare, endangered California condor; keep your eye peeled and you might spot one.
Soledad Mission: Dedicated to Our Lady of Solitude, this charming chapel was founded in 1791 and lovingly restored in the 1950s by the Native Daughters of the Golden West.
River Road Wineries: Stretching along the western edge of the Salinas Valley between Greenfield and Salinas, the River Road Wine Trail features tasting rooms from some of the famous names in Monterey County wine, including Hahn, Pessagno and Paraiso.
Monterey Zoo: Located on Vision Quest Ranch, this wildlife sanctuary safeguards big cats, elephants and other animals that once starred in movies and TV shows. Overnight safari-type lodging is available — elephants will bring you breakfast.
Salinas City Center: Sprawling across 10 city blocks, the historic downtown features numerous places to eat, drink and shop, plus the interactive National Steinbeck Center.
The Farm: Giant sculptures by artist John Cerney are just part of the fun at this longtime landmark on the south side of Salinas that includes a fruit and veggie stall, bakery and weekly special events.
Earthbound Farm Stand: This quaint Carmel Valley landmark started life in 1984 as a raspberry farm before evolving into one of California’s organic food pioneers. Now it’s a full-on cafe and market featuring clean and green (and delicious) organic salads, smoothies and lunch options.
—Joe Yogerst for See Monterey