Monterey Peninsula’s bargain hotels, food and activities

In Monterey, a mural captures the atmosphere of nearby Cannery Row as spectators watch kayakers paddle on the bay.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Clint Eastwood knows how to set a scene on screen or at Mission Ranch, his strikingly handsome hotel and restaurant in Carmel.

The hotel, a historic property, has a multimillion dollar view of the sea and beautiful grounds to match. Magenta bougainvillea spills from balconies, flowering pots decorate porches, huge cypress trees shade buildings and lawns. You’d expect a room to cost $500 a night or more.

So how about $120 a night?

Hard to believe, especially in a pricey tourist area like Carmel. But that’s the starting rate for Eastwood’s beautiful Mission Ranch, which he rescued from a developer.


Eastwood’s hotel isn’t the only find we discovered in the Monterey Peninsula on a recent visit. We scoured the region and unearthed five great hotels with rates beginning as low as $79 a night during the high season (summer) and $59 a night during the low season.

We also found 10 deliciously inexpensive restaurants where you can eat for $10 or less. To top it off, we list 15 free things to do, enough to keep a family happy for a weekend or a week.

Our penny-pinching tips include hotels and restaurants throughout the Monterey Peninsula, including Carmel and Carmel Valley, areas where hotel tariffs can be sky high. But you’re too smart to pay those prices. So go ahead: Spend a few days with the high rollers. Just don’t let them know how little it’s costing you.

Five hotels that are super deals

1. Los Laureles Lodge

Looking for a great country escape? Los Laureles Lodge is the right place for you. The knotty pine-paneled rooms here were once stables for the horses of Muriel Vanderbilt Church Phelps Adams (yes, that Vanderbilt family). Now they’re cozy accommodations. This California Historic Country Inn sits amid the oak-covered hills of scenic Carmel Valley. The grounds are expansive, with a pool and restaurant; the hotel is kid- and pet-friendly.

313 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley; (800) 533-4404 or (831) 659-2233,

Summer rates for doubles from $130 a night; off-season rates start at $100. Continental breakfast included.

2. Mission Ranch Hotel & Restaurant

While mayor of Carmel in the late ‘80s, Eastwood bought this historic property to save it from being turned into condos. Now he can sometimes be found in the restaurant’s bar around 5 p.m. Eastwood restored the property, a ranch in the 1800s; it includes a farmhouse, bunkhouse and other original buildings. Rooms are small but charmingly furnished, and the property is beautiful.

26270 Dolores St., Carmel; (831) 624-6436,

Doubles from $120 a night year-round, including continental breakfast.

3. Butterfly Grove Inn

Take a step back in time for a super deal at Butterfly Grove Inn, a charming motor court-style motel that borders the monarch butterfly park in Pacific Grove. Baskets of flowering plants decorate the pink-and-white motel; it has a pool, and rooms are efficient and tidy. Another plus: It’s close to Point Pinos Lighthouse and Sunset Drive, a scenic coastal byway.

1073 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove; (800) 337-9244,

In summer, doubles from $109 weekdays, $149 weekends; off-season rates from $79, including continental breakfast.

4. Casa Munras

In Monterey, you’ll find one of the best deals in town at Casa Munras Hotel & Spa, a large downtown lodging with surprisingly stylish accommodations, a chic lobby and a great central location. Rooms are small but nicely furnished with cushy upscale bedding; most rooms have flat-screen TVs. Grounds are tidy, and there is a pool. Tapas bar available in the lobby at night.

700 Munras Ave., Monterey; (800) 322-2446 or (831) 375-2411,

Summer doubles from $139 a night weekdays, $159 weekends; low-season rates from $129.

5. Monterey Hotel

Prices here are cheap, cheap, cheap, with rooms starting at $59 in the low season and $79 in summer. This Victorian-style hotel, built in 1904, has nicely decorated public areas and rooms furnished in period style. Some rooms are tiny (the petite queen, which has the lowest rate, is about 150 square feet, slightly larger than a standard stateroom on a ship), but you can’t beat the central location, and there’s a free continental breakfast.

406 Alvarado St., Monterey; (800) 966-6490 or (831) 375-3184,

Summer doubles from $79 a night, weekend rates from $109; low-season rates from $59 weekdays, $79 weekends. Includes breakfast.

10 restaurants for $10 or less

1. Wagon Wheel Restaurant

This country restaurant in a Carmel Valley strip mall might not be much to look at, but its breakfasts draw fans from throughout the Monterey Peninsula. It’s tiny, so there’s often a wait. Horseshoes and tack on the wall make local cowboys feel at home. Eggs Benedict is the popular choice for breakfast ($9.25); lunch items are accompanied by mom-style side dishes such as Jell-O and homemade pork and beans. Some pet-friendly tables.

7156 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel; (831) 624-8878

2. Earthbound Farms Produce Stand

If the name has a familiar ring, it’s because you’ve bought organic produce from Earthbound Farms at your local gourmet market. The company, nearly 30 years old, began here; it now contracts with 150 organic growers to supply its distributors. This outlet, a produce stand but super sized, has a salad bar and small grill (panini, $8.95), besides selling produce and packaged foods (hummus and cucumber sandwich $5.95, carrot-ginger soup, $5.95). The grounds are suitable for picnicking.

7250 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel; (831) 625-6219,

3. Forge in the Forest Restaurant

Take your dog out to dinner at the Forge, which has a courtyard reserved for four-legged diners and offers a special menu for them. No dog? This onetime blacksmith shop — converted to outdoor patios and indoor bar and restaurant — is still fun, and the food is both trendy and tasty. We split an Italian sausage pizza ($15.95) and had a few dollars to spare.

5th at Junípero, Carmel; (831) 624-2233,

4. Hog’s Breath Inn

Take the chill off a foggy Carmel evening at the Hog’s Breath Inn, where the courtyard patio has great ambience and half a dozen romantic fireplaces. Several lunch and bar items make the cut here. We liked the chicken quesadilla ($9.50), which was stuffed with huge chunks of chicken and cheese and came with three salsas.

San Carlos between 5th and 6th, Carmel; (831) 625-1044,

5. Pebble Beach Market

Revel in the scenic grandeur of the 17-Mile Drive (and the grandiose homes that line it), then grab a gourmet sandwich ($10) or some cheese and wine at the Pebble Beach market. You can dine at picnic tables outside the market (it’s near Pebble Beach Lodge) or stop along the route for a picnic overlooking the sea.

1700 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach; (831) 625-8528,

6. RG Burgers

RG Burgers (it stands for “real good”) wins our best-burger award, hands down. Diners find great burgers and lots of other good choices at this fast-food outlet and cafe that has locations in Carmel and Monterey. Hungry for a sandwich? Choose from six-ounce prime beef, chicken, turkey or veggie patties, with a choice of bread, condiments and side dishes for $8.95.

201 Crossroads Shopping Village, Carmel (Rio and Carmel Valley roads); (831) 626-8054. Also at 570 Munras Ave., No. 30, Monterey, (831) 372-4930,

7. Cannery Row Brewing Co.

If sightseeing has made you thirsty for a brew, combine it with a burger at Cannery Row Brewing Co. The brewery-restaurant has 73 beers on tap, which it claims is the largest selection in Northern California. It’s near the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row and is a noisy, fun place to stop for lunch. Ask for the beer-and-a-burger special ($10.95).

95 Prescott Ave., Monterey; (831) 643-2722,

8. Jose’s Mexican Bar & Grill

The margaritas and beer are icy, the chips crunchy and the enchiladas tasty at this Mexican restaurant near Cannery Row and the Aquarium. Diego Garcia prints, sombreros and whirling overhead fans give the feel of a Mexican resort (or is that just the after-effect of the margaritas?). Several combination plates available for less than $10.

638 Wave St., Monterey, (831) 655-4419

9. Trailside Café & Coffee House

Stop in at Trailside for coffee and a bag of French beignets (six for $6.95), or try a breakfast combo (two pancakes, two eggs, two strips of bacon and two sausages for $8.95.) The cafe, near Cannery Row, is popular with bike riders and walkers along the beach trail.

550 Wave St., Lower Level, Monterey; (831) 649-8600,

10. Tillie Gorts

This simple storefront cafe, known for its large portions and vegetarian fare, has a menu chock-full of tasty items for less than $10, including sandwiches, salads and specialty dishes. Our fave is the Greek salad ($9.95), which overflowed its dinner-size serving plate. We’re not the only ones who like the small cafe: Tillie Gorts is an annual winner in Monterey County Weekly’s dining poll.

111 Central Ave., Pacific Grove; (831) 373-0335,

15 free things to do

1. Monterey Bay Recreation Trail

Skirt Monterey Bay on a bike or on foot along this scenic, 18-mile paved pathway that runs from Castroville in the north to Pacific Grove in the south, If you’re game, try the 29-mile Monterey Bay Coastal Bike Trail,

2. Gallery hopping in Carmel

Become an art lover in Carmel, where you can browse more than 120 galleries in less than a square mile.

3. Robert Louis Stevenson House

Walk the planks of this house where Stevenson, author of “Kidnapped” and “Treasure Island,” among other classics, lived as a young writer. Open Saturday afternoons through September for self-guided tours. 530 Houston St., Monterey; (831) 649-7118,

4. Old Monterey

Visit Monterey State Historic Park, a collection of historic houses and buildings interspersed throughout Old Monterey that makes up the Path of History walking tour. Many of the historic adobes can be viewed only with a state park guide. But the park also has several lovely gardens, which may be viewed for free. Tour info available at Pacific House Museum, 20 Custom House Plaza, Monterey; (831) 649-7118,

5. Point Lobos State Reserve

Explore Point Lobos State Reserve, which many people say was the inspiration for Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” Parking costs $10, but pedestrians get in free. Three miles south of Carmel on Highway 1.

6. Coast Guard Pier

This wharf on the north side of Monterey Harbor is the home port for the 110-foot Coast Guard cutter Long Island. It’s also one of the city’s best sites for viewing wildlife, including a seabird rookery, sea lions, seals and otters. 100 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey;

7. Tide pools of Monterey Bay

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary stretches from Marin to Cambria and encompasses one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. Follow in the footsteps of author John Steinbeck’s characters in Cannery Row and explore the tide pools of the Monterey Bay coastline, especially near Asilomar Beach. 800 Asilomar Ave., Pacific Grove; (831) 372-8016,

8. Trails for walkers

While in the neighborhood, visit Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds, where you can see wind-swept beaches and historical structures designed by renowned architect Julia Morgan. The coastal park has several walking trails. Pick up guidebooks at the main lodge. (831) 646-6442,

9. Point Pinos Lighthouse

Light up your weekend with a visit to the Point Pinos Lighthouse in Pacific Grove, the oldest operating lighthouse in the state. It has been operating continuously since Feb. 1, 1855, flashing nightly to protect ships along the rocky coast. It’s open 1-4 p.m. Thursdays-Mondays; Asilomar Avenue, between Lighthouse Avenue and Del Monte Boulevard, Pacific Grove; (831) 648-3176, (The suggested donation is $2 for adults and $1 for children.)

10. Visit the dunes

Fly a kite or just watch a sunset from the sand dunes of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which includes 83 beaches and 24 dune systems. Among our favorites are Seaside and Marina state beaches.

11. 17 miles of coastal beauty

Ride a bike along one of the country’s most famous scenic drives: the 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach. The charge for a vehicle is $9.50, but bicyclists are admitted free. The road runs from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach. (831) 647-7500,

12. Monarch butterflies

Look up in the trees to catch sight of thousands of migrating butterflies at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove. The orange and black butterflies can be seen between October and February. Ridge Road, between Lighthouse Avenue and Short Street, Pacific Grove; (831) 648-5716,

13. Park it with your best four-legged friend

Take a hike with Fido at Garland Ranch Regional Park, a 4,462-acre Carmel Valley park where several off-leash trails wind through the foothills. Hike along the Carmel River, see a waterfall, check out Garzas Creek. 700 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley; (831) 372-3196,

14. Whale watching

Climb one of Monterey County’s promontories at Point Pinos, Point Lobos or the Big Sur coastline to watch gray whales as they migrate from Alaska to Mexico annually from December through April.

15. Ride a trolley car

Jump on a trolley car in Carmel or Monterey for a free ride to the top tourist locations. The cars run through Labor Day and are sponsored by Monterey-Salinas Transit, (888) 678-2871,

Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau offers many suggestions. For more information about Monterey County, call (800) 555-6290 or see