Weekend getaway: Monterey County, California | VailDaily.com

Weekend getaway: Monterey County, California

Kim Fuller
Special to the Daily

The rough edges of California's central coastline have called to creatives for decades. The literary talents of John Steinbeck, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac and many more, along with the sweet songwriting of Fleet Foxes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Alanis Morissette have drawn inspiration from this culturally poignant and geographically dramatic area of the world.

There was no denying the pull of my own creative heartstrings as I walked into the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur this past summer. Just minutes from pullouts along California's Highway 1 where you can stand in sprays of sea mist overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this remarkable house sits beneath a cove of redwood trees and is as well-read as all the authors showcased on its shelves.

This wasn't my first trip to Monterey County, I'm certain it will not be my last. There is always something new to discover, from the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove to the nearby Point Pinos Lighthouse — the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast. Then there is the heartbeat of the peninsula, Monterey, with its world-class aquarium and rich display of American history.

It would be a shame to skip a visit to the quaint streets of Carmel-By-The-Sea, all lined with lovely cottages, shops, restaurants and wine tasting rooms, and no person should ever visit this area without spending a full day driving the twists, turns and breathtaking scenery that is Big Sur.

A visit to this coastal region can be brief or extended, leaving every visitor with a taste for more. And with the recent relaunch of a twice-daily direct flight from Denver International Airport to Monterey Regional Airport, a getaway to this special area is as easy as it is delightful.

Monterey provides a good home base for day trips. Stay walking distance from the Old Fishermans Wharf at the lovely Hotel Pacific, or for a more quaint vibe stay in Pacific Grove at the Lighthouse Lodge & Cottages. It was to my surprise that less than a mile from this bed and breakfast is the John Denver Memorial, a plaque on a beachside rock that honors the legendary Colorado musician near the site of his fatal 1997 plane crash. Coming upon the monument reminded me that, like many international artists and Colorado-lovers, Denver had also been drawn to spend time in this alluring area.

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Before heading too far from the center of Monterey, be sure to take some time to explore Cannery Row. This famous street offers a glimpse into the old Monterey Bay fisheries and the setting of some of Steinbeck's most notable works, including "Cannery Row," published in 1945.

A couple of hours at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is worthwhile for all ages. Be sure to stop and say hello to the resident otters — they often wave back.

Dinner in Monterey, or at least cocktails, should be enjoyed at the Sardine Factory. Walk through the doors for a glimpse at a refined 1960s lounge and settle in to see that the restaurant has kept up with the times when it comes to service and cuisine.

Just 10 minutes by car, wineries, inns and window shopping awaits in Carmel. Take a day to drive into Carmel Valley for brunch at Lucia Restaurant & Bar, followed by a visit to Twisted Root Winery. Then, head toward the beach to experience the magic of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

There are a number of cute bed and breakfast-style accommodations in Carmel. The Horizon Inn has a convenient location on Junipero Avenue, just a 10-minute walk from the village center and a few minutes more to Carmel Beach. Mornings here begin by opening the guest room door to a continental breakfast basket — a thoughtful touch and tasty start to the day.

Book a few things in advance, but also leave time for wandering. Try a Mindful Walking & Meditation session, led by Monterey Bay Meditation. On our trip, my fiance and I met Katie Dutcher at the Palo Corona Regional Park, located right off of Highway 1 on the way out of town toward to Big Sur. We spent a little over an hour with Dutcher, walking on the spacious hillside before stopping for a guided seated meditation. Her voice drifted on the light breeze passing between us, and as I opened my eyes after about 20 minutes of stillness, I recall the calm surrender of that moment being so tangible and rich. We sat for a little while longer, looking out over the seaside community and the long beach where Carmel meets the water.

There are plenty of plans you can make to experience the beauty of the area. Make the trip to Big Sur, of course, for lunch at Nepenthe and a stop at Henry Miller Memorial Library, then on your way back toward Monterey, the 17-Mile Drive takes you on a leisurely driver's seat tour through some of the area's most scenic natural treasures. Ambitious types can rent bikes to pass through the pristine Del Monte Forest and quietly luxurious Pebble Beach. I recommend a sunset stop at The Inn at Spanish Bay for cocktails and a sunset serenade on the green from a Scottish bagpiper.

It's for all the reasons I mentioned and many more to be discovered that the Monterey Peninsula will always have a very special place in my heart. Like a great book or timeless song, this place will never go out of style.

Learn more at http://www.see monterey.com.

Kim Fuller is a freelance writer and editor based in Vail.