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Don't get me wrong, I love Monterey, California, and never tire of visiting the historic Cannery Row and spectacular Monterey Bay Aquarium. In fact, we have been taking our now grown children to Monterey since they were toddlers. We really love this part of California!
However, when visiting the Central Coast, it would be a mistake to miss Pacific Grove. To start, you'll find more reasonably priced accommodations in Pacific Grove that don't include a long list of add-on costs like parking and resort fees. But more importantly, Pacific Grove offers a charming downtown filled with locally owned businesses as well as long stretches of rugged, uncrowded coast line.
Asilomar Conference Center
My daughter, Jessica, and I headed to Pacific Grove recently for a women’s retreat being held at the Asilomar Conference Center. This beautiful property sits on 107 acres of beachfront land. Originally built as a YWCA Leadership Camp in 1913, this place now offers a range of rustic lodgings and meeting spaces for a wide variety of groups. (However, Asilomar lodging can be booked by individuals as well as groups.) What I particularly loved about this place are the lovely walks that can be taken during breaks--a far cry from a typical hotel conference space.
Downtown Pacific Grove and the Sunset Inn
As we entered the main street of Pacific Grove, Lighthouse Ave., we were greeted with a long row of trees decorated with colorful Chinese lanterns. (I later learned this is part of a local festival called the Feast of Lanterns, a 115 year old event celebrated each June) Lighthouse Ave. is home to a number of restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques, and nearby streets offer a selection of antique shops. Don’t expect any chains here since this is primarily a collection of locally owned businesses. We didn’t have much time to browse on this trip, but have done so on previous trips and enjoyed it.
We opted to stay at the Sunset Inn, just a mile down the road from the Asilomar conference center. This section of town is dotted with both private homes and small motels, most of them nicely upgraded with modern furniture and amenities. Our hotel also included a continental breakfast and happy hour. The staff could not have been friendlier and kindly pointed out that we were just a two block walk from the ocean.
Oceanfront Walks in Pacific Grove
This first morning of our trip I woke early, eager to see the ocean. I was not disappointed. The geography of this part of the coast does not allow for calm, still waters on smooth, white sand, but instead creates constant, noisy waves along large, rocky outcroppings. After a 30 minute walk I returned to our motel and was greeted by three deer nibbling on bushes. Clearly these deer are comfortable with human interaction since they waited a few moments before running off.
After a great day at the retreat my daughter and I chose to visit Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, adjacent to Pacific Grove. We enjoyed our dinner overlooking both the golf course and the ocean. Some golf courses restrict pedestrians from walking along cart paths, but not here. We watched as couples strolled holding hands, moms pushed babies in strollers and a gentleman walked his dog. This was such a lovely scene to see all while watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. While we opted to enjoy our dinner here, the cost of admission can be as small as one drink.
On our final day I insisted Jessica join me for a morning walk along the ocean. While initially annoyed for the early wake-up call, she definitely enjoyed the views. We walked a bit longer than I had the previous morning, and yet still only encountered three other people.
I’ve made several trips to Pacific Grove over the years and am always amazed at the lack of crowds. Somehow the majority of tourists in Monterey don’t find their way here. I suppose if I were a resident I would appreciate the peace and quiet, but I do hope if you ever find yourself in this area, that you will make the time to visit this quiet, scenic gem along the Central Coast. (Looking for another small, charming California town to visit, consider Point Reyes Station.)