SPY Travel Guide: Weekend Road Trip to Monterey

best things to do in monterey
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* Weekend road trip to the beautiful Monterey, CA
* Where to stay, what to eat and where to visit
* Do it all in style with an award-winning SUV

A recent weekend road trip to the Monterey Peninsula and Carmel Valley area yielded much-needed rest, relaxation and a few indulgences that are available to all. Monterey is a small city on California’s central coast and is surrounded by the most beautiful scenery, beaches, seafood restaurants and fresh air. You might also know it as the picturesque town featured in the award-winning HBO show, Big Little Lies .

Less than two hours from San Francisco (and around five hours from Los Angeles), Monterey is an ideal destination for a road trip with a partner, family – or, in our case – for a kid-free, girlfriends’ getaway. Here are some suggestions on where to sleep, eat and spend your precious free time in style.


Technically located in Carmel Valley which is a city in Monterey County, the Carmel Valley Ranch is a charming hotel tucked away in a beautiful and secluded location that makes for a perfect getaway for couples, friends and families. Situated on 500 acres and affectionately referred to their “500-acre playground,” this ranch has all the amenities you will need to just take a spa day to relax and unwind while providing access to plenty of opportunities for fun and play too.

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Amenities that include six different pools (saltwater even), golf and a huge wellness spa are a huge draw. However, there are plenty of not-so-common experiences as well, such as intensive trail hiking, a vineyard walk, archery for the kids and even beekeeping (more on that below).

The rooms, meantime, all include Nespresso coffee makers, lavender bath amenities (the ranch has acres of lavender), and comfy beds and linens. The suites have spacious outdoor decks (pictured below) and some even have private outdoor tubs – great for a relaxing soak as you watch the sunset over the hills.

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Culinary experiences in and around the Monterey area are nothing short of divine. You can expect a lot of sustainable, organic farming along with natural and seasonal menus. Since Monterey Bay sits on the Pacific Ocean, the seafood is fresh and comes directly from the Monterey Coast. Fruits and vegetables are all locally grown and of course, the wine is free-flowing and delicious.

We were lucky enough to experience two highly rated restaurants and can’t recommend them enough.  Our first pick is the famous Rocky Point Restaurant which is an incredible, ocean-view filled, 15-minute scenic drive from Monterey, located between Carmel and Big Sur. This restaurant has been around since 1947 (with a few renovations along the way) and is known for its amazing views of the Pacific Ocean. Make sure to get a seat cliff-side and enjoy the freshest of the fresh seafood.

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Our last night in Monterey was actually in charming Carmel By-The-Sea (a small beach city located in Monterey) and was spent enjoying ultra-fresh ingredients and endless wine in a casually elegant setting at Grasing’s Restaurant. As there was a prix fixe menu, I cannot say I was able to peruse the whole menu, but every dish served was better than the last and full of flavor and textures. The staff was incredibly helpful and will help you pair any of your dishes with their most outstanding of restaurant wine lists in the world.

If you are a first time visitor to the Monterey area, there are a few mainstays to get through – the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, visiting iconic Cannery Row, wine tasting and taking the ultimate 17-mile drive which will greet you with one of the most scenic drives featuring coastal cliffs, beaches, forests and the iconic golf courses of Pebble Beach.

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Things to do in Pebble Beach

Other experiences include Lover’s Point Park, Asilomar State Beach, the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, hiking in Big Sur (great for fall hiking) and kayaking in Moss Landing.

I had the esteemed honor (and I do mean honor) to experience one of the most unique bucket list experiences of my life. The Carmel Valley Ranch is home to their own apiary (a collection of beehives) with a whopping 250,000 Italian honeybees buzzing all around. Before we headed to see the actual hives, we were given a thorough and interesting lesson on bees and beekeeping by two of the most passionate experts in their field. We then got all suited up to get up close and personal to these interesting and most important of creatures, to see, in person, what it is they do best.

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Needless to say, it was an exhilarating experience, and it ended with a taste of the honey from each of the different hives, all infused with the flavors of herbs growing in the nearby fields.

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Getting to and from the Bay Area is obviously of some importance and we were generously given the opportunity to drive and test out the new Buick Enclave. We flew up to San Jose where we picked up our ride for the 1.5-hour drive down to Monterey. We did it in style with the luxurious Buick Enclave Avenir. The Avenir is Buick’s spacious, luxury SUV that has an all-new design and is filled with all the latest intuitive tech and gadgets for 2018/2019.

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One of the first things I noticed on the drive down was that it felt like I was driving in a car much smaller than I actually was. The Enclave seats up to 7 people comfortably, yet when driving, I felt very safe and secure and was easily able to maneuver the vehicle as I would if it were much smaller in stature.

When we arrived at the hotel, I did notice the fact that I had only used a 1/4 tank of gas for the whole ride, which was pretty impressive, not to mention a huge feat for an SUV of this size.

While this trip was a kid-free treat for myself, I do have two little ones and was intrigued by the unique (at least to me) second-row captain’s chairs which utilize a SmartSlide function to provide quick and easy access to the third row. These chairs are ideal for car seats as they are large, plush and secure and do not take away from the seating space as you still have the third row to work with and fill with extended carpool guests.

buick enclave interior review Image courtesy of Author

Another two-hour drive back to the San Francisco airport kept me and my passenger busy trying out all the fun technology the car has to offer. We were pleasantly surprised at how easily our iPhone’s synched with the extensive “infotainment” system that is standard on all models. This system features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability so it won’t matter what phone you or your passengers have. Another huge plus and convenience are the six USB/charging ports the car provides, allowing for quick and easy charging for all.

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While you can choose to use CarPlay for all your navigation needs, the car also comes with its own proprietary navigation system that we used to get to and from places, and I have to say, that was pretty intuitive.

Whether you choose to visit Monterey and its surrounding areas by car, air, or both, do yourself a favor and just visit. While I have actually been up here a few times prior, each time I come back, there are new hikes to take, new restaurants to eat at and new hotels to visit. It is truly like going for the first time, every time, and it’s an easy weekend getaway you won’t regret.

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