Carmel and Monterey: A California Escape with Spectacular Views and Rainbows

Carmel Beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Carmel Beach is approximately two hours south of San Francisco.
Visit Carmel

If you are California dreaming, you might be fantasizing about the idyllic the Golden State’s central coast.

Carmel-by-the-Sea (simply Carmel) and Monterey are the gateways to California’s Central Coast. The area is the dreamiest part of America’s first highway, the Pacific Coast Highway, which stretches from Mendocino County to Orange County after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge two hours north of the area by car. The highway is the world’s number one road trip, and this part of the drive boasts of the 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach and the plunging cliffs above the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur.

Currently, Monterey County has maintained low COVID-19 transmission rates. Proof of vaccination and mask mandates have been lifted, but it is still recommended to wear masks indoors at many venues. Stay up to date about health advisories during your visit.

Monterey was put on the map by novelist John Steinbeck with his depictions of the agricultural region and Cannery Row in his novels. When the Monterey Bay Aquarium opened, it added to the area’s attractions as one of its notable places to visit.

“From the incredible diversity of the Kelp Forest exhibit to playful otters and penguins to learning about ways to protect our ocean, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a really remarkable, fun place — and it’s a place for everybody,” the aquarium’s out lesbian chief operating officer, Cynthia Vernon, told Gay City News.

Since the late 1800s, artists, celebrities, and the affluent flocked from San Francisco and Silicon Valley down the coast to Carmel and Big Sur to recharge.

“Carmel is unique,” said Thomas Rogers, the gay general manager of The Vagabond’s House Inn, Carmel’s only LBGTQ-owned bed and breakfast. “It is one of those places that everybody wants to experience.”

“If you stay in Carmel, it’s like this perfect little hub,” the inn’s out queer owner, Amanda LeVett, added. “You’ve got everything around you.”

LeVett and Rogers would love to see more queer travelers visit Carmel and Monterey. LeVett, who identifies as non-binary, talked about imagining drag queens registering their high heels at City Hall — one of the quirky ordinances that remains on the books.

What to do

If you’ve never been to Carmel and Monterey, take a walking tour to learn the fascinating history of Carmel with Gael Gallagher, owner and tour guide of Gael Gallagher’s Carmel Walks, or gay tour guide Evan Oakes, owner of AG Venture Tours, who offers walking tours of the Carmel Valley Village Wine Walk and Monterey History Walk.

Stroll through Carmel’s art galleries and shops or go wine tasting by foot with the Carmel Wine Walk Passport. Beer lovers will appreciate a refreshing craft brew at the Alvarado Street Brewery & Bistro at the Carmel Plaza. In Monterey, walk along the famed Cannery Row.

There are many ways to experience the natural beauty of California’s Central Coast.

Take a drive along the PCH to explore postcard small towns, large parks, and stunning beaches. Car aficionados staying at the LGBTQ-friendly Quail Lodge and Golf Club can ditch the ho-hum rental car for a classic and luxury sports cars to cruise down the highway.

If a “Sunday drive” isn’t adventurous enough, the lodge offers one of the few Land Rover Experiences in the country.

The area begs for visitors and locals to get outside with golf at the renowned Pebble Beach or 24 other courses in the area, hiking, biking, kayaking, and other outdoor activities.

Kayakers will love hitting the water with lesbian-owned Blue Water Ventures to watch whales and other sea life or venture out in the dark for a bioluminescent night kayaking tour at Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing.

“Monterey Bay is a spectacular place to be whale watching,” said the lesbian naturalist, owner, and tour guide Kim Powell.

Peddle along the coast on an e-bike ride to the Carmel Mission with Mad Dogs & Englishmen’s electric bike tour.

Relax and watch surfers catch waves on the beach under the sun at Carmel’s beach.

Wine lovers should take a wine tour with Oakes who provides a variety of guided experiences taking guests out into Monterey’s farms and vineyards in addition to his walking tours (mentioned above).

Where to eat

As foodies, eating is always on the itinerary for my girlfriend and me. Breakfast and brunch are my jam, so when in Carmel and Monterey I head to Wild Plum Café in Monterey and in Carmel Stationæry, Katy’s Place, or The Village Corner.

Dinner is my girlfriend’s groove, so she makes reservations at The Whaling Station in Monterey and in Carmel at Grasings, Mission Ranch Restaurant, Little Napoli, and Seventh & Dolores.

Some of our favorite lunch spots are Edgar’s at Quail Lodge, Baum and Blume in Carmel Valley, and Gusto’s Handcrafted Pasta & Pizza in Seaside.

One of the best places to watch the sunset and sip champagne is the Terrace Lounge at Pebble Beach.

Where to stay

If you want to wake up to the Pacific Ocean, Monterey offers oceanside accommodations at the Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay.

Travelers seeking sun will want to stay at the Quail Lodge and Golf Club in the Carmel Valley.

If you want to park and walk, stay at Carmel’s The Vagabond’s House Inn.

Getting there

New Yorkers should fly into Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport and rent a car for the hour and a half drive to Carmel/Monterey to start their vacation.