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Big Sur + Monterey Bay, CA City Guide

by Stephanie

Today’s Central California Coast City Guide comes to us from Paige Whitmore Posladek, a writer and a blogger for Words on a Paige.  Growing up along the central coast of California, the Monterey Bay and Big Sur areas are her oasis.  She loves the local business community, exploring the coastline and hiking the picturesque mountains whenever she can.  Today she offers some of the best this region has to offer in her Central Cali Coast guide.  Thanks, Paige, for sharing this magical area with us! —Stephanie

Read the full guide after the jump…

Photos by Paige Whitmore Posladek



Monterey Bay Aquarium One of the largest aquariums in the world, it also has one of the best panoramic views of the bay. The seahorses and jellyfish exhibits are my favorite.

Monterey Museum of Art A unique showcase of art, including Motoi Yamamoto’s Saltworks. Definitely worth a walk through the gardens.

Fisherman’s Wharf Grab some clam chowder, go whale watching, and visit the old antique shops full of nautical treasures.

Farmer’s Market 3 1/2 city blocks of organic fruits and vegetables, delicious mexican food, and local artist vendors. Make sure to try the naan burritos.


The Wild Plum Cafe An organic cafe with delicious and unique salads and sandwich combinations. They also have a “lunch box” option, which is perfect to grab before you head down the Big Sur coast.

First Awakenings The best eggs benedict on the Central Coast. A breakfast spot with options for everyone, nestled inside the Old Tin Cannery.

1833 An adobe building that was once a pharmacy, the building dates back to 1833. It is now a cozy bar and restaurant, where you can enjoy you drink next to a fireplace or in the old apothecary. The Caramelized Endive Salad and the Pear Blossom cocktail are a must.

Paris Bakery A local favorite, this traditional French bakery has out-of-this-world pastries and perfect daily specials. The owner, Jackie, will walk you through his favorites and welcome you with a smile.

Parker-Lusseau Pastries Their Munras location is situated in historic Monterey. As you walk around and see the old State House, walk across the street and treat yourself to their mouth-watering tiramisu. Pick up a loaf of their homemade bread for a souvenir.


Lilify Artisan goods, local independent artist showcase, and a unique flower shop. A perfect place to pick up a souvenir you’ll actually want to display in your home.

Luna Blu Trading Co. A great little trading company in the heart of downtown Monterey with beautiful vintage and modern clothing.

Cannery Row Antique Mall The largest antique mall on the Central Coast, it houses thousands of treasures in the old Canning Company building. Pick up an old map of the Central Coast as a souvenir or unique canning antiques from the John Steinbeck days.



Neilson Bros. Market Local Produce and souvenirs. A local favorite and charming stop on your stroll through downtown.

The Carmel Plaza Window shopping at its best.

Carmel Pipe Shop Complete with strong tobacco and local men with cigars, the Pipe Shop is a full education in pipes and tobacco.

Knitting by the Sea A knitter’s Mecca. Yarn is stacked from floor to ceiling, a lot of which is woven locally.


Carmel Mission
The gorgeous grounds are covered in California history.

See a play at the Forest Theater. An outdoor theater in the trees, you can bring your own food and wine and relax while watching a classic musical.

Carmel Beach The most “beachy” of the beaches on the Central Coast, you can swim and relax on the smooth sand. Most of the beaches in the area are rocky and dangerous, but this is a safe and smooth beach to swim and surf.


The Cheese Shop The Cheese Shop is famous for smelly, mouth watering cheeses. Make sure to stop and try some of their well known cheeses, and join their Cheese of the Month club to keep the love comin.

Carmel Coffee Roasting Company Go to the Ocean Avenue location to see their vintage roaster in action. With no chain coffee shops in Carmel, CV Coffee Roasting Co. is the go-to place for creamy lattes and yummy pastries, with added charm and culture to boot.

La Bicyclette The cutest French cafe where the locals go to relax. Their butternut squash pizza and strawberry & walnut salad are perfect for a light lunch while strolling through the shops.

Baja Cantina A vibrant environment with the best margaritas around. I recommend their carnitas tacos, guacamole, and a margarita around the bonfire.



Pheonix Shop An eclectic variety of homemade jewelry and ceramics. Many of the artists work at the shop, so you may be buying your necklace from the creator.

Brooks Gallery A brilliant collection of furniture made from salvaged wood. Their coffee tables and counter tops are swoon worthy.

Big Sur Local Color A collection of local artists. Paintings, cookbooks, and sculptures cover the walls. A perfect place to pick up a photograph or a jar of jam to take home with you.


Big Sur Bakery A relaxing and genuine environment, their recipes are organic and full of flavor.

Big Sur Taphouse A large variety on tap and unique flavors in bottles.

Nepenthe The go-to restaurant for locals. Great views, good burgers, and the Big Sur hippie vibe. They recently opened Cafe Kevah, which has their own selection of home made baked goods and coffees.


Henry Miller Library The rustic library offers writing and screenwriting workshops, hosts concerts and events, including their folkYEAH series throughout the summer. Bring your blanket, a picnic, and listen to upcoming indie artists.

Horse Back Riding Tours See the famous coastline from the back of a horse. Cruise the beaches on a guided tour with plenty of history.

Take a hike (literally). Big Sur cannot be fully appreciated from a car ride–a hike is necessary to experience the diverse beauty of its nature. My favorites are the Ewoldsen Trail, Pfeiffer Falls, and
The Andrew Molera Loop.


Tree Bones Resort If you like glamping, Tree Bones is for you. You can rent an oceanside yurt or the famous human nest.

Camping at Andrew Molera With plenty of campsites and easy access to the beach and hiking trails, Molera is the best campsite in Big Sur.

Lucia Lodge A quaint motel with panoramic views. Perfect for a weekend getaway or solo retreat.

Big Sur River Inn Staying in a log cabin, order ice cream out of an old school bus, sit and enjoy a glass of wine in the chairs nestled in the river.

Be sure to check out this Google Map with all of the above listings!

Notable locals: Clint Eastwood (he plays the piano in the bar at Mission Ranch once a month), Doris Day (she owns a hotel in Carmel),Beverly Cleary (lives in Carmel), John Steinbeck (lived and wrote about Monterey). A lot of celebrities have gotten married up here reccently–Ann Hathaway, Natalie Portman.

Suggested For You


  • dang, I just did a HWY-1 trip last month and would have loved to have this guide! we loved the (cheap) places we stayed: Borg’s Ocean Front Motel in Pacific Grove (super-cheap hole in the wall old motel with the most beautiful view of Lover’s Point) and Big Sur Riverside Campground & Cabins (great rustic cabin with fire pits). Loved Nepenthe and First Awakenings. Would add Passionfish for a special dinner in Pacific Grove. Oh and definitely the 17-Mile Drive ending with sunset at Spanish Bay for cocktails, fire pits, ocean view, bagpipes, and a refund on the drive admission with a food purchase!

  • So happy to see this guide! I’m headed to Big Sur in November and I’m thrilled to learn I can cross one off the bucket list while there: ride horses on the beach.

  • Hello,
    We tried to visit Big Sur in 2010. It’s so difficult to find the right access from the HWY-1 !
    Anyway, thank you for your guide. Next time !

  • Another lodging recommendation that can’t be beat is Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn! My stepmom introduced me to that fabulous little gem. You can eat breakfast, lunch or early dinner in their charming cottage even if you aren’t a hotel guest.

  • People should note that reservations in Big Sur go months in advance! At this point in the summer, there are only a few rooms and campsites that have not been swept up. PLAN IN ADVANCE FOR TRAVEL! The Central Coast is truly the loveliest part of California, any effort will be well worth it.

  • Absolutely don’t miss the Monterey Aquarium – it is spectacular. The jellyfish were my favourites too, they’re like gorgeous, elegant works of art. Although the sea otters were absolutely the cutest possible things. And if possible, visit the Hawthorne Gallery on the Big Sur, just down (up?) the road from The Post Ranch Inn; it’s a beautiful space filled with even more beautiful things. We were visiting from London, and it was the trip of a lifetime!

  • I would suggest skipping First Awakenings. It’s pretty awful nowadays. Mediocre food and just plain bad service. It was good when it was First Watch but after changing hands and name it went down hill. I would suggest Toasties in Pacific Grove if you want good food and friendly service.

  • Last time I was in Monterey, my Mom and I discovered this amazing little store called Habitat: https://www.facebook.com/HabitatPacificGrove. The owner, Babs, is so lovely – a total character. She has curated a collection of amazing little treasures. I got a necklace there I wear quite literally every day. Also, Julia’s, in Pacific Grove is a totally weird hole in the wall, with some of the best food vegetarian food I’ve ever had!

  • I grew up in this area and now live in the midwest…I miss it every day. This guide makes me want to jump in my car and drive west!

  • Have stayed at Normandy Inn in Carmel on two visits from Australia…just great! Also recommended it to friends who also loved it…

  • Great guide! Having lived on the Central Coast my entire life I agree–especially Parker-Lusseau, Lilify and Baja Cantina. Another great spot in Carmel is Little Napoli. Now I have found a new blog-DesignSponge and look forward to the next travel guide.

  • Deetjans is a must for lodging and/or dining; a lot of history there! I would also highly recommend checking out the Esalen Institute, a private retreat/educational center with cliff-side hot springs overlooking the Pacific that are only open to the public between 1a – 3a. Difficult to find at night, but so worth it!

  • Big Sur, Carmel and down the coast Santa Barbara are the most amazing places.. I Big Sur dining at Sierra Mar is a must!!! The resort there is breathtaking!!!

  • My most memorable restaurant experience ever was in Big Sur! The Ventana Inn and Spa had a lovely restaurant we happened into as we were driving the coast. It was gorgeous and the food so fresh and delicious! I’ll never forget it!

  • LOVE this. We just went to Big Sur for our anniversary and stayed in the big sur getaway airstream. It was so lovely and designed so well. Also, Esalen is great for a 1am skinny dip in the hot springs that are on the edge of a cliff. The most magical experience I’ve ever had. Not bad for 20 bucks.

  • I second a trip to Esalen.
    You must have reservations but to have a massage on the cliffs over looking the ocean is bliss. Try to stay the night if possible. The food is delicious: they have an amazing garden. And as Rachel mentioned if you can’t stay the night you can pay a $25.00 fee to use the hot springs from 1 am to 3am. They also offer workshops. I took a life changing Raku class there.

  • Nepenthe is not the go to spot for locals it is the go to spot for tourist that have been told by some blog to go there. It does have good food and drinks, whats great is the view. If you plan to go on a summer weekend expect big crowds and no locals except your waitress and bartender. Besides locals aren’t going to pay those prices.

  • I grew up in Carmel and since moving to the East Coast have spent as much time as possible traveling back! Big Sur is the most magical place on earth, and I completely agree that Big Sur Bakery is a wonderful stop. The restaurant at Ventana is an oft-overlooked gem – incredible views, fantastic cocktails (the best old-fashioned I’ve had in the area), and remarkably fresh/sustainable/organic cuisine. Also in Carmel is Carmel Belle, inside the Doud Arcade, with lovely, rustic breakfast and lunch fare (get the avocado toast!). The best coffee in town is at Acme in Seaside – housed inside an old garage, they roast their own on premises, with fresh pour-overs and direct trade beans, and many local spots carry their stuff. After you visit the Aquarium, take a stroll down the Recreation Trail – it’ll take you past sea lion breeding grounds, Pacific Grove’s historic Victorians, all the way to Lovers’ Point. Stunning views! I miss this place!

  • I lived in Monterey for two years and they were the best two years of my life! 17 mile drive is a must. I think the best way to go is by bike. There is a place on Cannery Row where you can rent bikes for around $30. The Plaza hotel on Cannery Row is out of this world and the service there is amazing. As for a local hot spot in Monterey, Old Monterey Cafe is THE place to go for breakfast. And the Tuesday evening Farmer’s Market is not to miss. As for Big Sur, it should be on everyone’s bucket list. Make sure to check out the light house in Big Sur too. Carmel is a great place to spend a romantic day walking around the town, looking through art galleries, and relaxing on the beach. And don’t forget the Santa Cruz is very close and has a great downtown area and boardwalk. It’s a must see.

  • I stayed in Santa Barbara last year,very beautiful place,we chose very wisely as this was our first time in this part of California,we saw Nora Jones at the open air concert and ate at some beautiful restaurants.We drove up the coast road to San Fransisco and called at most of the above mentioned places.Hope to go back again soon.Claire from the u

  • I stood on Carmel beach looking out …. couldn’t see a thing. I was totally white walled and near bumped into a few people walking by on the beach. July is not a good time to go with extreme fog! I’d will need to go again maybe Spring or Fall, avoid the summer months.

  • I love the Central Coast and especially Monterey. If you ever go again, I would highly recommend one of the newer antique stores there, by the name of Oma’s Attic. It is located on Foam St. right next to the historical Cannery Row. This is the place to go to find really unique stuff.

  • Great article about our dear Central Coast and Monterey. The key to visit this area is good planning and knowing when to visit. Fall or end of summer is usually a good time since kids are back in school, less tourists, weather is fabulous (yes little chilly in the evenings sometimes, but hey it’s Monterey!) Many new restaurants opened in the past year and more to come in the next few months, so the area is growing in its offerings while keeping the service and vibe very local and friendly. For those who miss the area check out https://www.facebook.com/WhatsUpMonterey/

  • I absolutely adore Big Sur. We’ve been a few times and always looking for a reason to go back. Never heard of the tap house, will have to check that out on our next visit!

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