Pacific Coast Highway, Monterey, and Carmel Valley

Monterey, California and especially a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway toward Big Sur State Park have always been high on my bucket list. 


Monterey initially prospered as a fishing village (driven in large part by Japanese and Chinese migrants) through 1950 before exhausting its most vital resource – fish (especially sardines). Today, the area is more focused on tourism with retail stores, restaurants, and bars throughout Cannery Row. 

Marine biology is also an important part of the Monterey experience. Monterey is home to the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium and is part of a marine sanctuary (an oceanic national park) that extends from Santa Barbara to San Francisco. A notable feature in Monterey Bay is the kelp forest which can be viewed up close in a kayak that can be rented on the nearby beach.

Afternoon strolls…

…or early morning runs will leave you with some memorable views.

Taking in the sights and experiences of Monterey was wonderful. However, the trip down the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) was a different kind of wonderful.

Pacific Coast Highway

The Bixby Creek Bridge is a famous landmark along the PCH.

The panoramic cliffside views were breathtaking. I was also able to get a bit closer to the waterline at times to witness and almost feel the powerful force of nature that is still carving her masterpiece.

And even closer…

After dozens of stops at cliffside lookouts, each more visually compelling than previous stop, we reluctantly turned around and headed back to Monterey. Along the way back, we stopped for dinner at a seaside restaurant.

While the name of the place is lost to memory, I do have vivid memories of sitting on the patio with my family enjoying a meal while taking in a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean from our cliffside perch. We were even treated with an all too short but magical whale sighting.

Carmel Valley

Despite being only 20 miles from Monterey, it offers a completely different experience and is known for its vineyards and wineries, rolling hills, hiking, and horseback riding. It has a Tuscan-like vibe.

I stayed at the Carmel Valley Ranch.

View out the back, sliding door of suite.

Monterey or nearby Carmel Valley are great places to vacation. If this area is on your travel radar, there is a regional airport in Monterey. Alternatively, you can fly into San Francisco and make the two-hour drive south. There is plenty to do and see in these two small towns and you can visit each of them easily regardless of which city you decide to stay in. And, if you are a golfer, Pebble Beach is just down the road. Of course, a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway is a must while you are in the area. 

Early History of the Monterey Area

Native Americans Native Americans first settled the area now known as Monterey and existed in a fishing and gathering-type society when Spanish explorers first arrived.

Spanish Discovery Spanish seafaring explorers first discovered the area known today as Monterey Bay in 1602 and suggested it was a suitable area for a potential port. It would take over 150 years for Spain to dispatch a land expedition to further explore the area in 1769 and establish a settlement – the second city established in California. San Diego is the only California city that is older.

Argentine Invasion On November 24, 1818, Argentina landed a military force that captured Monterey. The Spanish fort was taken and burned along with many of the buildings in this early Monterey settlement. Argentina’s occupation lasted only six days.

Mexico Takes Control In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain and Monterey became a possession of Mexico. There was little impact on the area and life continued much as it had while under Spain. One notable exception was the expansion of ranches through land grants.

Mexican – American War The Battle of Monterey took place on July 7, 1846 between U.S. and Mexico. American troops captured the city and claimed California for the United States. California became a state in 1850.

8 thoughts on “Pacific Coast Highway, Monterey, and Carmel Valley

    1. It really is a beautiful part of the US. Going through those photos made we want to return again with a better camera, ha! 😃

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