Have you watched Big Little Lies? In case you were wondering, the Monterey area really is that beautiful in real life. We drove Route 1, which always takes longer than the highway but comes with sweeping views of the ocean, so it makes for a nice Saturday morning drive. Dotted along the coast around Santa Cruz you’ll start to find roadside vendors selling cherries, 5 avocados for a $1, strawberries and other fresh, tasty things. We stopped on a blustery scenic overlook to snap up a big bag of cherries to snack on.
Further down you’ll go through Santa Cruz, a beach town famous for it’s boardwalk and surfers. Then you’ll pass through the dunes of Sand City and pop out the other end in Monterey. A lot of cars are focused on getting to one of two places: The Monterey Bay Aquarium or Pebble Beach. Instead, we drove past and kept heading south towards Carmel-by-the-sea, a quaint seaside village with old world charm and some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. But, instead of stopping there, we kept on driving a few miles out of town to the Carmel highlands. Here the coast line gets hilly and more wooded. The road takes you up and up and soon you’re quite a ways up on the edge, weaving your way through the hills and looking down at the rocky yet incredibly blue waters below. It’s here at the gateway to Big Sur that the Hyatt Highland Inn has sat for the past 100 years, complete with three hot tubs, a heated pool, two fire pits, spacious rooms and a world-class restaurant with tall glass ceilings and a stunning view to watch the sunset over the water each night.
soon you’re quite a ways up on the edge, weaving your way through the hills and looking down at the rocky yet incredibly blue waters below.
The Highlands Inn is a unique hotel in Carmel for two reasons. First, it’s very large. Most hotels in the Carmel area are small (yet charming) but don’t pack exactly the same sprawling “wow” factor as the Highland Inn. Second, it’s a fun combo of a timeshare and hotel. Because of this, you’ll find a nice mix of regulars who come back again and again next to visitors experiencing the beauty of the property for the very first time. We checked into a suite that I think could have easily been bigger than our San Francisco studio. The fireplace was all set up and more wood could be found a few steps outside our door if we needed it. I was eyeing the jacuzzi for later and Robin couldn’t get enough of the view from the porch. There were so many corners to explore, so many paths to turn with a surprise view of the water that we almost didn’t know what to do first, but decided on taking a dip in the hot tub before heading to dinner.
While the dining room was quite just hours before, now it was buzzing with people and all heads were turned towards to ocean. We were lucky and had a window seat, allowing us to see the waves crashing on the rocks below and take in all the colors of the sunset. We had the chef do a surprise menu for us. He’s vegan, by the way, but you’d never know because he has such a command over flavors. We started with cooked beets paired with goat cheese along with tender octopus on a bed of purple and yellow potatoes. This was Robin’s favorite dish, which was surprising because he usually doesn’t like calamari or octopus, which shows how well this dish was cooked. Next was tuna tartare which was paired with a delightful sauce that added spice and slight note of citrus. We also got our dose of veggies with a toasty bed of brussels sprouts sprinted with peanuts. I can never cook brussels sprouts well, so I’m always excited to eat them by someone who does. The main course was buttery scallops paired with cauliflower for a touch of crunch. This dish has an incredible red pepper and tomato puree to dip the scallops in.
Then, the show stopper for me: the brisket with risotto. Man oh man, was this a meal going down in the history books as one of the best dishes I’ve ever had.
First, the brisket was tender flaky, but not dry. Very important. I kept stealing Robin’s share of risotto – I’m pretty sure it was a real parmesan risotto because that sharpness of cheese that I love so much was strong and bold. I could have eaten an entire bowl of this creamy goodness. Make sure to order this when visiting. While we were stuffed to the brim, we ordered a bread pudding anyways and ended the meal on a sweet yet salty note. When we sat down at our table, the sun was shinning and the waters were blue. By the end, we watched the sun sink over the horizon and left to dark skies and beautiful stars on our walk back up to our room.
We checked out the next morning and headed home. This weekend getaway was all about relaxing, but if this is your first time to Monterey and Carmel, set aside a couple of days to soak it all in.
Here’s some actives you can do:
- Big Sur: Further south about 10 miles is the famous Brixby Bridge on the edge of Big Sur. Last year there was a huge fire in the area, so many roads in and our of Big Sur are closed, but if you find a way to get in, I’d highly recommend hiking or camping in the area.
- Wine Tasting: From tasting rooms in Carmel to wineries in the mountains, there are plenty of options to spend an afternoon sipping excellent blends.
- Carmel Beach: If you are looking for a present beach to spend the day at, head to the Carmel Beach. Stick around for the sunset – you won’t be disappointed! Learn more here.
- Shopping: From Lush to Coach, Ocean Ave, the main street running through Carmel is home to a wonderful shopping district. There’s also cute ice-cream and coffee shops along the way to settle any shopping hungers you get!
- 17 Mile Drive: For just $10, you can purchase a pass to drive the famous 17 mile drive along pebble beach. You can read more about that here. It’s stunning and a MUST for everyone’s bucket list.
- Monterey Bay Aquarium & Cannery Row: This aquarium is pretty cool. It can get a bit crowded on weekends, but it’s large and sprawling with fun exhibits. IT’s not he edge of Canary Row, so make sure to walk up and down it before you leave!
I hope that helps you plan your visit to the Monterey Area. Leave a comment below if you have questions or anything to add!
Thank you to Hyatt Highlands Inn for providing a complimentary stay.