If you’re heading to the Monterey Peninsula to play golf (or watch the pros play), why not stick around after it’s over? Monterey County has a plethora of pleasures to offer from world-renowned golf courses to interesting restaurants to craggy terrain.

Pebble Beach

Start your tour of Monterey at the Pebble Beach Resorts. Relax along winding, pine-covered 17-Mile Drive on the trip from town—it’s a long one. You’re only thoughts should be on how you’re going to beat your trash-talking brother-in-law on the greens. In case you know nothing about golf, The Pebble Beach Golf Links have been voted the nation’s top public course by Golf Digest multiple times. Savage and beautiful, the sloping course affords amazing views of the ocean and the rugged Monterey Peninsula. The18th fairway tests every golfer’s mettle. The environmentally-sensitive Links at Spanish Bay is a true links course, much like traditional Scottish courses. Head to the putting greens and practice range before testing your skills on The Spyglass Hill Golf Course, considered by many to be one of the toughest layouts in the world.

Pebble Beach Golf Links 18th Hole (Photo: Pebble Beach Company)

If you want to stay and play, the resort has several places at which to rest your head after a long day on the links. The Lodge at Pebble Beach offers comfortable, roomy accommodations with views of the first fairway, the gardens or the ocean. The newly opened Fairway One at The Lodge (opened in 2017) features 30 oversized guest rooms, two luxurious four-bedroom golf cottages, and a brand new meeting facility.

The Lodge at Pebble Beach
The Lodge Room (Photo: Kodiak Greenwood)

Casa Palmero is situated near the first and second fairway. The nouveau-Mediterranean complex has 24 rooms, many with wood-burning fireplaces; some with private courtyards. Large parties can be accommodated at The Inn at Spanish Bay. Stay in one of 269 red- and gold-hued rooms and admire the ocean or the Monterey pines.

The Inn at Spanish Bay lobby (Photo: Sherman Chu)
Casa Palmero “Spa Room” (Photo: Sherman Chu)

Dine at myriad establishments on the property where outstanding chefs put their personal twist on locally grown produce, sustainably caught seafood and top quality meats.. From Stillwater Bar & Grill to The Beach Club to Peppoli to Spyglass Hill Grill, food lovers of all varieties will find something to tempt their tastebuds.

Carmel

After you’ve beaten your brother-in-law at Pebble Beach, part ways with the boorish lout and relish your win with a trip to Carmel. Trust me: your girlfriend will reward you appropriately for it. The picturesque area, famous for its architecture, shops, restaurants and art scene, attracts well heeled visitors. Stroll the cobblestone streets and admire the quaint shops. Enjoy the sounds of the Monterey Symphony or a play at the Forest Theater. The art galleries shouldn’t be neglected. Many well-known painters have launched their careers here, hence its worldwide reputation as an artists’ colony. Architecture devotees head to the Walker Residence, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Tor House, built by hand by poet Robinson Jeffers.

Photo: Carmel by the Sea Facebook

Surfers can be seen at Carmel Beach—it’s also where locals head each night to watch the spectacular sunsets—and divers at Carmel River State Beach. The Point Lobos State Reserve is also visually arresting, having enthralled painters and visitors for many generations. Head there for a refreshing hike.

Photo: Carmel by the Sea Facebook

Lodgings include cozy bed and breakfasts, family-run inns and large luxury resorts. If you’re looking for a quiet retreat that doesn’t break the bank, head to Tradewinds Carmel, an inn with a friendly reputation. The 28-room hotel mixes Asian and Balinese design. Bamboo and teak mix seamlessly for a romantic spot sure to please even the most finicky guest. Rooms have comfortable sitting areas and the views of Carmel Bay from the balconies can’t be beat. If luxury is the object, head to the three-story L’Auberge Carmel. Located just four blocks from Carmel Beach, the small Spanish-style hotel—it has only 20 rooms—is designed with decadence in mind. French windows and antiques mix with lush jewel-toned bedding and curtains. The bathrooms have deep-soaking tubs and heated floors.

Tradewinds Carmel (Photo: Booking.com)

With so many places at which to dine, it’s hard to just choose a couple of favorites. Head to the sleek yet elegant Lucia (formerly Marinus) for seasonal fare, much of it grown in the backyard of neighboring Bernardus Lodge. Locavores love the mesquite-grilled beef and alder-smoked duck. The award-winning wine list is expansive and eye-popping, with a variety of French Pinot Noirs and Sauvignon Blanc from the west coast of the United States. For unpretentious food in a comfortable setting, head to La Bicyclette. The tiny restaurant serves hearty family-style French comfort food with a local twist. Heirloom tomatoes and grass-fed filet mignon get top billing here and you wallet will thank you for it.

Lucia Restaurant at Bernardus Lodge (Photo: Bernardus Lodge)
Sea Scallops, Lucia Restaurant at Bernardus Lodge (Photo: Yelp)

Big Sur

Take the 26-mile drive down the coast from Carmel to historic Big Sur. Once a Native-American settlement, Europeans and Americans flocked to the craggy seaside town during the 19th century gold rush. Today, Big Sur is a outdoor lovers mecca. Hiking trails within redwood forests abound. A number of state parks in the area are world renowned for their arduous trails. Remote Los Padres National Forest offers 323 miles of challenging hikes and if you have a tent and equipment, you can set up camp for the night. You can also fish in the many area rivers and lakes.

Don’t leave Big Sur without visiting the Point Sur Lighthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. It sits on volcanic rock, 361 above the ocean and the best time to visit is during a moonlight tour between April and October.

Big Sur is known for its coastline and the best way to see this is by visiting one of the area’s beaches. Garrapata State Park Beach is the area’s most unspoiled. You can’t drive there—you have to hike to most area beaches—but the walk is worth the view. On one side is the ocean; on the other, Santa Lucia Mountains. Whales, sea otters and seals are often visible and you can even fish in the waters.

Lodgings are varied but to get a true sense of the space stay at Post Ranch Inn. See our story on the hotel here.

Restaurants with a view of the surf and sand are not hard to come by in Big Sur. Big Sur Roadhouse is popular with day hikers who head here for the spicy Cal-Mex cuisine and unpretentious décor. Nepenthe restaurant has been an area staple since 1949. Perched on a cliff high above the surf with the Santa Lucia Mountains as a backdrop, Nepenthe serves hearty American fare in a setting that can’t be beat. Try the roast chicken or the signature ambrosia burgers.

Monterey has more to offer than these three towns but for a quick trip to the region, especially if it’s your first foray, Pebble Beach, Carmel and Big Sur won’t disappoint.