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Monterey Bay, California, USA: A gem along the coastline
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
A canyon as large, if not bigger than the Grand Canyon exists under the sea - the canyon’s mouth being right near the bay. A top-ranked biosphere zone, Monterey Bay is pristine, quiet and a location that has been witness to over 200 Hollywood films shot here, not to forget that the State of California was formed here way back in 1849. It was the State’s first Capital.
After concluding a trade conference in San Francisco, I was hosted for a 3-day tour of the Pacific Highway, technically speaking Highway 1. This is one of the most scenic highways in the United States. In fact, the 99-mile stretch that falls in the Monterey Bay County has been voted the best in the US. After cruising on it myself, I quite like to believe the finding.
Monterey Bay is a two hour drive from San Francisco. We reached this beautiful town at 10:30 AM. Our bus was from Pacific Coaches and the driver of was Donna. She was a very good driver indeed. Her enthusiasm was well appreciated. The first stop, and quite rightfully so, was the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
What was formerly a sardine canning factory, is now, arguably, the best aquarium in the US if not the world. What sets it apart is the natural habitat created for the hundreds of species that have made their home here. Over 4 billion gallons of sea water is pumped into the aquarium every year. Whales are not part of the exhibit simply because they just pass by in thousands during their journey from south to north and back. Monterey Bay falls on that migratory route. One can just stand on the aquarium balcony to enjoy the show. An adult ticket costs $30 and is indeed worth it to spend few hours in enchantment watching fish, sea-horses, otters, jellies, sharks and pink flamingoes. Children pay $15 and they will love when they stand beneath a see-through enclosure that has gushing sea water coming every 20 seconds.
Rich in marine life, Monterey Bay ranks amongst the best scuba-diving locations of the world. Thanks to its moderate temperatures, divers, surfers, kayakers, standing paddlers and the likes are attracted to its waters year round. On land there are 9 wine regions, 24 golf courses and countless treks. They all add up to make a must visit location.
It’s a great idea to have lunch on the Fisherman’s Wharf… a perfect setting for a perfect meal. We split our group in two. One of them enjoyed their meals at Café Fina and the other at Domenico just opposite to each other. Hundreds of other restaurants dot the pier… each one fiercely claiming to serve the best seafood in town! Good to know that Monterey Bay practices sustainable fishing and believes in procuring things locally.
After lunch we took a very interesting tour – Monterey Movie Tours. The blockbuster tour travels along the bay’s scenic spots, downtown and the 17-mile drive in Pebble Beach a lovely part of the Monterey Peninsula. Guests can see the sites from those movies that have appeared on film and watch the clips from those movies at the same time! Here are some of the movies. From Here to Eternity, Star Trek, National Velvet, The Big Bounce, Play Misty for Me, The Candidate, P K & the Kid, Clash by the Night amongst many others. The tour costs $55 per adult and lasts for about 3 hours. Our host for the tour was Doug Lumsden, owner of the tour company.
A special mention must be made of Pacific Grove that runs parallel to the sea. It was month of May and the shores wore a pink blanket of Ice Plants. The site, as the pictures will tell you were a photographer’s delight… golden yellow grass, pink plants, deep blue water, light blue sky and puffy white clouds. The bloom lasts only for a few weeks. I was lucky that I was around the right time.
Even if you don’t plan to take the tour, I would strongly suggest taking the 17-mile Drive on your own. It’s a gated, private property (jointly owned by none other than Clint Eastwood, Arnold Palmer, Richard Ferris & Peter Uberoff) and there’s an entry of $9.50 per person to get on the road. The route is well marked and takes you through some of the country’s finest homes, golf courses and sea shores. Highlight would be a stop near a rock that has a 350 year old Cypress tree standing alone atop. This is the only tree of its kind in this side of the Pacific. It’s believed that the tree which has a life of about 400 years would soon disappear from the scene. Known as the lonely Cypress, the tree is the symbol of Pebble Beach.
Do also visit The Lodge at Pebble Beach. The back deck of the Lodge gives a view of one of the greatest settings of the world - the 18th hole of the Pebble Beach Golf Link. Just so you know, it costs $495 for a round of golf here and you can play only if you are a member or have one with you. Well, all’s not lost for golfers. Only a few minutes away stands another fantastic golf course – Pacific Grove Municipal Course with a green fee of only $50 and its open to all.
After completing the 17-mile drive we were dropped at Chateau Julien in the picturesque Carmel Valley for a tour of the vineyard and some wine tasting. Our host was Patty, the owner of this fine vineyard. She took us through the fine process of wine making with stops to taste the various varieties of reds and whites. I was appalled to know that there are over 6000 vineyards in the USA with over 3000 of them being in California alone and that France is the number 2 wine drinking country per capita. The first being Vatican City! Wine tours are very popular in California. Monterey Bay is no exception. There are organized tour companies who have many such tours on board.
Dinner was hosted by Hyatt, Monterey Bay. With 550 rooms the hotel is the largest in the region and is also the home to a 9-hole golf course – the oldest one in the west. For the night we were hosted at Carmel Mission Inn - an independently owned and managed hotel with excellent rooms and facilities.
Tomorrow we would negotiate the scenic stretch along the No 1.
Luck was against us. Due to a landslide near Hearst Castle, my next destination, the road was closed for major repairs. Sadly, I had to miss this most beautiful stretch. However, all was not lost. We decided to drive about 13 miles up to Historic Bixby Bridge and turn back. If nothing else, the trip worked as a sampler. I do hope that by the time you can make the trip, all would be OK. Please check before hand.
After breakfast we reached Bixby Bridge at about 9AM. A stop for about 20 minutes was very much needed… to soak in the beautiful views. Pictures will tell you more. We turned back and then made a detour via Highway 68 and Highway 101 to reach Hearst Castle which was 90 miles away.
The landscape changed from ocean views to vast farmlands. Acres and acres of tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries amongst other vegetables were being cultivated. So large were the farms that I could see helicopters doing the spraying. As expected American freeways don’t offer much views save for vehicles of all sorts and sizes. If it’s weekends, you are sure to see some vintage rallies (we saw over 40 old Chevrolets taking part) and of course, Harley Davidsons.
We reached Hearst Castle at 12 noon. Though we had planned only a brief stop at this very famous location, I want to devote an exclusive feature which you can read under Hearst Castle. You will know the reason why for this special post.
Monterey Bay Image Gallery Photo viewer
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