Planning a getaway to the Monterey Peninsula? There are plenty of reasons to do so, and wine lovers have even more of them. Whether you’re looking for wine, food, or scenery, this is a very appealing destination.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has attracted more than 47 million visitors and won awards for its exhibits, architecture, and cultural and educational impacts, including its Seafood WATCH program (which helps consumers and businesses make choices for healthy oceans). Travelers to this area can also enjoy exploring Monterey’s Cannery Row district.
However, there’s more to Monterey than its awesome Aquarium and there’s certainly more to the Monterey Peninsula than just the city of Monterey. Over in Pacific Grove is the lovely and scenic Lovers Point Park and Beach.
The charming village of Carmel has the popular and easily accessible Carmel Beach and the historic Carmel Mission which still serves as a Roman Catholic parish church. The Monterey Peninsula also contains a scenic 17 Mile Drive through Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach, running past stately mansions and offering plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy vistas of the Spyglass Hill, Cypress Point, and Pebble Beach Golf Courses.
The Monterey region has both urban and rural wine tasting rooms, outstanding restaurants with award-winning wine lists, and worthwhile shops for wine and/or other food products. Many of the restaurants and food purveyors here are also devoted to worthy causes supporting the community and the environment. Keep reading, and we’ll share what we consider to be the wine-and-food-based highlights of the area.
Favorite Wineries in the Monterey Area
Monterey Wine Country is home to almost 200 vineyards growing a range of 42 varietals in a moderate climate (which is also known for its fog and wind). The growing region here is impacted by an enormous submarine canyon that is sixty miles long and two miles deep running beneath the surface of the Monterey Bay, nicknamed the “Blue Grand Canyon™.”
If you want to go wine tasting on the Monterey Peninsula, or in the nearby Carmel Valley, these are our favorite places to go:
Bernardus Winery – Owner Ben Pon has a dream: to make a red wine equal to the finest from Bordeaux and the Marinus Estate Bordeaux-style red wine is the centerpiece of that dream. Other varietals grown in the cool coastal climate vineyards here include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. The Bernardus tasting room is easy to find on the main road through Carmel Valley. Our favorite wines here include the Griva Sauvignon Blanc, Ingrid’s Vineyard Chardonnay, Ingrid’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, and both the Marinus and the Signature Marinus (formerly Reserve Marinus). (5 West Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley, 800-223-2533)
Galante Vineyards – The Galante Family has a long history in the Monterey area and the philosophy here is to grow the finest grapes possible and let the fruit express itself in the finished product. The wines are all made from estate grown grapes and the tasting room may be tucked away but it’s worth the effort to find. Our preferred wines here are the Cabernet Sauvignons, particularly the Blackjack Pasture. (Dolores Street, between Ocean and 7th Avenues, 831-624-3800)
Georis Winery – Established in 1982, Georis Winery produces wines that reflect the regional terroir and microclimate, crafted through a philosophy that balances respect for classic European winemaking traditions as well as leveraging advantages brought with modern technology. Owner Walter Georis and winemaker Damien Georis may share a common name, and be from the same town in Belgium, but are not actually related. The very pleasant wine tasting experience here is flight-based, in an 1930’s adobe house with an attractive garden setting. (4 Pilot Road, Carmel Valley, 831-659-1050)
Scheid Vineyards – The wine labels here reflect the image of a vineyard worker, an homage to the winery’s beginnings as a grape grower, and Scheid sure grows a lot of grapes. In fact, the wine labels are actually color-designated to reflect the 4 primary growing regions of their 10 estate vineyards from which the fruit is sourced. You will find a broad spectrum of wines here, including Riesling, Albariño, Pinot Gris, Grenache Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Our favorite wines here include the Clone 667, Clone 777, and the Clone Pom Reserve Pinot Noirs, all selections from their Pinot Noir Clone Series which was created to honor the differences that each clone presents. We also recommend the Riesling, Claret Reserve, and the Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir Reserve. (San Carlos Street and 7th Avenue, Carmel, 831-656-9463)
Talbott Vineyards – The brand new tasting room here also serves as a museum for founder Robb Talbott’s collection of vintage motorcycles and pedal cars, offering plenty to look at between sips of the estate wines grown in the Sleepy Hollow and Diamond T Vineyards. This is also a good place to bring your lunch as the outdoor patio has tables and seats for picnicking as well as bocce ball courts. Our favorite wines here include the Kali Hart Chardonnay, the Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay and the Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir. (Corner of Pilot Road and Del Fino Place, Carmel Valley, 831-659-3500)
Monterey Wine Country (Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association) is a trade association that brings together the talents of vineyard and winery members. For more information about the Association and the vineyards, varietals and current events in the area please go here.
Favorite Food Destinations in the Monterey Area
We’ve enjoyed some impressive food in Monterey, Carmel, Carmel Valley and Pacific Grove. Please find below our favorite spots for everything from a freshly brewed cup of coffee to a Steak of Wagyu Beef.
Grasing’s – Chef Kurt Grasing’s menu is based on fresh ingredients from California’s Carmel Coast and the Central Valley, and Grasing’s was named the 2013 Best Restaurant in Carmel by Monterey County Weekly. In addition to excellent lunch and dinner selections, the weekend brunch menu has an “Endless Brunch” option where your choice of 6 entrees (including Garden Omelette, Eggs Benedict, or Waffle with Fresh Fruit) comes with unlimited Mimosas for only $19.95. (6th Street and Mission Avenue, Carmel, 831-624-6562)
La Bicyclette – This casual (and very popular) café features simple and delicious cuisine crafted from local ingredients using old world techniques. Offerings include soup served tableside out of copper saucepans, omelettes, and the “catch du jour.” The menu changes daily but features thin-crust pizzas made in their wood-fired Mugnaini oven. La Bicyclette collaborates with the Carmel Middle School Habitat on teaching local children the importance of living and eating sustainably, and some menu items feature produce grown in the school’s gardens. (Dolores Street at 7th Avenue, Carmel, 831-622-9899)
Marinus Restaurant – Located at Bernardus Lodge, this celebrated restaurant is where Chef Cal Stamenov’s acclaimed California Natural cuisine is beautifully paired with more than 1,800 fine wine selections in a gorgeous environment. The seasonal menus here include produce from small family farms, local seafood, and traditional items such as Oysters, Snapper, Sonoma Duck, and Wagyu Beef. Marinus received a “Grand Award” from Wine Spectator for their wine list in 2012 (one of only 74 restaurants in the world) which is given to restaurants that show an uncompromising, passionate devotion to the quality of their wine program. (415 West Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley, 831-658-3595)
Parker-Lusseau Pastries and Café – Owners and spouses Anne Parker Johnson and Yann Lusseau have worked as pastry chefs and pastry cooks at some of the best restaurants, patisseries, and hotels throughout the United States and Europe. Starting with the Munras store in 1996, the business has now grown to three locations, two of which are open on Saturday but none of which are open on Sundays. The products here are awesome, and remind us of our trips to Europe. Savory treats include soup, sandwiches, and quiches, and sweet options cover everything from cake to tarts to petit fours to breakfast pastries. (731 Munras Ave, 831-643-0300, 539 Hartnell St, 831-641-9188, and 40 Ragsdale Drive Suite 100, 831-655-3030, each with unique operating hours)
Passionfish – A sustainable seafood restaurant focused on saving our oceans, Passionfish is also the first officially green restaurant in Monterey County. Owned and operated by Chef Ted Walter and his wife Cindy Walter, the daily-changing menu features outstandingly prepared seafood, slow cooked meats, farm fresh organic greens and delectable house-made desserts. All are complimented with an award-winning wine list which is lovingly curated and well-priced. If you bring your own wine, half of the corkage fee goes to the Tag-A-Giant Foundation whose mission is to support scientific research and conservation of bluefin tuna. (701 Lighthouse Avenue, Pacific Grove, 831-655-3311)
Plumes Coffee House – In downtown Monterey, this is our favorite place on the Peninsula for a great cup of coffee. Plumes offers a selection of fresh, brewed-by-the-cup coffee choices, made to order. They also have pastries, sandwiches, and free Wi-Fi. If you like to people-watch, there are several seats with windows looking out onto the downtown streets. (400 Alvarado Street, Monterey, 831-373-4526)
Restaurant 1833 – Located in the former Stokes Adobe, Restaurant 1833 resides in a site that is rich with historical elements from Monterey’s background. Named after the year the building was established, the two-story building has multiple dining and bar areas inside as well as an outdoor patio with four fire pits. Executive Chef Levi Mezick has created a daily-changing menu that highlights local, fresh and seasonal ingredients. Diners should definitely start with some of the changing biscuits (such as Cheddar and Bacon Biscuits with Maple Chile Butter) and we also happily endorse the pizzas here. (500 Hartnell Street, Monterey, 831-643-1833)
Wild Plum Café, Bistro & Bakery – Chef and Proprietor Pamela Burns offers an urban bistro that provides fresh, organic, made-with-care food, and a comfortable, hospitable atmosphere to foster community discussion and vitality. The breakfast and lunch menus are both extensive, although the actual breakfast pastry, cakes and tarts offered each morning will depend on the availability of produce and the creativity of the chefs. We have enjoyed this restaurant for both their sit-down-and-eat as well as their order-and-take-with-you options. (731 Munras Avenue, Monterey, 831-646-3109)
Shopping for Wine (and other things) in the Monterey Peninsula
Obviously, you can buy wine from the multiple wineries in the Monterey area. On the other hand, if you’re looking for wine, cheese, or food-related gifts, then these are places we recommend finding the time to stop in at:
The Cheese Shop – Located in the Carmel Plaza since 1975, this purveyor of fine cheese, wine, and gourmet foods is usually crowded with customers and staffed with insanely helpful and friendly people. Cow, sheep, and goat cheeses of all kinds can be found here. (Carmel Plaza at Ocean and Junipero Avenues, Carmel, 800-828-9463)
Happy Girl Kitchen Company – Local food purveyor dedicated to celebrating simple, delicious and farm driven foods through parties, recipe swaps, pop-up dinners, workshops, and this combination storefront/counter. Pickles, tomatoes, jams, marmalades, and honey are just some of the products you should be able to buy here and/or through their website. (173 Central Avenue, Pacific Grove, 831-373-4475)
Kurtz Culinary – A gourmet marketplace featuring kitchenware, gourmet food products, and other culinary gifts. Selecting your purchases is made easier by the wide range of samples available of award-winning jams, jellies, tapenades, sauces, and condiments of all kinds from around the world. Kurtz Orchards (based in Niagara on the Lake) has three of these stores in Canada but this is the first one in the US. (Ocean Avenue near San Carlos Avenue, Carmel, (831-625-5267)
Mrs. Delish’s Cupcake Boutique – This specialty bakery has a storefront (celebrating its 3rd anniversary) that is open 11 am to 9 pm, unless they sell out and close up early. We recommend the Chocolate Cupcake with Mint Frosting, or the Lemon Cupcake with Lemon Curd and Lemon Frosting, but she sometimes has flavors such as Almond Joy, Amaretto, Boston Cream, Espresso, German Chocolate, Peanut Butter & Jelly, Pecan Praline, Pina Colada, and Tres Leches. If you can plan ahead advance orders may be possible with only 24 hours’ notice. Better yet, they can sometimes deliver to Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel, and Pebble Beach for only $5. (800 Lighthouse Avenue, Monterey, 831-612-1884)
Nielsen Brothers Market – This popular local grocery store includes a full-service wine shop open seven days a week. Nielsen’s has an eclectic and impressive selection of domestic, imported, and rare wines. You can also sample wines at their wine bar and ask their knowledgeable staff for help. (San Carlos Avenue at 7th Avenue, Carmel, 831-624-6441)
Southern Latitudes Wines - The ladies here specialize in wine from the Southern Hemisphere: Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and South Africa. Their daily tasting menu includes 5 to 6 wines, although the store is usually closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. We were impressed by their selections (Turkey Flat! Ata Rangi! Errazuriz! Catena Zapata!) and you can also purchase wines through their website. (Lincoln Street near Ocean Avenue, Carmel, 831-622-7652)
The Monterey Peninsula offers many iconic California experiences: Driving along the Pacific Ocean; Sitting on a sandy beach; Wine Tasting; Exploring an Aquarium; Golfing on the coast; Dining on fresh and local seafood; and just enjoying the sun (once the fog has cleared). We hope our suggestions above can make your next trip to the area more enjoyable.