There are two viable options for getting to the peninsula. Those who love the open road can take one of the typically less expensive flights into San Jose, fifty-five miles north of Monterey, drive south on Route 17 through the majestic pines north of Santa Cruz, then down Highway 1 past the sprawling sand dunes that herald your arrival on the peninsula. Those who think life's too short for all that can fly directly into Monterey. Monterey airport is serviced by American Eagle, America West and United Express; almost all major airlines fly into San Jose.
Once on the peninsula, be warned: This may be "the greatest meeting of land and water in the world," but it's a messy meeting of land and pavement. Here you'll find three major towns—Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel—and sandwiched on the coast between them the resorts and courses of Pebble Beach. And while Highway 1 is fine for driving between Carmel and Monterey, and Route 68 is good for getting to Pacific Grove, the roads that wind within the Pebble Beach properties resemble a plate of vermicelli. If you know where you're going, you can get to almost anywhere on the peninsula in fifteen minutes—but you probably don't, so ask your concierge for directions.
EXPLORING THE COAST
Speaking of driving, it's a spectator sport here, arguably the greatest coastal splendor in the continental U.S. And the most aesthetic way to get the lay of the land is a tour on 17-Mile Drive. Unlike the area's other roads, it's well marked as it skirts the coast between Pacific Grove and Carmel, then loops back through the Del Monte Forest. Along the way, it grants tantalizing glimpses of perhaps the world's finest concentration of great courses: Pebble, Spyglass, Poppy Hills, Spanish Bay, Monterey Peninsula and Cypress Point. Indeed, the closest many golfers will come in this lifetime to Cypress's sixteenth is this roadside view.
Many noteworthy landmarks are also connected by 17-Mile Drive, so a spouse who couldn't care less about, say, the sixteenth at Cypress will still find much to enjoy. The Irwin Crocker Mansion is the most dazzling of the many swank digs on the drive; its private beach is, astoundingly, heated by underground coils. Farther down the coast, Seal Rock and Bird Rock are teeming with, respectively, seals and birds. But the drive's most famous sight is the Lone Cypress, the trademarked Pebble Beach image perched defiantly on a rocky outcropping.
For the grandest vistas of all, however, take Highway 1 thirty minutes south to the town of Big Sur. The name's a misnomer; the town's really not big. In fact it's not much of a town at all, just a few inns and restaurants clinging to the sides of the Santa Lucia Mountains. What is big are the stunning views of the Pacific from these five-hundred-foot cliffs.
Each town on the peninsula boasts an array of ways to pass the day, but Monterey sports the most consistent crowd pleaser, the Monterey Bay Aquarium (831-648-4800). One of the largest, coolest aquariums in the country, it is built to overwhelm. Its giant kelp forest is the first such display ever successfully created; a million-gallon indoor "sea" is humbling; and the bat-ray petting pool is fun for the type of folks who enjoy petting bat rays. The aquarium is the heart of Monterey's Cannery Row, which is far from the blue-collar melting pot of John Steinbeck's days, but here and at the nearby Fisherman's Wharf you can buy enough tacky memorabilia to keep your kids happy for days.
Pursuits of a more refined nature can be found in the almost ridiculously quaint town of Carmel. Founded as a haven for bohemians, today's Carmel shows its roots in its roughly one hundred local-artists galleries, a list of many of which can be obtained from the Carmel Chamber of Commerce (800-550-4333). Fighting them for your discriminating dollar are hundreds of high-end local shops, including Louis Vuitton (831-622-7400), Saks Fifth Avenue (831-624-6300) and such. But for shopping that golfers will actually enjoy, head to Cambridge Golf Antiquities (831-626-3334), near the Pebble Beach putting green. Its selection of out-of-print golf books and rare golf collectibles will thrill both you and your credit card company.
Robinson Jeffers Tor House (831-624-1813), also in Carmel, is a medieval-style granite retreat built by the poet Jeffers. It took him a dozen years to construct it by hand; it'll take you only an hour to tour it. And with more than 40,000 acres of wine grapes, Monterey County grows more than Napa Valley—which is a fine justification for a wine-tasting tour. Ag Venture Tours (831-643-9463) will be happy to arrange one.
For outdoor fun, the area has much to offer: biking trails, surfing beaches, the splendor of a jog on the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail. Horse rides through the Del Monte Forest can also be arranged at the world-renowned Pebble Beach Equestrian Center (831-624-2756). But for the finest thrill of all, let Monterey Bay Kayaks (800-649-5357) equip you with your own vessel. Paddle it out to sea, admire the sterling courses on the coast—then paddle in and get back to playing them.
CARMEL VALLEY RANCH 1 Old Ranch Road, Carmel; 831-625-9500, wyndham.com. Suites: $149-$449.
T+L GOLF readers recently voted this the second-most underrated golf resort in the West—proving the discernment of our readers. All 144 of these suites are perched high in the hills above the Carmel Valley and offer vertigo-inducing views from their patios of the golf course or valley below. With vaulted ceilings, wood-burning fireplaces and Jacuzzis, these suites are the definition of a romantic retreat.
CASA PALMERO 1518 Cypress Drive, Pebble Beach; 800-654-9300, pebblebeach.com. Rooms: $655-$725. Suites: $995-$2,050.
For those who seek the finest in seclusion and opulence—mobsters, jewel thieves, Tiger Woods—this is Pebble's lodging of choice. Seven valets serve the estate's twenty-four Mediterranean-style villas, each boasting a fireplace and radiant-heated floors, plus access to the estate's living room, library, billiard room and pool. For the ultimate "George Washington slept here" thrill, ask for Villa 620, which informed sources say is the preference of a certain well-known golfer and, we assume, his well-known fiancée.