WHAT TO DO
If there's one sight to see, it's the Seventeen-Mile Drive (off Sunset Drive in Pacific Grove or North San Antonio Road in Carmel, plus three additional entries; $7.75 per car, cyclists free). The road curves through the redwood forest and lets you view the fury of the Pacific crashing against the jagged coast.
Butterfly lovers should make a trip to the Monarch Grove Sanctuary (Lighthouse Ave. and Ridge Rd.; 831/375-0982; free) to catch November's prime viewing season.
Leave ample time to explore the 100-plus exhibits at Monterey Bay Aquarium (886 Cannery Row; 831/648-4800; admission $15.95 adults, $7.95 children). Highlights include the outdoor Great Tide Pool, the three-story Kelp Forest, and a "touch pool."
For a comprehensive history of John Steinbeck, the area's most famous native, spend a few hours at the National Steinbeck Center (1 Main St.; 831/796-3833) in nearby Salinas. The museum has an extensive library of the author's works.
After your dose of literary history, head to Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (1700 Elkhorn Rd., Watsonville; 831/728-2822). The 1,400 acres of tidal flats and salt marshes, which are only 20 miles north of Monterey, form a delicate ecosystem for more than 200 species of birds. Rent a kayak at Monterey Bay Kayaks (2390 Hwy. 1; 800/649-5357; $35 per day).
The 1770 Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo (Rio Rd. and Lausen Dr.; 831/624-3600) combines mystical fervor, Catholic solemnity, and a sense of whimsy. Wander through the shady, fountained courtyard to visit the small gallery and museum.
The 1919 Gothic-style Tor House (26304 Ocean View Ave.; 831/624-1813; tours $7, on Friday and Saturday only), built by the poet Robinson Jeffers, is one of those curious structures you should definitely check out. Implanted into the stonework of the house are a piece of the Great Wall of China, a fragment from the Pyramids at Giza, and a porthole from one of Napoleon's ships, among other artifacts.
Get close to the ancient redwood forests that surround Big Sur by hiking through Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (Hwy. 1; 831/667-2315). The rugged three-quarter-mile hike from the Big Sur Lodge (800/424-4787 or 831/667-3100) along the Falls Trail crosses above Pfeiffer Redwood Creek and curves through the redwoods up to 60-foot Pfeiffer Falls.
Tucked away in a shady redwood grove off the road is the Henry Miller Library (Hwy. 1; 831/667-2574; open ThursdayÐSunday, 11Ð6). The author of Tropic of Cancer lived in a nearby cabin (now a private residence) for nearly 20 years, completing many of his most influential works there. His presence (along with Robinson Jeffers's) cemented the area's reputation as a haven for artists.
The famous Santa Cruz Boardwalk teeters dangerously close to the hokey side of tourism, but it's been a spot of public amusement since it was erected in 1907, so it's laden with history. There you can act like a kid by riding the roller coaster or just indulging in nutrient-free carnival food, such as corn dogs, "ice cream of the future," and, of course, blue cotton candy.