The 17-Mile Drive is a favorite of both locals and tourists alike. During my 5 years living in the Monterey Area, I returned quite frequently to the Drive, never tiring of its offerings. Located directly off of Highway 1, the Drive extends from Pacific Grove to Carmel, passing by Spanish Bay and the Del Monte Forest. Admission is $7.50 (no admission if you have hotel or restaurant reservations), which is truly reasonable for an amazing day along some of the state's most beautiful coasts. Grab a guide as you pass by the entrance kiosk, and stop at as many of the landmarks noted on the map as possible.
If starting from Pacific Grove, the Drive begins as a curvy road winding through the Del Monte Forest. Tall evergreens line both sides of the road; the shady, misty serenity similar to forests of Northern California. One then passes by many huge homes, all with oceanfront views. Fantastic coastal scenery begins with Point Joe, which overlooks dark blue tides violently crashing against the rocky shores (PHOTOGRAPHERS-COME PREPARED). Next you pass by China Point, a coastal view dedicated to Chinese settlers who began fisheries along this region of the coast. One drives by the famous Spanish Bay Golf Course, parallel to waters which are an aqua color, atypically clear for this region. Continue through more sandy dunes, rocky shores, and miles of amazing homes. It doesn't get better than this. The best-known view is without doubt the Lone Cypress View, displaying the famously photographed cypress tree which is 200-300 years old. Isolated on a rocky island with waves crashing around the circumference, the cypress tree seems a bit magestic and spiritual. Especially when foggy and moody, you'll want to stare at it for an hour. The summer, particularly August and September feature clear and sunny days and gorgeous orange sunsets...but the winters here are equally mild and enjoyable.
I have spent quite a few days at the tidepools in Spanish Bay. Luckily for me (and for you), these pools are not too overvisited, so they are unpolluted and still biologically diverse. Turn off the road to the right (I believe that is stop #3 on the map) just as you hit the golf course. As you step onto the sand, make a right (North) and walk along the beach until hitting the tidepools. Results are variable, but I have seen starfish, mussels, sea anenome, crabs, tunicates, fish, jellyfish, and hermit crabs. Wear shorts and sea booties for comfort.
On many days, you will see black-tailed deer roaming the golf course. They are not too timid (perfect for photography) and are, in fact, considered a pest by locals. You may see California Condors overhead, along with pelicans and the like. Hundreds of squirrels hang out in the rocky areas and will beg for attention (and that granola bar you're munching on). If you are very lucky, you might catch a banana slug on the stem of a tree in the Del Monte Forest (only in the winter, after rain).
It is so nice to come to the relatively sparsely inhabited beaches of the 17-Mile Drive. No need to worry about radios, volleyball players, or pressure to look good in a thing. Most people you will see at these beaches are fisherman, family types out for a picnic, or individuals/couples with books. Beaches are perfectly maintained. Many areas have little enclaves where you can hang out alone, peacefully, with only the sounds of the ocean and birds. There are areas with many nice shells to keep as treasures; these beaches are more toward the Pacific Grove end of the Drive.
The Inn at Spanish Bay offers three distinct restaurants. I have dined several times at Roy's. The atmosphere is surprisingly casual: for lunch, you can feel free to dine in long shorts and a polo shirt. The restaurant has complete glass windows on two sides, offering a full view of the bay. Dining al fresco is an option during warmer weather. The design of the dining room is comfortable art deco. I personally recommend the pizza, the eggplant and mozzerella sandwich, the chocolate soufflee and coconut ice cream (these desserts are not always on the menu but are available if you request them).
AT THE END OF THE DRIVE
The drive ends in fantastic Carmel-by-the-Sea. If you have time, spend some time here in the plentiful art galleries. Or drive by some of the English cottage-style homes in this town. It is a perfect way to end your lovely, well-spent day along the beautiful and unique 17-Mile Drive.
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