We live in Mountain View (between San Jose and Palo Alto) and decided to spend 2 days in Monterey Bay in honor of our first wedding anniversary. Being newlyweds (or at least having pocketbooks like them), we cut corners where we could (accommodations) while still having a great time.
DAY 1: We left Mountain View (about 75 miles north of Monterey) around 9am, and after stopping for breakfast, gasoline, etc. in Gilroy, arrived in Monterey around 10:30. We headed straight for our motel, the Sand Dollar Inn, knowing that it was too early to check in but hoping that they'd let us park there. They were very nice about it, and we walked down to the Aquarium from there, quite a bit of a jaunt, but a nice way to get acquainted with the area.
We bought our tickets for the Aquarium online in advance and were pleased to be able to bypass the ticket counter lines. We went on inside and spent nearly 3 hours there just looking at the interior exhbits, relaxing on the multi-level decks outside, and everything in between. The Aquarium is truly incredible - the exhibits are artistically presented, especially their current star installation about jellies. We went on a Friday, so there were crowds, but nothing too overwhelming. The one thing we thought was surprising was the continuous feeling of the Aquarium being perhaps too preachy about sustaining our ocean wildlife, sustainable seafood and fishing, etc. I guess they're trying to reach a large audience through warning of overfishing in different ways in EVERY exhibit, but still. All in all, it was DEFINITELY worth the $47 we paid for one adult and one student (my hubby is in law school).
We then walked through Cannery Row, though it was early Friday afternoon and pretty quiet. We did visit A Taste of Monterey, where you get 4 samples for free (unless you want a premium taste, which are $2 each). My first experience with mead - not my thing, but I did enjoy their orange muscat and olilieberry wine, the latter enough that we bought a bottle to take home with us. We also tried to visit an artists' working studio which we had seen on the backside of Cannery Row, but they were closed that afternoon.
We continued on to Fisherman's Wharf, where we stopped at the walk-up counter of Abalonetti's Seafood Trattoria (NOT the restaurant). We were trying to save room for our big dinner we had planned for later in the evening, so we split an order of fried calamari and fries. It was good, and got us excited about our seafood dinner we were to have at Old Fisherman's Grotto later that evening. We each got a soda, then split their generous portion of fried calamari and fries (hubby ate the ones that look like baby octopus, I ate the round/ring ones). Very yummy!
We then walked back to our hotel to rest for a few minutes (a lot of walking!) and freshen up for our dinner. After seeing a lot of really scary prices for rooms in Monterey, I was even more afraid of what about $110/night was going to give us at the Sand Dollar Inn. However, we were pleasantly surprised. The Inn was comfortably crowded (not sold out, but lots of people staying there), but we never had any sort of noise problems at all. The bed was fairly comfortable, and I thought the fireplace was very charming, especially that weekend since it was so cold along the water. The staff was courteous and friendly, and checking in and out was a breeze.
So on to our big anniversary dinner. I'd made reservations for Old Fisherman's Grotto by phone earlier in the week and had mentioned that it was our first wedding anniversary. When we arrived for dinner, we were soon seated by a table looking out over the water and were wined and dined with complementary appetizers and great service all around. The food was delicious, and we appreciated the server not being snooty about us having to choose the house wine (a great taste with a smaller price tag) due to our still poor newlywed status.
DAY 2: After sleeping in and checking out of the hotel around 11:30, we drove to the Red House Cafe in nearby Pacific Grove for a lazy lunch. This place had been recommended to me by several coworkers, and we were not disappointed! As the name of the cafe implied, its located in a cheery and quaint old house in downtown Pacific Grove on the corner of a residential street. The food was delicious (crab cakes on a bed or crunchy, fresh greens with a fantastic vinegarette), and the service was cheery.
We then headed to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary just down the road. It was open, but we found only a few butterflies remaining as it was late March. We were not too disappointed, however, because we continued on to 17-Mile Drive to gape at the mansions (and catch some amazing pictures of the sea) as well as Point Lobos State Park. The Park was a bit crowded, and we were dismayed to watch children finish a water balloon fight and leave their tattered balloons on the beach, but the scenery was beautiful and serene.
A pretty lazy trip for a couple of fairly active people - nothing too strenuous, but that's how we wanted it. We'd recommend this itinerary for almost anyone. We were able to eat well and sleep in a safe, comfortable place with friendly service all around for about $450 for the trip total, including gasoline, admission prices, restaurants, etc. We recommend!