Monterey County restaurants may come and go, but wining and dining in this California coastal community never goes out of style. I know this from first-hand experience, as my parents retired to the fairytale Carmel-by-the-Sea in Monterey County and made a hobby out of dining out. There are endless amounts of things to see and do in Monterey, with new wineries and restaurants opening as fast as sardines swimming in the Pacific Ocean.
I like nothing better than to pour a glass of Pinot Noir and kick back on the deck, looking out to the ocean. My husband prefers beer and with names like “Belly Up Blonde Ale” and “Stout Resistance” who could resist trying a growler (that’s a hefty sized beer) from Peter B’s Brewpub inside Monterey’s Portola Hotel & Spa?
Start dinner or happy hour with a jumbo Bavarian pretzel, Monterey Bay Calamari and a beer flight sampler, then move on to house made sausages, served alongside warm German style potato salad, slaw and stout mustard from Peter B’s Brewpub in Monterey.
Fresh seafood in Monterey
Seafood lovers will find happiness at the C restaurant & bar, housed inside the Intercontinental Clement Monterey on Cannery Row. This luxury hotel offers Monterey Bay views from hotel rooms, the restaurant and bar. Try the lobster bolognaise, grilled arctic char or a grilled vegetable sandwich utilizing local produce. I would be happy sipping a glass of wine by the outdoor firepit, watching the sea otters glide by.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Steps from the Intercontinental Clement is the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. Children and adults will find entertaining and educational exhibits on display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
While it may seem strange to aquarium guests, fresh fish (and other items like pizza and salad) are served inside the Monterey Bay Aquarium at Cindy’s Waterfront restaurant. This is where I learned about the importance of seafood sustainability, through the Seafood Watch program, a continually evolving guide to sustainable fish. Every respectable restaurant and fish monger should adhere to the Seafood Watch guidelines; our world and certainly our oceans would be better for it.
The Bay of Pines serves American organic cuisine – think salad greens from Salinas valley, organic chicken pan seared with diced tomatoes, Kalamata olives and spring artichoke served with a new potato puree or sauteed shrimp splashed with a cucumber organic vodka cream sauce. Bay of Pines is also the go-to place for live music in Monterey.
Pacific Grove dining
Passionfish is one of my favorite restaurants in Monterey County. A local favorite based in Pacific Grove, California, this is the place to dine for fresh, sustainable seafood, served with a passion.
I had high hopes for Beach House restaurant in Pacific Grove, as the Ocean View Blvd. location, looking out to Lovers Point Park and the water is fabulous. I was tempted to order the salmon, but passed on the fish, marketed as “creative brand certified organic salmon,” as it was not listed on the Seafood Watch program as wild. Instead, I opted for Scampi Monterey served with fresh pasta in a light cream sauce. The crispy firecracker shrimp is a tasty appetizer for the light appetite or sharing with the table. I need to re-visit Beach House next time I’m in the area.
Big Sur dining
I can never get enough of Big Sur, so when I had the chance to dine at Big Sur Roadhouse, I was excited. Not only is the Big Sur location charming, the patio, with its unique outdoor fire pit table, is colorful and inviting. The personable New Orleans Chef Matt Glazer combines California cuisine with a New Orleans twist. Try the red beans and rice, Big Sur seafood gumbo, a muffaletta sandwich (pictured above) and save room for a Cajun-inspired dessert.
Overnight in Big Sur
If you plan to vacation in Monterey County for several days, be sure to make reservations with Glen Oaks, the owners of Big Sur Roadhouse, Adobe Motor Lodge and the adorable Oak Tree Cottages – no televisions, no pets, no smoking, no problem.
Carmel Valley wine & dine
Finally, what’s a visit to Monterey Bay without a trip into Carmel Valley? As I mentioned, my parents retired to Carmel back in 1980. When they sold their Carmel Valley condo and bought a house with an ocean view, I lamented leaving the sunshine of Carmel Valley – first world problems, I know! I’m a wannabe Carmel resident living on a freelance travel writer’s salary – these two do not go hand in hand.
Quail Lodge and Golf Club – where my husband and I held our wedding reception many moons ago – is one of the best value hotels on the Monterey Peninsula. Great rooms and a location that can’t be beat, guaranteed romance. They also serve really good crab cakes at Edgar’s Restaurant.
What are your favorite Monterey County, California restaurants? Article and all photos, except Passionfish scallops, by Food & Wine Writer Nancy D. Brown. I was a guest of Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau for restaurant review purposes. All opinions are my own.