We traveled to Monterey and Carmel in California for a friend’s wedding, so much of our time was spent preparing for their rehearsal dinner, which was on Friday night, and their wedding, which was on Saturday afternoon. However, we managed to explore some parts of the beautiful beach towns despite our busy schedule.
Day 1 (Friday, arrived in SFO around noon)
- Isla Filipino Restaurant (near San Francisco Airport)
- Stayed at Clarion Hotel (Monterey), now called Star Gazer Inn and Suites
- Rehearsal dinner in Fisherman’s Wharf (Monterey)
Day 2 (Saturday, wedding day)
- Carmel Beach stroll and quick dip
- Road trip along the Scenic Road in Carmel-by-the-Sea
- Early morning stroll in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea
- Lunch in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea
- Drive to Bernardus Lodge and Spa (wedding venue)
Day 3 (Sunday, last day in Carmel)
- Carmel Beach picnic
- Quick stroll through downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea
- Mission Ranch
Accommodations in Monterey are cheaper than those in Carmel. Ranch-style accommodations with amazing mountain views in the Carmel Valley area, such as the Bernardus Lodge and Spa where our friend’s wedding was held, often come with high price tags.
Clarion Hotel (now known as Star Gazer Inn and Suites) in Monterey is a budget hotel with clean and good-sized rooms located in the heart of Monterey. It has its own parking lot, an indoor pool, and a basic continental breakfast—breads, cereal, and fruit—is included with room reservations. There are a number of restaurants and shops around it and the area seemed safe despite the busy streets. The only negative experience we had was with one of the hotel’s staff who was a bit rude to us when we checked in.
Monterey and Carmel are right next to each other, so it’s easy to travel from one area to another with a car. Renting a car to drive around seems to be the best method to explore the area, although finding available parking spots in the downtown areas is a challenge. Once parked, walking is the next best thing since a variety of interesting shops and restaurants are located in the same central areas. Parking spaces on the streets of downtown Carmel, although often difficult to find, are free. There are also ramps available for a fee, but those can also fill up quickly.
Traffic, especially in the downtown Carmel area, is usually bad during the afternoon rush hour and in the middle of the day during the weekends. Vehicles and pedestrians fill the narrow streets. Sunday afternoon traffic also includes weekenders heading back to San Francisco, so the drive from Carmel or Monterey to San Francisco could end up being a couple hours or longer than usual.
Both towns are heavily populated with tourists, so there are many restaurants with amazing views of the ocean or of the mountains, such as the Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant, but they can be expensive. We took advantage of the free breakfast at the hotel then packed snacks we bought at Costco to our picnics at the beach. In downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea, we discovered many different bakeries and sandwich shops with reasonably priced food and drinks.
Since we had two free dinners (rehearsal and wedding), packed snacks for our picnics, and ate light meals during the day, our budget was minimal. We also have a Costco membership and booked our rental car through Costco’s travel services because they had the cheapest prices compared to other booking sites such as Kayak and Expedia. For booking hotels, one of our friends found a Groupon for Clarion Hotel/Star Gazer Inn and Suites about a month before our trip, so it’s worth checking out those deal sites.
- Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
- Drive through the 17-mile Drive in Pebble Beach.
- Parking spots at Fisherman’s Wharf and downtown Carmel can be extremely busy, so plan ahead.
- The fog that rolls in from the ocean can be very thick and may greatly affect visibility.