We live in the San Francisco Bay Area and truly love it here. People come from all over the world to visit here, whilst all we have to do is drive for an hour or two and we're there! My DH just retired and so we are re-discovering local attractions that we had no time (or energy after work, LOL) for previously.

We spent three days down in Monterey/Carmel in March 2010. We hadn't been there in 30 yrs so we did the tourist thing at the Aquarium then just relaxed, walking or driving (Carmel Valley Ranch Road is a terrific, beautiful back road to take). Being foodies, we found some terrific restaurants. Not cheap, but living here never is. One just gets accustomed to it after a while. We don’t drink, so that considerably lessens the cost of dining at expensive venues.

There is a great coastal trail walk that starts from the Aquarium and goes all the way around the cliffs of Pacific Grove, quite a bit further than I can walk right now (have a plantar fasciitis problem hobbling me). We lucked out on the weather – it’s been a rainy year, thank goodness, but it mostly held off and we even got a bit of blue sky/sun here and there.

The best tip we got was to not visit the Aquarium until after 2p. Then all the school buses leave, and it’s a lot easier (and quieter!) to see the exhibits. The Jellyfish room is a given, of course – it revolutionalized the display of these invertebrates for public viewing.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, on the far end of Cannery Row. Very simple, inexpensive, but right across the street from an excellent café that serves Peet’s coffee (strong French Roast, just what we like). Even better, the café is located in the ultra-luxe Monterey Plaza Hotel complex, where the hotel had to put in a public terrace accessible to non-guests! The hotel furnished the plaza – two stories, actually – with heavy teak chairs and nice tables, and it looks right out across the gorgeous Bay.

This being a non-busy spring visit, we would get coffee and pastries, then sit on the plaza just like those people who spent $400/night. Great fun!

We’re returning in July for a short visit – friends recommended Passionfish but we didn’t have time, so we will be sure to try it on this next trip.

Monterey has got the most terrific local bakery we’ve ever found. Very French, very simple, utterly magnificent! Parker-Lusseau Patisserie has 3 locations in the area, and their individual quiches, pastries, and cakes will make you weep for joy. Very tiny, so get it to go and find a spot in the sun to enjoy a decadent California picnic. Stop by Scheid Winery’s tasting room on Cannery Row and pick up one of their buttery Chardonnays to add a really decadent touch.

Restaurants we loved:
Montrio Bistro in Monterey:
Lovely old building, great service, a skilled kitchen doing interesting, creative dishes.

Andre’s Bouchee in Carmel: Very expensive, service doesn’t quite match the food, but chef/owner Andre Lemaire is a magician with sweetbreads. They are one of our favs, and his set the gold standard. We have NEVER had anything as ethereal as his crusty sweetbreads, and are already planning to return.

Bistro Moulin: A surprising, very French, very tiny bistro right near the Aquarium. Not for children! This is where you go to feel like a local; eat exquisite, simple French food (be warned the entrees are expensive because they are huge; share them or don’t order anything else!); and leave feeling refreshed and so very civilized again, in the midst of the tawdry tourist traps of Cannery Row. Simply amazing.

Culinary Center of Monterey: No one seems to know this place exists. Yet it does, and offers lunch Thursday and Friday only. Sometimes they offer dinner on those days as well, but it depends on how many students they have enrolled. So call first before making any assumptions, or at least stop by to ask beforehand. The price is amazing. We ate a ‘bottomless soup bowl’ lunch, with a basket of breads, for a mere $12 each. There were eleven soups; all were good and five of them were superb.

Good, not great:
Chart House: A long-time standard, this is part of a corporate chain. The food isn’t bad – if you pick correctly, it’s quite good – but it just doesn’t have the liveliness and personality of better, smaller restaurants.

Skip except for drinks on the beautiful outdoor patio:
Forge in the Forest:
Just drinks. No food, absolutely not.