Monterey Beyond the Bay

When most people hear the word “Monterey,” a dreamy look crosses their faces as they imagine stunning coastal scenery, renowned golf courses, the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium, and a quiet, well-heeled hamlet called Carmel-by-the-Sea. 

Published: 6/16/2014

When most people hear the word “Monterey,” a dreamy look crosses their faces as they imagine stunning coastal scenery, renowned golf courses, the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium, and a quiet, well-heeled hamlet called Carmel-by-the-Sea. But Monterey is an entire county—a wine region— boasting eight sub-AVAs. Drive several minutes inland from either Monterey or Carmel-by-the-Sea, and witness a transformation! You’re greeted by a rolling valley, often soaked in sunshine. In the midst of the majestic oaks, verdant ranches, secluded redwood canyons, and pine-sloped hills, you discover Carmel Valley Village, home to nearly 20 wineries. But wait...there’s more. So jump in your car and let us show you the way.

Tour the Sub-AVAs

Although many of the estates in the esteemed Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) AVA sell all of their premier winegrapes to other wineries, several set aside some of their grapes for their own labels and have tasting rooms along the River Road Wine Trail. Before you head out, check to see which tasting rooms are open that day and pack a picnic lunch. Better yet, call Hahn Estate, the only winery on the trail with a full culinary program, to see what their estate chef has planned for the day. Some of the River Road wineries host fabulous agriculture tours, including Hahn, which offers a vineyard tour followed by a seated tasting and a private ATV adventure through the vineyards. Just a few miles south of Hahn, you’ll notice that the air feels drier and warmer. This is where the Arroyo Seco AVA begins. Aptly named for its dry creek location, Arroyo Seco is lesser known, but with more than 30 vineyards, it’s gaining recognition fast. From here, you can continue south, or head northeast to the town of Soledad and then head east across the narrow Salinas Valley to the Gavilan Mountain Range and the semiarid Chalone AVA. If it’s a weekend, be sure to visit Chalone Vineyards, whose tasting room reopened this spring after a four-year hiatus.

Eat in Soledad

The city of Soledad sits in the heart of the Salinas Valley, with the Santa Lucia Mountains to the west and the Gavilan Mountains in the east. It’s a modest agricultural town with a recorded history that dates back to the founding of the 13th California Mission, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad. Today, you can visit the Mission for free. You can also find quaint shops and great Mexican food at affordable prices at several restaurants. Check out La Fuente, Palma’s Restaurant, and Taqueria Casa Del Palmar for starters.

Discover the Pinnacles

With more than 30 miles of hiking trails, from flat grassland to steep climbs, Pinnacles National Park is a fabulous place to explore. It’s best to start at the Pinnacles Visitor Center, the Bear Gulch Nature Center, or the West Pinnacles Visitor Contact Station, where you can talk to a Ranger about your options. Some trails lead through caves while others run along creeks, through groves of valley oaks, grassy meadows, or up steep peaks with breathtaking views. There’s even a series of night hikes, where you can experience this special place in the natural darkness of a moonless night, or in the light of a full moon. Beyond hiking, there are several ranger-guided activities, including cave explorations and stargazing parties to experience.

Visit the National Steinbeck Center

Born in the town of Salinas, the Nobel Prize–winning author John Steinbeck brought notoriety to the Salinas Valley through his writings, particularly East of Eden. The center features several exhibits. Start in the John Steinbeck Exhibition Hall, which brings Steinbeck’s world as a writer and a man to life with six themed galleries of artifacts, photographs, film clips, and interactive exhibits. There’s a full calendar of events posted on the center’s website. There’s even a mobile travel app, Steinbeck Country & Beyond, which can take you on a real or virtual tour of Steinbeck’s world.

Explore Fort Ord Public Lands

Back up the Monterey Peninsula, about five miles south of the Monterey Bay, Fort Ord National Monument became public land just two years ago. It holds some of the last undeveloped natural wild land on the Monterey Peninsula. It is home to 35 species of rare plants, red-tailed hawks, black-tailed deer, coyotes, mountain lions, coast horned lizards, and gopher snakes. Providing 86 miles of trails across 7,200 acres of land, it is open each day from dawn to dusk. So get out on a trail on foot, mountain bike, or horseback and bring your binoculars and a camera. The trails are varied, running through oak woodlands, aromatic maritime chaparral, open grasslands, and vernal pools.

As seen in the issue Summer/Fall 2014 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.


In the past two years, the number of wine tasting rooms in Monterey County has more than doubled. Wine tasting ties in beautifully into everything you do here. So stop in along the way and put these events on your calendar.

  • August 2 Salinas Valley Half Marathon
  • September San Antonio Mission Wine Festival
  • October 4 Wine Fest!