PACIFIC GROVE After a brisk 15-minute northerly walk from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a brief history of the area unfolds suddenly on a weathered concrete mural.
Hidden from the road above, the 344-foot-long rendering is painted on a retaining wall along the waterfront Monterey Recreation Trail.
The mural is in plain view, but it can also be inconspicuous to trail passers-by. Its sepia tones and off-white lettering begin just past a short tunnel of cypress trees and thick foliage. It faces a long, narrow shoreline favored by raucous birds and sleeping sea lions.
The Monterey Peninsula includes more than a dozen cities and hamlets. But it's the history of the area's most well-known locales Carmel, Monterey, Pacific Grove that dominates the theme of John Ton's 1998 work. It's the longest of the Petaluma muralist's career.
Laguna Seca Recreation Area in Monterey and Pebble Beach Golf Links and the monolithic Monterey Bay Aquarium are a trio that attract families, automotive enthusiasts and revering golfers. But like the messages in the vast, understated canvas, the Monterey Peninsula offers plenty of unheralded attractions.
In one section of the mural's storyline, a San Francisco landowner's sale of a small parcel of coastal land in 1875 to the Methodist Church is detailed. The completed transaction was the impetus for the slogan of how the area was defined at the time: "Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey-by-the-Smell and Pacific Grove-by-God."
The description isn't completely fair. Yet it's still relevant because the communities, difficult to differentiate by their borders, are vastly different.
Monterey Peninsula locals are sometimes geographically stymied. Carmel residents, the wealthiest of whom own homes along oceanfront Scenic Drive, are prone to saying, they "never go over the hill."
It's a reference to the brief jaunt on Highway 1 into middle-class Monterey, where commercial fishing remains robust. At the end of Fisherman's Wharf #2, built in 1926 and once the locale of pungent smelt plants, several wholesale fish companies are open to the public.
Monterey folks often stay on their turf because Pacific Grove is "always foggy." And Pacific Grove residents, some of whom live in small, restored homes first established by Methodist settlers in the late 1800s, refer to Carmel as too touristy.
Carmel's hidden gems
In Carmel, Ocean Avenue (the main street) extends from Highway 1 to the Pacific Ocean. Nearly 1,000 rooms in hotels, motels and inns permeate the one-square-mile downtown. But one of the few downsides of Carmel for many years was that wishful late-night diners were out of luck. Fine dining is fine and there's plenty of it, and now there's a late-night option.
"We call it the first and only gastro-pub on the peninsula," said Rosemary Reimer, part of the family who bought Brophy's Tavern on the corner of Fourth Avenue and San Carlos Street 18 months ago. "You can come in and have a hamburger or a Philly cheese steak sandwich, sure. But you can also have a little something special."
While the pub grub works, Brophy's has a full bar and offers porcini mushroom raviolis, outrageous clam chowder and Vietnamese mini sandwiches, all prepared by Brian Christensen, the former chef at the now-defunct Stokes Restaurant in Monterey. He keeps the kitchen open until 11 p.m. Brophy's slogan is "Where the locals go." But Reimer likes to add, "It's also where visitors can go and feel like locals."
Diagonally across the street, Hofsas House offers arguably the best value in Carmel for clean, unpretentious accommodations. Carrie Theis, who lives on the property, is owner and manager of the hotel that debuted in the late 1940s. Theis, whose grandmother was married to the property's founder, moved back to Carmel nearly two decades ago to run the place.
The last business before San Carlos Street meanders into a tree-lined residential neighborhood, Hofsas House has 38 rooms and is billed as "a family tradition." Bavarian-themed exterior murals, paintings and family crests dominate the exterior and the room décor.
Theis is a community activist who enjoys her guests and being part of the community. Several years ago, when a broadcaster friend working a few doors away at now-defunct jazz station KRML (once owned by Clint Eastwood) became ill, Theis filled in. And then she remained for a while as a regular host.
Like Theis, Jim Culcasi has a long working history on the Monterey Peninsula. A former barber, Culcasi, his wife, Rosine, and the couple's four children opened Rosine's in 1980. The family moved the restaurant to its current location on Alvarado Street in Monterey six years later.
"I have a big sweet tooth. I like desserts, and I like to create," said Jim Culcasi Jr., who now runs the restaurant with his sister and makes its renowned huge cakes and unique meat and marinara pasta sauces. "We make the food here like the food we eat at home."
Rosine Culcasi matches her son's cake skills with extraordinary pie-making savvy. The family's specialties, carrot cake to apple pie, and other delights all the size of top hats, line glass cases at the restaurant entrance.
"A lot has happened in downtown Monterey, but we're still here," said Jim Culcasi, upbeat because pending downtown renovation will allow Rosine's to introduce outdoor seating. "The regulars know they'll come in with an appetite, leave full and always take some home."
While Rosine's has more than a 30-year tenure, it's still in its infancy compared to two businesses across the street, Hellam's Tobacco Shop and Red's Donuts.
Hellam's has had several locations since it opened in 1893, and it's touted as the oldest continually operated cigar store on the West Coast. The wares include knives, swords, model cars, old-style candy and a vast selection of pipes and cigars. The staff is constantly smoking and is either playing chess or talking tobacco. It's an ultimate retail man cave permeated with fine aromas.
A few doors down, Red's Donuts is now in its 62nd year. It's a doughnut shop, no more, no less, with a second location in Seaside. Coffee is served in old ceramic mugs and there's a single, narrow counter with accompanying stools. Cheap unmatched paintings, dime store humor signs and old photos of old customers cover the walls. It's a beautiful thing.
Evelyn Rosales has worked the counter at Red's for about 20 years. She can simultaneously talk to several customers, some of whom have likely been sitting on their same end-of-the-counter perches since Red's opened in 1950. All doughnut favorites are available, plain glazed to chocolate old-fashioned. Ask Rosales for the "house special." It's not a doughnut but a heated cinnamon roll with melting butter on top. Before you've finished the decadence, your coffee mug could be filled three times without asking.
Different in New Monterey
Like other small intertwined communities, Monterey transitions without notice into a hamlet called New Monterey. It's located via a short drive through the Custom House Tunnel and past the Presidio and Breakwater Cove.
Pacific Grove emerges like a picture of an old, small city infused with color.
Asilomar State Beach and its accompanying conference center are Pacific Grove destination beacons. But several nearby locations, including B&Bs and smaller, family-owned options like the Pacific Gardens Inn, are among unheralded accommodation choices.
Located across the street from Asilomar, Pacific Gardens Inn offers what owner Robert Boerner describes as "totally opposite of what you would experience in downtown Monterey. I don't mean anything disrespectful to any other style property. But here, it's more like staying in Yosemite or being in the woods."
Boerner lives with his family four blocks away from his business that features simple, reasonably priced rooms all made more endearing by the nearby forest and oceanside footpaths. The property has five buildings, with rooms, a circular driveway and parking lot are all configured around a small lobby and accompanying sitting room. It's also the breakfast area and the daily afternoon gathering place for the inn's casual wine and cheese social.
"I think we have guests here who just like to relax and not have any of the intimidation factor of hotels," said Boerner, who has worked in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years. "If people want to come over to breakfast in their pajamas, they do it and they feel comfortable."
Within a five-minute's drive into downtown Pacific Grove, numerous restaurants and small businesses are often abuzz in the condensed city center. Parking isn't always easy, but one several-block area features another homage to yesteryear. It has angled center median spaces.
It's an ideal place to park for a visit to The Works, a coffee shop, teahouse and bookstore. Accompanying fare includes bagels and pastries, and the brew bar features several blends from Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Co.
The Works' owners, Robert Marcum (a musician) and his wife, Leela, offer live music, comedy shows and other contemporary acts on Saturday nights. Seating is limited. Which means, even in a small city, there's a chance for occupation if only via the quickly taken couches inside the front door.
One way to get there from Sacramento: Take Interstate 5 south. Exit at Santa Nella Road, then take Highway 152 west. Continue south at Highway 101. At the Highway 156 split, take Highway 156, then Highway 1 to Monterey. Approximate travel time: 3 1/2 hours.
DINING AND NIGHTLIFE
Brophy's Tavern, Fourth Avenue at San Carlos Street, Carmel. (831) 624-2476, www.brophystavern.com. Combine a "Cheers" atmosphere and cuisine that redefines pub grub and you've arrived at Brophy's. The clientele: caddies, locals and an evolving mix of tourists. A consummate friendly neighborhood joint. Consider visiting Tuesday and Saturday nights when bartender Emily works.
Sandbar & Grill, Municipal Wharf No. 2, suite 16, Monterey. (831) 373-2818, www.sandbarandgrillmonterey.com. Lots of folks think the traditional fishermen's hall has the best clam chowder and freshest sand dabs on the Monterey Peninsula. Crab and shrimp Louies also are crowd- pleasers. Climb down metal stairs, ring the captain's bell and enter the old-school motif that rests at water level. There's a cool-looking bar, a fun atmosphere, good values and veteran servers who get the job done. Parking is ideal on wooden wharf planks a few feet away.
Peppers Mexicali Cafe, 170 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove; (831) 373-6892. Fresh ingredients, a full bar (rare in Pacific Grove) and a kitchen open until 10 p.m. Combined, that makes the locally owned placed a locals favorite. Single diners can eat at the small L-shaped bar. Reservations are recommended, particularly on weekends. Bring an appetite; portions are large. Be aware, Peppers is situated on a steep hill.
Rosine's Restaurant, 434 Alvarado St., Monterey. (831) 375-1400, www.rosinesmonterey.com. It's a family restaurant with homemade everything, including the pasta sauce that has a touch of sugar to neutralize the acidity of the tomatoes. Monolithic-size desserts reign. Order one piece of cake or pie and ask for two, maybe three, forks.
Hofsas House Hotel, Fourth Avenue at San Carlos Street, Carmel. (831) 624-2745, www.hofsashouse.com. Quiet and nestled among mature trees and several blocks off the main artery, Ocean Avenue, Hofsas House isn't upscale, but it's clean, the staff is friendly and there's neighborhood charm. There's also a rentable business meeting room.
Mariposa Inn & Suites, 1386 Munras Ave., Monterey. (831) 649-1414, www.mariposamonterey.com. The last property on the west side of Munras Avenue, just before the Highway 1 entrance, it's among the oldest accommodation locations along what unofficially is called "hotel- motel row." Renovated in 2010, jewel tones purple, brown and gold replaced 50-year-old drab in 50 rooms. Small single rooms are near the street. Single and double-floor executive suites and spa suites are off street.
Martine Inn, 255 Oceanview Blvd., Pacific Grove. (831) 373-3388, www.martineinn.com. With the Pacific Ocean as an omnipresent canvas across the street, the more than 100-year-old bed and breakfast offers 24 guest rooms. Antiques dominate push-button light switches, claw-foot tubs, brass fixtures and marbled sinks. Don Martine and his parents purchased it in 1972. Martine is a car collector and has a small museum on the property that features vintage MG sports cars and memorabilia.
Pacific Gardens Inn, 701 Asilomar Blvd., Pacific Grove. (831) 646-9414, www.pacificgardensinn.com. Situated among Monterey cypress, pine and oak trees, the inn has five buildings with varying-sized rooms, nearly all with wood-burning fireplaces. It's common to see deer on the property, and quiet reigns. There's a keen footpath to the Pacific Ocean across the street.
Tally Ho Inn, Mesa Verde and Sixth Avenue, Carmel. (831) 624-2232, www.pineinn.com. Likely the most unassuming luxury inn on the Monterey Peninsula. The entrance features plain white brick and limited signage. It's only 12 rooms, with many offering wondrous views of the Pacific Ocean. Opened in 1964 as an extension of its older and bigger sibling, the Pine Inn, across the street. The boutique inn was renovated in 2006. All rooms are centrally located around an interior English-style garden and original white adobe fireplace.
Garland Ranch Regional Park, 8.6 miles east of Highway 1 on Carmel Valley Road. Carmel Valley's major recreation attraction. It features about 4,600 acres, used often by mountain bikers, hikers, runners and equestrians. It's quiet, natural open space.
Bernardus, Boëté, Chateau Julien, Chateau Sinnet, Galante, Georis, Heller Estate, Joullian Village, Parsonage, San Saba and Talbott are all located in Carmel Valley. It's an impressive list for casual wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs.
Carmel Plaza, Ocean Avenue at Mission Street, Carmel. (831) 624-1385, www.carmelplaza.com. Several dozen shops, most dog-friendly, situated among fountains and colorful landscaping. Khaki, Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Anthropologie and Bottega Veneta are among the well-known retailers. Bistro Beaujolais and a locals favorite, Flying Fish Grill, are among the restaurants.
Del Monte Shopping Center, 1410 Del Monte Center Highway 1 at Munras Avenue, Monterey. (831) 373-2705, www.shopdelmonte.com. More than 85 shops anchored by Macy's, Banana Republic, GAP, Ann Taylor Loft and William Sonoma. Restaurants include P.F. Chang's, California Pizza Kitchen and Cold Stone Creamery. And there's a 13-screen Century Cinema complex.
Robert Talbott Outlet, 13742 Center St., Carmel Valley Village. (831) 659-4540. It's located 11 miles east on Carmel Valley Road, and worth the drive. The original outlet opened in 1954 across the street from the workshop created by Robert and Audrey Talbott two years earlier. Stocking mill ends of Italian tie silks, English cashmere sweaters as well as Egyptian and Liberty cotton shirts. Defines quality clothes at keen prices.
Acme Roasting Company, 485-B Palm Ave., Seaside. (831) 393-9113. www.acmecoffeeroasting.com. No tables, no chairs and the one-of-a-kind slogan, "Resist Corporate Coffee." Business folks in suits, retirees, police officers and car mechanics all stand around, exchange pleasantries and drink powerful brew made inside an old garage. There's only one downside: Acme is closed Sundays.
Casanova, Fifth Avenue between Mission and San Carlos, Carmel. (831) 625-0501, www.casanovarestaurant.com. Its Mediterranean, Belgian- influenced cuisine is well known, but it's the premises that shine. It's an old home of a now-deceased African American woman once employed as Charlie Chaplin's cook. A vintage Citroën delivery truck and a few old bicycles parked in the front add to what the owners call "rustic elegance."
Earthbound Farm, 7250 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. (831) 625-6219. www.ebfam.com. The largest grower of organic produce in the United States, it was founded in 1984 by Drew and Myra Goodman when they leased 2 1/2 acres from Clint Eastwood. The first company to produce prewashed, packaged salad greens for commercial use, the company's farm stand offers sandwiches, salads and soups made from the farm's produce. There's also an outdoor picnic area and a gift shop.
English Ales Brewery, 223 Reindollar Ave., Marina. (831) 883-3000, www.englishalesbrewery.com. Hidden in a small commercial zone a few minutes off Highway 1, arguably the central coast's best beer (and best beer names) is brewed daily. Ramsay's Fat Amber Ale, Black Prince Porter and Dragon Slayer IPA are among favorites. Standard English fare is filling. Lots of regulars have their steins hanging from the ceiling.
Fourtane Jeweler, Ocean Avenue at Lincoln, Carmel. (831) 624-4684, www.fourtane.com. New and vintage jewelry and watches form the theme of the two- cornered store that's hard to miss. There's a freestanding tower clock near the Ocean Street entrance. The family-run business has been in Carmel since 1950 offering objets d'art, estate jewelry and vintage watches.
Hellam's Tobacco Shop, 423 Alvarado St., Monterey. (831) 373-2816. It's not for everyone and the staff is eclectic but knowledgeable. It's all about smoking, its history to humidors. The aroma is almost enough to make a nonsmoker try a cigar.
Red's Donuts, 433 Alvarado St., Monterey. (831-372-9761). Gourmet coffee options are elsewhere in Monterey, but the six-decade-old establishment is where the news of the day unfolds among regulars and folks buying doughnuts for the office. It's a daily slice of life built around the wondrous mixture of flour, sugar and fat.
The Works, 667 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove (831) 372-2242, www.theworkspg.com. A single-cup brew bar, fresh bagels and pastries and big picture windows. It all adds up to an ideal morning hangout in an idyllic community. And don't forget the intimate Saturday night entertainment.
MONTEREY PENINSULA WEBSITES
City of Carmel-by-the-Sea, www.ci.carmel.ca.us
City of Monterey, www.monterey.org
City of Pacific Grove, www.pacificgrove.org
Monterey County and Convention Visitors Bureau, www.seemonterey.com
Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, www.mpcc.com