Return to Monterey

The Monterey Peninsula has long been one of our favorite destinations. It has natural beauty and very pleasant dining opportunities. Just 2 hours south of San Francisco, it is an ideal place to break away, especially for those who can do so during the off-season.

Return to Monterey

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by becks on February 21, 2005

Our first visit to Monterey was not exactly voluntary. We were on a United Airlines flight from Mexico City to San Francisco when the drinks service was summarily suspended to prepare for an earlier-than-scheduled arrival. However, fog at San Francisco Airport meant that we went into a holding pattern. Circling above the Monterey Peninsula, we wished we knew about it previously, as it looked a rather superb place to spend a relaxing few days. Now, careful what you wish for... Next thing we knew, we had landed at Monterey Airport to refuel and await fog clearing at San Francisco. International flight + domestic airport = almost two additional hours in the Airbus on the tarmac. Once airborne again, there was no time to loosen seatbelts. The hop-over to San Francisco International took only 15 minutes.

A year later, Monterey was our primary destination, and the year thereafter, we opted for Carmel. Back then, we could hardly imagine that after five annual visits to California, it would take more than six years before we would head to Monterey again. However, in November 2004, after two years of traveling extensively in especially Germany, we had simply had enough of high culture, museums, galleries, cathedrals, and places where buildings younger than two centuries old are often considered new. We wanted a vacation without culture. L.A. and Las Vegas would have been natural choices, but we were not that desperate. Beautiful nature and fine food would do, so we headed back to San Francisco and a few good days on the Monterey Peninsula.

Having done the sights on previous visits, we were under no pressure to see or do anything in particular. We just relaxed and ventured wherever our whims took us. The coastline, especially towards Pacific Grove, is wonderful to stroll along and free of the commercial excesses of the more famous Cannery Row area.

The scenic 17-Mile Drive™ in neighboring Pebble Beach is worth seeing again. A drive along Highway 1 into the Big Sur area always appeals, and a visit to the peninsula without a few hours in charming Carmel is unthinkable. The Monterey Aquarium is well worth seeing, but we did that a few years ago, and the children are not yet old enough to force us to go again.


The Cannery Row area, not surprisingly, is the most popular and simultaneously offers the worst value for money. The food here is fine, but nothing special, and somewhat overpriced. For much better value, head toward downtown or a few blocks inland at Lighthouse Avenue, where the quality of the food increases simultaneously with a decline in price. Excellent, although pricey, restaurants are available in Monterey and surrounding towns, but with two small children in tow, we gave them a skip this time round.

The Monterey Peninsula area is very popular with weekenders from San Francisco and San José, so prices tend to increase dramatically on Friday and Saturday nights. Try to arrive on Sunday for the best value and light traffic. The upscale inns of the area seem particularly child-unfriendly, making the chain hotels a more sane option. They may not offer antique furniture, 20 choices of herbal teas, or bathrobes, but at least your baby may sleep for free.


Oddly, our hotel this time round charged a nominal amount for parking-–previously, it was free–-as I cannot imagine anyone arriving here without a car.

One morning, we met an elderly woman in the elevator who had to park her mobile home in the street, as it was too high for the parking garage. (I wanted to ask her why she was staying in the hotel if she arrived by mobile home, but unfortunately, I let it go. Now I still wonder...).

Walking and cycling are easy ways to get around the Cannery Row area. as well as toward downtown and in the opposite direction to Pacific Grove and beyond. Walking and bicycle trails run for long stretches along the shoreline, and we saw advertisements for several bicycle rental stores. Traveling out of season, going by car presented no problems, and plentiful parking was available. Crossing the peninsula inland rather than along the coast involves very steep hills.

Using the Interstate 101, it is around two hours' drive from San Francisco to Monterey. Using the more scenic Highway 1 takes significantly longer. Although the views are good, the stretches south of Monterey are much more scenic.

Victoria Inn

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by becks on February 21, 2005

On our first visit to Monterey, we stayed in the Victoria Inn at an out-of -season rate of well under $100, which seemed good value at the time. Parking was free, and it was an easy two-block walk to the Cannery Row area. A year later, we opted for the Pine Inn in Carmel, which was more expensive but very comfortable and classy. We would have loved to stay in Carmel again, but six years on, we had two small children in tow and the inns of Carmel suddenly seemed a lot less welcoming. I found the language used on hotels’ websites to make it clear that children were not welcome quite intriguing: "Furniture not suitable for children." "Children welcome at the full adult rate." Personally, I would have preferred a simple "No Children" sign, but then again, there is Californian law...

We decided to head back to the Victoria Inn, as it had all the qualities we wanted from our accommodations–-a fine location, large rooms, comfortable beds, a good breakfast, parking (no longer free), and a hot tub to tire the toddler out shortly before bedtime.

We found the Victoria Inn more or less as it was those years ago, although some paintwork was being done on the exterior during this stay. The room was comfortably large, although the furniture was different and not really to our taste. Previously, we had a room on the ground floor, which seems to have the smarter, dark-wood furniture. The two double beds were comfortable, though, and everything worked as it should. A coffee machine was at hand, and we fortunately brought our own coffee with from San Francisco, as the freebie tasted rather free of coffee.

We stayed in the section with enclosed passages, but some of the rooms have open passages. The toddler and I crossed through these en-route to the hot tub every night, allowing us a peek of what was going on in the other rooms-–most seemed empty. One night en-route to the tub, we heard the sound of ice tinkling, and it sounded as if the mother-of-all-cocktails was being prepared. On the way back, I got a better look, and it seemed that I confused the tinkling of ice in a glass with the tinkling of dice being thrown. The mother-of-all-gambling-games was in full progress. Although it was only two rooms from ours, and I slept with the window open, we heard no noise in our room.

It is only thanks to the strong euro that we stayed in the Victoria Inn this time–-the bill came to around $150 a night, which compared well with other places in the area, but in the future, our need for some comforts may be less and we may take a chance on some cheaper options in Carmel.

Best Western Victoria Inn

487 Foam Street

93940 Monterey

Best Western Victorian Inn
Monterey, California, 93940
(831) 373-8000

Rosine's Restaurant

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by becks on February 21, 2005

We went to downtown Monterey with a purpose. We wanted to eat again in the place with the humongous cakes. We had eaten here on a previous visit, but while waiting for a table, we had observed the largest pieces of cake we had ever seen. We could feed six friends on one of those if we served it back in Tokyo. During that meal, to our amazement, the couple behind us complained that the slices seemed smaller than when they ate there previously.

We had no recollection of what the restaurant was called or even where in downtown Monterey it was located, but we had every intention of finding it again. We found street-side parking easy enough, even taking into account that we moved the car twice while pondering the exact meaning of the local parking restrictions. We strolled through a light drizzle, seeing numerous alternative restaurants that were utterly unsuitable for our troupe. I was starting to ponder whether I should ask someone where the place with the big tarts was but shuddering at the thought of what the answers might be fortunately held me back just long enough for us to find ourselves standing right in front of the place.

It is called Rosine’s, and it prides itself on its fine home-style cooking with an emphasis on Californian cuisine. While waiting for a table, I sneaked a photo of the cakes, still full-size. Service here is fast and friendly, and a baby seat was offered even before we had to ask. The menu is extensive, with dishes ranging from around $7 to just over $15. Portion size is large without being excessively so (at least by American standards). A special menu is available for children, and pencils are supplied to keep the young ones occupied while waiting for the food.

We were in the mood for burgers or sandwiches, and while my wife settled for a cheeseburger, I preferred a slightly healthier chicken sandwich with avocado and cheese. Everything was cooked to perfection, with the chicken being particularly juicy and the trimmings very fresh. The child pizza was delicious, too, and a far cry from the frozen microwave pizza that often masquerade under the name of child’s pizza. Devouring half of it helps explained why I was once again unable to actually order one of those humongous pieces of cake. (Previously, 5 years of Japanese-size portions meant that we could not even polish off half the main course.)

I have every intention of returning to Rosine’s, and next time I’ll come at coffee time to ensure I finally get to taste one of those cakes, or Kalorienbombe (calorie bomb), as they would be described in Germany.

Rosine's Restaurant 831/375-1400 434 Alvarado St. Monterey, CA 93940
Rosine's Restaurant
434 Alvarado Street
Monterey, California, 93940
(831) 375-1400

The Loose Noodle Pasta House

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by becks on February 21, 2005

The night before we had a light dinner after strolling around in the Cannery Row area. Although the food was fine, service was slow and prices, as expected, were a bit high for what we got. On our last night in Monterey, we strolled uphill just three or four blocks inland to Lighthouse Avenue. Things are less glitzy here, and we hoped the prices and ambience would be better, too.

The first restaurant we came to was the Loose Noodle Pasta House. The menu looked fine and the soft-lit interior seemed inviting. We intended to stroll farther and see what else was available, but noticing that the baby had fallen asleep in his stroller, decided to charge right in and enjoy a meal in peace and quiet.

Not surprisingly, given the name of the restaurant, virtually all dishes are pasta based. Prices hover around $10 per main course, to which a soup and salad may be added for $3. The lunch menu is cheaper and specials are available before 6pm. A special menu is available for children – for once, most of the items do not have French fries.

I ordered a baked chicken breast with fettuccini and a glass of Californian dry white wine while my wife had a salad. I particularly enjoyed the fresh herbs strewn over my food as well as the perfectly cooked chicken – not underdone and definitely not dry. My toddler has developed a distinct distaste for the pastas offered on the children’s menus in most restaurants – having tasted a few myself, I cannot blame her – and we ordered her a plate of cheese tortellini from the normal menu. As my wife had designs on the tortellini herself, we foolishly did not ask for a half portion, as the serving was humongous. We rounded off the meal with excellent cappuccino and tiramisu.

I do not know why I am often worried that my children will misbehave in decent restaurants. Except for my ruined previous birthday dinner, of which we have agreed not to speak anymore, they generally behave very well in public. We had already ordered coffee when a group of six spanning three generations wandered in. For some reason, the father found it necessary to remind the children in a booming voice to remember to use indoor voices. I do not know why he bothered – he was probably too scared to pick a fight with his mother-in-law. The children of around 6 years never got a word in edgeways, as the grandmother kept talking very loudly nonstop for the rest of the time we were in there. She did not even slow down to give them a chance to reply to her questions.

When in Monterey, even when not in the mood for pasta, I would recommend strolling the few blocks up hill to sample the fare available in the small restaurants on Lighthouse Avenue rather than opting for the very touristy and overpriced venues at the seafront.

Loose Noodle Pasta House
538 Lighthouse Ave
Monterey, California, 93940
(831) 641-0130

Gilroy Premium Outlets

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by becks on February 21, 2005

Gilroy is apparently the garlic capital of the world. The smell is thick in the air but somehow fast forgotten after a few minutes of acclimatization. Interstate 101 cuts right through the town, making it an obvious stop for gas and perhaps a quick meal. So why would the Becks family make this a day trip - and not for the first time, either? It was really our third trip here; my wife simply would not dream of passing through without spending several hours. Actually, staying over in the local Comfort Inn would sound to her like a darn good idea, too. Well, Gilroy has a massive outlet mall with all her favorite brands, and a few of mine, from Calvin Klein to DKNY and Etienne Aigner shoes. It is the place to become broke while saving money.

My first brush with outlet shops came as a student, when we would visit the actual factory and buy the rejects on the premises. Some had obvious mistakes, but sometimes a seemingly perfect pair of CK jeans would dissolve in the first wash! The real bargains were those items that were in perfect condition but labeled the wrong sizes. Of course, changing rooms were conspicuous in their absence, so friends simply had to stand wide while you struggled in and out of a series of, at first glance, perfectly fitting jeans. Prices were appropriately low.

Gilroy Premium Outlets is a completely different experience. The around 150 shops here are modern, well lit, and for all practical purposes, look like their normal counterparts but offer discounts from around 25% to 70% off the normal sales price. However, the trade-off is that not all sizes, colors, and styles are available. Very few shops actually have the seconds I knew from my student days – most seem to sell overstocked items or the previous season’s items. The latter works out quite well for people who prefer to buy spring clothes in spring rather than in the midst of winter as most shops, for not immediately obvious reasons, expect one to do.

On previous trips, we had passed by in early January to take advantage of the post-Christmas sales. On some memorable occasions, the original discount of up to 70% off was supplemented by a further discount of up to 50% off. In mid-November, we did not expect the same savings and did not find them either. However, we still saved enough to make the trip worth our while. We also enjoyed the things we never had in Japan and only rarely in Germany – an abundance of free parking and driving to the other end of the mall rather than walking. It is a good idea to pick up a map of the mall from one of the information counters, or print it out from the website and plan the savings assault. The stores are grouped into four separate, roughly U-shaped buildings, with parking in the center of each building. Catering is rather uninspired, and eating is best done elsewhere.

Gilroy Premium Outlets
681 Leavesley Rd
Gilroy, California, 95020
(408) 842-3729

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