Tell any military spouse you’re California-bound and you’ll get replies that mimic a game of Scategories: 29 Palms — San Diego — Miramar! When you give them that look that says, hey, let’s use our inside voices, and tell them you’re actually headed to Monterey, CA, get ready for extreme jealousy.
Monterey, CA is not just a postcard destination that is a brief home to a select few from all branches of the military. It’s also a launchpad to all sorts of cool career moves, whether your spouse is attending the Defense Language Institute on the Presidio of Monterey, studying at the Naval Postgraduate School, or serving at the Coast Guard station. Because your time in Monterey will be brief, you need to learn how to live like a local as soon as possible.
The beaches in this area could be the backdrop for an HBO miniseries, and they are (name drop: Big Little Lies). You’ll find everything from sandy pockets of coastline, a purple beach near Big Sur, beaches exploding with sea glass (literally across the street from Target), and rocky coasts. Learn to check the tides and go tidal pooling each week with the kids at Asilomar, and bring your pup to the Carmel beach. Just don’t come ready to swim — that water is cold! In fact, you may want to keep both a towel and swimsuit combo and a coat and blanket in the car, depending on which beach you’re hitting.
The peninsula’s microclimate makes it cool and foggy the majority of the year. But, as the fog rolls out over the bay each day, you’ll experience some crazy temperature shifts in the summer. You can be wearing a coat at one beach, then hit Dennis the Menace park with the kids and be drenched in sweat. Many houses don’t have central AC because you won’t need it, but there are a few weeks in September and October that get pretty warm. Invest in fans.
Golden Coast Road Trips
Monterey, CA is smack-dab in the middle of the California coast. It’s just a couple hours from San Francisco (be sure to stay at the Marine Memorial Club Hotel at least once for a cheap stay in the heart of the city). It’s an hour from Big Sur, 45 minutes from Santa Cruz, a few hours from Napa, Sonoma, and Yosemite, and you can easily access Lake Tahoe for skiing in the winter or sunny L.A. (and Disneyworld). Even if you manage to see it all, just taking a drive down Highway 1 is picturesque enough.
The Rec Trail
If you’re a runner — heck, even if you aren’t, this is the place to become one — you need to get familiar with the rec trail. It runs along the coast of the entire peninsula. You can easily run to it from the La Mesa housing development or park in the Fisherman’s Wharf parking lot for easy access. Watch whales and harbor seals as you run. Zig through historic Cannery Row (yes, as in the John Steinbeck novel you need to read before moving here), and zag through Pacific Grove where the path turns into a dirt trail along the cliffs.
Even if you know zip about golf, you’ve probably heard of Pebble Beach. It’s a popular golf course among celebrities, pro golfers, and anyone else who can afford to play. Every year, in February, Pebble Beach is the site of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament. Service members can snag heavily discounted tickets and watch celebrities and pro golfers up close.
Get some clubs and learn to swing them. Even the worst courses in the area are probably better than anything you’ll ever play on again.
Let’s cut to the chase. You’re in wine country. And just like running, if you aren’t a wine drinker when you arrive in Monterey, you need to become one. You’ll find vineyards as close as Carmel Valley and tasting rooms just minutes from your house. Expand your palette before choosing your favorite vineyard.
At least once, spend a weekend in Sonoma (yes, you can bring the kids to many of the wineries). But, when you’re sticking close to home and you’re not trying to go broke over a bottle of Syrah, get acquainted with BevMo in Carmel. BevMo, aside from just having a huge selection of wine, beer, and liquor, has 5-cent wine sales all…the…time. You buy one bottle at regular price and get a second for 5 cents. No joke.
When you’re somewhere in between a weekend in Sonoma and BevMo sales, look for the annual Sip the Peninsula wine tasting gala hosted by the Monterey Bay Officers’ Spouses Club. There’s always a theme, a variety of items to bid on in the silent auction, and plenty of wine and beer to sample.
Herbivores, unite! Monterey is right on the edge of the Salad Bowl of the World, the Salinas Valley. Even though everything is through-the-roof expensive in Monterey, CA, the produce grows right there in the dirt, and it is dirt cheap! Wave goodbye to the commissary and embrace the farmers markets, produce stands, and fruit-picking seasons. You can pick your own berries in the spring and apples in the fall at Gizdich Ranch and marvel at the hugest pumpkins you’ve ever seen (before deciding on one you can actually take home).
Gilroy — right up the road — is famous for garlic. You can smell it just driving through town! You’ll see fresh artichokes galore, and pretty much any other fruit or vegetable you can dream up.
Buy the Passes
It bears repeating, Monterey is pricey. You’ll go bankrupt trying to do all the things if you’re not smart about it. Luckily there are local passes and prices for many of the hot spots around town. Some restaurants have local menus with different items and pricing; just ask!
You can also spring for the annual membership to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and share your guest passes with your out-of-town visitors or your local friends. Buy the annual state park pass to enjoy the parks and hiking trails in the area and use your free America the Beautiful National Park Pass to hit the famed national parks nearby.
Become a member at your favorite winery for discounts. And, perhaps most importantly, buy your annual $10 City of Monterey resident parking pass to park in the Fisherman’s Wharf parking lot and adjacent parking garage free for up to two hours at a time! That’s plenty of time for a rec trail run, coffee and people watching with a friend at Water and Leaves, or a giant hub-cap pancake at LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle.
Photo Credits: Kristi Stolzenberg