S.F. weekend getaway: Outdoor fun & food in Monterey
Just two hours south of San Francisco, Monterey is an easy weekend escape with extraordinary opportunities for outdoor adventure. We selected five of our favorite activities in the area and paired each with a beloved local eatery. Whether you're ready to dive through kelp forests or cycle along the coastline, we've got your routes and your restaurants covered. Anchor yourself in Monterey for a weekend and explore.
Covering almost the same square mileage as Connecticut and occupying 276 miles of shoreline, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary provides plenty of space for play. Divers are drawn to the bay’s dramatic kelp forests, diverse wildlife (it's home to about 525 species of fish), and the underwater chasm that’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.
Grab a wetsuit, as the water here often hovers around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and head to Monterey’s San Carlos Beach. There’s plenty of parking and a grassy slope perfect for post-dive picnics, while nearby Cannery Row outfitters stock gear and rentals. More advanced divers can head a few blocks down to McAbee Beach, or navigate the waters off Lovers Point in Pacific Grove.
After exploring the bay, fuel up at Cannery Row Brewing Company. With all-American classics, more than 70 beers on tap, and an outdoor patio overlooking the trail, it’s a convenient place to kick back and enjoy lunch or dinner. Be sure and save room for the monkey bread donuts topped with pecans and cream cheese frosting.
If underwater adventures aren’t your thing, venture out by kayak. Single- and double-seat rentals are readily available in Monterey, where a coastal paddle showcases infrastructure dating back to the city’s sardine fishing days. And, there’s plenty of wildlife. It’s common to spot sea otters and harbor seals (for your safety and theirs, stay at least 150 feet away from these protected species), as well as sea stars, kelp crabs, and a bevy of birds ranging from pelicans to cormorants to loons.
Seas tend to be calm in the morning, especially during the fog-shrouded summer. For sunnier weather, and less-crowded waters, head out in September or October. Put in along Monterey State Beach, which parallels Del Monte Avenue, and follow the coast past Fisherman’s Wharf toward Cannery Row.
After all that fresh air, settle in for snacks at Loulou’s Griddle in the Middle on Monterey’s Municipal Wharf 2. This is comfort food at its best, with a selection of seafood dishes, big burgers, and a breaded calamari appetizer that’s great for sharing.
Cruise the Coast
Eighteen miles of railroad tracks-turned-paved trail hug the Monterey Bay coastline, offering attractive options for bikers and skaters of all levels. The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail traces a fairly flat route between Fisherman’s Wharf and Lovers Point, passing the Monterey Bay Aquarium and gorgeous, rocky stretches of Pacific Grove shoreline.
Continue on toward Pebble Beach for more postcard-perfect scenery, or follow the trail north toward its end point in Castroville. The hills get a little higher outside of Monterey, where the trail climbs dunes bordering Seaside and Sand City, and more rugged landscapes and vistas open up from there. Rent your wheels at one of several bike shops clustered trailside between downtown Monterey and Lovers Point.
Just past Pacific Grove’s border with Monterey, turn off the rec trail and detour up Dewey Street to Happy Girl Kitchen. The cafe and coffee house specializes in house-made pastries, jams, and pickled goods, and the fresh salads feature local, organic ingredients.
Hike in the Hills
Towering some 1,000 feet above Monterey, Jacks Peak County Park offers a wide perspective on the bay. The park’s 8.5 miles of trails wind through one of just three remaining native Monterey pine forests in the United States, and pass along lush meadows, spring wildflowers, coastal shrubs, and scenic ridge-top lookouts. Follow the Skyline Nature Trail for sweeping bay views on sunny days, and continue on to nearby treks that overlook Carmel-by-the-Sea, Point Lobos, and Santa Cruz. Keep an eye out for hawks, deer, squirrels, and the occasional fox, as well.
Before driving out to Jack’s Peak, swing by Troia’s Market for picnic supplies. This old-school shop in downtown Monterey carries basic grocery items and drinks, but it’s the hearty sandwiches—with more than 30 meat and veggie options—that keep customers coming back.
Stroll the Shoreline
If you’re crunched for time and feel like concentrating on just one stop, plan a day at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. This jut of land just south of Carmel is a tapestry of pine forests, lichen-laced branches, sandstone outcroppings, hidden coves, and wild vegetation. Hiking trails crisscross the landscape, and some walks lead to the site of an 1800s whaling station and traces of a former granite quarry.
Divers come for the clear water, reef formations and ample sea life, while over at Weston Beach, tide pooling is especially popular. Named for nature photographer Edward Weston, this beach is a good place to spot anemones, snails, sea stars, and vibrant algae at low tide. Point Lobos is also popular for bird watching, plein air painting, photography, and quiet contemplation.
End a day of adventure with dinner at Rio Grill, north of Point Lobos where Carmel Valley Road meets Highway 1. The local institution earns rave reviews for its cocktails and folds ingredients from nearby farms into its starters and mains. While steaks and grilled seafood get a lot of attention, the restaurant recently expanded its gluten-free and vegetarian options, too.