Monterey County features some of the most gorgeous natural attractions in its nine regional parks, lakes, sea life, and pacific shore. Its central coast location gives it the longest coastline of any county in California. Whether in the area to view diverse aquatic life or explore its thriving wine scene, these scenic drives are the best way to get the lay of the land. Don’t miss these top five scenic drives while in Monterey County.
1. 17-Mile Drive
One of the most famous scenic drives in the country is the 17-Mile Drive. True to its name, this path stretches 17 miles right along the Pacific coastline, traveling from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach. Those interested in making the drive can enter at one of the five entry gates at Pebble Beach Resorts for a small fee, either by car or bus pass. This drive is packed with 17 scenic and historic points, as well as restaurants and shops offering the perfect souvenirs. Other recreation at the Pebble Beach Golf Links and Pebble Beach Equestrian Center is also available.
The route’s points start with a vista point at Shepherd’s Knoll. Visitors can enjoy an elevated view of Monterey Bay, complete with a forest line and an expansive ocean sight. The fourth point is aptly named Restless Sea for the waves that crash against the rocky shoreline. The 17-Mile Drive’s midpoint is Bird Rock, an ocean outcropping that teems with sunbathing sea lions, birds, and harbor seals. Although the pacific coast is the main attraction, forested stops like Croker Grove are equally as breathtaking. The grove houses the largest and oldest Monterey Cypress trees in the world, an impressive sight.
2. Highway 1
Highway 1 is lauded as the most scenic highway in California. Encompassing a staggering 655 miles, the sights are virtually endless. From Highway 1, drivers can take in Big Sur’s rugged terrain. The Santa Lucia Mountains are especially captivating as the rocky base plunges into the ocean. The rough water and wind currents also shape the cypress trees unnaturally. Drivers should keep an eye out for coves in natural shades of sapphire, teal, and turquoise.
Traveling the entirety of Highway 1 is a five-hour trip from Monterey to San Luis Obispo. Although the views are equally as beautiful regardless of your starting point, driving north to south makes it easier to stop at turnouts and admire the view. Hearst Castle is a must-see attraction along the path. This architectural feat also serves as a state park where visitors can camp. Or stop by other famous spots like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the restaurant Nepenthe.
3. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Nicknamed “the crown jewel” of California’s state parks, the drive through Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is unlike any other. Once an industrial site, the natural land has been recovered to its full glory. The mix of woodlands and ocean shoreline attracts the likes of famous photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. Its diverse and rare plant life is met in equal measure by its rich underwater habitats. As such, Point Lobos SNR is very popular with divers.
Point Lobos’ dramatic environment is exemplified in the Monterey Cypress, featured in the drive. Admire how the bleached trunks weather the cold surf from their tenuous spot along a cliffside. While driving, visitors will hear sea lions that inhabit offshore rocks at Sea Loin Point. Stop by Point Lobos from December through January or March through May to see migrating California gray whales. While driving through the reserve, visitors can also stop by natural and historical attractions like Whaler’s Cabin and the tide pools at Weston Beach.
4. Carmel Valley Road
The Carmel Valley Scenic Drive gives viewers an inland look at the county. Starting at Highway 1 and Carmel Valley Road, drivers travel through the tightly twisting road to Carmel Valley. It’s best to stop the vehicle to fully enjoy views of cattle ranches, the valley, and the Santa Lucia Mountains. Follow County Road G16’s overhanging oak path. An epic 2,000-foot ascent into the Santa Lucia Mountains gives drivers panoramic views of Salinas Valley.
Those looking for additional views can make a quick trip to Pinnacles National Park. The terrain is a quick 12-mile drive, featuring sights of an ancient volcano’s aftermath. The environment ranges from oak woodlands to chaparral canyon floors. Stretch your legs by walking through talus caves, a rare natural phenomenon. Through the caves, hikers gain access to towering rock spires populated by golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and California condors.
5. River Road Scenic Drive
Following the River Road Wine Trail, the River Road Scenic Drive starts on Highway 68. Turn onto River Road, which is surrounded by mountain views of the Santa Lucias to the west and the Gabilan Mountains to the east. The drive travels through acres of lush farmland. In the distance, Highway 101 winds off toward the horizon, marking the path to Los Angeles.
While taking in the views, drivers can stop by one of the seven wineries along the path. Oftentimes, visitors can taste wines with the winemakers themselves. Intimate wineries like Odonata Wines offer quaint views of coastal life. Larger independent growers like Scheid Vineyards boast impressive views of green-columned fields. Visitors who don’t want to be hindered by driving can also book a VIP driver.