See This, Skip That: Monterey

PHOTO: Cannery Row in Pacific Grove, Calif.

Monterey County represents one of the most diverse coastal stretches anywhere in the western United States. This breathtaking peninsula encompasses 13 towns peppered along 99 miles of shoreline, and a bevy of one-of-a-kind traveler experiences. Here are a few reasons why Monterey remains one of our favorite California destinations.

Skip the Drive, Do the Tour Want a unique introduction to the Monterey Peninsula? Before you set off on your own private adventure, hop on the Monterey Movie Tours bus. This three-hour guided tour takes you through some of the area's most beautiful spots – Bird Rock, Pebble Beach and the famed 17-Mile Drive along the coast. During your cushy ride, check out clips from the many memorable movies that have used Monterey as the ultimate set, including "Turner & Hooch," "Clash by Night" and "Play Misty for Me." Look for ticket discounts for kids under 15 and grown-ups 65 and up.

Skip Pebble, Find a Secret Beach The beaches here have a draw all their own. Carmel River State Beach draws birders the same way Lovers Points Beach attracts surfers, and the greens of Pebble Beach are legendary. But Monterey is also home to the Seven Secret Beaches – seven coastal havens where the pristine waters, thin crowds and sweeping views make the trouble to get there well worth it. Pfeiffer Beach, for example, is at the end of Sycamore Canyon Road, which is unmarked; your reward, though, are breathtaking sunsets and some of the most photo-friendly vantage points in the state. McAbee Beach, in the heart of Cannery Row, is a great spot for seal spotting and for tide pooling at low tide. And the rocky formations along Partington Cove help create a sanctuary for divers. Zmudowski State Beach, Fort Ort Dunes State Park Beach, Garrapata State Park Beach and Salinas River State Beach round out the secret seven.

Skip the Store, Shop the Marketplace Fresh food thrives in Monterey, which is what earned this region the nickname Salad Bowl of the World. You'll find a farmers' market here pretty much any day of the week; some days, you can visit two. One of our favorites is the Wharf Marketplace, open seven days a week. This special food hall in the heart of downtown Monterey smacks of Pikes Place Market in Seattle or the Ferry Plaza in San Francisco. Here, you're in fresh food heaven, with direct-from-the-farm fruits and vegetables, cheeses, meats, baked goods, flowers, seafood and wine – all local. There's also a café featuring regionally exclusive items, as well as a bevy of seasonally-driven offerings.

Skip the Hotel, Stay Private We love the hotels, inns and B&B's throughout Monterey County. But luxury private rentals abound here, too, which can offer a special place to stay for couples seeking solitude or multigenerational travel groups looking for a little extra elbow room. Monterey Bay Property Management rents homes that run the gamut in specs and price, from one-bedroom Victorian cottages in Pacific Grove to four-bedroom L'Ermitage houses in Pebble Beach. Want fireplaces in each room? Hardwood floors? Private putting greens? Options abound. And while prices fluctuate seasonally (winter offers some of the year's best rates), they always include housekeeping fees and accidental insurance coverage.

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