Don't Stop at Steinbeck, Visit Miller No doubt, John Steinbeck is one of Monterey County's most famous native sons; his hometown of Salinas comes to life in many of the works that earned him a Nobel Prize in 1962, and it behooves any buff of American literature to include Cannery Row, the National Steinbeck Center and the Steinbeck House (where the author grew up) on a travel itinerary. But other wordsmiths flocked here for inspiration, too, such as Robinson Jeffers, Ed Ricketts and Robert Louis Stevenson. And Henry Miller, the pen behind Tropic of Cancer and Black Spring, lived in Big Sur for almost two decades, and here's where you'll find the Henry Miller Memorial Library. Established in 1980, the year Miller died, this nonprofit library includes exhibits, books and a comprehensive archive of newspapers, magazines and digests. Say hello to the resident cat – Theo – and sign up for a writing workshop. Open 365 days a year.
Visit the Zoo, Sleep at the Zoo Vision Quest in Salinas is not your ordinary bed-and-breakfast. It's a pretty wild place to stay, actually. It's run by Wild Things, a group that rescues exotic animals and offers sanctuary to wild creatures that were once used in TV and film productions. And many of those wild creatures – more than 100 species of animals and birds – become your hosts, of sorts, at Vision Quest Ranch. The 51-acre estate features African tent-style bungalows decked out with everything from fridges to bathrooms, and overnight stays include an hour-long guided tour of the animals, which include camels, lions and zebras. And a continental breakfast is delivered to your by an African elephant - a pretty cool way to start the day.
Skip the Seafood Shop, Catch Your Own The waters off Monterey County are teeming with fresh seafood, and catching your own is a great way to both nab a delicious meal and enjoy genuine camaraderie. Randy's Fishing Trips & Whale Watching, which has been around since 1949, offers crabbing and fishing adventures that last six to seven hours. Your catch will depend on the season – Dungeness crab and rock cod in November and December, for example, and mackerel, sand dabs and Dungeness crab January through March. As the company name implies, Randy's also offers whale watching tours inside what is one of the largest protected marine sanctuaries in the country. The team at Blue Ocean Whale Watching, which runs the deluxe High Spirits vessel, also comes highly recommended.
Leave the Car, Giddy Up With a population of 18, it might be easy to drive right past Parkfield. But for a genuine Wild West experience, be sure to pay the V6 Ranch here a visit. This 20,000-acre working cattle ranch is home to more than 50 miles of backcountry trails; guided horseback trail rides, for guests as young as 8, can last as little as two hours and trail riders get access to everything from meals to log cabanas to fishing holes. Cattle drives and dude ranch getaways are schedules throughout the year.
Gabe Saglie is senior editor at Travelzoo, which features exclusive deals throughout Monterey County at www.travelzoo.com/destinations/monterey/.