We had some time to spare when we drove from San Luis Obispo to Monterey, so we decided to do the 17 mile drive. So many people had recommended it to us, so we thought it would be a nice drive. We were very disappointed by it, there were some pretty spots to be seen, but most of it was driving by golf courses and big houses. The spectacular scenery that was talked about in all the brochures was hardly to be found, I think Route 1 between SLO and Monterey is far prettier than 17 mile drive. Definitely not worth the entrance fee!
OK, I finally made it out to the Wharf. As expected, it's pretty touristy with lots of seafood restaurants, whale watching trips, tacky souvenir shops and not much else. This is a great place to watch the sea lions in the late evening after most of the tourists have moved on.
The wharf is packed with about 15 restaurants along its 750 foot length...I had a nice meal at Domenico's On The Wharf, and we stopped at Gilbert's on the Wharf for a to-go order of clam chowder in bread bowls. Most of the restaurants appear to be tourist traps, but several have free samples of clam chowder outside for you to try (chowder in a bread bowl is awesome, but you can easily find it OFF the Wharf!). Almost all of the restaurants seem to have annoying touts trying desperately to round up business. If they need to bug people, begging them to eat there, how good can the food be?
This wharf's official name is Municipal Wharf I, helping to explain why nearby commercial wharf is Municipal Wharf II, or sometimes just Wharf II.
Unique Suggestions: People watch, see the sea life, relax, take photos, just don't spend too much time here, and don't waste your money.
A great alternative is to check out the Commercial Wharf, just a few hundred yards east of Fisherman's Wharf. It is a real operating wharf with some great restaurants (Lou Lou's Griddle in the Middle for breakfast, Sapporo Sushi or The Sand Bar and Grill for dinner, and the London Bridge for drinks afterwards!). There are also a few fish markets at the end of the wharf where the fish comes straight off the boats.
Sure the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Monterey County and is certainly worth seeing. But don't go on a busy holiday weekend in the summer or you will be standing in line outside with several hundred others for an hour or two, then packed inside the aquarium like Monterey Bay sardines. Even when the aquarium is far less busy, some of the exhibits inside can be overcrowded, especially during the sea otter feedings and other demos.
Unique Suggestions: Go to the aquarium on a weekday or, even better, go in the off season -- September through April.
Fun Alternatives: On a summer weekend, just skip the aquarium, especially if there is a line.
Our hotel was across the street from the wharf so one morning I decided to venture out for a look. Once I passed the two homeless people who told me they wanted money to get drunk, I entered what seemed to be an endless strip of bad t-shirt and souvenir shops (the kind with machines to put pennies into to get a souvenir) and fast food stands.
Unique Suggestions: At the end of the wharf- above a restaurant- is an observation deck where you can look out onto the harbor and view sea lions.
I finally got around to seeing 17 Mile Drive. It took an invitation to a friend's house in Pebble Beach so I could enter for free. Since we were on the guest list, the gate guard punched our names in the computer to verify, and he waved us through. We entered through the Pacific Grove Gate and did the coastal route twice. The first time we stopped at the Unsettled Sea, Point Joe, Bird Rock, and the Lone Cypress, then had lunch at the Tap Room in the Pebble Beach Lodge ($15 hamburgers!). We then cut back through some of the residential areas, past the Robert Louis Stevenson School, and Poppy Hills Golf Course, then stopped at the house for a few hours. When we left, we repeated the drive past Point Joe, Bird Rock, and the Lone Cypress, then exited via the Highway 1 gate. My favorite spot is the Unsettled Sea where waves come in from two different directions at 90 degree angles to each other.
Unique Suggestions: I really think 17Mile Drive is very, very overrated for the price. Sure it is some beautiful scenery, but so are Ocean View Drive in Asilomar Beach, Scenic Drive in Carmel, and Highway 1 in Big Sur. Like to walk? You can walk into Pebble Beach from Asilomar Beach to the north for free, and see all of the same sights. You can also walk in from the south along Carmel Beach. Perhaps the only thing that would be difficult to see by walking is the Lone Cypress (which is supported by steel cables and rock walls). Even better...take a walk in Point Lobos for some far better scenery. The worst thing about 17-Mile Drive? Over at least half the drive, houses block the view of the Ocean, so you might as well be driving through the woods for your $9.
Enter Pebble Beach from Pacific Grove, Carmel, Highway 1 or Route 68. Even better, park outside any of the gates and walk in!
While this may be one of the less overt of tourist traps, it is a trap none the less. There are many souvenir shops selling innumerable postcards, shells, drift wood, and other kitsch. Most restaurants have hawkers offering free samples of Clam Chowder and Gumbo to passers by in an attempt to lure you into their establishment. We visited a couple restaurants here and found the food quality to be quite good, but the prices to be a bit high (to be expected). There are some nice viewing and photo opportunities for sunsets, boats, and wildlife here. Bay and whale tours depart from the wharf.
Unique Suggestions: If you go, check the website for discounts on merchandise and dining. Many restaurants and stores have their own sites.
The Wharf is a great place to wander and shop for souvenirs, and the prices aren't always that high. Some of the restaurants are even pretty good, particulary for fresh oysters. But, watch out for the charter boat whale watching trips. These boats go out all year around, but the whales are only migrating through from September through November (I believe). So, if one comes at the beginning of the season, boats may spot one whale and radio the finding to a number of other boats. So, many tourists will end up harrassing one poor whale. A similar situation exists for the charter fishing cruises.
Unique Suggestions: Do your homework. Try to time the arrival to the area at the peak of the migrating season when the most whales are around. Otherwise enjoy the wharf, eat a fish dinner, and take in the aquarium.
Fun Alternatives: A walk around to the rocks where the sea lions hang out is a cheap and easy alternative to the expensive whale watching boat.
Although this might be seen as one of the nicer parts of Monterey it is, in my opinion, just a big tourist trap.
There are souvenir shops and very expensive restaurants. There is a very touristic feel to it all and I wouldn't consider spending too much time there. Of course it is very nice to watch the seals swim around the boats waiting for food, but that is about it.
Unique Suggestions: You should definetly go for a walk there but for food I suggest you go towards the "center", i.e. away from the Wharf.
Don't pay an outrageous fee to visit 17-mile drive (along with many other tourists) when there's so many other places to go and see magnificent scenery, including Carmel, Pt. Lobos State Park, and down Highway One towards Big Sur. Also, Cannery Row is a waste of time, with the exception of Monterey Bay aquarium at the end of the street.
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