Some of the county’s best-known destinations include Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, and Big Sur. And if you can unglue your eyes from the spectacular vistas where land and sea meet, you'll find a wide range of things for couples to do.
Active twosomes hike, bike, kayak, surf, even skydive against dramatic backdrops. Those who can't resist visiting well-known sites make time to visit Fisherman's Wharf, Cannery Row, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Golfers are drawn to world-famous courses including Pebble Beach Golf Links, Del Monte Golf Course, Spyglass Hill Golf Course, and Links at Spanish Bay. And sensualists use time here to attend wine tastings, indulging in one of the area’s many spas, picnicking, shopping, and dining well.
Yet perhaps the most popular regional activity of all is simply touring along the coast to take in the views. There's the famous 17-mile Drive, which you can enter at any of a handful of paid toll gates. Many couples drive, but you can also bike on a guided 17-Mile Drive tour (buy online).
The road leads up into the hills where some movie stars and other wealthy residents have a home. Our preference? Skip the McMansion tour, and drive to Highway 1. Head in either direction. The term breathtaking may have been coined for the views, and you’ll see impressive abodes on this road, too.
Day Trip to Big Sur
If you decide to venture all the way to Big Sur (about 35 minutes from Carmel), allow a whole afternoon. Visit Nepenthe, a restaurant and gift shop at the very edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific. On your way out of the area, stop at Big Sur River Inn. Their Adirondack chairs placed in the Big Sur river enable guests to soak their feet while enjoying iced tea or a glass of wine. There are myriad hiking and outdoor adventures to be found in Big Sur as well. Not only is it a great place to get lost, it's the sort of place that makes you wonder why you live anywhere else.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium (buy tickets online) is the area's top attraction. Although visitors may be thronged by families with kids, it's still a fascinating place to visit.
If you prefer being on the water to observing what's in it, consider kayaking in Monterey Harbor. Monterey Bay Kayaks offers private or group trips, from 45 minutes to 2 hours. They’ve even hosted sunrise marriage proposals when wetsuit-clad brides-to-be least expected the question to be popped.
Although Fisherman’s Wharf a has a reputation as a tourist trap, family-run restaurants such as Café Fina offer affordable, tasty fare and prime views of sunset over the harbor. Small barges are kept in shape to attract sea lions, who lay about and bark while diners dine. Café Fina's romance special features specialty dishes and flatware, candelight, and a fixed-price menu.
Literature fans might enjoy visiting John Steinbeck’s birthplace: Salinas. The John Steinbeck Museum gets mixed reviews; some say it capitalizes on the shallow virtues Steinbeck himself opposed. Others argue the space is a testament to his life and talent. What can’t be argued is that the curators are diehard fans of this American treasure, and do their best to create as authentic a Steinbeck experience as possible.