The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Perched at the tip of the Monterey Peninsula, Pacific Grove (pop. 15,041) is a quiet throwback to old-time tourism, dating from the 1870s when the area was used for summertime Methodist revival meetings. The revivalists’ tents and camps later grew into the West Coast headquarters of the populist Chautauqua educational movement, based in upstate New York. The town still has a curiously Midwestern feel, from its many small churches to the rows of well-maintained Victorian cottages lining its quiet streets. Besides the many fine old buildings, the best reason to come here is the beautiful, fully accessible shoreline, which boasts some of the coast’s best tide pools, sunset views, and endless opportunities for winter whale-watching.
Pacific Grove’s main street, Lighthouse Avenue, runs through the 15-mph commercial district of cafés, galleries, movie theaters, and a small but excellent Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History (165 Forest Ave., closed Mon., $8.95 adults), which is a great option for kids or when the weather turns bad. Nearby Peppers Mexicali Cafe (170 Forest Ave., 831/373-6892) serves very good, fresh Mexican food, while a range of fairly priced fish dishes are on the menu at Fishwife (1996 Sunset Dr., 831/375-7107), near Asilomar, overlooking the wetsuited surfers riding the waves at Asilomar State Beach.
Places to stay in Pacific Grove are more reasonably priced than in Monterey or Carmel. Andril Fireplace Cottages (569 Asilomar Ave., 831/375-0994, $85 and up) is a lovingly maintained set of old-fashioned motor-court cabins, all with fireplaces and just two blocks from the ocean. The real landmark place to stay is the rustic Asilomar Conference Grounds (800 Asilomar Ave., 831/372-8016, $109 and up), on the coast, which has a lovely main lobby (with roaring stone fireplace and heirloom pool tables) and some lovely, woodsy, Julia Morgan-designed cabins and lodge rooms; it is often filled with church groups or convention-goers. For a romantic getaway, it’s hard to beat a Victorian-era B&B overlooking the Pacific from Lover’s Point: Seven Gables Inn (555 Ocean View Blvd., 831/372-4341, $219 and up).