By Karletta Moniz
You see her at every race. Over there, in the pits, the one in the lawn chair. She glances up from her book or magazine every few minutes to check the time on her mobile phone. So who is she, you ask? She’s the bored wife or partner or girlfriend or significant other of the vintage sports car owner/enthusiast. She is here because it sounded like fun. And it was for the first two days. And now, well, she’s just a teensy bit bored. After a few turns around the track and with all the chrome polished – either by you or her – she wonders ‘now what?’.
I have been the bored ‘other’ since August, 1986. Mercedes-Benz was the marque that year and the event was still called the Monterey Historic Automobile Races. D was there to shoot the race and I had tagged along thinking that there would be enough to keep me occupied at the track all day. Wrong. We had just arrived when I glanced at my watch. ‘So’, I asked, ‘ how much longer are we staying?’. Luckily, D has a sense of humor. After his face lost its ‘is she kidding me?’ expression he tossed me the car keys and said ‘pick me up at 6’. I was out of there faster than you could say ‘Gentlemen, start your engines’!
I learned 27 years ago that there are lots of ways to enjoy time off the track in Monterey. What follows is a list of my favorite restaurants, activities, and, if you are planning ahead, hotels that are all within one hour of the track – most are as close as 20 minutes. Got kids? No problem. There is plenty for them to enjoy here. I hope that you will let us know what you think and will share some of your favorites. Don’t limit these suggestions to just race days. All of these places are worth a visit any time of year.
Monterey – Where to Eat
Katy’s Place (Carmel) – There are two reasons to eat breakfast at Katy’s: the eggs benedict and the corned beef hash. Don’t be surprised if you aren’t hungry for lunch after a meal here.
The Breakfast Club (Seaside) – This is the definition of a ‘local’s hangout’. The waitresses seem to know all the customer’s names and vice versa. Lots of kid-friendly choices. What it lacks in ambiance it makes up for in hearty servings of well prepared breakfast classics and friendly service.
Big Sur Bakery (Big Sur) – The wide variety of baked goods is a little overwhelming. But once I have my coffee in hand I calm down and content myself with the knowledge that I can get back in line again and again. There are danish and cookies and breads and muffins…Can’t decide? Then order what Alice Waters of Chez Panisse did one morning when I was behind her in line. A simple bran muffin. Of course. This is also a great place to stop for a cup of afternoon tea and a salted caramel brownie or a made-to-order sandwich.
Nepenthe’s (Big Sur) – This is a remarkable place. When people whine to me that the food is not great I feel compelled to explain that Nepenthe is not so much a restaurant as it is an experience. Sound a little too hippy-dippy? Perhaps. But this is the West Coast’s most breathtaking convergence of land and sea. Sipping a cocktail and relaxing at a table on the front patio while gazing out at the Pacific Ocean and Big Sur coast is my idea of heaven. Order the Ambrosia Burger, a slice of four layer chocolate fudge cake and a cappuccino. If you are not the designated driver and you want a cocktail that will transport you instantly to your own ‘island of welcome forgetfulness’ then you must try the ‘Original Nepenthe C & C’ – a snifter of heated Cognac and green Chartreuse.
Red Brick Pizza (Del Rey Oaks) – This is D’s quick lunch spot. Less than ten minutes from the track you can purchase wood fired pizzas to take back to the crew or sit outside at one of the shady tables to eat a freshly prepared chopped salad or cooling gelato. Kid-friendly. Starbucks is next door.
Deetjen’s (Big Sur) – While it is a bit far from the track for an overnight stay you should still consider eating breakfast here one morning in their eclectic, sunlit dining room. You will feel as though you have been transported back to the 1930’s when the first of the original cabins was built.
– No matter how much you enjoy eating in restaurants there is still a moment on any trip when all you want is a piece of ripe fruit, a bit of cheese and a hunk of bread.
Salumeria Luca (Carmel) – This Italian deli and bakery satisfies all my Italian food cravings. For your al fresco meal consider their ‘Picnic Plate’ which includes eight varieties of artisan salumi, three varieties of cheese, mixed olives and crostini. Also available are grilled panini on focaccia bread, cold sandwiches on Italian rolls and pizza to go. Be sure to visit their fine Italian restaurant Cantinetta Luca where reservations are strongly suggested.
Earthbound Farm Stand (Carmel) – All organic, all the time. The Organic Kitchen serves a seasonal menu highlighting the abundance of fresh, organic ingredients that Earthbound Farms is known for. Freshly prepared soups daily, a kid’s menu, salad bar, organic ice cream and yogurt. You are welcome to enjoy your purchased lunch in their beautiful shady picnic area. They also offer ingredients to put together a picnic to go: local and imported cheeses, artisan breads and organic fruit. I love to grab a seasonal fruit smoothie before heading down the coast to Big Sur.
Pavel’s Backerei (Pacific Grove) – With bear claws the size of a bear’s paw and donuts bigger than that, you may wonder why I am recommending Pavel’s for picnic provisions. Sounds more like breakfast, right? Check out their baguettes and freshly prepared sandwiches for your picnic on the beach or for your crew at the track. Cash only.
Fun Things to Do Within an Hour of the Track
Point Lobos (Carmel) What makes the California coast so dramatic–high sheer cliffs–is the very thing that makes so much of the coast inaccessible. Except at Point Lobos. There is so much to see in this relatively small area that you could spend an entire day here. No wonder this location was so popular as a Hollywood film location in the 1930’s and 40’s. Find a secluded bench to unpack your picnic lunch. Then hike one of the many trails (most are easy to moderate) to discover the whaler’s cabin surrounded by whale bones.
Carmel Beach Walk (Carmel) – You have probably figured out by now that Carmel is a dog-lover’s paradise and this beach is their nirvana. The easiest access is from the foot of Ocean Avenue which runs down the middle of downtown Carmel. But you can also park on the road that meanders just above the beach and take one of the many staircases down to beach level.
Equestrian Center (Pebble Beach) – Guided trail rides to the beach daily. Surrounded by Del Monte Forest, the Equestrian Center offers a variety of guided rides. The Beach Ride will take you to the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Course then on to the beach along 17 Mile Drive. Or maybe you would prefer a shorter ride through the forest and up sand dunes along the Pacific Ocean. Private guided rides for just your group are also available.
Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey) – For those of you who think that aquariums are just for kids on rainy day field trips, think again. I dare say that this is the finest aquarium in the world. And even if you don’t get to the aquarium you should know about their seafood watch which is an online resource that helps consumers make seafood choices that are healthy for the oceans and themselves. It lists which seafood is the best choice and which should be avoided.
Dennis the Menace Playground (Monterey) – Your children will never forget the time they spent with you at the track. It is a great bonding experience and it is important to get the next generations interested in racing. But…they will need some play time, too. This is the place. Run, climb, swing, slide, feed ducks and paddle boats. You have driven past it a hundred times and never knew it was there. Bring your picnic lunch and stay for the afternoon.
Condor Watching (Highway One, Big Sur) – Condors are making a comeback thanks to the efforts of the Ventana Wildlife Society. Once nearly extinct, they can now be seen soaring along the Big Sur coast. There are well-marked turnouts along Highway One where you can carefully park and observe the condors just south of Deetjen’s Inn. More info about the most recent sightings here. Don’t forget the camera.
Pfeiffer Beach (Big Sur) – Not the easiest beach to find but, as with most places that are off the beaten track, so worth the effort. Get here early. Pack a picnic. I have been there when there is no wind and other times when it is so windy it is hard to stand up. Be sure to stay for the sunset.
Chocolate (Santa Cruz) – Richard Donnelly Chocolates have been recognized as among the finest in the world. We agree. If you are driving to the Monterey Peninsula from San Francisco you might want to consider this detour on your way south. Pick up a box of his confections for your crew and an ice cream bar for your drive. Our favorite confection is the dark chocolate dipped caramel bar topped with sea salt.
Where to Stay
La Playa Hotel (Carmel) – Built in 1905 as a private home when Carmel was first developed, this beautiful hotel has had many incarnations. The most recent make-over is its most beautiful. While maintaining the feel of a classic California resort from the last century all the amenities that a guest now expects from a modern luxury accommodation are in place. Breakfast from the terrace with a view is the best way to start the day. Don’t miss the Champagne Buffet with waffles made to order.
Cypress Inn (Carmel) – Have you longed to see what the inside of a classic Spanish Hacienda-style home looks like? Do you love dogs and the people who love them? Then you have arrived. Doris Day is part owner so there are lots of Hollywood memorabilia to enjoy. Most importantly this is the headquarters for the Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours on the Avenue, annually held the Tuesday of Monterey Classic Car Week.
Mission Ranch (Carmel) – Sheep rule at actor Clint Eastwood’s unique resort. The former Mayor of Carmel saved the property, one of the first dairy farms in California, from condo development. What he has created is an inn whose relaxed bucolic setting sets the tone for a relaxed visit. Be sure to have dinner and drinks at the restaurant that features a classic old school California menu including grilled artichokes and shrimp cocktail – NO lamb chops. I like to arrive at 4 when the back patio opens for cocktails. Grab a table with a view of Point Lobos, the sheep meadow and Carmel Beach. And don’t be surprised if Mr. Eastwood stops by your table to say hello.
Lone Oak Lodge (Monterey) – I am always looking for a good value and it does not get any better than this. This motel is so clean that I bet that they repaint each room every year. Some rooms have kitchenettes. Very popular with skin divers and race fans so book early.
Martine Inn Bed & Breakfast (Pacific Grove) – Do you love MGs? Have you always wondered what it was like to spend the night in a room right out of Downton Abbey? MG owner Don Martine is your host at what may be the only B&B in the world that also houses a working MG restoration shop. This Mediterranean Mansion with an Edwardian soul overlooks Monterey Bay.
About Karletta Moniz, aka ‘The Urbane Grandmother’
Karletta Moniz is a San Francisco-based food journalist, consultant and chef. Recent projects include new product development work for the Center for Culinary Development San Francisco. Her fascination with all things cacao led her to create the ‘Art of Tasting Chocolate’ class featured on Daily Candy. As a returning guest on ABC-TV’s ‘View from the Bay,’ she has demonstrated not only how to taste chocolate but also has shared chocolate-related recipes on-screen. Her clients include CocoAroma Magazine, Leite’s Culinaria, The Tablehopper, and more. She has also acted as a judge for culinary literary competitions for the James Beard Awards and for Scholarship Awards for The Symposium for Professional Food Writers at The Greenbrier.
Karletta recently created the website www.TheUrbaneGrandmother.com where she shares her hints for creating memories in San Francisco with your children and grandchildren.
[Source: Karlettz Moniz]