Monterey, Baby!

It wasn’t like I planned to go on a mini vacation. I just moved here from Idaho and after spending far too many lonely nights a’ la Bridget Jones’ Diary, I considered it a sort of serendipity when I got the crazy news my two best friends from back home were in town and wanted to meet up in Monterey. Since I had JUST celebrated my 30th birthday alone, (yes, feel sorry for me) I decided to pack up my vintage pink suitcase set and hit the road a few days early and treat myself to all the amazing things I had heard about Monterey.

I couldn’t wait to check into The Spindrift Inn. TripAdvisor rated this glamorous boutique hotel “Best Hotel For Romance” in 2012. Located in the historic Cannery Row, I would’ve sworn it was a olfactory mirage (if that even exists), but the moment I entered the lobby, I could smell freshly chopped wood mixed with fresh fruit and the scent of the sea. I can say without a doubt that this is THE place to go for any special occasion. I loved the European feel and the staff was so attentive to every last detail. It may be a glamorous treat for some couples, but a stay at the Spindrift Inn is an absolute must.

When I wasn’t enjoying the fabulous view at the hotel, I was playing tourist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, getting my fortune told, the local farmer’s market and of course, the 17-mile drive. It’s no mystery that the aquarium is one of the best in the U.S., but if you haven’t been, the trip there alone is worth driving to Monterey for the weekend. I spent over two hours admiring everything from the jellyfish to the wall of waves and loving every minute of all the cute kids squealing with delight after touching a starfish.

That night for dinner at the ­Montrio Bistro, I couldn’t wait to sample Executive Chef Tony Baker’s European-inspired American cuisine. The place was packed and in the center of it all sat the famous Patti Smith and her entire band!

For starters, I ordered the Bacon and Egg salad complimented with oven-dried tomatoes and a sweet but spicy mustard vinaigrette. For dinner, I chose the Seared Dry-Pack Scallops which arrived with roasted grapes, chickpeas, grilled fennel and spicy pepper coulis paired with a glass of 2008 Boom Boom Syrah from Washington.

I spent the next day in Moss Landing. I had heard Moss Landing was a tiny one-street-of-a-town that wasn’t necessary to see. I wish I could remember who told me that so I could set them straight. Moss Landing is home to the Shakespeare Society of America – a small building housing over 3,000 rare books and reference materials, over 1,000 museum and memorabilia pieces, a huge art collection and over 10,000 items from the Globe Theatre Archive Collection.

I had signed up for the Elkhorn Slough Safari, and decided to stay at the highly recommended, three diamond rated Captain’s Inn at Moss Landing. The Safari departed promptly at 9:15 a.m. and I learned just how smooth of sailing a pontoon boat ride could be. Captain Yohn Gideon took us on a wonderful adventure among one of California’s largest wetlands: the Elkhorn Slough. We saw countless otters, sea lions and birds. Captain Yohn was the best host, his mix of dry humor and absolute expertise made for an entertaining, memorable ride. He was never afraid to tell you to look to your left or stand up to get a better view. That alone made this the best water expedition I have been on. Well, maybe that along with the hot coffee and freshly baked cookies they served on board!

After we docked, I met Melanie, Captain Yohn’s wife and fellow owner of the Captain’s Inn! She greeted me like an old friend and quickly showed me around their lovely bed and breakfast. I was amazed with how warm, cozy and welcoming the place was. My room was dubbed the “Boathouse Sail Away” was defined by an old sailboat crafted into the bed. A huge bathtub sat underneath even larger windows overlooking the marsh and sand dunes. It was private, serene, perfect. Another point worth mentioning about this inn was Melanie’s cooking. Wow. What can I say about this? She made the. most. delicious. pancakes. I. have. ever. had.

Lunch at the Moss Landing Café was fried artichokes (worth wearing sweatpants for a week from the calories) and a drool-worthy open-faced crab sandwich. What I loved best is they served it in those retro red baskets! The result was high quality eats without the attitude. Hands-down, that sandwich was my favorite thing I ate that weekend.

After chowing down, I had to high tail it to my next stop: horseback riding on the beach. Why on earth did I decide to do this? I almost backed out 300 times but somehow I didn’t. When I met my horse, Blue, I stifled my screams and realized I was so excited to ride a horse into the edge of the ocean surf! After a few minutes in the saddle, I was hooked. Petrified, but hooked. When we rode out onto the beach I even closed my eyes, let go of the reins for a split second, and made a wish!

The next morning I departed for nearby Carmel and checked into the Tradewinds Carmel, a glamorous hotel featured in many travel magazines. The vibe is Asian meets the tropics, and results in a Zen-like atmosphere. The staff is warm, engaging and attentive. Located within walking distance to downtown, the Tradewinds is perfect for those who like to truly experience all Carmel has to offer.

That day I enjoyed the Carmel Wine Walk By-The-Sea, and tasted the very best. I tried not to get too carried away, as later that day I was going to sample some cocktails at the Cypress Inn, owned by Doris Day! To a retro girl like myself, it shouldn’t get any better than that, but it did. Cypress Inn has a Yappy Hour, a happy hour when customers can bring their dogs! I loved their customized, throw-back cocktail menu. I recommend the Widow’s Kiss: Calvados brandy with Yellow Chartreuse and Benedictine.

Later on, I enjoyed the mostdelicious tar tare I’d ever eaten at the Wickets Bistro in Carmel Valley. This eatery featuresexquisite fusions by Chef Cal Stamenov. They use fresh,organic produce from theirgarden or purchase goods from local farmers, foragers and fishermen.

My last and final treat during my stay was a cleansing dip at Refuge. Refuge is the #3 attraction in Carmel and is America’s 1st co-ed relaxation spa. It features 6 hot and warm pools, 4 Nordic cool/cold plunge pools, cedar sauna, eucalyptus steam room, and fire pits over looking the Santa Lucia Mountains.

My Monterey, Moss Landing and Carmel trip was an unforgettable experience. I could’ve stayed another month and still would have more things to do. Whenever I get stuck on a project or miss home, I remember horseback riding in the surf, happily screaming after jumping in that ridiculously cold pool and enjoying delicious Cioppino during a romantic thunderstorm with torrential downpour rains under a glass-encased patio at Phil’s Fish Market in Moss Landing (winner of Bobby Flay’sThrowdown). I remember looking out onto the ocean at the Spindrift Inn, warmed by my in-room fireplace. I remember all this and I’m there again. I can’t wait to go back.

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