Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Day Trip To Monterey (or how you can do and see a lot for almost free!)

We have family that lives near Monterey but even before they moved there we tried to make it to the area at least once a year. Over this past year I've been actively searching the area for things to see and do. We are "Shoestring" travelers so, while there have been a few "splurge" activities, we really try to find free, or nearly free, things to do. This week I have a few fun things that you can go see and do on a "shoestring budget"!
Pacific Grove is one of those little towns that earns the word "Quaint". And not in a "Oh, they are old fashioned, backward and boring." type of  quaint. There is a movie theater there playing current movies, lots of great places to eat and lots of shops, including a Starbucks if you need your cup of Joe (other coffee shops there if you don't like that chain!). 
 But cute, colorful and quaint all fit the bill here. Yes, you are just a short hop to the famous 17-mile Drive from here. The "Drive" is also a wonderful thing to do but we had just a short afternoon and there were other treats in store for us right there in Pacific Grove.
 Like house "gawk". There are so many really beautiful Victorians in this small area that, if this is your idea of gorgeous homes, you will be torn as to which is your favorite house! (spoiler...this was mine!)
 Many of them have very bright colors but there are also several that are the height of elegance and style with more subtle paint colors.
 Some of those, including this beauty, were for sale! All you need is about a 2 million dollar budget and one of these restored lovelies can be yours!
 But not all of the homes are Victorians. We found this medieval stone fence around a more modern wood siding home.
 It even had this great stone and iron stairway which continued all the way up to the front door!
And this terra cotta colored beauty looked like it would be right at home in the Rapunzel village at Disneyland. Whatever your favorite style of home turns out to be the chances are good you will find one here to fall in love with!
 But if you come to Pacific Grove between the months of November and February then you really should make your way to the Monarch Butterfly Grove. They arrive in thousands to huddle together through the winter months.
 And you can't miss the groves location...just look for the bright pink Butterfly Grove Inn. Rooms are about $150 a night this time of year and how lovely would it be to grab your coffee and muffin and head down into the grove each morning?

 The grove is a gentle slope from the Inn down to the bottom with several benches where you can rest or just hang out and soak up the peaceful silence of the grove. Occasionally we have found a docent with a spotting scope so you can get a really close up view of the Monarchs.
 The butterflies tend to find sturdy branches where they can sort of "beehive" together. This maximizes warmth. It really is amazing when you realize that what you are looking at are actually hundreds of butterflies on one branch!
 It is quite the sight to see. If you are able to come in the beginning of the season, around mid November, you will see the bulk of the population. By the time we arrived, in January, the count had dropped to about a fourth of the original population.  
It would be easy enough to take a few moments and just pop in and pop out of the Grove but it's much nicer to slow down a bit more, hang out with the butterflies floating overhead and the squirrels hopping about in the grass and trees and just let the peace rejuvenate you. Oh...and it's all FREE. You can make a donation if you choose but this is really a community effort to keep this a sanctuary for the butterflies.
 We headed out to the Point Pinos Lighthouse and on the way we came upon a herd of deer. It is very common to see these deer in the neighborhoods, open green spaces, the cemetery and even the golf course.
 They are very watchful but not really afraid of people. They are pretty use to us and the locals are fairly use to them so they don't have the type of fear that deer you would find in the forest would have. That doesn't mean they are not wild. Get too close and you may well find out how hard they bite and how sharp their hooves really can be.
 The Point Pinos Lighthouse is the oldest working lighthouse on the West Coast. It's been there as a working lighthouse since 1855. While it's not a big station it is a very nice place to visit. Open from Thursday to Monday each week it only costs a few dollars to tour the museum inside and walk to the top of the tower. It doesn't cost you anything to walk the grounds. All fees do go towards the restoration efforts for this lighthouse.
You can see the Victorian era design on the actual cupola which tops the lantern pane section of the tower.
 The grounds are beautiful. On the tip of the Point it overlooks the ocean but it has it's own beautiful gardens as well.
 The small area is simply beautiful but keep in mind that it is only open from 1-4pm each day it is open so make sure you get there earlier than later. We skipped in around 3:30 and almost missed it!
 Are you a golfer? I'm married to one, daughter of one, sister of two and mother-in-law of one so the golfers LOVE this area! This is one of the views you will get if you golf in Pacific Grove.
 Now I know you are probably thinking that this is going to cost hundreds of dollars for greens fees but this course is the Municipal Course! This means it's actually affordable. Yes, THIS view is affordable!
 Let's say you wanted to go golfing this Saturday the 17th of January at 10am. Your greens fee would be $68. If you are a very early morning person, say 7am, you can get the same course for only $35. But maybe life doesn't begin till after 1pm.  A 1:10pm tee time would cost $39 and that includes shared cart fee. Yup...affordable!
 From the Lighthouse we headed to the beach. The first one we visited was the Point Pinos beach.
 Being right on the Point there are a lot of rocks to climb, dramatic waves and lots of sea birds to enjoy at this part of the coastline.
 But there is still plenty of sand as well and plenty of room to spread out a blanket or set out some beach chairs and hang out for awhile. You can also do a bit of beach combing. We found this "nest" looking formation and I found out that it's actually a seagrass that, during winter storms, gets ripped from the plant and tossed around in the current and waves till it forms a fiber ball like this. Now it's a home for sand flies but it's still a pretty cool find. 
 I love beachcombing. Finding the usual shells, and some more unusual ones, along with the seaweed and algae formations is fun. I loved this heart shaped pod.
 In the afternoon you will be able to do a little bit of tide pool exploring here too! These little crabs are everywhere. Careful, though....I stood in one place a bit too long watching these little guys and the water came up over my shoes...and the crabs followed! I was a bit trapped for a few minutes while I waited for the crab to crawl safely away so I could step away without hurting any of them.
Winter waves can be quite dramatic. If you are romanced by the waves like I am then you will love Pacific Grove in the wintertime.
 From there we headed to Lover's Point and Lover's Point Park. This very pretty park is a wonderful place to spend some time, enjoy the coastline as well as the beautiful Victorian Inns like the Seven Gables Inn. We have stayed here in the past and it is amazing. Definitely a splurge but amazing!
There is a small beach at Lover's Point and stairs that lead down to it. You will almost always see someone playing at the edge of the water and often you can catch the surfers waiting to catch the next wave.
 Lover's Point isn't the best place to see the sunset, however. The best place it back past the Point. Drive around to the spot in front of the lighthouse, grab your jacket (and maybe a blanket for your lap) and take a seat on one of the benches or just find a spot on a flat rock and wait for sunset to begin.

 Speaking of peaceful...this place is so completely peaceful and very romantic. The birds settle down for the night, creating great silhouettes on the rocks as the color develops behind them.
The seals snuggle onto the rocks or play in the little tide pools as the water slowly makes it's way into shore filling up the holes.
Now this is where most people decide that it's time to go home. Sometimes they could be right...this might be as beautiful as it gets....or not...so hang in there for a little while longer. 
The little bit of color that had begun spreads up to the higher clouds  making the whole sky a stunning sight to see...but wait...just a few more minutes. 
 You may well be rewarded by a sight like this. About ten minutes after most of the group had left the area we witnessed the sky deepen and saturate with color like it had been, simply, set on fire.
 As we walked back to our truck we were rewarded once again. This time with this lovely view of the lighthouse.
 Since this was a romantic night out we headed back towards Monterey on Lighthouse Avenue and ended up at Hula's Island Grill. We started out with drinks. Eli's Rootbeer for the designated driver and a Dr. Funk for ME! With coconut rum, vodka, creme de banana, OJ and pineapple juice this was one fun drink!
 And after a wonderful dinner we ended it all with a Pot Brownie. Yup...a brownie in a pot. What were YOU thinking? After a good chuckle at the name we dug into this amazing treat! Like a lava cake this brownie was all molten in the inside. Yummy, gooey and wonderful...all topped with whipped cream..real whipped cream. You have the option to have ice cream on the side. I'll be straight up...it wasn't needed. BUT....it was SOOOOO good! Highly recommend it. If chocolate isn't your thing be assured that there are plenty of choices on the dessert menu! Check out the Menus and I think you will see just how yummy it all sounds...and is. I had the Luau Pork Sandwich with the sweet potato fries and it was amazing!

So take a moment to tally it all up. No charge for walking and driving the beautiful town of Pacific Grove. No charge for the Butterfly Grove. $2 per adult for the lighthouse. No charge for the beaches or parking or playtime. No charge for the amazing sunset or romantic atmosphere. So....$4 total for a wonderful, romantic, beautiful afternoon with my husband. Even dinner is affordable at under $20 per person and $10 for dessert..including drinks. We would spend more for 2 hours at the movies. What a bargain indeed!

Next week we will head inland to the beautiful Stanford University. Hope you can make it back here then!


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