Here are some recommendations for places to eat and things to do in the Monterey area.
I live in Pacific Grove, which is a small town between Monterey and Pebble Beach. Carmel and the Big Sur Coast are just over the hill. I’ve put these tips on things to do and places to eat for all the folks who ask me.
Places to Eat: from dirt cheap to more expensive:
Michael’s Tacos: Country Club Gate Center (as of 5-2015 Michael's has moved up the hill to the shopping center that has Ace Hardware and the Bagel Bakery): Hole in the wall, very informal, but good shrimp and chicken tacos, very cheap. A good choice if you just want some decent food. This is a local’s hole-in-the-wall with zero (actually, negative) ambience but pretty dang good Cali-Mexican food. I go here for lunch and dinner when the other places in Monterey are overrun by tourists. It’s in a strip mall at the top of the hill above Pacific Grove. Dirt cheap (almost free).
RG Burgers: two locations, one in Carmel Crossroads shopping center and one near downtown Monterey. The one at Carmel Crossroads is less crowded and a good stop after visiting Point Lobos or Carmel Beach, or before or after a drive to Big Sur. Great beef and turkey burgers. My favorite is the mushroom and swiss turkey burger. (Update 9-4-15: I've stopped going to RG Burgers. The last two times were disappointing. One of my pet peeves is that they advertise fresh sauteed mushrooms, but use canned mushrooms -- or at least mushrooms that have been stored in vinegar. They ain't fresh! However, their burgers are still pretty good.
Gianni's Pizza: a long-time pizza place in New Monterey. Always crowded. Great for families. Super loud with tons of kids running around.
Taqueria Zarape, Seaside: great taco place, no ambience, inexpensive. Great fish tacos and carne asada tacos.
Hula's, New Monterey: Friends of mine just love this place. I've only eaten there a couple of times and was not that impressed. Sorry.
The Fishwife on Asilomar (another location is in Seaside). Seafood with a supposed Caribbean flair. It's decent. The location in Pacific Grove is tucked away in the woods, steps from Asilomar Beach and Pebble Beach, and has a nice atmosphere. Popular with tourists so make a reservation. Medium expensive.
Peppers in downtown Pacific Grove. A longtime favorite that serves Cali-Mex food. This place has good food, but you have to order the right thing. I've had some great food there and also have had some pretty bad dishes there. The restaurant is always crowded, and the wood floors and walls make the place SUPER LOUD, uncomfortably loud for me (which is really saying a lot, since I am half-deaf). Popular with tourists so make a reservation. Low to Medium expensive.
More expensive:Monterey’s Fish House: great seafood and meat. Kind of a local’s secret. The restaurant is located in a converted small house, in an industrial area, between used car lots and body shops. Good hearty food, no view. Reservation absolutely necessary. Prices have gone up so that my favorite, the squid pasta dish, has gone from $11 to $18. Medium to high expensive.
Alvarado Fish & Steak House: great seafood and meat place. Sister restaurant to Monterey’s Fish House, same chefs and cooking but a slightly different menu. As of June 1, 2014, Groupon had a coupon for this place. Not as crowded, better downtown Monterey location, better ambience. My favorite is the mussel pasta. Medium to high expensive. However, my wife does not like this place anywhere near as much as Monterey's Fish House.
Cibo: Italian food, located in downtown Monterey. Good locals menu. The kind of place you'd go with your parents. Not bad. Medium to high expensive.
Passionfish: the premier seafood place in the Monterey area, does all the right things (like sustainable seafood and a great wine list); on all the foodie lists for seafood. I have never been there. Expensive.
Rocky Point Restaurant: If you want to eat a place that has a great view -- then this is the place. Expensive.
For breakfast:First Awakenings in the American Tin Cannery Outlet Mall in Pacific Grove, very close to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. A local favorite for breakfast and brunch. Great skillet platters, omelets, good coffee, etc. Low to medium expensive.
Loulou's Griddle in the Middle: on Monterey's Wharf #2 (which is the first wharf you usually see, as opposed to Fisherman's Wharf). Wharf #2 is a real workingman's wharf, and this place is the front end. I've heard great things about it but have yet to make it there. It serves standard breakfast fare as well as dishes like calamari and eggs.
Things to do:These are mainly outdoor excursions.
From late February through mid-May, the Mile of Flowers in Pacific Grove is stunning. You can drive it, walk it, or bike along it.
Driving the Big Sur coast from Carmel to Nepenthe or Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is always stunning. The waterfall falling onto the beach at JPB State Park is an award-winning photograph. Just point your camera and take the shot. Award winner.
Drive on the Big Sur Coast to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and hike up the gorge to a beautiful swimming hole. One of my favorite places and hikes of all time.
Driving or biking 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach is a great ride. Riding a bike is free.
Rent a bike and bike the Pacific Grove Recreational Trail, which goes through PG all the way to Seaside and Fort Ord along the coast.
Rent a kayak and perhaps a guide, or join a group, to see otters and other marine life in Monterey Bay or nearby Elkhorn Slough.
Relax and reinvigorate at the nearly two dozen different thermal pools at The Refuge in Carmel Valley. This place is awesome.
Monterey Bay Aquarium hits everything but is expensive.
Carmel Beach: this beautiful, fine white sand beach at the base of (overly) charming Carmel-By-The-Sea is a fine place to visit. All friendly, well-behaved dogs are welcome and can be walked or run off-leash.
Point Lobos State Park: The crown jewel of the California State Park system. Stunning place to take a hike.