Once Upon a Time in Monterey

Author: Sarah Beauchamp       


The Lone Cypress, an iconic 250-year-old tree, lives along California’s scenic 17-Mile Drive. (Hendrik Cornelissen on Unsplash)

Overlooking a cliff in Point Lobos, California, all we could see were miles of pristine, blue-green water. Lizards scampered around our feet as we walked the thin dirt trail along the rocky coast. A herd of seals lounged on the narrow strip of sandy beach. The shore was completely untouched. At first I was disappointed we weren’t allowed to walk down to the shoreline, but then appreciated how all of this beauty is going to be preserved for a long time.

Everything in Monterey looks like it’s straight out of a fairy tale. There are colorful houses along winding roads with breathtaking views, and vibrant murals with crashing waves in the background. Acres of vineyards snake through the green, lush mountainsides. The skies are clear and blue, and the weather is mostly perfect. And it’s a small enough city that it feels like everyone knows everyone.

Down by the Sea

During a three-day press trip hosted by Visit Monterey, I stayed in the Portola Hotel and Spa, where ficus trees grow in the lobby, towering to the ceiling, and natural light streams through the skylights. The property underwent a massive lobby renovation that had been completed the day before our arrival.

We began our first day by touring the 341-room Monterey Marriott. After a $3-million renovation, the lobby is brand new, with wood instead of marble to create a warm, beachy feel. The property offers 56,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 8,112-square-foot San Carlos Ball-room, which can be divided into four different spaces. Most of the meeting space, like most of Monterey, allows for natural light, and some of it comes with sweeping views of the city skyline. Emmy-winning set designer Aaron King was consulted for the redesign, according to Rene Boskoff, the property’s general manager.

Related: Monterey Convention Center Ready for its Close-up

Next, we walked back over to the 379-room, LEED-certified Portola. It’s the second-largest hotel on the Monterey Peninsula, with 88,000 square feet of meeting space. Conveniently connected to the Monterey Conference Center, Portola offers a 10,655-square-foot ballroom and outdoor space for events, such as the open-air, adobe-influenced Custom House Plaza, which is used for the city’s Classic Car Week.

Upon leaving the Portola, we picked up hard hats on our walk to the Monterey Conference Center, which is currently undergoing a $60-million renovation. Construction began in November 2015 and is expected to be completed this fall. The rebuild will make the property more open and collaborative, Director of Sales and Events Nancy Williams explained on our tour. Once renovations are complete, the center will have a new, 10,000-square-foot junior ballroom and a skybridge connecting to the Marriott.


The Monterey Bay Aquarium allows clients to have dinners near the jellyfish exhibit.

After a quick stop into the Museum of Monterey to check out the permanent Salvador Dalí exhibit, we left downtown and headed to Carmel, just a 15-minute drive away, to visit Folktale Winery. “Folktales evolve,” said John Fitzgerald, the winery’s director of hospitality, as he took us through the property’s beautiful 15-acre vineyard. In the main dining room, flowers hang from the ceiling. We sat down to enjoy what Fitzgerald called an “organic grape-to-glass experience,” sampling some of chef Todd Fisher’s creations, including shrimp deviled eggs, carrot gazpacho, and roasted asparagus served with an egg from one of Folktale’s chickens.

In addition to raising their own chickens, Folktale has honey bees on the property, and they grow their own fruits and vegetables on site. They’re even using one of their buildings to house their new record label, Talking Animals, and they regularly host concerts in the Barrel Room. For an entire property buyout, you can stage an event for up to 12,000 people.

Our final stop on our first day was the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. Walking in, I was immediately mesmerized by the giant, towering Kelp Forest exhibit. We watched as large schools of sardines darted back and forth, with slow-moving blob fish hanging toward the bottom. Then we took a behind-the-scenes tour of the exhibits and learned about the aquarium’s otter-rehabilitation program, which has been rescuing otters since 1984. When hosting an event at the aquarium, you can hold dinners in incredible settings like the jellyfish exhibit or overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Each event is meant to have as small an environmental footprint as possible, using local and organic ingredients and renewable resources.

Seeing the Lone Cypress

The next morning, on our final day in Monterey, we visited Carmel Valley Ranch. For breakfast we sampled huevos rancheros, crab-cake benedict, and fresh pastries while overlooking the gorgeous Santa Lucia Mountains. Carmel Valley was described to us as a “luxury sleep-away summer camp for all ages,” complete with a s’mores happy hour every night by the outdoor fire pit. Offering 10,000 square feet of meeting space, the ranch is a great location for a wide range of events. There is an Adventure Kitchen that holds cooking competitions and mixology classes, and there are archery lessons and beekeeper demonstrations. The resort will even organize themed scavenger hunts and other group games.


La Playa Carmel resort, just a short walk from Carmel Beach, is the largest meeting space in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a small, picturesque town a short drive from Monterey.

Next stop was La Playa Carmel resort, just a short walk from Carmel Beach. The historic landmark is the largest meeting space in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a small, picturesque town a short drive from Monterey. La Playa Carmel was originally a mansion built in 1905 by the Ghirardelli family, and guests get Ghirardelli chocolates on their pillows each night. The property can host events for up to 200 people.

After leaving La Playa Carmel, we put on our hard hats again to visit Fairway One at the Lodge, which will officially open late this summer. Once complete, the property’s luxurious guest cottages will overlook the first fairway of the iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links. Fairway One offers roughly 6,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, including a terrace that can host up to 250 guests.

We enjoyed lunch on beautiful Pebble Beach after stopping off to see the Lone Cypress, the iconic 250-year-old tree along California’s scenic 17-Mile Drive. Then we were off for a quick hike through Point Lobos, which offers not just breathtaking views but an on-site museum — historic Whalers Cabin, where guests can learn about the Chinese fishermen who lived and worked there in the early 1850s.

For our last meal in Monterey, we had dinner at Montrio Bistro, where we tasted some of Executive Chef Tony Baker’s creations. We were joined by Kim Stemler, executive director of the Monterey County Vintners & Growers Association, who offered us some of Monterey’s best wine selections. While eating sustainable salmon with citrus risotto and sipping some of the best pinot noir I’ve ever tasted, I realized I never wanted this fairy tale to end.

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