Pacific Grove—A Car-Free Escape on Monterey Bay

Escape to the enchanting seaside village of Pacific Grove on California’s scenic Monterey Bay. The village makes an ideal car-free escape on Monterey Bay. 

Pacific Grove is one of those places on Monterey Bay you may not know about. The tiny oceanfront hamlet is on the bay’s south side, where towns like Monterey and Carmel get most of the publicity.

Pacific Grove is a less frequently traveled part of Monterey Bay. That’s a good thing because it makes PG (as locals call it) quieter, easy to navigate, and less likely to be overrun by tour buses. In addition, Pacific Grove is made for a car-free escape. Once you arrive at your lodging, park your car and forget about it until departure.

This enchanting seaside village is ideal for walking and cycling. It is also the beginning of an 18-mile all-access paved path surrounding Monterey Bay. You can easily stop at many of the Bay area’s most visited attractions from the flat and level trail.

Here are some of our favorite ways to take a break from driving in Pacific Grove, California.

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A Historic Pacific Grove Homebase

Kevin and I love the Oceanfront Seven Gables Inn. It gets our highest recommendation for Pacific Grove lodging. Seven buildings house 25 guest rooms. Each is unique—no cookie-cutter décor here. All of the pale yellow Victorian buildings are impeccably maintained. The Main House was built in 1886. Every guest room has an ocean view. On the third floor of the Beach House, our room, Rocky Shores, had double ocean views. It was remarkable.

Your stay includes a full hot breakfast served each morning in the breakfast room. In addition, every table has a Monterey Bay view. Creamy breakfast quiche was served each morning of our stay; I had seconds.

Across the street from the inn, the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail begins and skirts Monterey Bay. PG has a museum, golf course, parks, eateries of many styles, a wine bar, a deli, shopping, and water sports, all within two blocks of the inn.

The Seven Gables staff is one of the best I’ve met. I can’t say enough about their friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable attitudes. Their job is to make your stay comfortable, and they do it perfectly.

Seven Gables Inn and Lover’s Point Beach in Pacific Grove, California. Photo courtesy of Seven Gables Inn

Southern Pacific Rails to Trails

From the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, you can walk, roll, or peddle around the bay, passing through some of the most visitor-friendly places.

Pacific Grove is the southern terminus of the 18-mile trail ending at the bay’s northern end in Castroville. Along the trail, you can explore the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, and many other local attractions. Walking or rolling the route will be the highlight of your visit.

Strolling the Monterey Bay Recreational Trail. Photo by Kevin Scanlon

A Rare Sunrise Over the Pacific

Sunrise over the Pacific is a rare sight on California’s Pacific coast. Still, Lovers Point in Pacific Grove is one place it’s familiar. That’s because an east-facing beach places the waters of the Pacific to the east. The ideal photo location is Lovers Point Park, across the street from Green Gables Inn. If you are a sunrise person, you are in the right place.

The park has sheltered beaches that allow easy water entry for swimmers or snorkelers. Picnic tables and benches are positioned for mesmerizing wave-watching. In addition, sand volleyball and a swimming pool are offered.

Don’t miss the snack bar, The Grill at Lovers Point. More than one local told us that PG Beach Burger is the best burger in town.

Sunrise at Lovers Point. Pacific Grove, California. Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Walk Through Pacific Grove’s Victorian Era

PG is known for the many Victorian houses and buildings in the community. All are historical; many are on the National Historic Register. Most have plaques showing the date built and the building’s or first owner’s name. Each is unique; many have fanciful paint and décor that keep you looking for the next ‘painted lady.’

The Heritage Society of Pacific Grove has curated three walks showing structures like the first tent cabins erected and the grand old dames like Seven Gables Inn. Find downloadable walking tours with a map and notes HERE (in the ‘How Do I…’ menu).

One of Pacific Grove’s Victorian ladies. Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Explore Pacific Grove Natural History

Opened in 1883, the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History is one of the oldest in the US. The museum’s collections, exhibits, and scientific studies will immerse you in California’s Central Coast plants, animals, history, and stories.

A popular exhibit illuminates the Monarch Butterflies that stop in PG during migration. Another exhibition features the whales that stop by the bay on their migratory journey up and down the Pacific Coast.

Check the website for special programs indoors and outside. There is something for all ages that want to know more about the natural world surrounding Pacific Grove.

E-Bikes for Exploring Further Afield

E-bikes are a great way to travel, especially in hilly territory. Have an e-bike delivered to your hotel and hit the coastal trail. The scenery is outstanding, with many places to stop and smell the seafoam, watch the wildlife, and unwind.

Big Sur Adventures rents and delivers e-bikes and has guided tours of Big Sur, Monterey, Carmel, and the 17-Mile Drive. Joaquin Sullivan, the owner and guide, is a ‘go-to’ expert on the region.

E-bikes are ideal for exploring. Have one delivered, then picked up at your hotel. Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Fisherman’s Wharf and Lunch with the Fishes

Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf has been the beating heart of the bay for centuries. It has seen the bay’s fishing fleet come and go bringing the Pacific’s bounty to the tables of people worldwide. Today the fleet is small but still working.

The wharf has become one of Monterey Bay’s most popular attractions. Whale-watching tours, fishing tours, glass-bottom boats, and sunset cruises load and unload passengers at the end of the pier. All along the way, seafood restaurants beckon with tantalizing aromas. Fishmongers display the day’s catch on ice in front of their stores. Most sell sidewalk shrimp, crab cocktails, or a small cup of clam chowder.

Souvenirs, clothing, handmade chocolate, and ice cream shops rub shoulders with fine art galleries. Buskers greet you at the wharf entrance. Jugglers, musicians, artists, an organ grinder with a cheeky monkey, and many others are always entertaining.

Have a long lazy lunch at the wharf. One of the best views is at the Rockfish Harbor Grill. The menu sports traditional favorites like fish and chips, chowder, and cioppino. Some dishes feature a local catch like my favorites—sanddabs. After lunch, go to the rooftop observation deck for a birdseye view of the bay.

Fisherman’s Wharf has sidewalk seafood cocktails for a snack and fresh catch for dinner later. Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Say Hi to John

Fans of Cannery Row and John Steinbeck flock to Monterey Bay’s Cannery Row. This waterfront property was alive in the early 20th century with the world’s largest fish canning industry. John Steinbeck’s novel, Cannery Row, comes alive as you meander along the street. A few old cannery buildings still stand but have been repurposed into hotels, eateries, shopping, and the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium.

If you are a Steinbeck fan, spend some time at the Cannery Row Monument at Steinbeck Plaza. The intriguing fountain has a gathering of Steinbeck’s characters and Cannery Row notables from the past and present.

A sculpture and a fountain honor John Steinbeck and his unforgettable characters on Cannery Row. Photo by Kevin Scanlon

A Pacific Grove Sunset Walk—Fireside Dinner

After a day out on the trail and exploring Pacific Grove, I suggest a walk at sunset for dinner at Fandango. This PG institution is cozy and romantic.

Fandango serves Mediterranean/European cuisine. Local seafood and produce are proudly featured. The wine list is extensive and includes domestic and international selections. The full bar highlights spirits from around the globe.

Kevin and I had a lovely dinner with exemplary service, a glass of bubbles, and an unforgettable atmosphere. We love the Caesar Salad. Fandango’s came with fresh anchovies—yum!

Insider Tip: The fireplace table is the best seat in the house for two.

A sensational Pacific Grove sunset. Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Planning a Car-Free Escape to Pacific Grove

What the heck is a car-free escape? It’s my favorite way to explore. Get to your lodging, park your car, and don’t drive it again until you depart. Your feet, public transit, taxi, or boat will be your transportation.

Select the Right Location

Open your favorite map program. For example, I like the Microsoft map that is included with Windows. Then, find the area you are thinking of exploring without a car. After that, enlarge the map and look for things you want to do that are shown on the map. Google Maps is similar. The map of Pacific Grove below shows the results of my search.

Save places you’d like to visit on your e-map.

Find the Right Lodging

The best place to stay is in the center of things you find to explore. So, again, check out that map. Most map programs will show hotels. My favorite has a ‘What’s Nearby?’ menu to ask for lodging. It’s a bed icon.

Other things to look for at your lodging are nearby bus stops, sidewalks, or trails, safe for pedestrians, wheeled chairs, strollers, and cycles.

I use a booking site to investigate the places I find on the map. Read the reviews; they can be very enlightening. Check rates on booking sites, but go directly to the hotels. Often you will find special packages or deals not available online. Don’t hesitate to call or email the hotel with questions.

Getting Around

Walking is my favorite, but e-bikes and peddle cycles come in as a close second. Of course, public transportation is always an option. Many cities have special discount bus passes for short-term visitors.

Some communities have free trolleys or shuttles that serve popular visitor areas. For example, you can ride the MST Monterey Trolley free between Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s handy with departures every 10 to 15 minutes from 10 am to 7 pm.

Pacific Grove Sunrise over Monterey Bay. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Wear Your Friendly Explorer’s Hat in Pacific Grove

Be ready for the unknown with your attitude and with gear. Treat it as an adventure. If you get lost, chances are you’ll find something unexpected and intriguing while trying to return to your route.

Have some kind of map. I love Google Maps on my phone but occasionally carry an old-school paper map. Sometimes, I bring a guide or a small book that’s the source of my research. Have a phone with you, but only use it for maps, photos, or emergencies.

Ask questions. Locals are usually glad to offer advice or directions. Let them know you are exploring the city on foot or via public transit. I’ve made friends this way and learned about secret beaches, hidden monuments, the best tea shops, and many things that didn’t show on my maps.

Articles Related to Pacific Grove and Monterey Bay, CA

When You Visit Pacific Grove, CA

Car-free escapes are a delightful way to explore a destination. Pacific Grove on Monterey Bay, California, is the gold standard for a ‘park it and forget it’ break. To learn more about Pacific Grove and Monterey Bay, visit See Monterey. You can also check out these Wander With Wonder articles on Monterey, throughout Northern California, or elsewhere as you explore California.

Escape to the enchanting seaside village of Pacific Grove on California's scenic Monterey Bay. The village makes an ideal car-free escape on Monterey Bay. 


Pacific Grove—A Car-Free Escape on Monterey Bay

Written by Mary Charlebois and Kevin Scanlon

Mary and Kevin are a team of travel writers, travel photographers, and hotel scouts. Based in the village of Nadur on Gozo, Malta, M&K travel internationally and domestically, looking for their next travel story. Mary and Kevin are both lifelong photographers and avid travelers. Mary became a published travel writer in 2016, and Kevin began his travel journalist career in 2021. Today they work together, focusing on off-the-beaten-path, not-well-known, and in-the-shadow-of locations. They delve into art, music, food, and libations. In addition, they explore architecture, museums, parks, well-curated tours, history, agriculture, and the unexpected in micro-towns and big cities, domestically and internationally. Scouting hotels, B&Bs, guest houses, and vacation rentals is always on their itinerary. M&K give selected lodging a white glove inspection of the property, rooms, staff, amenities, and things to do in the area. Then they share the best with you, the Wander With Wonder reader.

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