I awoke to a stunning view of azure waters with giant foaming waves crashing against craggy rock formations, surrounded by emerald cypress trees bending toward the wind and sculpting an unending seascape.
All the while, I was feeling like royalty melting under down comforters in a canopy bed draped in white lace, at the historic Seven Gables Inn in Pacific Grove, Calif. Built in 1886, the inn was named after Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel. Owned by the Flatley family for 35 years, this 25-room B&B is embellished with antiques in elegant surroundings and the utmost attention to detail. In a lavish dining room overlooking breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, I savored a gourmet breakfast of quiche, fruit parfaits, and house baked goods This all prepared me for an active day ahead in the Jewel City—bordered by California’s majestic Big Sur Coastline.
Two-and-a-half hours from San Francisco, sandwiched between Monterey and Pebble Beach, and moments from Carmel, Pacific Grove has a unique personality and history of its own. Once a tented Methodist Retreat site in 1875 and the Monterey Peninsula’s first gated community in 1880, the town grew from tents to cottages. By 1889, there were 1,300 permanent residents in a one-square-mile area, and Pacific Grove was incorporated as a full-fledged city.
Moral standards were a high priority. Those under 18 years old had curfews; alcohol, gambling, dancing, and smoking in or near buildings were all prohibited. It wasn’t until 1969 that alcohol was even allowed.
Today, this pristine enclave of over 2.6 square miles and approximately 15,500 residents has somehow maintained its folksy, friendly charm with an added bit of contemporary flair. Many people may bypass this tiny town on their way to Monterey or Carmel, because they aren’t yet aware of its plentiful gifts.
The city has attracted artists, entrepreneurs, and retirees with the onslaught of rows of Victorians, fine restaurants, galleries, boutiques, and B&Bs. Each October, the town even lures thousands of Monarch butterflies, which cluster on eucalyptus and pine trees at the City Monarch Grove Sanctuary.
Pacific Grove is itself an outdoor museum and aquarium. Everywhere I sauntered, my eyes gazed at the colorful architecture from the turn-of-the-century and an ocean of protected sea mammals lounging on the massive rock formations. Each morning during my four-day stay, I walked from Lover’s Point and Park on Ocean View Boulevard along the dazzling 4½-mile shoreline toward Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf. An orchestra of sounds came from the seagulls, seals, and otters in the brilliant blue waters. I passed by bicyclists, children, and hikers reveling in nature’s greenery, wild flowers, and wildlife. Practically everyone I met through Pacific Grove would greet me with a smile and a good morning. One day, I did take the free red trolley to and from the Monterey Bay Aquarium (where Pacific Grove begins) to the Wharf cutting twenty minutes or approximately a mile of walking each way.
On a much longer trek in the opposite direction going south, I traveled the coastline that loops around to Asilomar Retreat and Conference Center, which takes only 10 minutes by car. I spent a few hours relaxing there, since it was opened to the public, and I hiked along their coastal paths facing more sandy shores than the colorful foliage further north.
The best way to see Pacific Grove is, without a doubt, by foot or bike. The convivial Chamber of Commerce volunteers located at two locations (584 and 100 Central Avenue), gave me all the information I needed to enjoy my stay. Lenore was particularly helpful, because she took much time explaining places to eat and sights to see—and made me feel right at home.
With a walking-tour map of the historic buildings in hand, I started along 17th Street and Ocean View Boulevard, where the new The Beach House Restaurant will soon be opened by the same owners of the Fisherman’s Wharf popular seafood restaurant, Abalonetti .
As I strolled toward Lighthouse Avenue, I viewed an inordinate array of Victorians with metal plates identifying the owner and date of construction. The 22-room Queen Anne Gosby House Inn, a stunning B&B conveniently located right on Lighthouse Avenue in the heart of Downtown, was built in 1888.
The original owner and cobbler Gosby, who opened the town’s first shoe store, expanded his home to accommodate all his guests. Each room has a homey décor. I spent two delightful nights here in this comfy establishment where food always seemed to flow. I enjoyed the hearty breakfast and caring service. I especially enjoyed the thick, hot oatmeal each morning and house made baked cookies each evening.
Don’t leave Pacific Grove without a visit to Point Lobos Lighthouse built in 1855, the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast. It first functioned using a white oil lantern and then graduated to a 1000-watt bulb visible 17 miles away. Also of note at 12th and Central, I stopped at St. Mary’s by the Sea, the city’s oldest church dating back to 1887 and modeled after a gothic church in Bath, England.
I happened to be in the town on the first Friday of the month for the open-studio/art walk in the early evening, where galleries and shops have snacks, wine, and music. Some of the townsfolk were even dancing in the streets.
I encountered two unusual stores along the way. Tessuti Zoo on Forest Avenue is a colorful and creative venue owned by Emily Owens. She makes whimsical dolls and clothing and her store is lined with wild patterned fabrics. A Niche in Tyme on Lighthouse Avenue has reasonably priced estate costume jewelry and old coins. Owner Chuck goes an extra mile for customers. I was told that one time Chuck hand-delivered a package on his day off so the customer could give it on time for his spouse’s birthday.
Again, this is another reminder of how Pacific Grove is not just about its incredible destination, but its personable people. Of course, having a host of fine and tasty dining choices is yet another lure to Pacific Grove.
Places to Stay:
Seven Gables Inn- 555 Ocean View Blvd., 1-831-372-4341, www.theSevenGablesInn.com
Gosby House Inn-643 Lighthouse Avenue, 1-800-527-8828, www.gosbyhouseinn.com
Lovers Point Inn- 625 Ocean View Blvd., 1-866-785-0355, www.loverspointinnpg.com
Places to Dine:
Fandango-223 17th Street, 831-372-3456, www.fandangorestaurant.com
Aliotti’s Victorian Corner Restaurant-541 Lighthouse Avenue, 831-372-4641, www.victoriancornerpg.com
International Cuisine- 620 Lighthouse Avenue, 831- 646-0447
Red House Café- 662 Lighthouse Avenue, 831-643-1060, www.RedHouseCafe.com
Contact Information: Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-656-6650, www.pacificgrove.org
To keep the town’s Old World flavor, there aren’t any fast food chains in town. Many of the restaurant establishments are family-owned for years, and several of these I experienced first-hand.
I enjoyed a scrumptious rack of lamb punctuated by a decadent dessert serving of profiteroles at Fandango, a restaurant in European country-style décor tucked atop the hill. Owners Pierre and Marietta Bain have been operating the fine dining establishment for 25 years. Pierre brings centuries of experience to his Mediterranean and Euro-style cuisine. The Bain family of restaurateurs has been in business since 1737 when they began in Comps-Sur-Artuby, France.
A dedicated family operation for 35 years, Aliotti’s Victorian Corner is also one of most colorful historic buildings in town—erected in 1893. Husband and wife owners Dominic and Mary Aliotti hardly miss a day in serving their customers a wide array of comfort food, and they take pride in their family recipes.As my stay drew to a close, it was difficult to leave this Pacific paradise, which generates warmth, hospitality, and a sense of home. Now discovered and experienced, Pacific Grove beckons my return and will never be bypassed on my journeys south along the Monterey Peninsula.
Beverly Mann has been a feature, arts, and travel writer in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past 28 years. She has received numerous accolades in the fields of travel writing, education, and international public relations, including a Bay Area Travel Writers Award of Excellence in Newspaper Travel Writing; www.beverlymann.com
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