How to Make the Most Out of Carmel's 17-Mile Drive

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    17-Mile Drive Visitor Guide

    The Lone Cypress on 17-Mile Drive
    ••• The Lone Cypress on 17-Mile Drive. ©Betsy Malloy Photography

    Perhaps one of the best-known things to do along the Monterey Peninsula is the 17-Mile Drive. A winding road that leads through an exclusive neighborhood and past scenic coastal views to the famed Pebble Beach, it forms many visitors' favorite memories.

    The 17-Mile Drive is fundamentally a road that passes through an exclusive neighborhood. But what a neighborhood! Not only is it full of gorgeous houses, but the ocean views are stellar. 

    You'll pay a fee (per car) to drive on it and motorcycles are not allowed. Some people say it isn't really 17 miles long, but I checked that. The drive from the Highway 1 Gate to the Carmel Gate is indeed approximately 17 miles. If you enter and/or leave through different gates, the distance you travel may be different.

    Once you get inside the gates, you'll find signs and red-painted dashed lines on the pavement to help you follow the route. The 17-Mile Drive winds through a forested area and along the oceanfront, passing three golf courses, two...MORE luxury hotels, and the famed Lone Cypress tree.

    The 17-Mile Drive guide map you get at the gate will give a brief description of each point of interest, or you can check the 17-Mile Drive Map online.

    17-Mile Drive Review

    We rate the 17-Mile Drive 3.5 stars out of 5. The alternative on the next page offers equally nice views, and you don't have to pay a penny for it. However, if you want to see the Lone Cypress or visit Pebble Beach, it's is the only way you get there.

    More than 4,000 readers responded to our poll about the 17-Mile Drive. 52% rate it good or awesome and 37% gave it the lowest rating. That's a pretty high percentage of low ratings compared to other attractions.

    Visiting 17-Mile Drive

    You don't need reservations to see the 17-Mile Drive, but it is a toll road that you will pay to drive on. The per-car fee gets you in, and you'll get a driving guide to take along with you. Bicycles can get in for free if they enter through the Pacific Grove gate.

    Allow 3 hours or more for the whole drive, especially if you stop to eat or take a lot of photographs

    If you are visiting San Francisco and want to see the 17-Mile Drive - but you don't want to or can't drive yourself - you can take a day guided day trip. If you prefer a private guided tour, try my friend Jesse at A Friend in Town.

    Getting to the 17-Mile Drive

    17-Mile Drive
    17-Mile Drive website

    You can enter the 17-Mile Drive through any of five gates, where you will stop to pay the entry fee and pick up a map. These are the most common entry points:

    • Highway 1 at Highway 68: This is the most convenient 17-Mile Drive entrance if you're coming from Monterey or are already on Highway 1
    • Pacific Grove Gate: Get there from Sunset Drive
    • Carmel: The toll booth is on San Antonio Ave
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  • 02 of 15

    Making the Most of the 17-Mile Drive

    Coastal View on the 17-Mile Drive
    ••• Coastal View on the 17-Mile Drive. ©Betsy Malloy Photography

    Best Time to Go

    The best time to take the 17-Mile Drive is fall or spring when skies are clearer. Especially in summer, morning fog can linger until after noon - or even worse, all day. For the best chance of clear skies, go in mid to late afternoon.

    If you live in the area and only want to go if it's a nice day, check the Pebble Beach webcams or call The Inn at Spanish Bay (831-647-7500) and ask.

    During the big golf tournaments, it's impossible to get in. The U.S. Open Golf Tournament is held at Pebble Beach every few years in June - check their website to find out when - and the Pebble Beach Pro-Am is held every February.

    The Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival in April and the Concours d'Elegance classic auto show in August also draws big crowds - and closes the drive for Concours Sunday (third weekend in August).

    How to Get the Most From Your Trip on the 17-Mile Drive

    The CA Hwy 1 entrance is the most frequently-used, but there's little to see between it and other entrances. I like...MORE to go in through the Pacific Grove entrance and out through Carmel (or vice versa).

    Even though it's written on the bottom of the 17-Mile Drive entry fee receipt, no one looks, so it's a little-known fact that you can get a refund. If you spend more than $25 at any of the Pebble Beach Company restaurants along the 17-Mile Drive, they'll deduct the fee from your bill. We recommend Roy's restaurant at the Inn at Spanish Bay for their great views and service.

    Of course, you'll want to take your camera, but also bring binoculars, especially if you want to get a good look at the birds, sea lions, and sea otters.

    Be prepared for the weather. On a day we once visited, when it was 95°F in Gilroy and 82°F in Monterey, it was only 65°F at Spanish Bay.

    If you want to picnic along the 17-Mile Drive, you'll find a Safeway store at the intersection of Highway 1 and Rio Road in Carmel or try the 5th Avenue Deli (between San Carlos & Dolores) in downtown Carmel. You can also buy picnic goodies along the drive at the Pebble Beach Market next to The Lodge at Pebble Beach.

    The best picnic spots are between Point Joe and Seal Rock, and you'll find picnic tables at many stops. Local seagulls roost on the tables when no one is around, so you may want to bring something to spread over the table before you eat.

    Alternatives to the 17-Mile Drive

    The 17-Mile Drive is nice, but the Pebble Beach Company doesn't have a monopoly on Monterey Peninsula scenery. If you want to see the Lone Cypress or Pebble Beach, pay up and enjoy yourself. But if you're just looking for great scenery, follow Ocean View Boulevard and Sunset Drive along the water's edge from the Monterey Bay Aquarium past Asilomar State Beach to Highway 68 (which will take you to Highway One).

    For a less expensive golf course with views that rival Pebble Beach, try the Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course where non-residents can play a round for less.

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  • 03 of 15

    Stop #1: Inn at Spanish Bay

    Inn at Spanish Bay
    ••• Inn at Spanish Bay. Courtesy of the Inn at Spanish Bay

    If you compare our stops to the official 17-Mile Drive map, you'll end up confused, so don't even try. Because there's little of interest to see between the CA Hwy 1 gate and Spanish Bay, I recommend entering the 17-Mile Drive from Pacific Grove. From downtown Monterey, follow Ocean View Boulevard and Sunset Drive along the water's edge from the Monterey Bay Aquarium past Asilomar State Beach. Shortly after the road turns inland, you'll see a sign for the 17-Mile Drive entrance.

    Beautifully sited next to rolling sand dunes and in the middle of a Scottish-style links golf course, the Inn at Spanish Bay is a top-notch hotel.

    If you enter the 17-Mile Drive through the Pacific Grove gate, this is a good place for a lunch stop. Or even better, reverse this tour and go in through Carmel, ending here just in time to enjoy the bagpiper who signals the close of the golf course every evening, passing right by their outdoor patio.

    We love to have lunch at Roy's Restaurant here, with great food...MORE and view across the golf course to the Pacific. If you spend more than $25 and show your entry receipt, they'll deduct the entry fee from your bill.

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  • 04 of 15

    Stop #2: Spanish Bay

    On the Beach at Spanish Bay
    ••• On the Beach at Spanish Bay. ©Betsy Malloy Photography
    It's called Spanish Bay to honor explorer Don Gaspar de Portola, who camped here with his ship's crew in 1769 while exploring the coastline and trying to find the Monterey Bay.

    Spanish Bay is the first stop that many visitors make along the 17-Mile Drive, with a big parking lot and a pretty beach. You'll find quite a few picnic tables there, but if you resist the urge to plop down at the first one you see and drive a bit further past China Rock, you'll find some quieter spots.

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  • 05 of 15

    Stop #3: Restless Sea

    Restless Sea on the 17-Mile Drive
    ••• Restless Sea on the 17-Mile Drive. ©Betsy Malloy Photography

    Between the sandy beach at Spanish Bay and Point Joe (which is just up the road), the ocean always seems restless. Some say it's because of ocean currents coming close to shore or submerged rocks, but you don't have to know the why to enjoy the result. The ocean's constant motion brings food to the local marine life, and a large kelp forest grows in calmer waters near the shore.

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  • 06 of 15

    Stop #4: Point Joe

    Point Joe on the 17-Mile Drive
    ••• Point Joe on the 17-Mile Drive. ©Betsy Malloy Photography

    When European explorers first came to this part of the California coast, they often mistook Spanish Bay for the Monterey Bay, its bigger counterpart to the north - and many of them met disaster on the rocks as they tried to make their way to shore.

    Ships that wrecked here include the iron-hulled St. Paul which crashed on a foggy night in 1896, then hung onto the rocks for 3 months before sinking - and the steamer Celia which got lost in the fog and wrecked in 1906. Both crews and the St. Paul's livestock cargo were rescued, but the Celia's load of lumber was lost.

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  • 07 of 15

    Stop #5: China Rock

    China Rock on the 17-Mile Drive
    ••• China Rock on the 17-Mile Drive. ©Betsy Malloy Photography

    Chinese fisherman lived along the coast in the late 1800s and early 1900s, making their homes at the base of this big pile of rocks.

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  • 08 of 15

    Stop #7: Bird Rock

    Bird Rock on the 17-Mile Drive
    ••• Bird Rock on the 17-Mile Drive. ©Betsy Malloy Photography

    It's pretty obvious which rock along the coast is "bird rock" because of all the white stuff they deposit on it. On a typical day, you'll see Brandt's cormorants, pelicans, and California sea lions sharing the rock - and a harbor seal or two hanging out near the water line. We also saw a sea otter floating in the kelp bed - and a sea lion having a noisy territorial dispute with a cormorant.

    In case you wonder why the cormorants sit in such awkward-looking positions, there's an easy explanation. Unlike other sea birds that have waterproof feathers, the cormorant has to dry out between dives, stretching its wings in odd-looking directions to catch the sun.

    The only restroom along the 17-Mile Drive is at Bird Rock.

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  • 09 of 15

    Stop #7: Harbor Seals

    Harbor Seal on the 17-Mile Drive
    ••• Harbor Seal on the 17-Mile Drive. mowinkle6/Flickr/Bird Rock on the 17-Mile Drive

    Fanshell Overlook and Cypress Point Lookout are favored spots for mother harbor seals to deliver their babies. During pupping season (April 1 to June 1), Fanshell Overlook and Cypress Point are both closed to give the little ones and their mothers some much-needed quiet.

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  • 10 of 15

    Stop #8: Cypress Point Lookout

    View from Cypress Point Lookout
    ••• View from Cypress Point Lookout. ©Betsy Malloy Photography

    Just past Fanshell Overlook, the 17-Mile Drive enters the 5,300-acre Del Monte Forest of Monterey Cypress trees, which you can see in the distance from this favorite vista point.

    Nearby in Crocker Grove is the largest of all Monterey cypress trees, named for Charles Crocker, who established the 17-Mile Drive in 1881. The Monterey Cypress is a rare tree that grows only here and at Point Lobos just south of Carmel. The largest can grow to be 70 feet tall, and the oldest live about 300 years.

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  • 11 of 15

    Stop #9: The Lone Cypress

    The Lone Cypress on the 17-Mile Drive
    ••• The Lone Cypress on the 17-Mile Drive. ©Betsy Malloy Photography

    As you can see from the photo, it's not really quite alone, but it is very prettily situated, and its outline is so iconic that the Pebble Beach Company adopted it as their logo. Years ago, you could get closer, but the 250-plus-year-old tree needs some protection from overzealous visitors, and access to the point it sits on is prohibited. With all of that care, they hope it will live to be 300 years old. We wonder if they have a new Lone Cypress in training somewhere...

    Oddly, the most popular stop on the 17-Mile Drive also has the fewest places to park. You may need to exercise some patience while waiting for a space to open up.

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  • 12 of 15

    Stop #10: Ghost Tree

    Ghost Tree on the 17-Mile Drive
    ••• Ghost Tree on the 17-Mile Drive. ©Betsy Malloy Photography

    This Monterey cypress tree gave up the ghost (pun intended) some time ago, and the elements have bleached its trunk white over time. People like the way it looks so much that they've built a wall around its roots to keep it in place. The orange-colored stuff on the rocks is called lichen.

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  • 13 of 15

    Living in the Cypress Forest

    House on the 17-Mile Drive
    ••• House on the 17-Mile Drive. ©2011 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    There is no "typical" house along the 17-Mile Drive or in Pebble Beach in general. You'll see everything from modest-looking, ranch-style homes to modern-styled castles and every house is different. Many sit behind walls and gates like this one, which is nearly dwarfed by the cypress grove around it. Both of the buildings you see are part of the same property.

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  • 14 of 15

    Stop #11: Lodge at Pebble Beach

    View from the Lobby, Lodge at Pebble Beach
    ••• View from the Lobby, Lodge at Pebble Beach. Brad Coy/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Built in 1919, The Lodge at Pebble Beach is home to the Pebble Beach Golf Links and is a fine place to stay if it fits into your budget. Even if you don't plan to spend the night, its public areas are open to everyone, and you'll find a few nice shops to putter around in.

    Across the street, you'll find a bank and a small market that sells sandwiches and snacks.

    Shortly after you pass the Lodge, you'll see signs for the Carmel exit. Take that and not only will you avoid any backups at Hwy 1, but you'll end up in scenic downtown Carmel.

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  • 15 of 15

    17-Mile Drive Map

    Map of the 17-Mile Drive
    ••• Map of the 17-Mile Drive. Map Data ©2013 Google - Sanborn

    The map above shows the 17-Mile Drive route, entrances and points of interest - and where it is located with respect to the area towns. Click on it to see a slightly larger version or go to the interactive 17-Mile Drive Map for more details and directions.