If you're looking for a delightful restaurant around Monterey, you're sure to find something that—as Goldilocks would say—is "just right." Local eateries offer almost any kind of experience, from a casual breakfast with a five-star view to an unforgettable meal in a Michelin-starred dining room. There's more to a memorable meal than what goes on the plate, and the experience is essential for restaurants on this list.
Don't be deterred by driving over a town or two; the Monterey Peninsula is only slightly larger than the city of San Francisco, so nothing is more than a short drive away.
There's no doubt that the most exquisite dining experience in the Monterey area is at Aubergine restaurant in the L'Auberge Carmel hotel.
Chef Justin Cogley and pastry chef Yulanda Santos create an award-winning, daily-changing, eight-course tasting menu, and their staff provides a top-flight dining experience.
Don't get carried away, trying to decide what you are going to eat. If you look at the menu, you won't find things like "Seared Striped Bass with Chickpeas, Tomato Jam, and Tahini Butter." Instead, it's more of a hint: "tomato, lemon thyme, caviar" or "ribeye, kohlrabi, sunflower miso." Instead of fretting about the preparation, let yourself be surprised.
Prices are what you might expect at restaurants of similar caliber in Los Angeles or San Francisco. That means expensive—but well worth it. The hotel also offers packages and classes that can give you a rare chance to take a cooking class from a Michelin-starred chef.
If you love good food but don't want to take an hour or two away from sightseeing to eat lunch, why not combine the activities? At Bruno's Market, you can get made-to-order sandwiches that some people say are "world-class." They also have salads and other makings for a grab a go lunch.
Where should you take that picnic? You can walk a few blocks down Ocean Avenue to Carmel Beach and find a place to sit. Alcohol is allowed on the beach, but not in the parking lot or on nearby streets.
You could also hop in the car and take your goodies to a scenic spot. Parking is available along Scenic Road which but beware of stagnant water near the south end of the beach can make quite a stink.
You can also find plenty of places to stop for an impromptu picnic on the 17-Mile Drive.
The Forge in the Forest has been considering the best for outdoor dining in the area for more than two decades, and on a chilly evening, as you settle down in front of one of their outdoor fireplaces, it's easy to understand why.
Indoors at the Forge Saloon, you'll be comfortable surrounded by copper walls, warmed by the blacksmith fire pit, ordering drinks from the horn bar that dates back to the late-1800s.
Their menu includes sandwiches, salads, pizzas, and traditional-styled entrees.
Pet enthusiasts and their four-pawed friends are welcome, and pooches can ask their humans to order specialty items created just for them.
For a laid back Sunday brunch with coastal views, good food, and live jazz music, you can't beat Mission Ranch. But that's not the only time you will enjoy it. Go just before sunset, grab a drink and something to nibble. Then sit on the patio and watch their adorable sheep hustle off to bed. Or savor a prime rib dinner in the warmly-lit, cozy dining room.
No matter when you go, Mission Ranch's atmosphere creates a perfect storm of relaxation. In fact, you could have trouble getting your friends (or yourself) to go home from Mission Ranch after brunch or a late afternoon cocktail.
The number one reason to dine at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands is the view. From the protected, spacious dining deck at Pacific's Edge, you get a panoramic view of the Big Sur coastline.
Before you go, check the weather. On a foggy day, when the coastline is obscured, you may want to go somewhere else.
The restaurant serves dinner, but to take maximum advantage of the view at a moderate price, go for breakfast or lunch. The menu features locally sourced ingredients and sustainable seafood.
For an unforgettable sunset experience, settle into an armchair in the Sunset Lounge next door. Their extended bar menu offers options substantial enough to make a meal.
If you time your sightseeing day to be at the Monterey Bay Aquarium at lunchtime, you can grab a quick bite while you're visiting one of Monterey's top sights. Their dining room has lovely views of the bay, and they serve sustainable seafood rated "Best Choice" by the Aquarium's Seafood Watch program.
The Cafe serves casual food that's perfect for the whole family, including brick-oven pizzas, made-to-order burgers, fresh-tossed salads, and desserts. You can also enjoy a more relaxed experience in The Restaurant.
Located at the Inn at Spanish Bay, Roy's serves Pacific Rim cuisine, and the views are as terrific as what's on your plate.
The best time to go is for breakfast or lunch when you can enjoy views of The Links at Spanish Bay and the Pacific Ocean. But for even more to see, ignore traditional mealtime and arrive to finish shortly before sunset when you can stay to see the famous Spanish Bay bagpiper.
You have to go on the 17-Mile Drive to reach Roy's, which requires an entrance fee. But don't let that stop you. Your entry ticket will show the minimum purchase necessary to get your gate fee reimbursed.
The Sandbar hangs off the edge of Monterey's Municipal Wharf #2, with its windows looking out over the marina. You might see a sea otter paddling by, a sea lion diving for food, or a sailboat setting out for a day at sea.
On the menu, you'll find uncomplicated classics like seafood-filled Louie salad, fish and chips, and clam chowder. Try delicate, sweet-fleshed sand dabs, which are a local specialty. Or ask about the day's fresh catch.