Monterey + Big Sur: Top 10 Things to Do | Gina Chong
Last weekend we had the chance to go camping in Big Sur. For the past few weeks we'd been stocking up on gear, so it was the perfect opportunity. The thing about Big Sur is that it's different from the coast slightly north in San Francisco, Point Reyes, etc. In Big Sur you get a gorgeous mix of beautiful beaches, mountains, coastal cliffs, and Redwoods all at once, so it's a totally new experience. On the way down to Big Sur is Monterey, which we'd been to a couple of times and did every last touristy thing there, but this was our first time making it further south. We left in the morning and timed it so that we would end up in Monterey for lunch at our favorite spot, then dessert at our favorite bakery there, then continued on. This area is one of my favorites to visit, so today I'm sharing my guide to Monterey County, aka my top ten things to do in Monterey and Big Sur. Check it out, and follow along on Instagram for more #Monterey adventure photos with the hashtag #GrabYourMoment:

1. Grab lunch at Caffe Trieste. Or brunch. Or dinner. They have the best spaghetti marinara I've ever eaten. Hubs always gets some version of their french toast which also never disappoints.

2. Dessert at Parker-Lusseau Bakery. A sweet little bakery run by a French couple, they have a plethora of little French entremets and pastries. I recommend their passion fruit-white chocolate cake, and their almond croissants are to die for.

3. Do the 17-mile drive to take in all the coastal beauty. It's worth the strange fee that they charge at the beginning of the drive. Or if you're going to Big Sur...just drive to Big Sur. Plenty of gorgeous lookout points to be had along the way, and you will definitely want to stop at least a few times, so give your drive a good allotment of time.

4. Fisherman's Wharf to see the sea lions. 

5. Camp in Big Sur. Many of the camp sites are booked months and months in advance for the weekends, but there are also many places that offer walkup-only sites, which are basically first come first serve. Hubby and I rolled into Pfieffer State Park's campgrounds around 5pm on a Saturday and they totally had a spot for us. So even if your trip is last minute, give it a try. If not, our back-up plan was to spend the night in Monterey. For reference, Pfieffer's sites cost $35, it's $1 per shower token which last for 3 minutes each, and the firewood bundles were $10 each. Not one of the cheaper sites, but we enjoyed it very much. Also have heard wonderful things about Big Sur Campground and their apparently spotless bathrooms. Or if you're my brother-in-law, just walk up a hill and sleep on the ground.

6. Check out McWay Falls. You can't go down to see it up close, but they offer a lovely trail overlooking the falls and beach below. It's exactly the kind of little paradise that you imagine buried treasure to be hidden.

7. Bixby Bridge. Take in it's glory, snap a shot, and continue on your journey.

8. Picnic on the beach. These are not warm, sunny SoCal beaches, but they are just as fun to enjoy your treats on. Bundle up in a blanket, bring some hot chocolate and snacks, and enjoy the cool breeze.

9. Monterey Bay Aquarium. Hubby and I love animals, and this is a very cool aquarium. It is quite pricey, so be on the lookout for coupons. I believe we bought coupons with a military discount. But you can win free tickets by commenting on this post! See the deets below.

10. Cannery Row. A lovely street of quaint boutiques, restaurants and such. A good place to end up around dinner time.

Have you been to any of these spots before? If not, definitely plan a trip soon, especially with this nice weather, and remember to hashtag your photos with #Monterey and #GrabYourMoment.

Thanks to See Monterey for sponsoring this post and giving me the chance to get back to one of my favorite places. For more travel info and ideas on what to do, check out official travel info at the See Monterey website. And to win a free pair of tickets to the Monterey Bay Aquarium: all you have to do is comment below. See Monterey will choose the top 5 comments (across all blog posts involved in this campaign) to give away tickets to, good until 7/31. That would save you a good 80 bucks, so comment away!

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  1. The shot of you in Caffe Trieste is my favorite because of the isolation. f/2.8 on a telephoto-ish length? I don't see any patrons behind you--was the counter away from the tables inside?

    1. Thanks~ I like that shot too. My husband said it would be weird but he tried anyways haha. And how could you tell what kind of lens it was haha! At first I thought we were using our 50mm 1.4 but now I'm pretty sure it was our 24-70. And yeah, the window tables were higher and father from everything else so that's one reason you can't see anything else.

  2. I haven't been back to Monterey since dating my husband. Now that we have two small children, I have been thinking about making a trip up there and taking them to the aquarium. I know it would just totally amaze them. Thank you for such great suggestions!

    1. The aquarium is awesome

    2. Hi Karrie! It looks like you were chosen as a winner of the Monterey Aquarium tickets! Please contact me by the end of Sunday (7/3) to claim your prize! Congrats! --Gina

  3. Been itching to go on a roadtrip! I might just head to big sur this summer (:

  4. I've been wanting to take a trip up the California coast for years, it looks like the absolute perfect vacation and way to relax. I'll be sure to keep this list handy for when it finally happens :-)

    Heidi || Wishes & Reality

  5. All of these photos are so gorgeous Gina! I LOVE that picture of the two of you at the campfire - fantastic color and clarity for at night!

    I am hoping to visit California this Autumn, so I will definitely be referencing back to this post :) Thanks for sharing all of this info!

    xo, mikéla /

  6. So fun! We went there with our friends on our last day in California! :) It was so beautiful! We saw whales from Pfeiffer beach, and by McWay falls! And from the road because I was looking out the window the whole time! Camping sounds fun, I haven't been for years, but I would love to go camping with KC! Glad you guys had such a good trip! :) XO - Alexandra

    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

  7. Not sure how I missed this post, but oh..! Looks fabulous!! I haven't done this since I was about 7 years old! A lifetime, basically! Love the photos!!

  8. THESE. PICTURES! We're going next April and I'll definitely be taking your tips into account :-)

  9. Man this is awesome! As often as I've been to California, I've only traveled to the same place. We're hoping to make a trip out there at some point so I can truly explore the area. And always love your photos, need to get on your level!

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  11. Monterey is very good place with many good scenery and place where you can do lot of things as I heard. I have planned to go there next month so I am searching a guides about the things that I can do their or places I can visit with my family. Thanks for sharing this 10 things. I will surly add this into my list.

    What's Up Monterey

    1. I'm glad it was helpful! If you're still researching, I have one more post here:
      And I also did a guest post for Find Amazing here:


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