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The hippest thing about Pacific Grove is just how traditional it is. A whiff of New England infuses the Monterey Bay air in this town where narrow lanes lined by sensible Victorian homes lead down to a rocky shore reminiscent of Maine. Along the shore, a coastal path connects residents to the bay—a world that is California through and through. Sea otters crack open shells, harbor seals balance on rocks and brown pelicans glide through the mists just above the waves. Pacific Grove is graceful but not stuffy, timeless but no museum piece. And yes, definitely not trendy. But in an era when authenticity is so rare, there’s something pretty hip about a town that stays true to itself.
WHAT TO DO
Monterey Bay Coastal
If you’re driving around Pacific Grove, think again—it’s a perfect walking town. The coastal trail (seemonterey.com/recreation-trail) is both a graceful promenade and community gathering place as it threads together parks along Pacific Grove’s four-mile-long shoreline. As the fog ebbs and flows, the ocean panoramas are ever-changing. Look for harbor seals on the beach at Hopkins Marine Station on the short walk to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row. In the other direction, head past the granite headlands of Lovers Point and continue around the top of Monterey Peninsula to Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds (831-372-8016; visitasilomar.com). You can take self-guided or ranger-led tours of 13 landmark buildings designed by Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
The country’s most renowned aquarium (866 Cannery Row, 831-648-4800, montereybayaquarium.org) sits just beyond town limits and is your best introduction to Monterey Bay ecology. The Open Sea Exhibit, with its hammerhead sharks and green sea turtles, has just reopened after a $19 million renovation. Be sure to catch the otherworldly leafy sea dragons in The Secret Lives of Seahorses exhibit. And for Pacific Grove history, check out the display on pioneering ecologist and one-time town resident Ed Ricketts, a close friend of John Steinbeck and inspiration for Doc in the novel Cannery Row.
WHERE TO EAT
Pacific Grove’s most celebrated restaurant, Passionfish, embraces a sustainable approach to seafood. If you’re going to have one special-occasion meal here, this is the place. The décor breaks from Pacific Grove’s traditionalism and is coolly contemporary with black-and-white underwater photography. Standout entrées include the lusted-for sea scallops in tomato-truffle butter and the lightly smoked rainbow trout. Bonus: Passionfish keeps its wine list, which spotlights many sustainably produced selections, at retail prices (dinner nightly; 701 Lighthouse Ave., 831-655-3311, passionfish.net).
Red House Cafe
Whether you eat by the brick fireplace or out on the porch, the cafe’s homey atmosphere and unfussy New American cuisine makes the almost obligatory wait well worth it (662 Lighthouse Ave., 831-643-1060, redhousecafe.com). Locals swear by the weekend breakfasts, and both the cinnamon raisin brioche French toast and the Red House Frittata (spinach, artichoke hearts, red bell peppers and two cheeses) have their devotees. You won’t go wrong with lunch either, including a pork tenderloin sandwich on rosemary focaccia.
WHERE TO STAY
Green Gables Inn
When you’re here, you want two things: history and Monterey Bay. And the Green Gables Inn ($135-$305; 301 Ocean View Blvd., 800-722-1774, greengablesinnpg.com) delivers both. Located close enough to the shoreline to hear the waves, the 1888 Queen Anne Victorian is unabashedly traditional. Expect all of the attendant indulgences: fresh-baked cookies, afternoon wine with hors d’oeuvres, and breakfast including baked French toast with house-made syrups (and if you don’t like morning schmoozing, it’s worth the $10 room delivery fee). And even if B&Bs aren’t your thing, if you’re ever going to stay in one, then let it be here. —M.J.