"Every journey has a secret destination of which the traveler is unaware."
You can get to the Monterey Peninsula by almost any mode of transportation known to man, with the possible exception of flying saucer. People have come on blimps, navy ships, Oscar Meyer Weinermobiles and more. Mind you, not every type of transport is available to you, so you may be limited to the more ordinary things like those listed below.
Driving to the Monterey Peninsula is the most common method of getting here. But in this state dominated by the modern freeway, you may be surprised to learn that at least part of your trip will involve one or more segments on an old fashioned two-lane highway. Many of these roads haven't seen significant improvements since the 1960s. Mr. Toy is not a map maker, nor a GPS device, so you'll have to make do with these entertaining written directions.
FROM THE NORTH
Most people come here from the north because it is closer than the south. You have a choice of several alternate routes. We're assuming here that you are either in the San Francisco Bay Area or you can find your way there without help. The options follow:
This is probably the most commonly used route, for it can bring you here from downtown San Francisco, San Jose, and all points in between. Follow it south through San Jose where it will pass through world famous Silicon Valley before opening up into a real valley complete with hills on each side.
South of San Jose you'll pass the town of Morgan Hill. A short time later when you smell garlic you'll be passing Gilroy. Beyond Gilroy the road becomes an older style divided highway with some cross traffic, so be cautious.
After a few miles the highway runs into some very pretty hills and from there on the drive will be quite scenic. You'll pass the exit for San Juan Bautista (featured in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Vertigo) then you'll pass through a tunnel of eucalyptus trees (also seen in Vertigo).
After winding through a few more hills you'll come to Prunedale whereupon you'll see a sign that telling you the exit for the Monterey Peninsula is coming up. When you take that exit, the ramp will quickly split. Bear left, or you'll end up getting sucked into Prunedale.
If you did that correctly, you will be on Highway 156, a five mile long two-lane road with cross traffic. Just past Castroville you'll gently merge onto Highway 1 southbound and you can take that all the way into Monterey or Carmel. If your destination is Pacific Grove or Pebble Beach you'll find the exit on the hill between Monterey and Carmel.
Alternate Freeway Route:
If you're in the Western half of San Francisco it will be faster to take Highway 280 south from 19th Avenue. 280 is one the prettiest urban freeways in California. South of The City it runs parallel to the San Andreas Fault. You'll see it on the right where two reservoirs take advantage of the natural depression. Follow 280 south to Highway 85, and take 85 until it joins up with 101. If you miss 85 just follow 280 all the way to 101.
During peak traffic periods, 280 is usually faster and less congested than 101 if you're coming from San Francisco airport (SFO). Highway 380 will take you the short distance from SFO to 280.
From San Francisco take 19th Avenue south until it becomes a freeway leading out of town. Merge over to the right as quickly as possible. Soon you'll see an exit for Highway 1 to Pacifica, which will take you up over a hill towards the ocean. As you come over the top of this hill you'll cross the San Andreas Fault and if your passengers look back (don't even think about it if you're driving) you can see a large notch in the cliff. That's the fault.
Follow Highway 1 to Santa Cruz, stopping along the way to visit one or more of the many parks and beaches speckled along the route. At Santa Cruz you may encounter heavy traffic as you pass through the northern part of town. At one traffic light the highway will bear to the left. Follow it and you will soon be on a freeway, which may also be heavily congested.
South of Santa Cruz the freeway clears up and it will be smooth driving until you pass Watsonville, where the freeway ends and it becomes a two-lane highway. You'll pass agricultural fields, then the Elkhorn Slough before you reach the twin stacks of the power plant at Moss Landing. More farms lay on the other side of Moss Landing as you proceed to Castroville where artichokes come from. There the road becomes a freeway again. It will take you all the way into Monterey, as per the instructions under Highway 101 above.
The Coastal Route from San Jose:
To get to Highway 1 from San Jose you must take the treacherous Highway 17 for 20 miles through the Santa Cruz Mountains. Mr. Toy really recommends you avoid this highway. Although it is, technically, a freeway, it has steep grades and sharp curves and it is saturated with commuters who drive much too fast. This combination makes for a stressful workout for first-timers. Highway 17 is often heavily congested and subject to frequent delays caused by accidents, mostly caused by the aforementioned commuters. If you get stuck behind an accident there is no way to go around it. Rush hour traffic is intolerable. While the route is kind of pretty, there are too many hazards to really enjoy it.
FROM THE SOUTH
Mr. Toy doesn't have much occasion to take this route so he isn't as familiar with the various twists and turns, but if you're coming from the south you have two options: the inland route or the coast route.
The inland route:
Although Highway 101 is not as jaw-droppingly spectacular as the famous coast route, it is significantly faster and fairly scenic in its own right.
From your starting point take 101 north to the Monterey Peninsula exit at Salinas. Follow the Highway 68 West signs as they wind their way through town. Eventually you'll be on a four lane freeway leading out of town towards Monterey. After a couple miles the road will narrow to two lanes for most of your journey.
Shortly after you pass the Monterey airport (asking yourself "Why didn't we fly here?") the road will again have four lanes of divided highway. Get in the left lane unless you are headed towards North Fremont Boulevard or Seaside. You'll find yourself in a spaghetti interchange which will put you onto southbound Highway 1. To get into central Monterey stay in the two right lanes and you'll go right on in. Do the same if you are going to Pacific Grove. Follow the signs towards Cannery Row, but don't stop there. Keep going to the Monterey/PG border.
However, if your destination is Carmel or Pebble Beach quickly (because you only have about 1,000 feet to work with) get into the two left hand lanes of Highway 1 and proceed on down the freeway and over the hill.
Alternate scenic route:
Before you get to Salinas take the Abbott Street exit towards Spreckles. You'll pass under 101 and run parallel to the freeway until you get to Harris Road. Turn left and follow Harris Road across the fields. It will curve sharply to the right and take you through the tiny town of Spreckles. If you miss the turnoff for Harris Road, go a little farther and take a left on Harkins Road which will also take you into Spreckles. Harris Road becomes Spreckles Boulevard which will take you through a tunnel of trees on your way to Highway 68. Go under 68 and turn left onto the freeway ramp and follow the instructions above.
Take Highway 1 north. It's a spectacular twisting road along the edge of the continent. Just don't expect to get here very fast. Under the best conditions you'll probably average about 35 or 40 MPH. Summer and holiday traffic may slow you down even further. In the winter Highway 1 can be subject to closure from landslides, so check with Caltrans prior to your departure. If the weather is stormy take the inland route no matter how badly you want to see the coast. Highway 1 can be very treacherous in adverse weather, and not much fun.
Northbound Highway 1 will lead you first to Carmel. To enter Carmel turn left at either Rio Road or Ocean Avenue (the latter being the simpler way in). To get to Pacific Grove or Pebble Beach take the first exit after the freeway starts just North of Carmel. Monterey is accessed at four subsequent exits.
Grazing is a popular activity for coastal cows. This image from Mr. Toy's Photography Gallery and Picture Shop would make a great souvenir of your journey along the coast. Hang it on your wall or have it printed on a variety of home decor and gift items. Every purchase, big or small, helps support this website.
This is Mr. Toy's favorite way to travel. There's nothing more relaxing than a train ride, at least for those of us who value the journey as much as the destination.
Amtrak's Coast Starlight, one of the most prestigious trains in Amtrak's system, can bring you here from Los Angeles, Seattle, or any of 26 other cities and towns along its route. You can also connect to the Starlight from several other trains and busses. The train stops about twenty miles from Monterey in downtown Salinas.
Southbound train #11 comes to Salinas daily around midday, while #14, the northbound train, arrives in the evening. Schedules vary somewhat depending on the season. Actual timekeeping is at the mercy of the Union Pacific Railroad which does better on some days than others (this is not Amtrak's fault). Delays may be caused by freight traffic or track work. Relax and go with it. You'll be fine as long as you don't schedule any important activities on the day of your arrival. Regular rail travelers consider delays to be extra time on board for free! Train status can be monitored at Amtrak.com or by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL.
Amtrak provides a short bus ride from Salinas to five points in Monterey, all within easy walking distance of lodgings. It also makes one stop in Carmel. Unfortunately, the Carmel bus stop is outside of town at a Chevron station on Rio Road near Highway 1. The Carmel Mission Inn is next door, but that's the only hotel within walking distance. The bus requires a separate ticket, so be sure to specify that your destination is Monterey when you make your train reservation.
If you are coming from the San Francisco Bay Area or Sacramento, you can ride either Caltrain or the Capitol Corridor to San Jose, where you can connect with a Monterey-Salinas Transit bus (line 55) for the rest of your journey. Timetables are available on their respective websites.
If you've never taken a train, Mr. Toy suggests you give it a try. The Coast Starlight's cheapest coach seats offer legroom that first class air travelers would envy. First-class offers privacy in your own sleeping accommodations. The dining car provides plated meals while the Sightseer Lounge features a well stocked cafe with snacks, sandwiches, and more. Social opportunities abound while America glides past your window. Its not for everybody, or for every trip, but once you've tried it you may never want to get on a cramped airliner again.
Book your rail tickets at Amtrak.com. You can also call 1-800-USA-RAIL. If you need to talk to a real person say "Agent" when "Julie" answers.
If you need rail travel advice, please feel free to ask Mr. Toy. Or discuss your plans with experienced rail travelers at Trainweb's Railforum. And be sure to take a look at Mr. Toy's Photography Gallery and Picture Shop for images of the Coast Starlight and other trains.
The Monterey Peninsula is served by multiple regional airlines mostly using a variety of small jets. United Express is the anchor airline, having been here forever, offering direct flights to and from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Denver.
Other carriers that serve the Monterey Peninsula include American Eagle, which connects us to Phoenix and Dallas. Alaska files direct to San Diego, while Allegiant Air goes to Las Vegas. Many flights operate daily, but some only run a few days per week or are seasonal. Mr. Toy cautions potential travelers that not all of these flight options will endure long-term, as airline services in Monterey seem to come and go with the tides.
For the most up-to-date data on airlines serving the Peninsula please visit the official Monterey Regional Airport site. They're better able to keep up with things than we are. If you happen to have your own plane, their General Aviation page will help you figure out what services are available when you fly yourself in.
The Monterey airport is located near the southeast corner of Monterey, just off of Highway 68 at Olmsted Road. Several well-known automobile rental outfits are on-site.
If you're looking for a more economical alternative, it is often less expensive to fly into San Francisco or San Jose and take the Monterey Airbus to the Peninsula. The shuttle drops passengers in downtown Monterey just a short walk down the street from the Monterey Conference Center, the Marriott and Portola hotels, and other downtown lodgings. Mr. Toy's mother used this service several times and always had a good experience.
For the more luxury minded, you may be able to sail here in style. From time to time cruise ships anchor in the waters adjacent to downtown Monterey and Cannery Row as part of their west coast cruise adventures. Though the visits tend to be brief they give you a chance to taste a sample of our historic community sufficient to entice your return for a longer stay. That's our hope anyway. We suggest you contact your favorite travel agent for details, as offerings change more often than we can keep up with.