"Please, put the shower curtain inside the tub!"
- Conrad Hilton when asked by Johnny Carson if he had a message for the American people.
Where should we stay? Mr. Toy gets this question a lot. He does not wish to provide any listings of accommodations here. There are plenty of excellent websites for that. There are times when a home-grown web page just can't compete with the big boys, and this is one of them. So go ahead and search your favorite travel site.
But before you start, Mr. Toy has some suggestions to help you narrow your search. First, ask yourself what type of lodgings you prefer and what can you afford. Basic motel? Bed & Breakfast? Full-service hotel? Next, read the sections below and decide which part of the Peninsula best suits your interests. Once you've done that you can tackle the web listings much more quickly. Then, if you have questions about a specific property, or just need a recommendation, you can ask Mr. Toy. He might actually know something.
One caution: Make your reservations as early as possible. During holidays things get pretty full. Even during off-season times everything can fill up if there is a big event in the area, such as the AT&T Pro-Am Golf Tournament, the Monterey Jazz Festival, or a race at Laguna Seca. The absolute worst time to book a room is during August's Classic Car Week which is so jam packed with events that it's nearly impossible for the average tourist to find affordable lodgings during that time. (Somebody needs to tell local event planners that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Lord knows local citizens have tried!)
More cautions: Be careful not to confuse properties with similar names. Carmel has a Mission Inn and a Mission Ranch which have absolutely nothing in common. Likewise there's a Monterey Bay Lodge and a Monterey Bay Inn. One is a motel (the Lodge), the other is a small hotel. Only one is actually along the bay (the inn), while the other is a couple of blocks inland. Which brings us to another caution. Some advertising can be deceptive. Mr. Toy doesn't want to give any names here to protect himself from the guilty, but a small number of lodgings have names or advertising descriptions which imply proximity to the ocean and other attractions, but they really aren't very close. You can verify such claims by viewing the map links in their listings.
BIG CAUTION: Are you thinking about renting a house or condo for your stay? If so, be wary. Very wary. Vacation rentals are illegal in more places than not. Nothing in this paragraph should be taken as legal advice, but there are some things we can state with reasonable certainty. House or condo rentals of less than 30 days are illegal in Monterey and residential neighborhoods of Carmel. Most of Pacific Grove is likewise off-limits except for a narrow area known as the "Coastal Zone." Vacation rentals are generally OK in Seaside and Del Rey Oaks (a thin sliver of land between Monterey and Seaside). But the rules in unincorporated areas of Monterey County, including Pebble Beach, Carmel Valley, Carmel Highlands, and Big Sur are, as of this writing, in a state of flux as a new ordinance is being drafted and debated and debated ad nauseam. Meanwhile, current county rules are too confusing for us to sort out.
Unfortunately, some residential property owners seem to think that rules were meant to be broken. We have seen quite a few improper listings on popular rental websites and apps. If the law catches up with them after you've made your reservation you'll be outta luck. Therefore you are advised to check with local authorities to verify the legality of any vacation rental before you commit to anything. Even in jurisdictions where they are legal some may be operating without proper licenses, so be extra cautious!
Below are detailed descriptions of the various Peninsula neighborhoods and their characteristics, along with handy maps to help you get oriented.
Monterey is the center of everything. It is a small yet busy city loaded with history. Lodgings are widely spread among five distinct areas.
Two of the biggest hotels on the Peninsula, the Monterey Marriott and the Portola, are in downtown Monterey. There are also some smaller ones such as the Monterey Hotel (pictured above) and Hotel Pacific. Around the fringes are a handful of motels and at least one B&B. Select a place downtown if you want to be in an urban environment. Most downtown accommodations are within walking distance of the waterfront, the wharf, and countless historic sites. If you want a room with a view the 10-story Marriott is your best bet. There is considerable nightlife in downtown Monterey. This could be an asset if you like to stay out late at restaurants or nightclubs, but a drawback if you prefer tranquility after dark.
There are two large, full-service hotels here, plus a couple of smaller ones, all of which are right on the water and have spectacular bay views. Go one block inland and you'll find a few above average motels. Like downtown, there is a lot of night life so the streets can be a bit noisy at night. The Spindrift and Clement hotels are along the northern part of Cannery Row which is a very touristy area. The southern end, farthest from the aquarium, is pretty calm. You'll find the Monterey Plaza and Monterey Bay Inn are located there. The Shoreline Recreation Trail runs within a block or so of these properties giving you foot and bicycle access to downtown Monterey and Pacific Grove. The aquarium is just a short walk down the street. Cannery Row is a great area if you want to be close to the bay. And just so you know, Cannery Row's shoreline faces east, not west, so you'll see the sun and moon rise over the bay, while they set over the top of Monterey's hills.
This area is along Munras Avenue between Highway 1 and Fremont Street. There are gobs of clean basic motels here. The advantage is that they are right in the middle of everything. The disadvantage is they are close to nothing, at least not close enough to walk. However, downtown Monterey and the waterfront are just a short drive down the hill, while Carmel is about five minutes away just over the hill. If all you want is a room that is relatively inexpensive, pick a place on Motel Row. Any one will do. Most of the places are AAA approved, and many are affiliated with popular chains.
North Fremont Boulevard:
Located on the east side of town, North Fremont is a busy commercial corridor. Like Motel Row, there are several clean and basic motels here, including a Motel 6. Some of them date back to the earliest days of motel construction, which is sort of quaint. Quality is not as consistent as on Motel Row, the neighborhood is less refined, and things are a little farther away. North Fremont is within walking distance of the Monterey Fairgrounds, home of many special events such as the Monterey County Fair, Monterey Jazz Festival, and a bunch of other things. If you are attending one of these events staying on North Fremont lets you avoid the hassles of parking.
By The Freeway:
There are a few "resort" style hotels sprinkled alongside the freeway. At the Canyon Del Rey (Highway 218) interchange you'll find a beachfront hotel called Monterey Tides, which is technically in Monterey, but for all practical purposes it is more like Seaside since the border between the two towns is just a few feet away. It is one of the very few local properties outside of Cannery Row that are directly on the shore. Near Aguajito Road there's a Hyatt (which is within walking distance of the fairgrounds), a Hilton, and a few motels. None of these places are exceptionally luxurious, but they're not bad, either. Sometimes prices at these properties are pretty good, but bear in mind that some of their rooms overlook and overhear the freeway.
For peace and tranquility stay in Carmel-By-The-Sea. It's a small, quirky village full of interesting shops, art galleries, and excellent restaurants, all in a fairy-tale forested setting. The business district can be pretty bustling during the day, but most everything, except the restaurants closes up around 6:00pm. If you stay here, carry a flashlight if you go out walking at night because there are very few streetlights.
The downtown area is roughly bounded by 4th Avenue on the north side, Junipero on the east, 8th on the south, and Monte Verde on the west. Nearly all of the downtown lodgings are within a block of this boundary. The area includes several top-of-the-line motels, some cozy cottages, and a few small luxury hotels. Many have fireplaces. Most of the motels are in the eastern and northern sides of town. The small hotels and inns are in older, historic buildings and tend to be located more towards the western side of the village. Choose downtown Carmel if you want to be near lots of restaurants, shopping, or the town's excellent performing arts venues. The beach is also an easy walk down the hill, but a huff-puff walk back up.
In Carmel's forested residential areas there are several small motels and inns scattered throughout. There is one large historic hotel, La Playa, which occupies an entire block midway between the business district and the beach. At the south end of town is a famous rustic resort called Mission Ranch, which still utilizes the original structures of a 19th Century dairy ranch. A couple of the smaller places are located along Carpenter Street at the northeast corner of town with easy access to the highway. Others are located between the beach and downtown which are good choices if you want to be able to walk to most things. And there are one or two within a block or two of the beach, but not quite within walking distance of downtown. The nicest part of these properties is that you get to experience the Carmel residential lifestyle without having to buy a multi-million dollar house!
If Carmel sounds right for you, Carmel's Official Travel Site provides a handy guide to lodgings and you can reserve your room there, too.
One of California's most significant historic buildings is right here in the little town of Carmel! Hang this dramatic black and white photograph in your home as a daily reminder of your visit to Carmel. This is just one of many images of the Monterey Peninsula available from Mr. Toy's Photography Gallery and Picture Shop. Every purchase helps support this website while you get something nice in return.
There are also a couple of properties at the mouth of Carmel Valley near Highway 1 and Rio Road. The most prominent is the Carmel Mission Inn. The other is the somewhat rustic Carmel River Inn. The setting - dominated by multiple shopping centers - lacks the charm of Carmel or the rural style of Carmel Valley, but has the advantage of easy access to shopping, Carmel, Big Sur and the highway to Monterey.
Located a few miles south of Carmel on Highway 1, the Highlands has sort of a fairy-tale forest ambiance with some of the most dramatic ocean views on the planet. The community was the home of pioneering photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. The Highlands feels isolated, but is just a short drive to the rest of the Peninsula.
There are two very nice properties here. The Highlands Inn is a full-service resort hotel, with a swimming pool, restaurant with a view, and a dramatic lounge area with two large stone fireplaces. Next door is the Tickle Pink Inn, one of the most luxurious motels anywhere. Both are perched on the side of a steep hill above Highway 1 with spectacular panoramic views of the ocean (though some rooms may not have ocean views). Some folks have complained about the highway noise, but Mr. Toy finds it well within acceptable limits. It is much louder in Monterey. Besides, with a view like this who cares?
P.G. as the locals call it, is located on the northwest corner of the Peninsula. The community has a pleasant Small Town America feel and is ideal if you want something not too urban, but not too rustic either. This town is very un-touristy, and they hope to keep it that way. The sidewalks roll up early, so things are pretty quiet at night. Due to its location, Pacific Grove tends to see more fog during the summer months than do other Peninsula cities. That's not a bad thing, it's just part of P.G. life.
There are fewer of these in Pacific Grove than elsewhere, but their numbers are still respectable. Many are within walking distance of the shoreline. They vary from ordinary motels to small cabins with fireplaces. Most are on the west side of town on Lighthouse Avenue or Asilomar Drive. There are a couple by the water near Lovers Point, which may have the least expensive bay views on the Peninsula. Overall you may find prices in Pacific Grove are a bit lower than in Carmel while providing a similar forested village setting.
Bed & Breakfast Inns:
Most of the best B&Bs on the Peninsula seem to be in Pacific Grove. Probably because all of the great old Victorian houses are there. There are a few along the mile-long stretch of Ocean View Boulevard between the aquarium and Lovers Point with great bay views. Several more are in the downtown area which are ideal to enjoy the small town atmosphere.
Pebble Beach (aka Del Monte Forest) is a private, gated community that occupies a large portion of the Monterey Peninsula. It is home to the famous 17 Mile Drive, the Lone Cypress, and several golf courses.
There are two very expensive resort hotels in Pebble Beach. The Lodge at Pebble Beach is close to Carmel, and the Inn at Spanish Bay is near Pacific Grove. The latter has access to Asilomar State Beach. If you like golf or ocean views these are the places to go. But unless you are fairly wealthy you probably can't afford to stay there. Like Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach generally gets a more summer fog than Carmel or Monterey - but it wouldn't be Pebble Beach without it. That fog keeps the rare and distinctive Monterey Pine forest alive between rainy seasons.
Seaside is at the opposite end of the economic spectrum from Pebble Beach. On Del Monte Boulevard at the corner of Canyon Del Rey (Highway 218) there is one big ten-story hotel, the Embassy Suites, which is quite appealing (on the inside, anyway, the outside looks like a giant shipping box). A more modest Holiday Inn Express can be found next door. You'll enjoy great views from the upper floors of both buildings. Behind them is a pleasant lake called Laguna Grande, which attracts a variety of waterfowl. Although neither of these properties are very close to anything a tourist would want to be near, Monterey's waterfront attractions are just a five to seven minute drive straight down the street and Carmel is about ten minutes away via the Freeway.
Most of Seaside's motels are located along Fremont Boulevard, a rather unattractive commercial area. Don't bother with them unless you are either dirt poor or if everything else is full and you must be here on a specific date. Some neighborhoods, especially towards the north end of Fremont, are not the best places to be out at night. The closer you are to the Monterey border the better off you'll be.