This article highlights the best things to do in Pacific Grove, California.
After dragging myself away from the Lovers Point area, I continued the drive around the coast towards other points of interest in Pacific Grove.
Pacific Grove, a city sandwiched between Pebble Beach and Monterey, is notorious for many things even though it is enclosed in less than 3 square miles.
By occupying the northern tip of the Monterrey Peninsula, the city has within its limits marvelous coastal scenes, a lighthouse, and a Downtown full of colorful buildings.
This place is often overlooked by its most famous neighbors, Monterey and Carmel. Those are hard to beat in terms of beauty and activities. However, I am sure you will not want to miss Pacific Grove after reading this article.
Table of Contents
About Pacific Grove
Before digging in, let’s get to know Pacific Grove better. Here are some interesting facts about the city:
- Pacific Grove was founded in 1875 by a group of Methodists who modeled the town after Ocean Grove, New Jersey.
- The city is known as “Butterfly Town USA” because Monarch Butterflies stop here during their annual migration (the city protects their sanctuary). There is even a butterfly parade every fall.
- Pacific Grove is full of Victorian houses.
- Robert Louis Stevenson (he wrote the book Treasure Island) loved to wander around the areas that are nowadays within city limits.
- For a number of years, John Steinbeck (Nobel Prize in Literature) lived in a cottage located in the city.
As you can see, this place has many claims to fame. A little bit surprised? Keep reading since there is more!
Beach Town Gear
As I spend a lot of time on beach towns, I have my gear packed and ready to throw in the car. Here is an idea of what I take to the beach.
- Walking Shoes – Comfortable walking shoes are a must. My go-to brands are Clarks, Tevas, and Sketchers.
- Flip Flops – Flip flops are a must on any beach trip. I am partial to the Tevas brand. >>Take a look at these beautiful flip flops
- Water Sandals – If you want a more polished look, check out these leather-made salt water sandals.
- Sweatshirt – A sweatshirt is a must to keep me warm during chilly mornings and nights. >Click to see this California appropriate option here
- Sun Block – Do not leave the house (or the car) without applying sunblock. I repeat, always wear sunblock when outdoors. >Buy sunblock here
- Lip Balm with Sunscreen – Protect your lips by applying a balm with sunscreen. >Get one of the best lip balms here
- Wide Brim Hat – A wide brim hat is a great way to protect your scalp, face, and neck. The ones manufactured by FURTALK come with an anti-UV function. >Buy this amazing hat here
- Sunglasses – These are another must when it comes to protecting from the sun. A polarized, sporty pair works better outdoors. >Take a look at this wonderful pair
- Towels – This is the accessory I always forget about. WETCAT’s Turkish Towels take minimum space and dry fast. >Buy a Turkish towel here
- Foldable Chairs – Portable chairs allow you to set camp at the beach, park, winery, and even a parking lot. A classic Coleman portable chair is a solid choice. >>Buy portable camping chair
- Beach Blanket – For laying on the sand, a beach blanket is necessary. Good ones are waterproof, sandproof, and light. The blankets manufactured by Wekapo fit several adults and are durable. >Buy this nice beach blanket here
- Soft Cooler Bag – A soft cooler bag with enough capacity is great for having drinks and some food items at hand. I love my CleverMade collapsible cooler bag. >Take a look at my cooler here
- Water Bottle – Do not forget to bring water! Keep yours cold by taking a beautiful Hydro Flask water bottle. >Check out the insane options here
- THERMOS Tumblers – I have been a fan of the THERMOS brand since I received a tumbler as a gift. The tumblers keep drinks hot for hours. >>Buy THERMOS insulated tumblers here
- Dry Bag – Keep your valuables (and electronics) protected by bringing a dry bag. >These dry bag is awesome
- Beach Bag or Large Tote – Carry all your gear on an amazing beach bag. Get one with tons of pockets (I love pockets). >>>Check out my beach bag top pick
- Camera – I have never gotten used to taking pictures exclusively with my phone. I prefer to use the Sony Alpha a6000. It is compact and takes gorgeous pictures. >Buy Sony Camera here
- Tripod – A compact tripod to take your photos and videos to a different level. >>Check out this popular option here
- Portable Power Bank – It is a pain to keep phones charged on beach trips. Having a power bank is a lifesaver. The Anker portable charger can charge a phone 5 times. >Buy this incredible power bank here
Things to Do in Pacific Grove
As most of my writing, this article will focus on things to do in Pacific Grove. I am isolating the city since I believe we should give ourselves time to get to know places closely. I all about in-depth exploration.
In the end, I will provide ideas on what to do in adjacent or nearby cities. For, now, Pacific Grove will have all our attention.
The Must See: Lovers Point
I will start by describing the place that impacted me the most.
If you only can make one stop in Pacific Grove, make it to Lovers Point. This promontory or small peninsula is circled by big boulders which boost the beauty of the coastal scenes you found there. You can walk around trying to find the most scenic spot for your photos.
The place can be furthered enjoyed because of the park and beach facilities. Believe me, you want to spend some time here. The water looks straight out of the Caribbean.
I know I have pretty much-described paradise. However, what really takes Lovers Point to another level is a phenomenon known as The Carpet of Flowers.
This refers to the pink, purple and yellow flowers (lantana, yellow aster, Pride of Madera, and Mexican Sage) blooming close to the ocean. We are not talking about a patch of flowers here and there. Both sides of the walkways are completely covered in flowers.
It is one of the most beautiful coastal scenes I have seen.
The Carpet of Flowers blooms April and May. There is a trail from Lovers Point to Perkins Park.
The spot has some facilities and eateries.
After being wowed by the beauty of Lovers Point and the carpet of flowers, my sightseeing lust was kind of satisfied (at least for the day). I felt happy about the experience and wasn’t expecting a lot more.
Boy, I was wrong about setting my expectations so low.
Walk or Bike the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail
The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail stretches 18 miles from Castroville to Pacific Grove. The paved trail has multiple entry/exit points and provides a high variety of services.
The Pacific Groove section goes from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to Lovers Point (about one-mile, one way). On this ride, you can stop by places such as Cabrillo Point, Andy Jacobsen Park, and Berwick Park. A short deviation will take you to Downtown Pacific Grove. On the Monterey side, you have access to Cannery Row and all its attractions.
You can extend your trip as much as you want. A nice idea is to pedal or walk from Pacific Grove to the Fishermen Wharf in Monterey. This 2.5 miles (one-way) is flat, easy, and full of interesting sights.
For bike rentals, go to Adventures by the Sea (Monterey).
Point Pinos Lighthouse
I left the coastal road momentarily when I turned left on Asilomar Avenue. I almost missed the narrow alley that took me to the dusty parking lot.
The day started to turn gray again but the cool breeze didn’t stop us from discovering a really cute lighthouse surrounded by cypresses.
As we approached the structure, we noticed the light that has been working for more than a hundred years.
Point Pinos was lit in 1855 to guide ships on the Pacific coast. It is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast and even the lens is original. Alcatraz Island Lighthouse preceded Point Pinos by 8 months but was replaced in 1909 by the expanding military prison. It is still an active Coast Guard aid to navigation.
The scattered clouds and the undulating United States Flag couldn’t frame the lighthouse better the day we visited.
Visit the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
Some say the type of plants giving the carpet of flowers its name attract monarch butterflies. As a matter of fact, people in the area do plant species that attract the butterflies on purpose.
Monarch butterflies can fly up to 3,000 miles to reach their winter homes in Central Mexico. Some do not make it to Mexico and overwinter along the United States western coast. One of those places is found in Pacific Grove.
With time, the monarch population has declined. That is why locals are encouraged to plant species preferred by the butterflies.
For sanctuary visits, you need to get in contact with the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History.
Note: There is a butterfly grove in Pismo Beach.
Another Must Visit: Asilomar State Beach
Once again, I took the coastal route (after some crazy turns, yes, I do not need a big city to get lost).
In a matter of minutes, I saw a sign welcoming me to Asilomar State Beach. And, this is when the surroundings started to take me by surprise (Asilo means “refuge” and mar means “sea.” This is a refuge by the sea.)
On my first stop, I started to scratch my head. The beauty of the coast was stunning. Plus, I couldn’t believe how different (and diverse) the vegetation was here. To make things even more interesting, the clouds in the sky were forming an arch (do you see it in the picture?).
Then, we started to get to small coves where white sand was abundant. The clouds arch was still visible in these areas.
So, I couldn’t resist it anymore when we made it to the “big” beach. My jaw dropped when I saw all the white sand and multi-hued water. I scratched my head again. Maybe, at some moment, I got out of California and was transported to a tropical locale.
I felt thankful for the opportunity to visit a place like this.
The ocean offshore is protected as the Asilomar State Marine Reserve, part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The rocky coves are home to thousands of species, some of which are unique to the bay.
Asilomar is also well known because of its Conference Grounds design by architect Julia Morgan (she designed Hearst Castle). I drove around the premises but wasn’t able to find an appropriate parking spot.
Even though we weren’t able to take a good look at the buildings, it was noticeable how well the structures blended with the surrounding environment.
There are ranger-led tours of the dunes and ecosystem. Check this page for more info.
Asilomar has a 2.6-mile Beach or Coastal Trail perfect for light walks, running, or pedaling. The point is to spend some time next to the gorgeous ocean. As I have mentioned, this place is delightful. I encourage you to visit.
Walk Around Downtown
But, wait, there is more!
As I mentioned in the opening of this post, Pacific Grove is full of Victorian houses. Some say the city has more of these houses per capita than any other place in the United States.
Downtown is the perfect place to start your exploration. You can walk at your own pace stopping at interesting points (this is what we did). I recommend stopping around even if it is for a short stroll.
You can also opt for picking a walking tour program from the Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce (which btw, is an excellent place to gather information). The program includes 22 historic locations within walking distance from Downtown. You can also obtain a printable map online.
A lot of the stately houses are located along Lighthouse Avenue. The notorious Butterfly House is located on 9th Street.
The city (like Carmel and Monterey) is an artist haven. Therefore, there are a lot of interesting galleries and shops. You can visit places such as Artisana Gallery, Tessuti Zoo, and the Pacific Grove Art Center.
Pacific Grove is home to several antique, consignment, and thrift shops located all over town. (find a map at The Chamber of Commerce). Start exploring at places like Pacific Grove Antiques and Church Mouse Thrift Shop.
If you (or your kids) need to stretch your legs, Downtown counts with parks such as Caledonia, Jewell, and Greenwood.
Visit a Museum
While in Downtown, you may want to stop by the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum, a place showcasing native plants, wildlife, geology and ecosystems of the Monterey Peninsula.
This place has been accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, a feat attained by less than 5% of museums. That means this place is the real deal and will leave a lasting impression on visitors.
Fun Fact: The Natural History Museum opened the same year as the Brooklyn Bridge (1883). That makes it one of the oldest of its kind in the nation.
In addition, the city counts with the Motorcycle Museum. This spot has on display a personal collection of motorcycles, scooters, and mini-bikes. It is opened during the weekends.
Play a Round of Golf
The Monterey Peninsula is golf country. There is no doubt about it. Feed your frenzy for the sport at the Pacific Grove Golf Links. This municipal course offers an affordable experience (when compared to its neighbors) and mega views.
There are a shop and restaurant on-site.
Attend an Event
I am all about attending local events. They offer a chance to mingle the locals and learn about the area traditions. The most interesting events in Pacific Grove include the Good Old Days (April), Feast of Lanterns (July) and the Butterfly Parade (October).
There are even more events planned by and for the community. Remember to check the local calendar before your visit.
And, before I forget, a farmers market takes place every Monday (4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.) on Central Avenue.
Pacific Grove Restaurants
You can eat very well in Pacific Grove. Let me show you, my dear.
Passionfish – As one of the best-rated restaurants in Pacific Grove, Passionfish serves top-quality seafood, meat, and greens. The menu includes dishes such as spicy fish stew, smoked trout ceviche, and duck confit
Jeninni Kitchen – In this bistro, the menu changes daily. You can find dishes such as seared scallops, crispy lamb shank, and braised pork cheeks. Just keep in mind things change with the seasons in here.
Wild Fish – This is the second location of a restaurant with origins in Little River (Mendocino County). They do fresh oysters, smoked fish plates, halibut, and sablefish. They keep the menu small since they focus on quality. They can tell you where the fish you are eating comes from.
La Mia Cucina – Come here to satisfy your Italian food cravings! Make sure you try the eggplant parmigiana, lobster ravioli, and farfalle with Bolognese
Café Ariana – This is the place to get pizza, soup, salad, panini, or pasta. They serve classic favorites.
The options mentioned here are clustered around Downtown. In the American Tin Cannery Outlets, you can find places such as Happy Girl Kitchen and Vivolo’s Chowder House.
In the Forest Hill District, locals like Taste Café & Bistro and Patisserie Bechler.
Nearby Cities and Attractions
Pacific Grove is super cool and beautiful by itself but its surroundings boost its star status. It may sound cliché but this is one of the most romantic and scenic parts of California. I highly recommend spending several days around.
Here are some places to add to extend your stay.
Monterey Bay Aquarium – I do not want to start a controversy but part of the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium lies in Pacific Grove. We’ll leave it in there but this is a one-of-a-kind place known for its impressive exhibits and conservation programs.
Adult tickets are $50 (kids are $30). For that amount of money, I would only visit if I can dedicate enough time to see the majority of the place. Before your visit, research how you can save on the admission price.
17-Mile Drive – The 17-Miles Drive, also known as Pebble Beach, is another popular attraction in the area. Basically, you pay $10 to drive around cliffs, beaches, and famous golf courses.
My honest opinion? If money is not a problem, go ahead and pay. If you are in a budget, do not feel bad skipping this place. The coastal views here do not come close to what you see in Big Sur and Point Lobos. And, they are not that different from what you see in Asilomar and Lovers Point.
I leave you with the decision. Remember the entrance fee is reimbursed if you spend $35 or more at one of the restaurants inside the gates.
Monterey – Of course, we cannot leave California’s former capital out of the list. Monterey is adjacent to Pacific Grove. Therefore, certain services and activities are shared between the cities. In Monterey, stop by Cannery Row, the Fishermen Wharf, and the Presidio. In season, take a boat to whale watch.
Carmel – This is another dream town in the peninsula. Carmel has whimsical cottages, gorgeous beaches, galleries, and open-air arcades. The town is also known for its Mission, the final resting place of Junipero Serra, the priest considered the founder of California.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve – This place is a true gem. The coves and vegetation here are mind-blowing. The trail system in the reserve is quite extensive. If you are pressed for time, hike around the China Cove area. This is a place I hope to return to soon.
How to Reach Pacific Grove, California
Pacific Grove is located in Monterey County, 320 miles from Los Angeles and 120 miles from San Francisco. The closest major airport is located in San Jose (75 miles). The closest Amtrak train station is located in Monterey. If you arrive by plane or train, it is advisable to rent a car.
The Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce is located at 584 Central Avenue. Pacific Grove, like many places in California, is a year-round destination due to the benign weather. Do not hesitate to visit even in the “colder” months.
Hope you have enjoyed this city as much as I did. Let me know if you need additional information.
More of Nearby Santa Cruz
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