There’s a spot, along the the sixth fairway, where the curtain of trees is pulled back and the Pacific comes quickly and sharply into focus. It’s the first look you get at an unrivaled, five-hole vivant tableau and the place where the shock and awe of California’s Pebble Beach, between Monterey and Carmel, begins to overtake your senses.
From here you can stare your way to a heaven above the cliff framed by Stillwater Cove—that paradise is an elevated green, not quite visible from your tee shot, but you know all too well, it’s there and waiting.
It’s time to hit your second over the rocky face and make the steep climb upward. It’s a shot every golf fanatic dreams about hitting, and when you finally do find yourself there, it’s one you won’t soon, or hopefully ever, forget—and you still have 12 magical holes to go.
Playing Pebble is a singular experience, and every golfer owes themselves at least one trip to what is perhaps the greatest public golf course on the planet. Of course, the six-time U.S. Open venue is the big draw for the bucket list trip to the Monterey Peninsula, but when you decide to pull the trigger, this stretch of central California coast boasts a bevy of stellar courses you’ll want to play while you’re there.
There is no such thing as perfection but this is pretty close to our dream long weekend playing Pebble and exploring Carmel, Monterey, and beyond.
You’ve got options when it comes to traveling to Monterey. If you choose to fly into San Francisco (more flight options) or San Jose (a little bit closer), you’ll need to rent a car and drive the rest of the way down. Having your own wheels will allow you play some magnificent courses on the way in and out. But if you elect to use the wickedly convenient Monterey Airport, you can hop a cab (Uber or Lyft) and be either at your hotel or on a golf course in a matter of minutes. As a bonus, if you decide to stay at the Pebble Beach Resorts hotels, they will collect you, gratis, at the Monterey Airport in a chauffeured Lexus and take you back when it’s time to head home. How sweet it is!
The Inn at Spanish Bay or the Lodge
The Pebble Beach Resorts hotels are easily some of the best in the area and our favorite. Rooms are posh, perfectly appointed and feature some of the dreamiest beds we’ve ever slept in. While both hotels are beautiful and offer you proximity to the courses, several restaurants and bars you’ll want to discover, heated pools and opulent spa experiences, the real amenity is that if you stay at one, you can make tee times at any of their acclaimed courses, including Pebble Beach Golf Links, when you book your room—up to 18 months in advance. Non-guests can only book golf rounds on Pebble within 24 hours. Of course that luxury comes at a price, rooms at the Inn at Spanish Bay start at $820 and the Lodge will run you at least $940 before taxes and fees.
Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa on Del Monte Golf Course
For the more budget-conscious traveler, the Hyatt is a great option. It’s got a four-star rating, excellent rooms, a lovely swimming pool, and it’s located in the heart of Monterey. It’s easily accessible to everything you’re going to want to see and play. Views of the Del Monte Golf Course make its value at $260 (standard rate) but the online price often dips bellow $200.
Carmel Valley Ranch
Imagine an all-suite, luxury summer camp for the whole family with so much to see and do you’ll hardly want to leave. That’s the Carmel Valley Ranch. This year the resort refreshed all 181 suites with not only new furniture but also smart room technology for enhanced comfort.
Activities at the ranch range from axe-throwing, falconry, and archery to hiking, yoga, beekeeping, honey harvesting, foraging walks, and cooking classes. So if you need something to do beyond golf, they have got you covered.
Of course, this area loves its golf and Carmel Valley Ranch also boasts a highly regarded 18-hole Pete Dye track that’s worth a round if you can turn a four-day weekend into five. High season rates begin at $550 but often drop for the fall and winter.
The Quail Lodge and Golf Club
Home of one of Monterey Car Week‘s most impressive car shows (go if you get the chance), the Quail Lodge and Golf Course is set in a between two ridges in the Carmel Valley just a 10-mile ride from the Monterey Airport. The Lodge’s spacious rooms featuring decks and patios with stunning views of the grounds and golf course are a treat while the service and the attentive staff are a lovely cherry on top. The hotel also features a cool little nine-hole putting course, so you can settle any bets with your buddies without having to take on a full emergency nine. A night at the Quail Lodge and Golf Club starts at $225.
Eat + Drink
One of the best reasons to visit Monterey-Carmel for golf is the food. You can’t flip a lob wedge without hitting a memorable restaurant with an outstanding wine list. Here are a few of our favorites.
There are a few places in the world where we are confident enough in the quality of both the food and the service to let our waiter just go ahead and surprise us with their favorite order. The Bench is one of those places. With a view of Pebble Beach’s 18th green, it’s an excellent spot to cap off a round with your playing partners or enjoy a quiet dinner with your life partner. Normally we prefer whiskey apres golf, but at The Bench, they make a perfect (gin, obviously) martini if the mood takes you.
The Whaling Station
Counterintuitive as it may seem, steak is the thing at The Whaling Station. Whatever cut your heart desires, they serve a Nebraska-raised USDA Prime slice of heaven. If you’re particularly famished after a hard day on the course, we’d go with the Fred Flinstone-inspired cowboy rib steak with about two feet of bone hanging off the plate. Be warned, if we hear back that you ordered it well done or let ketchup touch this hunk of beautifully marbled meat, we will find you.
We are suckers for classic Italian food, especially when it’s exquisitely executed, and that’s what you get at Porta Bella. Set in the heart of Carmel, its menu features a few delectable California flourishes, which we appreciate, but its traditional wild mushroom risotto is near-perfection, and the lobster broth in the linguine aI frutti dI mare is sublime.
Situated on Monterey’s Cannery Row, Schooners Costal Kitchen and Bar is a highly regarded seafood spot with a stunning view of Monterey Bay. Excellent mussels, crab cakes, line caught tuna and a fisherman’s cioppino make choosing dinner a little tough, but after a hard day on the links, you probably need the calories, so go ahead and order a few things.
If you eat breakfast every day of your trip at Katy’s Place, you could do worse. The sauce on its huevos rancheros is addictive, and with a dozen different varieties of Eggs Benedict, it’s hard to imagine exhausting the menu in a month, let alone a long weekend. Word to the wise, consider the Irish, it’s a Benedict with corned beef hash in lieu of the Canadian bacon. You’ll thank us.
If you adore a good dive with solid burgers, this Hawaiian-themed joint is the spot for you. Hula’s potent tiki drinks are a great way to soften the muscles as well as the brain after a 36-hole golf bender. And while the aforementioned burgers are tasty, they also put out a helluva pork plate. But we also love the Cuban-style pork tacos, with just the right amount of spice and crunch to get you thinking about a second order. Pro tip: Go ahead and save a little room for their ice cream cake. It’s slathered in whip cream and hot fudge, plus it’s big enough for four strapping lads to share.
Cultura Comida y Bebida
There’s nothing better than fun, expressive Mexican food—and that’s precisely what you get at Cultura Comida y Bebida, where they marry Oaxacan flavor with local California ingredients to create truly crave-worthy food. From the sumptuous carnitas tacos to the street corn, from the Mole to the not-to-be-missed chicken enchiladas, there is something on the menu for everyone. The adventurous might choose to start with an order of the Chapulines, toasted grasshoppers; others might just want the chips with two salsas and guacamole. Either way, you’re in for a treat.
If you fly into San Francisco:
TPC Harding Park
If you fly into San Fransisco, go shake those airplane legs (and back) off before your drive south with a round at TPC Harding Park. The city by the bay’s public gem is poised to host the the 2020 PGA Championship and that’s reason enough for a lap. Originally designed in 1925, the once dilapidated course was resurrected in the early 2000s and has since hosted a Presidents Cup, two WGC Match Play Championships, and three Champions’ Tour finales. Lined with cypress trees and set on Lake Merced, TPCHarding Park is a pleasant round, if you can find the fairway, with a memorable six-hole finishing stretch.
Half Moon Bay
If you land in San Fransisco early, after your round at TPC Harding Park, pop off at Half Moon Bay for a quick bite and a round on the Ocean Course since you likely won’t be able to check into your hotel at Pebble or the like until after 4 p.m. The Ocean Course is a fun romp along the shore with quick greens, good seaside holes, and some elevation changes, which will give you a little practice thinking about the wind and the uphill-downhill shots you’ll have to navigate when you get to Pebble.
If you fly into Monterey or San Jose:
A horse is a horse, of course, of course, unless, of course, that horse is a course on the Monterey Peninsula. Then it’s the Black Horse Course at Bayonet. Mr. Ed jokes aside, The Black Horse, the more playable of two former Army courses at Bayonet, is a gem and a value for the area at $145. Stellar views of Monterey Bay, beautifully edged bunkers, and a solid variety of shots make this horse one we’ll endorse.
Del Monte GC
Del Monte is the oldest continuously operated golf course west of the Mississippi, which automatically puts it on a must-play list. Cypress and tree-lined fairways lead to smallish greens. It’s a classic test of golf, and as the course is owned by the Pebble Beach Resorts, the conditions are generally excellent and a steal at $110.
Nothing can really prepare a mere mortal to compete on a course where Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods both won U.S. Opens. Originally designed by amateur course architects Jack Neville and Douglas Grant in 1919, Pebble has hosted the U.S. Open a total of six times, a PGA Championship in 1977, and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am every year since 1947. The fairways are perfect. The greens are fast. The bunker sand is fine as sugar. Most courses offer one signature hole. Pebble Beach has at least eight of them.
The Links at Spanish Bay
Some might skip The Links at Spanish Bay on a short trip to Pebble, but that’s folly. It’s a fun seaside challenge, and a nice way to finish the day provided you didn’t wear yourself out on the first 18. Previously known as a little unforgiving, the course’s run-off areas have been softened to make it more playable for guests over the last few seasons . But don’t worry: Spanish Bay still has plenty of teeth. Numerous undulations keep you off-kilter in the fairways and cleverly deployed bunkers guard tiered greens with plenty of slope, so keep your golf brain thinking and mind your angles into pin positions as you plot your way around this strategic course. But don’t forget to enjoy the views. Spanish Bay has a ton of jaw-droppers.
If you choose to flip the order and play Spanish as a warm-up to Pebble, take a cart at Spanish and start your walk a little earlier on your second loop, as Pebble can get a little foggy in the evenings and you’ll want enough light when you make your way down the stunning 18th.
Some heretics claim Spyglass Hill is a better golf course than its more famous sibling. Better? No. Harder? Yes. The opening salvo of holes in this Robert Trent Jones design plays out to the Pacific, but then the course takes a turn into the trees. Elevation changes, a few water hazards and tricky green complexes will challenge even the best players. A word to the wise, beware going for the par-5 14th in two. Unless you’ve got a reliable, long cut shot in the bag, you’re probably better off laying up to a comfortable wedge and trying to make birdie the old-fashioned way.
Continuing a foray into the Del Monte Forest, Poppy Hills was updated a few years back by the original architect, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., who softened it some here and there, though the course still presents some serious challenges. Trust us, the greens are quick and tricky, the fairway bunkers gobble up balls as do the newly added sandy waste areas, which may cost you strokes but require much less water than thick rough. Your loss is the environment’s gain.
The Quail Lodge and Golf Club
Teeing off in an early morning fog is an ethereal delight to be relished. It’s how we imagine golf in the tranquil bliss of the afterlife and that’s what you get on many mornings at The Quail Lodge and Golf Club. Nestled between two ridges within Carmel Valley, that regular ground cloud makes for picturesque front nine and some of the greenest holes you’ll see in the area thanks to its location. Originally designed by Robert Muir Graves in the ‘60s, the course was renovated in 2015 and at around 6,500 yards from the tips, the Quail Lodge and Golf Club is a relaxing round, a pleasant test that won’t overtax your game. The par-threes are solid, the fives reachable, and the fours offer some options off the tees. It’s a lovely walk, hard to spoil, any time of day.
Alister MacKenzie design credits include Augusta National, Cypress Point, and Royal Melbourne, but he retired to a home on his work at Pasatiempo. It’s a stunning course with bunkers and greens that blow the mind. The course is in Santa Cruz, more or less on the way back to the major airports, and a must play if you didn’t fly into Monterey. Pasatiempo is a perfect high note that will stay with you long after you get home.
If you’re flying out of Monterey Airport:
Pebble Beach Golf Links—Redux
Yes. That’s right. Just do it again. You know you want to. You’ve already played it once, so you know it’s worth it. We’d play there every day if we could. So take a second bite at the apple. Maybe an ace at the seventh is in the cards this time.
If you want to take some time away from the course or just need to reset, Monterey and Carmel have loads to do and see.
Serenely scenic, 17-Mile Drive is a must. Go slow, and take it all in. From a variety of birds and California sea lions to stunning rock formations and the iconic Lone Cypress Tree, this stretch of road is eye candy from start to finish.
Weathertec Laguna Seca Raceway and the Lexus Driving Academy
If you’ve got a need for speed and you choose the right dates, you can fold a day at the race track into your golf trip, and we highly recommend you do. Professional instruction from the coaches at the Lexus Driving Academy is not only exhilarating, but it also offers some excellent takeaways you can use on your daily commute. You’ll learn to drift, glean racing knowledge from the mind of pro-driver Scott Pruett and, of course, test your mettle as you try to get around the iconic Laguna Seca as fast as you dare in a $100k Lexus. Good luck finding the Zinardi line through the legendary hairpin.
The Monterey Aquarium
Like fish? Maybe throw in a little science education? The world-class Monterey Aquarium is mind-blowing and features animals and all aquatic walks of life. OK, sharks, seahorses and octopus don’t walk, but sea turtles and penguins do, just like our favorites—the otters.
Perhaps the most stunning stretch of coastline in the continental United States, the drive through Big Sur will have you pulling over to gawk and snap photos every mile. But the 70 miles of eye candy also features a number of state parks and a bevy of hiking trails to explore.
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