Photo By: Eren Gknar/Special to the Town Crier
Pacific Grove, a 90-minute drive from Los Altos, boasts an array of shops in its charming downtown, left.
Nestled between the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the 17-Mile Drive gate, Pacific Grove offers some hidden, world-class gems, including the Monarch butterflies for which the town is known.
You could easily spend a weekend in “Butterfly Town, USA,” choosing to stay in any of the Victorian bed and breakfasts that line the streets. The town started out as a Methodist summer resort in 1875, with tents gradually morphing into cottages and grand houses.
Even on a recent frosty day, the coastal village offered plenty to do and had us wondering why we hadn’t stopped there before. It’s only approximately a 90-minute drive from Los Altos.
Start at the Visitor’s Center, 584 Central Ave., for brochures and maps to main attractions. Chamber of Commerce destination expert Erik Adamson, like many shopkeepers, noted that many out-of-town visitors had swarmed into Pacific Grove.
He recommended that we visit Monarch Grove and Lover’s Point, then come back downtown to wander through the quaint shops.
“It’s a nice, charming little scene here, no chaos and madness,” he said, probably referring to the post-Christmas sales going on elsewhere.
It’s a good time to check out this picturesque town, because scores of Monarch butterflies nest in Pacific Grove from November through February. The Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary, 263 Grove Acre Ave., a small, marked trail through a group of eucalyptus, pine and cypress trees, offers an up-close look. It’s open daily from sunrise to sundown and admission is free.
Docents are onsite from noon to 3 p.m. to help visitors find the butterflies, which snuggle together in clusters on the trees, resembling dead leaves. Carloads of people disembarked at the sanctuary while we were there just before sunset, but we didn’t see any butterflies.
If you miss the butterflies, you can catch the extensive exhibit run by the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, 165 Forest Ave. The Los Altos-based David and Lucile Packard Foundation has donated funds to maintain the display of geological, lepidopterology (the study of butterflies) and oology (the study of birds’ eggs).
The museum also boasts exhibits on local mammals, native plants and Native American populations of Monterey County, as well as interactive displays for young children. Admission is free.
Point Pinos Lighthouse
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Point Pinos Lighthouse, 90 Asilomar Blvd., sits on the very tip of the Monterey Peninsula with magnificent Pacific Ocean views.
It’s the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast. The beacon, a Fresnel lens, is original and was installed in 1855. The city of Pacific Grove and the Heritage Society are restoring the lighthouse, which was owned by the Coast Guard until 2005.
Hours are 1-4 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. We arrived just as it was closing, but luckily, the Coast Guard homeowner next door spotted us and let us in to take pictures.
Pacific Grove Golf Links is nearby at 77 Asilomar Blvd. for those who want to try the public fairway.
From kitsch to couture
Quaint downtown shops range from the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store at 214 Forest Ave. and Second Chance Thrift Store at 105 Central Ave. to funkier designer stuff. Here’s a sampling:
• It was hard to leave the Clothing Store, 606 Lighthouse Ave., which offers cute knit hats and lovely Ribikoff statement dresses. This store is worth more than a peek.
• Carried Away Boutique, 612 Lighthouse Ave., is aptly named for its Vera Bradley and Hobo International line of purses, wallets and spa products.
• The Works, 667 Lighthouse Ave., a combination teahouse, coffeehouse and bookstore, is open seven days a week.
Where to eat
You won’t go hungry in Pacific Grove.
Passionfish, 701 Lighthouse Ave., a seafood restaurant with entrées under $24, earns rave reviews.
Locals tend to dine at Fishwife at Asilomar Beach, 1996 1/2 Sunset Drive, which has a similar price range.
The newest kid on the block is Italian restaurant Il Vecchio, 110 Central Ave. You can find entrées under $12. Il Vecchio offers L’avventura in Cucina 5-9 p.m. every Monday for $20 per person, with the menu varying weekly. The meal includes “provincial cooking” not usually on the menu, consisting of antipasti, soup, pasta, salad, meat or fish and veggies. Children under 11 are $12. For reservations, call 324-4282.
For casual American fare, try Aliotti’s Victorian Corner, 541 Lighthouse Ave. We had a substantial Cobb salad for $10.95 and a chicken sandwich with fries and a green salad for $11.95 in the converted Victorian house.
Where to stay
There are several hotels and inns in Pacific Grove, including the Lovers Point Inn and the Lighthouse Lodge & Cottages. Accommodations range from charming bed and breakfasts to more luxurious hotels and vacation rentals.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of one of the best-kept secrets for a romantic getaway within a two-hour drive of the Bay Area.
For more information and a full listing of accommodations, visit the Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce’s website at www.pacificgrove.org.