Just the mention of California’s coastal 17-Mile Drive is guaranteed to bring gasps and huge smiles from anyone who’s experienced it (myself included since I am originally from the Bay Area). As one of America’s most scenic drives, the route meanders along the Monterey Peninsula passing through an area commonly known as Pebble Beach. Much of this idyllic wind-sculpted forested community hugs the stunning Pacific coastline with its rugged cliffs dotted with ocean-sprayed outcroppings. Though there are five entrance gates (Pacific Grove Gate, Country Club Gate, S.F.B Morse Gate, Highway 1 Gate & Carmel Gate), coming in from either the Pacific Grove or Carmel sides is highly recommended for the best overall views and magnificent vantage points. A $11.25 cash-only entrance fee is reimbursed with a purchase in one of Pebble Beach’s designated restaurants and the drive is open daily for visitors from sunrise to sunset. The roads are marked with a red dashed center line to avoid straying off the 17-Mile Drive path. Signs along the way are also helpful in confirming the route and each awe-inspiring stop and vista will reward you with a myriad of spectacular views. While there are 21 stops identified on the guide map, here are some definite not-to-be-missed points of interest:
The Lone Cypress
Despite raking winds and crashing waves, one of California’s most iconic landmarks, the salt-pruned Lone Cypress has stood as a sentinel clinging to its rocky perch overlooking the Pacific for more than 250 years. It’s the most popular stop along the drive, and worth the drive if only to view this amazing survivor of the Monterey Peninsula coastline.
The Ghost Tree
The uniquely haunting Monterey cypress known as the Ghost Tree appears somewhat out of place compared to the immeasurably verdant beauty of the 17-Mile Drive. But stand it does with its gnarly branches, ghostly image, and barren trunk bleached white by fierce peninsula winds. Dangerous surf break and stormy waves also occur in this area.
The stop after the Ghost Tree is Pescadero Point which features a magnificent vista of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove.
The oldest and largest Monterey cypress trees in existence reside here in this 13-acre nature preserve. Named for Charles Crocker who established the 17-Mile Drive in 1881, the stately grove is thick with towering native pines and cypress. The atmosphere here is serenely refreshing with the fragrant scent of the conifers wafting through the air.
The Restless Sea, Point Joe, and China Rock
Early mariners mistakenly set their courses for this craggy point believing it was the entrance to Monterey Bay, but instead of arriving at a safe haven, many ships grounded on the rocks and sank due to the dangerous turbulence and rocky underwater terrain. Along the coastline from Point Joe to China Rock, Chinese fishermen from the late 1800s to early 1900s built lean-tos that served as their early homes. These intrepid fishermen were the first to commercially harvest the waters of Monterey Bay and make it into a successful fishing port.
Seal Rock Picnic Area
Named for the many harbor seals that occupy the massive, whitewashed rock, the lone boulder surrounded by the Pacific waters is also home to sea lions and shorebirds. The picnic area is the perfect place to enjoy lunch on seaside tables with refreshing ocean breezes and sweeping Pacific views.
Another popular place for harbor seals, the rocky shoreline here catches some massive waves at high tide. The white silky-sand beach is closed during harbor seal pupping season from April to the end of May to provide the pinnipeds privacy to nurture their offspring.
It doesn’t look like much until you step out of the car at the scenic overlook. Huckleberry Hill is named for the abundance of native huckleberry bushes and is one of the highest elevations in the Del Monte Forest. Just a short stroll down the slope through the pine-laden forest leads to magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean in the distance.
Inn and Links at Spanish Bay
Tucked between the magnificent pines of the Del Monte Forest and an ocean with stunning never-ending vistas, the world-famous Inn and Links at Spanish Bay was built in 1987. The resort’s golf course is known for its scenic sand dunes set against the backdrop of the Pacific. The bay was once a campsite for Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola and his crew in 1769. Its white sandy beach can be reached by a short stroll through the links along a rustic windswept boardwalk. And don’t forget to enjoy their famous bagpiper and hear his haunting melodies at sunset signaling the close of the Scottish-style course for yet another day.
The Lodge at Pebble Beach
Built in 1919, The Lodge is truly the heart of Pebble Beach. The refined elegance of the property and links offers the ultimate holy-grail of golf experiences. Considered by many to be one of the most breathtaking and beguiling golf courses on earth, one visit here and you will know why. The verdant 18th fairway and its Cypress-shaded green with the backdrop of a stunning sea and crashing waves is the unforgettable picture-perfect postcard of Pebble Beach.
The renowned golf course with its challenging terrain, sublime oceanfront scenery and sea of dunes is a spectacular place to see. Each hole at Spyglass Hill is named after a significant place or character in Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale Treasure Island. It’s not hard to imagine why the timeless wonders of the Monterey Peninsula’s forest and sea were the author’s inspiration in 1879.
Bungalows to Mansions
“Who lives here?” is a question many ask themselves countless times along the 17-Mile Drive, pondering the community of homeowners lucky enough to live in this splendid place. In truth, there’s no “typical” house along the drive. Even some of the smallest cottages and ranch-style homes have spectacular ocean views or tranquil privacy under towering Cypress trees. There’s no doubt the larger abodes inspire the greatest envy. Yes, they are gorgeous, but the views they enjoy are almost indescribable.
Nature resides in harmony here, there’s no doubt about that. But a visit through the 8,400-acre microcosm of the Pebble Beach coastal landscape and you will conclude this is one of the most beautiful places on the entire planet. I hope you have enjoyed taking a virtual drive on the 17-Mile Drive and until next week, be happy, healthy, beautiful and happy traveling!