Here’s the 4-1-1 On Where To Sleep, Eat… and Hike, Like One of The Monterey Five

Growing up in the Ocean State, with more than 400 miles of surrounding coastline- in a place that’s only 48 miles long- Rhode Islanders can’t help but feel oddly uncomfortable anytime they find themselves away from the water, particularly when in a place that’s landlocked.

I am a Rhode Islander, and fortunately, Monterey County in California is not one of those places.

For those of you who’ve spent the better part of the summer tuning in to HBO on Sunday nights, following the darkly comedic adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s best-selling novel, I find it hard to believe you haven’t watched the opening credits of Big Little Lies and felt even the slightest pang of wanderlust, curious to see what life is really like on the striking Central California Coast.

We sure did. So we flew direct into San Francisco via Alaskan Airlines, drove south to Carmel, and planted ourselves there for the week. Below, find our number one picks for Best Places to Sleep, Eat and Hike while in town.


The Hylands Inn, A Hyatt Hotel- Carmel Highlands, CA

Sunset over the Pacific- the view from our balcony at The Hyatt, Carmel Hylands Inn
We stayed at the Carmel Highlands Inn, a Hyatt property nearby and visually comparable to Nicole Kidman’s predominantly glass house on BLL. While we could have stayed in adorable downtown Carmel-By-The-Sea, with its architecture that makes you feel like you’re in a European fairytale, it was the unbeatable views of the Big Sur coastline that sold us on our particular hillside location. Perched high above the Pacific with surroundings so lush, it feels like you’re in a glorified treehouse overlooking the ocean, I don’t think we could have landed a better view if we tried. In fact, we were lucky enough to catch glimpse of a pod of whales during what must have been their morning water aerobics routine, on more than one occasion… all from the comfort of our King-sized bed. We stayed in a one-bedroom apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows, a full kitchen, working fireplace, large balcony, and conveniently-placed pocket doors that turned the living room into a second sleeping space.


California Market at Pacific’s Edge

Restaurant with a view.

We struck gold having one of Monterey County’s best restaurants right inside our hotel. California Market at Pacific Edge, much like the rest of the property, offers some pretty extreme, unparalleled views of the rocky and rugged Point Lobos Natural Reserve… And then there’s the food.

Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or just a happy hour snack, anything you eat is bound to be delicious. In true California fashion, the restaurant is undeniably food-forward, sourcing the highest quality of organic local produce, seafood and meat. Some of our family favorite’s included the Pistachio Crusted Lamb Rack, Seafood Cioppino, the Beets and Berries Salad, Calamari Steak, and the tastiest Crunchy Brussel Sprouts this little vegetarian has ever had. And, let it be known, they also make a mean Manhattan. For breakfast, while not martinis, the Cinnamon French Toast and the Smoked Salmon Bagel are equally satisfying, and there’s really no better way to start the day than with the combination of great food and breathtaking views. I’d be very surprised if Reese Witherspoon and her fellow cast of gal-pals haven’t made this a go-to spot before- or after- long hours of filming on location.


Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Californians love their hikes, and with the state’s broad array of hills, cliffs and oceanside terrain up and down the coast, it’s no wonder why. We found our chosen exercise + exploration location in Point Lobos, a nature reserve often referred to as the “Crown Jewel of California’s 280 State Parks.” The perfect place to get your heart racing, while taking in some of the most gorgeous scenery in North America, it was love at first hike. We saw sea lions, dolphins and a variety of beautiful birds, and made a stop at the historic Whalers Cabin, a former whaling station (now a museum) built by Chinese fishermen in the 1850s. The kids were fascinated by the gigantic whale bones displayed outside the cabin, and the museum docents eagerly indulged them with fascinating facts and stories about the location and its wildlife. An exciting place for people of all ages, I am certain that the children of Big Little Lies must have visited Whalers Cabin during a school field trip or two, and that they were just as enthusiastic about it as our kids were. We walked for a total of roughly six miles and needless to say, the little ones (and ok, the adults too), were pooped. The trails all took us through such gorgeous scenery, however, with peek-a-boo look-out points to crystal blue coves and tiny beaches around almost every bend, which made enduring our five-year old’s “I’m tired- can we call an Uber?!” whines, that much more tolerable. The kids rallied, though, and were proud of their athletic accomplishment.

Some pretty big discoveries for a pretty little guy, inside Whalers Cabin

The family that hikes together…

Strolling along Carmel Beach
As people who both travel a lot, and who also genuinely love where we live in Rhode Island, there are few other places we could see ourselves living, elsewhere in the world. However, Monterey County, CA, could just be one of those places, with an overall down-to-earth “vibe” (no we didn’t meet any Renatas while there, though Laura Dern did such a great job playing the character that if I did meet her, I would be vastly amused- temporarily), that it doesn’t feel so different from the East Coast life we’re used to. Weather-wise, it has a mild climate, not getting quite as cold there in the winter (but travelers, take note: there is a rainy season that peaks during the month of January, which I have experienced during trips prior). That being said, our August visit was picture-perfect with cozy, overcast mornings giving way to sunshine daily, and temperatures rising to nearly 70 degrees. Summer there is comfortable- and comparable to late Spring or early Fall here in New England.


Driving over the famed Bixby Creek Bridge- a Monterey landmark and focal point often shown on Big Little Lies

In addition to its physical beauty, Monterey County boasts great culture and cuisine, with many local art galleries, fantastic restaurants, and the most magical outdoor Carmel Forest Theater, where we caught a fun performance of The Little Mermaid.

There are many reasons why we’ll return to Monterey, and perhaps next time we’ll catch some filming of what I hope will be season 3 of the show that’s bound to draw more and more visitors to what I can say, with confidence, is one of the most beautiful places in America.

A traveler since childhood, Juliana Fraioli Wilson has always had a love for exploring. She is a published writer and an accomplished business owner with a background in music and art. Join Juliana, her husband Ryan, and their two kids in Wanderland! Follow along as they share tips, tricks, recipes and reviews from some of the most beautiful travel destinations in the world.

Wilsons in Wanderland
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Wilsons in Wanderland

A traveler since childhood, Juliana Fraioli Wilson has always had a love for exploring. She is a published writer and an accomplished business owner with a background in music and art. Join Juliana, her husband Ryan, and their two kids in Wanderland! Follow along as they share tips, tricks, recipes and reviews, from some of the most beautiful travel destinations in the world.

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