California’s 17-Mile Drive

IMG_2260_LUCiDAfter incredible days driving the Big Sur coast and hiking in Pinnacles National Park, we decided to spend the last day of our long weekend taking a road trip from Carmel-by-the-Sea back to San Francisco for our 9:30 p.m. flight home.

I had no idea how expensive it would be to stay in Carmel and Monterey–yikes! I don’t know if it was the combination of Valentine’s Day weekend, Presidents’ Day weekend, the start of most schools’ mid-winter breaks or none of the above, but everything was booked to capacity and outrageously expensive.

Thankfully Brian found a place in nearby Salinas where we could use hotel points to stay for free!

We woke up on Monday and found ourselves in a cloud–the fog was completely packed in. We ate a quick breakfast, loaded up the truck, and set out for the coast, hopeful the weather would clear. Thankfully it did–we crested a hill not far from Carmel-by-the-Sea and seemed to glide right out of the cloud and into a sunny California postcard scene. Things were looking bright for our final day!

Our first stop of the day was checking out the picturesque 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach. Brian couldn’t get over the fact that motorcycles are not allowed, and I was afraid for a moment we wouldn’t be completing the loop in a show of solidarity. We decided to enjoy it, but it does remain unclear to me why they discriminate against bikes. I know it’s a residential area and people probably don’t want loud bikes constantly coming through, but it would be a beautiful road to enjoy on a bike, and to Brian’s point, muscle cars and trucks can be equally as loud and yet are permitted inside. Oh well– if you’re planning to drive it, make sure you double-check that your vehicle is allowed!

There are 17 stops along 17-Mile Drive, which are detailed in a brochure you receive when you pay for admission. According to the brochure:

Before the automobile had become a way of life, horse-drawn carriages explored 17-Mile Drive starting from the famous Hotel Del Monte, now the site of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. It was 1881, and early excursions through Del Monte Forest marked the beginning of visitors to this legendary location.

We pulled over at most of the stops and found some more interesting than others. The first two–Shepherd’s Knoll and Huckleberry Hill–were meant to offer elevated views of Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz, but we found that the viewpoints were pretty limited by all of the forest growth. Certainly not a bad thing, but likely different from what people experienced riding through the area in the late-1800s!

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I don’t know anything about golf and didn’t realize that Pebble Beach Golf Course is named after the town of Pebble Beach and just one of many golf courses in Pebble Beach. We drove along Poppy Hill Golf Course, the Links at Spanish Bay, and Monterey Peninsula Country Club on our way to the next series of stops on the list, passing an array of houses, from palatial new estates to modest homes from the 1950s.

The majority of the 17 stops were along the coast. We began by parking at Spanish Bay Beach (named after the Spanish explorers who landed here in 1769) and then walking along the gravel paths through the shrubbery between stops, checking out:

  • Restless Sea, one of the most turbulent sections of coastline in Pebble Beach
  • Point Joe, named after a man who lived in a driftwood hut along the water in the early 1900s
  • China Rock, the site of a small Chinese fishing village in the late 1800s, and,
  • Bird Rock, a favorite spot for birds, harbor seals, and sea lions

We stopped to take pictures and admire the greens right along the water. There were also plaques with the information I detailed above as well as other background on the wildlife in that area.

For instance, we learned about the ice plant, a beautiful but invasive species of purple flowers that are taking over the coast, as well as the ground squirrel that burrow into the sandy shores. We saw a number of these squirrels who were way too friendly– a girl was petting one of them. It makes me sad that we forget these animals are wild and set them up for failure by feeding them and making them comfortable with vehicles that ultimately harm them. I much preferred enjoying their antics from afar, along with watching and listening to the sea lions barking out in the water where they were whipping up the waves in sport.

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The coast was lovely but we decided to cruise by Seal Rock and Fanshell Beach Overlook, which offered similar views to our previous stops, and instead headed to Cypress Point Lookout.

We ended up taking a peek from our car but not actually getting out because we were facing directly into the sun, which made it difficult to see. From April to June this is supposed to be the ideal place to view harbor seals with their brand new pups (known as pupping season). I can only imagine how busy that parking lot gets–I bet seal pups are adorable!

Just across the road was Crocker Grove, home to the largest and oldest Monterey Cypress trees in existence. According to the brochure we received, the Pebble Beach area is home to one of two native Monterey Cypress forests in the world.

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That stop set the stage for our next one at The Lone Cypress–the 250+ year old tree that has braved the elements on a rocky outcropping over the Pacific Ocean.

If you’re into golf, you may recognize it as the logo for Pebble Beach Resorts. It’s been featured as their logo since 1919!

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Our final stop was at Pebble Beach Visitor Center, which has a small museum just inside that details the history of golf in Pebble Beach. We looked around briefly and bought a couple gifts for my brother, who is a wonderful golfer.

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Across the street is Pebble Beach Golf Links, built by amateur golfers Jack Neville and Douglas Grant in 1919. According to our brochure, it’s ranked the No. 1 public course in America, and it’s been selected to host the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2027 U.S. Open.

We walked along the shops, watching people practice on the putting greens and stopping to check out a couple displays recognizing major champions of Pebble Beach. Quite a few people were getting their golf carts and heading off into the afternoon sun.

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We exited the 17-Mile Drive via the entrance we came in, driving through Ford Meadow along the way. I read you can complete the loop in about 30 minutes driving straight through–I would say it took us more like three hours with stops, and we didn’t visit all 17 marked locations.

If you’re in the area and willing to part with $10 for a leisurely ride through the iconic Pebble Beach and Del Monte Forest, I would recommend it. You can go at your own pace, enjoy the beach and history, and if you’re into golf, visit one of the most famous courses in the world.

5 thoughts on “California’s 17-Mile Drive

  1. Pingback: Afternoon Among the Coastal Redwoods – Heather's Compass

  2. Pingback: Places to Eat in Monterey, California – Heather's Compass

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