4 hour tours

Pebble Beach is located in the Del Monte Forest about 2 hours south of San Francisco.  It is home to a several mile stretch of the most beautiful coastline in the world.  It’s also home to 5 of the most amazing golf courses in existence .  Ask any golfer – playing Pebble is akin to a pilgrimage to a sacred shrine.  How do I know?  I’m a local – my parents live in Carmel-by-the-Sea, and my Dad still plays golf at Monterey Peninsula Country Club twice a week.  I’m sure he’ll want his ashes scattered in one of the sand traps when his time comes.

Be sure to bring along a lot of layers.  The microclimate in Pebble Beach is usually cool, and either windy or foggy.  We usually have guests bring a jacket and a sweater since you never know what the temperature will be.   Add a bit of windchill from the Pacific breeze, and it can get downright nippy.

6 incredibly beautiful golf courses in Pebble Beach

To do a 4 hour tour properly, the best way is to start is in the Del Monte Forest.  If you’re in Monterey, continue down Lighthouse Avenue into Pacific Grove and enter the Forest through the Pacific Grove Gate.  If you’re driving south on Highway 1, take the Pebble Beach exit and enter the Forest through the Highway 1 Gate.  It costs $9.50 per carload to enter, you get a cool map, and a nice smile from the ranger on duty.  Trust me, they’re all really nice people.  What you’re looking for is 17 mile Drive.  Start up by Spanish Bay and work your way back to the Pebble Beach Lodge – this way you see bits of all 6 golf courses as well as the best of the coastline.  If you’re hungry, I can recommend Sticks at the Inn at Spanish Bay for lunch.  It has a great view, and the food is good.

17 Mile Drive

As you’re driving south, the coastline will be on your right with

Bird Rock on 17 Mile Drive

several turnouts with scenic views.  Each one has different prospects – rocks, tidepools, birds, sea lions, and the odd whale traveling between Alaska and the feeding grounds in Baja California.  If you’re there between December and March, look out to the sea for gray whales leaping from the water, enormous flukes popping out, or huge waterspouts.  Closer to shore, there are also usually an odd group or two of seals or sea otters that can frolic by at any particular time.

Our personal favorites for incredible pictures are Bird Rock, Seal Rock, and Point Joe.  Yes, those are sea lions on Bird Rock.  They moved in many years ago, and now won’t leave.  The birds have to be content with the tidepools  and all the yummy sea life therein – lucky birds…

Very happy birds at Point Joe.

Point Joe is also the site of what my son Alexei calls “the money hole”.  It’s one of the tees of the Dunes course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, and he loves to get up there and whack the ball a few hundred yards in front of the tourists.   If you see any white-haired golfers, be sure to give them a bit of sass.   They’ll probably wave and answer back.   If it’s a Saturday morning, the chances are pretty good one of those old farts is  my Dad, and he loves to sass right back at you.

That water is COLD!

There are several small beaches along the way that lure the unwary into putting their toes in the water.  Beware – the northern Pacific Ocean is very, very cold.  Surfers and divers must wear wetsuits or suffer hypothermia.   Also, beware of the very strong riptides and undertow on this section of the Coast.

Best of all, don’t go in the water past your knees, no matter how warm the day is.  My colleague Stefanie found that out the hard way during her visit, as you can see here.

Continuing on, you’ll go past the scenic views around Cypress Point Country Club and Spyglass Hill Golf Course.   Cypress is a private club like Monterey Peninsula, but Spyglass is open to the public, as is Pebble Beach and The Links at Spanish Bay.  As long as it’s not raining, you see those golfers who like a challenging course with winds that will slap your ball down like the Hand of God (or so my son claims), and want to say they ‘played Spyglass’.   Most of the higher handicaps go to Spanish Bay (my dad finds a lot of gently-used, expensive golf balls that get sliced and shanked onto the grounds of MPCC by hacks who should know better) while those who don’t mind getting torn up play Spyglass.   If you’re up for a round that costs upward of $400 per person, then go for Pebble Beach.  The views alone are worth the price.  Watch for duffers sacrificing balls to the Golf Gods over the cliffs.  Great fun!

The Lone Cypress

The next sight is probably the most famous of all – The Lone Cypress.  The Monterey Cypress is only found naturally in this area, and this tree has grown on this rock for hundreds of years, weathering high winds, storms, pollution and the awed gaze of millions of tourists.   The tree is now getting some help to live for another 50 or so years by cables and a foundation around it’s roots.   The ocean prospect around Cypress Point is incredibly beautiful – especially when the waves are 10-12 feet, as they often are in the winter.

Cypress Grove

As you leave, you’ll go through a lovely cypress grove, and more of the forest.  Check out the multimillion dollar homes on both sides and imagine what it would be like to live in one of them.  Well, you can dream, right??

The next stop is the Pebble Beach Resort.   Park here and walk around.  There are some overpriced shops there selling AT&T Pro-Am and US Open logo gear in addition to just about anything they can put the Pebble Beach logo on.  Recognize it?  It’s The Lone Cypress.  Moichandizing!!  You’ll see a post office (yes, it has its own zip code!) and a small general store if you need water or something for the kids.   The Lodge at Pebble Beach is another neat sight to see.  If you’re hungry, the Stillwater Bar&Grill and the Tap Room both have excellent food.  If you’re casually dressed, go to the Tap Room – the Grill can be a bit dressier.

Stillwater Cove

Now take a walk (or drive) down to Stillwater Cove – it’s right below the Pebble Beach Club – you can’t miss it.  The Beach Club is a private club, but is open to guests staying at the Lodge.  Just beyond it is a public access to the pier and the beach at Stillwater Cove.  If you’re a golfer, you’ll probably recognize this view – it’s the cove that you see on TV coverage from the 17th and 18th fairways and holes on the Pebble Beach Golf Links.

Pretty, huh?

Now it’s back to your car and out of Pebble Beach Resort.  Take a right at 17 Mile Drive and continue on, gawking at all the homes on both sides.   You can drive through the forest, gazing at the natural habitats of deer, rodents, and celebrities, or you can exit at the Carmel Gate and enter into the lovely little village of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Now you know how to see Pebble Beach in 4 hours or less – including lunch.  May the Travel Gods be with you!

This IS California, after all!

One of the nice things about living in the San Francisco Bay Area is people like to visit.  There is so much to see, and with time at a premium, we’ve become very adept at showing our friends the highlights of our lovely region in a very short period of time.

The first stop when we have visitors is always San Francisco. We’re lucky if we have a day or two to really show off our favorite museums, sights and restaurants, but we usually just have a few hours.  As a result we’ve perfected the 4 hour tour.

San Francisco’s one of the most storied cities in the world, and if you can catch it on a sunny day, it’s natural beauty takes your breath away.   It’s even lovely on the quiet, murky, foggy days where the amazing sights are swathed in a misty fog that makes it all seem ethereal and somehow surreal.

Our first stop on the 4 hour tour is the Golden Gate Bridge.  The drive to get there through San Francisco takes you through either Golden Gate Park or the Marina, two must-see sights – even from a car window.  Most of our visitors express amazement that the color of the bridge is orange vermillion, not gold.  That’s because the Golden Gate is actually the aquatic entrance to the Bay and was so named in the 1800’s – not just the name of the bridge.  For more information, see the history.

The Golden Gate Bridge on a perfect day

Driving across the bridge is an experience on any day.  Seeing the throngs of walkers, bikers and prams all traveling faster than you are in your car is a true California moment.   If you’re lucky and aren’t there during any sort of a rush hour, the trip is about 7 minutes of pure gawking bliss.  The views are incredible from both sides of the bridge.  Once you get across the bridge, there is an excellent vista spot where you can park and snap pictures of the bridge, the skyline and Alacatraz Island to your heart’s content.

Next stop is to drive through the Marina district, driving slowly to see the incredible houses on your right, and the St Francis Yacht Club, Chrissy Field, and Fort Mason on your left.   Your next destination is Fisherman’s Wharf.   There are several parking garages along the wharf area, from Ghiradelli Square on down to Pier 39.  Pick one – they’re pretty much all the same price.  We usually park somewhere in the middle to keep our options open.

Fisherman's Wharf marina

Ghiradelli Square is fun to see, and fun for shopping, but if you’re on a 4 hour tour, it’s best to point it out as a neato building and walk along the famous portion of Fisherman’s Wharf on your way to Pier 39.  Be sure to walk through the food stands, where freshly steamed dungeness crab and sour dough bread abounds – here is a good place to grab a quick bite of lunch on your way.  There are a lot of tourist-traps and cheapo trinket stalls if you’d like a souvenir.  Or, you can keep walking.   Going through the marina area, you will see many tour boats available for private or public tours of the San Francisco Bay.   Your next destination is the area by Pier 39 where the sea lions hold court to a group of transfixed tourists.  I’ve posted a short video so you can see their capers.

Back to the car and a trip up Hyde Street.  This is an amazingly steep street with the View that Launched a Million Postcards.  Alert – if you’re in a car with a manual transmission, you may want to give this a miss.  There is a stop sign at the top of the street and you WILL lose your clutch.  Once you get to the top, and have managed to avoid hitting the idiotic tourists standing in the middle of the street getting pics taken of themselves, then a trip down Lombard Street – the crookedest street in the world –  is in order.  Every time I go down this street, I’m happy I don’t live there.  Tourists are not the nicest people in the world, not to mention the lack of privacy!  (but I digress…)

Traveling down Lombard Street - that's Coit Tower in the background

Once you’re out of the mess on Lombard Street, take a right on Columbus and head into North Beach.  This quaint Italian neighborhood has some incredible restaurants, cafes and other sights that never fail to get our visitors to say “this looks just like a city area in (insert European city here)”.  It’s one of our favorite areas  to walk in, but on a 4 hour tour, it’s worth just a drive by.

The last stop on the tour is Chinatown.  This is 5 blocks where time has stood still, and it always reminds me of the years I spent in Hong Kong.  The streets are hung with lanterns and banners and it’s very bright and cheerful.  Unlike the Chinatown in New York or Los Angeles, this area has not expanded or changed much in the past 50+ years.  The herb and tea shops still abound on the streets, along with local businesses and some of the best Chinese food outside of Asia.  Many signs are only in Traditional Chinese, and you can hear a mix of Cantonese and Mandarin spoken by the residents and shopkeepers.   There are some great places to buy souvenirs, taste some exotic teas, as well as gawk through the stores selling traditional medicines, deer horns, and something that looks like an elephant turd.  Don’t ask – I didn’t dare, and it probably IS an elephant turd…

Chinatown, my Chinatown...

Once you’re done with Chinatown, your 4 hour tour is over.  You can use the time remaining to find an excellent restaurant in Union Square, or head up California Street to the Top of the Mark for a drink in their amazing bar.  Whatever your plans, you have just spent 4 hours in one of the most beautiful cities on this planet, and I hope you have great memories.  No matter what people say about California, just take a look at San Francisco, and you will see why we pay so much to live here and call this city home.