Monterey and Carmel Suggestions [split from SF]
Re: your visit to the Monterey Peninsula: I live in Pacific Grove and have a few suggestions:
If you're having breakfast in SF and then heading down HWY 1 to Monterey, you're going to get hungry before arriving in Pacific Grove. Duarte's in Pescadero is authentic old California coastal food, but your timing will be off. Better to keep driving down past Santa Cruz and stop for lunch in Moss Landing at Phils Fish Market. Great Cioppino, or Dungeness Crab Louis Salad. Then you'll have another 30 minute drive to the Aquarium.
Passionfish is very highly regarded. Their style is clean and fresh, good seafood watch fish, simply prepared, but for me it is much too understated. I often feel that I can do as well for myself buying fish from Wharf # 2 and cooking at home (I'm a pretty good cook!). Fandago's is a "special occassion" place, wonderful to linger with dear friends over a long progression of dishes, dessert and coffee. There are livelier choices: When the weather is good it is fun to eat at Lou Lou's Griddle in the Middle, a tiny breakfast and lunch diner on Whart # 2 (the commercial wharf vs. the shop laden Fisherman's Wharf). Pacific Grove has a new Italian restaurant that is doing well called Il Vecchio, 110 Central Ave (dinner only). For the latest thing try Monterey's Restaurant 1883 - is has just been nominated for the James Beard award. For cutting edge, nose to tail dining try the house made salumi at Cantinnetta Lucca in Carmel. For lovely old Carmel dining try Casanova. For a quiet moment with coffee and a pastry and the paper try the bakery at Il Fornaio in Carmel, it's located inside the Pine Inn. For a taste of the country and a lovely setting try Mission Ranch, Clint Eastwood's place overlooking the mouth of the Carmel River - Food isn't top notch but if the weather's great, a light lunch on the patio or drinks by the fireplace have great ambiance. And, it's right next to the Carmel Mission, a beautiful jewel for a quick visit.
There are many other wonderful restaurants in Carmel Valley and Carmel and Big Sur. I'd sum it up by saying that our best restaurnats are not only about the food but also the ambiance and the day you've had: there's nothering better than stopping by the Big Sur River Inn on a summer Sunday afternoon for a beer and a burger while listening to jazz on the patio and soaking your feet in the river after a hike in the Ventana.
Re a visit to the beach: Asilomar in Pacific Grove is beautiful and offers a gorgeous 1 mile long bluff top trail which you'll love for walking off all of this food you'll be enjoying. But it can be windy. For actual beach, Carmel Beach is 2 miles of soft white sand, wonderful for a long walk to the end and back, with the bonus of being south facing and protected by tall bluffs that keep the weather comfortable. Another wonderful walk is along the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail: from the Aquarium head west (away from Monterey) along the trail. Lover's Point is a short mile. Along the way you'll see harbor seals on the beach, otters in the Bay, a few of PG's famous Victorian B&B's and the gorgeous Pacific Grove coastline.
Really, it is unthinkable to visit the Peninsula without going down to Big Sur, but save this for another trip. You can look forward to wine tasting in the Salinas and Carmel Valleys, kayaking on the bay, retreating to Big Sur for spas, great food, views, hiking, relaxing, music. Check music and events calendars and come for one of the many top notch events: the Monterey Jazz Festival, the crazy fancy car show Concours d' Elegance, our fabulous golf events, Food & Wine festivals, Live music under the redwoods and stars at the Henry Miller Library,etc. Come for a minumum of 3 nights for a proper visit.
Have a wonderful time!
Sorry, I just can't agree on Fandango and 1833. We spend a lot of money traveling to eat, and neither one measured up to Montrio, let alone Bouchee. 1833's waiters were awful: cheerful and bumbling, but had absolutely no knowledge of the area. Our waiter was totally surprised to hear that right across the street was the terrific French bakery Parker-Lusseau - like the ExecChef and Pastry Chef, they were all new not just to the area, but to California itself.
Fandango gave us a terrible lunch, one step above Forge in the Forest. Both served gigantic portions of inedible low quality food. Even Chart House does better than that.
Also, why I suggested Asilomar instead of Carmel Beach - I believe the OP is going in August? If so, Carmel Beach is wall-to-wall people in August. You might as well be going to the Jersey shore on a weekend, LOL.
1833 is pretty good, hence the James Beard nomination. You had a bad experience, many of us haven't.
August is wall-to-wall people in the sense that it's car week. The Pebble Beach Concours, vintage races at Laguna Seca and the car auctions all contribute to making a sleepy place gain a pulse. Having said that, visitors at that time of year are neither crushing nor ubiquitous. Rather, they are focused on cars and car events. Pretty mild stuff. I go every year.
Monterey peninsula will never be confused with the Jersey shore. Are you from New Jersey?