Press Releases

Pacific Grove: Quiet Charm in a Spectacular Setting By MARTA YAMAMOTO Special to the Planet

Friday June 17, 2005

Early morning on Ocean View Boulevard is peaceful but not solitary. It’s a wonderful time to be out. The salt tinged air is fresh and the turquoise waves crash along the rock-crusted shore of Monterey Bay. Distinctive tapping draws my attention to an already busy sea otter, using the rock on his chest to open a breakfast mollusk. Nearby two more otters swim in tandem, like friends chatting and planning their day. Walkers and their dogs greet me with smiles and “Good morning.” A group of surfers, both young and old, listen to rock music from a truck radio, gearing up to ride the waves. We’re all savoring this beautiful coastal path as we begin our day in Pacific Grove. 

Located at the northern tip of the Monterey Peninsula, Pacific Grove is nestled between its two famous neighbors. To the south, the tourist-oriented and usually crowded town of Carmel and to the north, larger and more commercial Monterey. It is often described as a quaint town in a spectacular setting, but I see much more: a strong community working toward the future while retaining the traditions of the past, a steward to the rugged Pacific coastline, the Marine Gardens Fish Refuge and hundreds of species of resident flora and fauna. 

Pacific Grove got its start in 1875 as a Christian summer retreat. Lured by fragrant pines, fresh sea air, and moderate climate, many Methodists soon traded their crude summer tents for permanent dwellings. By 1889, the town of Pacific Grove had been incorporated. 

Over the years, I’ve returned time and again, with my family and on my own. What draws me back? What gives Pacific Grove its unique character? On a recent weekend I walked the town and the coast, looking for answers. 

The rough camp tents are physically gone but remain in spirit, and in a few cases, in pieces of canvas caught in the board-and-batten cottages built directly over them. Using a Historic Walking Tour pamphlet I picked up at the Chamber of Commerce, I followed the route entranced by beauties both large and small, bearing plaques identifying them as historically significant buildings. It was hard to imagine the lovely pink cottage with exquisite flower stained-glass windows, in its former camp life. On a larger scale, I dreamed about owning handsome Victorian mansions, many in Queen Anne style, with carved wood doors, decorative cut-outs, fish scale shingles and distinctive peaked cupola affording views of the bay. Many, like Seven Gables, named after Hawthorne’s novel, now operate as popular inns. 

Along Lighthouse Ave. pre-1900 storefronts, formerly housing the tiown pharmacy, tobacco shop and bank, now offer an interesting collection of boutiques and galleries, many specializing in home furnishings and décor.  

Ready for a coffee break, I entered Juice N’ Java, symbolic of the small town charm and sense of community in Pacific Grove, as well as providing great coffee drinks, smoothies, pastries, and light lunches. Here well-spaced tables and chairs beckon you to take your time, as do the sofa and arm chairs across from the stone fireplace. Around me people were chatting, reading, writing, and studying. Always welcoming, this is just the place to feel at home. 

Like Pacific Grove itself, my next stop, the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, is small but special. Its permanent displays pay tribute to Monterey Bay’s cetaceans, 400 species of local birds, geology, Ohlone Indians, and, of course, the monarch butterfly. Sorry to have just missed the annual wildflower show, instead I marveled at nature photographer Jenny Ross’s exhibit “Bears! Icons of the Wild.” Almost feeling like an intruder, I was transfixed by rare, personal glimpses into bear life, almost unreal in detail and lighting. The accompanying panels read like a college course in bear biology. Whenever I’m in Pacific Grove, I make a point to visit the museum for its current special exhibit, always of the highest quality. 

Across the street, on Grand Avenue, I entered Back Porch Fabrics, where owner Gail Abeloe and her talented, friendly staff, honor the past while they stretch its limits into the present. This is not your grandmother’s quilt shop. Twenty-foot ceilings and large windows allow the sun to light up the room and its eye riveting displays. I turned slowly ogling walls covered with sample quilts and projects, many corresponding to classes offered throughout the year; I wanted to try them all. Fabrics with bold colors and large patterns line the shelves, tables hold over 1,600 “fat quarters” in a wild spectrum of hues, and over 600 books fill bookcases. In the back room, I loved the freedom of the quilt exhibit “Thinking Outside The Block” and thought it appropriate to this unique shop and the innovative quilters in Monterey County, described to me by Gail. You don’t need to be a quilter to appreciate the talent displayed at this special shop. 

Another type of craft was displayed at Pavel’s Backerie, on Forest Avenue, where proprietor/baker Paul Wainscoat follows in the tradition of his father, creating European style breads and pastries. Never to busy to chat, Paul told me of his family’s history as I struggled to choose among a glistening cinnamon raisin brioche, a huge bear claw, and an exquisite fruit Danish. Bakers from Europe would visit his father and share their expertise, which Paul, his brother and sister, continue today. 

BookWorks, on Lighthouse Avenue, a great, small town bookstore seemed to call out “Come in, enjoy a book, stay awhile.” This ground floor space, with bright windows, comfortable lounge areas, and honor bar for coffee and pastries, resembles a private home with books. Displays of local authors, monthly book club meetings and literary events, a bright cheerful children’s area, and a steady flow of customers with special requests describe this business that values service to its customers and provides just the place to discover a new book. 

On my second day I explored the natural beauty of Pacific Grove’s four-mile Drive, from Lover’s Point Park to Asilomar State Beach. Perfect for a bike ride or a walk, and free of charge, this route along the carefully conserved yet fully accessible coastline and bluffs is testament to the commitment of this community. 

Lover’s Point Park is a lovely spot to spend time, either taking in the views from the grassy bluff, grilling sausages in the picnic area, or getting wet at the small, sandy, protected beach; this is also a popular spot for scuba divers. For the more active, there’s a sand volleyball court and kayak rentals and lessons. 

Anticipating the surprises ahead I followed the coastal path past white-sand beaches, rocky coves, and hundreds of tide pools and wasn’t disappointed. Seals and sea lions draped across the rocks. Sentinel-like cormorants. Graceful brown pelicans gliding just above the water. A Great Blue heron bobbing on a giant kelp bed. Sea stars and anemones exposed in tide pools. Along the trail, landscaped with native plants, are benches with dedications: “pause friends and relax”, “may the beauty of the sea give you peace.”  

Up Asilomar Boulevard is Point Pinos Lighthouse, the oldest continuously operated lighthouse on the West Coast, its 50,000-candlepower beacon shining since 1855. Attractively situated along the public golf course, this small, white, Cape-Cod style, clapboard building took me back in time to the days when this light, once burning sperm whale oil, was the only deterrent to a ship’s crashing on the rocky coast. Inside I followed the tour guide through two Victorian era rooms and learned about Emily Fish who ran the lighthouse in the 1800s. 

As the day neared its end and the sun began its descent, I reached Asilomar Beach, with 100 acres of white dunes, a long wide sandy beach and tide pools rich with marine life. Greeted again with “hellos,” the cries of gulls and the happy bark of frolicking dogs, I walked the boardwalk path as it led me past crashing surf and rocky coastline. What better way could there be than to end the day with a walk on this beach, lingering to appreciate the spectacular display of sand, water and sky. 

Pacific Grove, offering a refuge of charm and natural setting, will haunt you with its presence and taunt you with its absence. You might find yourself, like its famous winged residents, wanting to return every year. 



Getting there: 

Pacific Grove is 120 miles from San Francisco. Take 101 south through San Jose, then 156 west to the coast at Hwy. 1. Follow Hwy. 1 south to 68-exit west to Pacific Grove. 


Where to stay: 

Monterey Peninsula Inns, 1100 Lighthouse Ave. (800) 525-3373. 

Four inns at affordable rates, doubles from $79. 

Centrella Inn, 612 Central Ave. (831) 373-3372 or (800) 233-3372. Victorian rooms from $159. 


Where to eat: 

Toasties Café, 702 Lighthouse Ave. (831) 373-7543. 

Country restaurant serving breakfast ($5 to $8) and lunch ($4 to $9). 

Peppers MexiCali Café, 170 Forest Ave. (831) 373-6892. 

Fresh Mexican with hint of Central American influence, Beef, chicken, seafood entrees from $8 to $17. Open for lunch and dinner.  

Fishwife at Asilomar, 1996 Sunset Dr. (831) 375-7107. California seafood, pasta with Caribbean accent. Serving lunch ($8 to $13) and dinner ($8 to $17). 


What to do: 

Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, 165 Forest Ave. (831) 648-311. Open Tues-Sun, 10-5, free. 

Point Pinos Lighthouse, Lighthouse Avenue off Asilomar Boulevard. (831) 648 5716. Thurs-Sun 1-4 p.m., free. 

Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce, 584 Central Ave. (831) 373 3304, or (800) 656-6650.