Time and time again I return to Pacific Grove to walk the coastal trail along Monterey Bay.
This quaint "Hometown U.S.A.," blessed with a spectacular natural setting, does more than act as a pit stop for monarch butterflies on their winter migration. Its unpretentious combination of historic downtown, Victorian-era neighborhoods and rugged coastline has always given me a sense of coming home whenever I visit.
I come to browse specialty shops, sample mouthwatering cafes and bakeries, sip coffee, pop into a museum and lighthouse, say hello to resident wildlife and walk everywhere, appreciating the stewardship of a wonderful marine resource.
Wander past, present
Pacific Grove got its start as a Christian summer retreat under fragrant pines and fresh sea air. By 1889, board and batten cottages had been built over canvas tent cabins and the town was incorporated. A walking tour along neighborhood streets is a step back in time as you stroll past Victorian mansions standing alongside cottages, most bearing historic plaques.
Downtown, pre-1900 storefronts now house an interesting collection of browse-worthy businesses. Tessuti Zoo is a riot of bold colors and whimsy, selling painted furniture and patterned clothing, as well as fantastical hand-sewn dolls.
Color and pattern are also ablaze at Back Porch Fabrics, which carries all things quilting. Bolts of fabric in rainbow display, walls adorned with
The Museum of Natural History, like the town itself, is small and special. Here Monterey Bay sea life -- more than 400 species of birds and monarch butterflies -- are displayed. Permanent exhibits range from an orca skeleton and full-size pelican to drawers of mollusk shells and monarch butterfly migration paths.
Pastries and more
Pavel's Backerei creates standout European-style breads and pastries, known for their size, taste and modest price. Favorites include pizza-size cinnamon rolls and doughnuts, shareable bear claws and moist farmer's bread. Enjoy them with coffee at Juice N' Java, a cozy retreat where locals hang out sampling espresso drinks.
The Works has a full range of coffee drinks and more, a gallery, gift shop and bookstore. Shop here for local scenery note cards, Monterey Peninsula books and a latte to enjoy in the roomy, comfortable coffeehouse with street-framing windows.
Pacific Grove's big draw is its marine environment. Lovers Point Park is a good place to begin walking the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. The park offers a sandy, protected beach and a large grassy expanse, perfect for seaside picnics.
Along Ocean View Boulevard, the trail passes rocky outcrops, coves and tide pools, perfect habitats for viewing lounging harbor seals, sentinel cormorants, gliding pelicans and sea otters that float on their backs while opening bivalves on their stomachs.
Another attraction on this trail is the small Cape Cod-style Point Pinos Lighthouse, whose 50,000-candlepower beacon has been flashing continuously since 1855. A tour of the clapboard building reveals two Victorian-era rooms once occupied by the keeper.
From October to February, thousands of butterflies hang in clusters in pines and eucalyptus at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary. As they're warmed by the sun, they spread their wings and flutter down like floating leaves, protected in this forested park.
Enjoy a meal
A number of cafes and restaurants are worthy of hunger-satisfaction. The line outside Holly's Lighthouse Cafe tells the tale of the popularity of a Castroville artichoke or Mexi omelet, French toast and pancakes. Lunch choices at the Red House Cafe include a tempting warm eggplant sandwich, calamari steak and the Red House Pizza.
Pepper's Mexicali Cafe brings Latin American food to Pacific Grove, from mouthwatering seafood paella and jambalaya to carne asada and huevos rancheros. It's lively, casual and fun. For a Caribbean twist, the Fishwife is a popular choice. The Portofino pasta is a true seafood combo in a rich marinara sauce, and the Sea Garden salads blend vegetables with blackened snapper or calamari.
As sunset nears, I end the day walking along Asilomar Beach's 1-mile expanse of sandy beach and dunes, rocky coves and boardwalk path, heading west toward the setting sun. As the flaming orb slowly sinks into the Pacific, I savor the setting and, like the monarchs, plan my return.
IF YOU GO
WALKING TOUR: A free Pacific Grove Historic Walking Tour pamphlet is available at the Chamber of Commerce, 584 Central Ave., 831-373-3304.
DOWNTOWN SHOPPING: Tessuti Zoo -- 171 Forest Ave., 831-648-1725; Back Porch Fabrics -- 157 Grand Ave., 831-375-4453; 831-648-5716; Pavel's Backerei -- 219 Forest Ave., 831-643-2636; Juice N' Java -- 599 Lighthouse Ave., 831-373-8652; The Works -- 667 Lighthouse Ave., 831-372-2242.
WHERE TO VISIT: Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History -- 165 Forest Ave., 831-648-5716; Lovers Point Park -- Ocean View Boulevard at 17th Street; Point Pinos Lighthouse -- Asilomar Avenue between Lighthouse Avenue and Ocean View Boulevard, 831-648-3176; Monarch Grove Sanctuary -- on Ridge Road near Lighthouse Avenue; Asilomar Beach -- 1950 Sunset Boulevard.
WHERE TO EAT: Holly's Lighthouse Cafe -- 602 Lighthouse Ave., 831-372-7006; Red House Cafe -- 662 Lighthouse Ave., 831-643-1060; Pepper's Mexicali Cafe -- 170 Forest Ave., 831-373-6892; The Fishwife -- 1996½ Sunset Drive, 831-375-7107.