Travel Destinations

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Scenic 17-Mile Drive of the Monterey Peninsula

China Rock 17-Mile Drive Monterey Peninsula California
China Rock
One of America’s great scenic drives is 17-Mile Drive on California’s Monterey Peninsula.  As is the case with many of America’s scenic drives (some of our other favorites include the scenic Apache Trail and the historic Columbia River Highway), 17-Mile Drive has been a tourist attraction for a very long time.  The first travelers along 17-Mile Drive explored the Del Monte Forest by horse-drawn carriage as early as 1881.  Now visitors pay an entrance fee at one of five gates to view the Monterey Peninsula’s dramatic coastline, visit 17-Mile Drive’s 21 marked points of interest, and get a glimpse of what is probably the Monterey Peninsula’s most famous attraction, Pebble Beach Golf Links. 

We drove 17-Mile Drive during a visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea.  It was a grey, drizzly morning, not ideal for walking around town, so we needed something to do and keep dry.  Carrie Theis, the owner of Hofsas House Hotel, suggested we grab a picnic lunch at Carmel’s 5th Ave. Deli and spend the first half of the day driving around 17-Mile Drive.  17-Mile Drive is beautiful in both clear, sunny weather and grey, dreary weather.  Bright sunshine and clear skies make for better pictures, but dismal, wet conditions highlight the powerful ruggedness of this portion of the California coast.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 19: The Lodge at Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach Golf Links 17-Mile Drive Monterey Peninsula California
Pebble Beach Golf Links
We began our tour of 17-Mile Drive at Carmel Gate, just north of Carmel-by-the-Sea, and followed a clockwise route.  The first stop reached from Carmel Gate is the famed Pebble Beach, which was hosting the Callaway Pebble Beach Invitational during our visit.  The Lodge at Pebble Beach provides views of the 18th fairway and green of Pebble Beach Golf Links.  Sadly Romeo, who loves golf travel, did not get to play Pebble Beach on this visit, but it was still fun for him to see the course in real life for the first time and catch a glimpse of PGA golfers on the course.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 20: Peter Hay Par-3 Golf Course and 100th U.S. Open Monument

100th U.S. Open Monument 17-Mile Drive Monterey Peninsula California
100th U.S. Open Monument
Peter Hay Golf Course is a par-3 golf course open to the public.  It is also a point of interest along 17-Mile Drive because of the 100th U.S. Open Monument, a 30,000 pound bronze sculpture by Richard MacDonald titled Momentum, dedicated at the 100th U.S. Open Championship in 2000.  The sculpture portrays the athleticism of the complete golf swing and contains the name of every U.S. Open champion since 1895.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 21: Pebble Beach Equestrian Center

Near Peter Hay Golf Course is the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center, which offers guided horseback riding experiences through the Del Monte Forest and along the Pacific Coast.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 18: Pescadero Point

Pescadero Point 17-Mile Drive Monterey Peninsula California
Pescadero Point
Pescadero Point offers views of Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 17: The Ghost Tree

The Ghost Tree is a gnarled Monterey cypress with a bleached white trunk and a ghostly appearance.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 16: The Lone Cypress

The Lone Cypress 17-Mile Drive Monterey Peninsula California
The Lone Cypress
The Monterey Cypress tree, once near extinction, is only native to the headlands of Cypress Point and nearby Point Lobos.  The Lone Cypress has stood perched for over 250 years on a jagged rock outcropping overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  As the living symbol of the Pebble Beach Company, which owns a large portion of the Del Monte Forest, the Lone Cypress is trademarked and images of the tree cannot be sold or used for commercial purposes.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 15: Crocker Grove

Crocker Grove is a nature preserve of native pines and cypress.  The grove is named after Charles Crocker, creator of the original 17-Mile Drive.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 14: Cypress Point Lookout

Cypress Point Lookout 17-Mile Drive Monterey Peninsula California
Cypress Point Lookout
Cypress Point Lookout is another viewpoint overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the dramatic coastline.  The lookout is closed April 1 through June 1 during the California Sea Lions birthing season.  Looking out over the ocean you will actually be looking at Carmel Canyon, part of the 10,000-foot-deep Monterey Canyon and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. 

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 13: Fanshell Overlook

Fanshell Overlook is another area that is closed during harbor seal pupping season.  Fanshell Overlook is where we chose to enjoy our picnic lunch from 5th Ave. Deli, protected within our car from the mist, with a view of the white sand beach just outside our windows.  This is where we also started noticing the houses across the street from the shore with yards of sand and ice plant.  It was amazing to see how far inland the sand travels, with some high-dollar houses having small sand dunes for landscaping.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 12: Spyglass Hill Golf Course

Spyglass Hill Golf Course is another public golf course on the Monterey Peninsula designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 11: Seal Rock Picnic Area

If you have better weather than we did, Seal Rock Picnic Area is a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch with an ocean view.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 10: Bird Rock

Bird Rock is home to shorebirds, harbor seals, and sea lions.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 9: Bird Rock Hunt Course

Monterey Peninsula Country Club 17-Mile Drive California
Monterey Peninsula Country Club
Bird Rock Hunt Course is now part of the Shore Course of the Monterey Peninsula Country Club, but used to be the site of an equestrian hunt and steeplechase competition.  The area was also used for riding and saber practice by the 11th Calvary stationed in Monterey in the 1920s.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 8: China Rock

Chinese Rock 17-Mile Drive Monterey Peninsula California
Chinese Rock
Along the coastline, from Point Joe to China Rock, Chinese fishermen built lean-tos against the rocks from the late 1800s to early 1900s.  Chinese immigrants were the first to commercially fish the waters of Monterey Bay and helped make Monterey a successful fishing port.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 7: Point Joe

Point Joe is the site of many shipwrecks because early mariners mistakenly thought it was the entrance to Monterey Bay. 

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 6: The Restless Sea

The turbulence caused by the rocky underwater terrain can be witnessed from the Point Joe viewpoint.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 5: Spanish Bay

Spanish Bay was once the campsite for the Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola.  This is another picnic spot as well as a great place to walk along the shore.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 4: The Inn & Links at Spanish Bay

Along Spanish Bay is the Inn at Spanish Bay and golf course.  The Links at Spanish Bay is a Scottish-style course known for having a bagpiper close the course every evening.  I’m pretty sure we saw the course bagpiper having a drink later that evening at Cypress Inn.  After all, how many men on the Monterey Peninsula could possibly wear a kilt?

Point Pinos Lighthouse Pacific Grove Monterey Peninsula California
Point Pinos Lighthouse and Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course
We chose to exit 17-Mile Drive using the Pacific Grove Gate and continue along the coast using Sunset Drive and Ocean View Boulevard.  This route passes through Pacific Grove, by the Point Pinos Lighthouse, along Cannery Row, and through Monterey, looping back to Carmel-by-the-Sea via Highway 1.  However there are three more points of interest along 17-Mile Drive if continuing along the loop.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 3: Poppy Hills Golf Course

Poppy Hills is another golf course on the Monterey Peninsula and is also the home of the Northern California Golf Association.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 2: Huckleberry Hill

Huckleberry Hill is one of the highest elevations in the Del Monte Forest and is covered in huckleberry bushes.

17-Mile Drive Point of Interest 1: Shepherd’s Knoll

Shepherd’s Knoll provides a view of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay.

Currently the entrance fee for 17-Mile Drive is $10 per vehicle.  Travelers can recoup the entrance fee by spending $30 at one of nine restaurants within the property.  There are a number of streets branching off of 17-Mile Drive within the gates, but 17-Mile Drive is marked by street signs, wooden road markers, and a red-dashed line down the center of the road to keep visitors on track.

Thank you to the Hofsas House Hotel for hosting our stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.  This post contains affiliate links.  If you book through them, it costs you nothing extra and we earn a small commission which goes towards running this website and bringing you more travel stories.

Travel the World: Driving one of America's great scenic drives, 17-Mile Drive on California's Monterey Peninsula near Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.