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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Where to stay and play in Monterey

Ever since moving to California one of my most favorite places to visit has been Monterey. I love it so much I even dressed up my dog as the Bay and a Sea Otter one year for Halloween! So you can imagine how lucky I felt when I was invited for a site tour and to stay overnight as a guest at the Intercontinental's Clement Hotel located on Monterey's famous Cannery Row.

I'd arrived a bit early to take pictures and to check out the parking options. The hotel offers a full day of self-parking in their garage for a flat rate of $20.00 with in-and-out privileges. Valet is $21.00 a day. Street meters run from 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM and are $1.50 per hour. Some have a credit card payment option while others still require coins.

As I walked along the patio seating of the hotel's The C restaurant, located between the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Bubba Gump's Shrimp Factory, and the ocean, I spotted a fledgling baby bird.

Which was funny because I'd just left the baby hummingbirds in my own backyard. It was standing in one of the planters at the hotel's restaurant. It had the craziest, baby down, hair feathers I've ever seen. So cute! LOL

A quick peek behind the hotel and I was in for quite a surprise. There is a huge outdoor seating area that faces the ocean. This is the Pacific Courtyard, the view from the deck behind the hotel, and The C restaurant windows that face the ocean. It's a perfect location to spend time outside enjoying a view of the Monterey Bay.

I went back in early evening to photograph the lit fire pits.

There are two fire pits on either corner of the Terrace. They weren't needed when I arrived. Despite the cloudy appearance making it look as if it was a cold day in the photo, the weather was very pleasant. Which was a surprise. I'm used to being in San Francisco or Santa Cruz where, when it's cloudy and windy, it's often bone chilling cold even in the middle of the day.

The hotel is much larger than I thought it was. Building A spans the entire sea mist green building on the north side of Cannery Row and the brick, taupe and yellow buildings that comprise Building B are on the south side of the street. Both sides house retail shops at street level and the hotel rooms and suites are on floors two, three, and four. Conveniently, both buildings are connected by a skywalk.

Upon my arrival in the hotel I peeked around the first floor reading room. It's a spacious, public, open space that includes a fire place. I was quickly joined by Betty Ellen Salazar, the hotel's Catering & Conference Services Coordinator, who was kind enough to take me on a site tour.

Lower Left: Instead of a traditional picture with a "You are here" dot the hotel uses video monitors that showcase the hotel map in far more detail than I would have ever expected.

Lower Right: The hallway outside of the Pacific Ballroom is often used as a space to hold the cocktail hour at a wedding. It's perfectly suited for this purpose and has areas and nooks for a buffet of hors d'oeuvres, a bar and even a photo booth.

Wedding images provided by the Clement Hotel.

Weddings on the Pacific Courtyard take place beneath the sky, beside the ocean and with a runner, appropriately, made of sea grass. Pictures can be taken in or outside of the hotel. If weather is problematic there are contingency options available such as moving a Courtyard wedding indoors. Also, during wedding ceremonies foot traffic on the deck behind the ceremony area is halted by hotel staff so that tourists aren't traipsing through the backdrop of your photos.

Wedding images provided by the Clement Hotel.

There are two ballrooms: The Pacific Ballroom and the Ocean Terrace Ballroom. The Pacific is the larger of the two and located on the ground floor. With a dance floor it can host events with up to 240 guests. The Ocean Terrace Ballroom is more intimate and located upstairs with its own, smaller, outdoor terrace. With a dance floor the ballroom can host up to 135 guests.

And then there was this. My favorite part of the hotel. In the staircase that leads from the first floor to the second floor conference rooms (which can accommodate from 10-30 attendees) and the Ocean Terrace and Ballroom (which, with a dance floor, can accommodate up to 135 guests) is a beautiful light and sound experience.

While my first reaction was "jellyfish" I quickly realized there were no tendrils so I thought the light was symbolic of a plate coral. But then I found it does indeed represent a jellyfish! Either way, it's beautiful and slowly changes colors with LED lights. All around it the walls and ceilings swirl with muti-colored light that emulate ocean waves. As you enter the stair case you gradually realize that there is also music. But the music is so subtle you can make it to the first landing before you realize it's even there.

I loved it so much I made a video so that you could experience it too no matter where you live. Now I want a hallway in my house like this :D

This is the Ocean Terrace on the second floor of the hotel. Smaller ceremonies can be held there as well as the cocktail hour between your wedding and reception. The bridal suite is located just to the left of the round tables.

After showing me the upstairs Betty Ellen treated me to lunch at the hotel's the C restaurant + bar. The entrance is located near one end of the Reading Room and as you enter there is a delicate sculptural piece I found very appealing. Made by artist Pascale Giardin, lit horizontal shadow boxes are filled with ceramic sea motif designs that look like barnacles and sea weed fronds. The frames continues one after another along the wall as you enter the restaurant.

What to order? I tried the Bucatini Pasta with Smoked Local Sardines. The pasta was tossed with sun dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, fresh chives and pine nuts.

The dining room and bar at the C restaurant.

While delicious I will caution this is not the dish to order while on a first date :) The pasta is just a bit thicker than cooked spaghetti but it is a tube pasta so it is double the thickness of spaghetti which means you can't easily spool it around your fork and if you cut them, the noodles remain rigid making it a bit more challenging to consume them gracefully like thinner, softer long pastas such as angel hair or linguine.

Betty Ellen also let me know that the hotel composts 100% of its food scraps from the restaurant, employee dining areas and banquet rooms. I think that's a great eco-friendly effort that hopefully catches on with more hotels and restaurants nationwide.

Another plus? Even if you're not a guest of the hotel, dining at The C entitles you to three free hours of parking in the hotel's garage. Access is on Wave Street between Prescott and Irving Avenues. A local told me she and her friends often go to The C for dinner then next door to Sly McFly's for dancing because the food and drinks at The C are very good and the parking is free.

After lunch we took the skywalk over Cannery Row so Betty Ellen could show me the Spa. Due to the floors being upgraded that day I wasn't able to view the treatment rooms. But this is the lobby you enter when you arrive for a treatment.

I did view the lap pool and jacuzzi. While the hotel's owner would have liked to have offered his guests a full sized swimming pool, environmental regulations prohibit the amount of chlorinated water that can be in such close proximity to the ocean. So, a lap pool was the best solution. As you can see, it's beautiful. It's three feet deep at either end and four feet deep in the center and the water is kept at a balmy 80ยบ. There is also a lift chair for guests who are unable to step down into the pool.

There is an onsite Health and Fitness Center that includes elliptical, treadmill, weight, and bike machines. I thought it was especially cool that each piece of equipment has an iDevice plug in!

It was 1:00 PM and still too early for me to check into my room so I thanked Betty Ellen for the wonderful tour and lunch and headed out to wander around Cannery Row a bit. I also wanted to visit Pacific Grove for some tide pooling.

A bronze bust of author John Steinbeck.

The area is steeped in history thanks to author John Steinbeck because of the book he wrote titled "Cannery Row." While based on the area described in the book, it turns out the area was named Cannery Row in honor of the book, not the other way around.

Beside the hotel sits Ed Ricketts' lab, a building specifically mentioned in Steinbeck's book.

Event though it's within walking distance I hopped into my car and drove down along the coast. Wending along the coastline you'll find the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail where walkers and runners can literally be found from sunrise to sunset enjoying the natural beauty of such an elegant place to exercise.

Along the trail I found harbor seals! They were so cute. Most were a light silvery grey with black spots. They will are drape themselves on the rocks in such a relaxed and sprawled out manner they almost look like seal carcasses. Until they wave a flipper or lift their heads up to have a look around.

A few minutes by car (2.8 miles from the hotel), further down the coastline is a great place to go tide pooling. Directly across from Crespi Pond, the Pacific Grove Golf Links, and the Point Pinos Lighthouse Reservation on Sunset Drive is a short stretch of rocky shoreline where there are almost always tide pools to explore.

That day I spotted hundreds of tiny hermit crabs, a few tiny fish, plenty of sea gulls and even gathered together some sea glass. I didn't keep the sea glass though because it's illegal to take anything from a state beach. Though I have to admit I wondered if taking sea glass would be breaking the law, Depending how you look at it, I rationalized it could be considered picking up litter. LOL. Instead I took this picture then put the glass back in the sand.

While there were no starfish or sea otters there was plenty of seaweed that had washed up on shore.

In fact there was so much seaweed I decided to try to photograph every different kind I could find along the beach. This is what I photographed. There were even more. It was pretty neat to see the huge variety of colors, sizes, textures and shapes.

At that point my camera batteries were dead, my memory card was almost full, and I was tired.

I arrived back at the Clement, checked in and spent two hours downloading all of the photos from my flash card and charging my camera batteries.

The guest room aesthetic was modern and calming.

And there were many special touches in the room like the little, desktop, zen garden, live bonsai tree, complimentary bottled water and the plush sea otter welcoming committee. The sea otters can be purchased at the hotel's gift shop near the front desk.

And best of all my room had a view. The balcony doors opened up to overlook both the Pacific Courtyard and Ocean Terrace and the Monterey Bay. I kept the doors open as much as possible not for the sound of the ocean, but for the fresh salt air. I have to say that the way the ocean smells is my favorite part of being near the water. It's a scent like no other.

The bathroom was lovely. With a glass shower, separate tub and plenty of amenities it was perhaps, the nicest hotel bathroom I've ever enjoyed. I loved that the towel floor mat was rolled and on the floor beside the shower door. And instead of just the typical shampoo, soap, lotion, and shower cap, the Clement also offers an emory board and cuticle stick, a tiny sewing kit and (I think) a small shammy for polishing your eye glasses. Their complimentary offerings exceeded every other hotel I've ever stayed at.

It was nearing 7:00 PM and one of the things I love to do when I've been invited for an overnight stay anywhere is to capture both the sunset and sunrise. With sunset occurring at approximately 8:26 PM I decided it was time to hop back in the car and head 15 minutes south to Carmel State Beach where Del Mar Avenue intersects with Ocean Avenue in Carmel by the Sea.

I parked near the beach and walked across the sand to wait for the sunset. I was hoping the sky would dramatically change colors. It took until after the sunset for me to realize that the first picture I took early on, with the silvery sky and water was just as beautiful as a blazing orange and pink sunset.

Before long the golden hour had arrived. Beneath the dense cloud cover a neat effect was created with just a sliver of sky between the water and clouds.

As the sun moved lower the colors of the sky, water and clouds became more dramatic. Instead of just shooting the water I also moved my lens down to capture only the reflection of the sun on the water and the shadows and light playing out across the sand. I absolutely love the silhouettes of the adult and child along the upper right side of the sand in the two lower images.

As the sun continued its descent the colors became more intense with an orange and pink glow intensifying the colors of the setting sun.

And when it was over I felt as if I was in the Caribbean, not Northern California. Backing out of the close up shots the cool lavender grey of the clouds created even more contrast with the warm colors of the sun. I also thought it was neat how the orange tones looked as if they were trapped between the clouds and water.

While I was on the beach I realized I should figure out where I was going to eat dinner when I got back to Monterey. So I pulled out my phone, hopped on Google and looked for "best restaurants monterey." That's how I found Bistro Moulin just two blocks from the hotel. A quick phone call and I was able to make an 8:45 reservation for one.

The food? It was fantastic! I'd read about the spinach gnocchi online. I wasn't expecting the complimentary carrot tapenade. It was really good. So good I want to go back for more.

And when the Spinach Gnocchi Au Gratin (with parmesan cream sauce) was brought to the table in a blazing hot metal pan, the aroma of the richness of the sauce wafted up and surrounded my table. It was unreal how a cream sauce could smell so good! There is no potato. Instead, each little pillow is made with spinach which makes the gnocchi much lighter and more tender in texture than traditional potato gnocchi. With 14 generously sized pieces I'd have to recommend it as a dish to share simply because of how rich it is. I couldn't eat the entire order alone. It's definitely something to order with two or three friends.

I ate until I could eat no more then headed back to the hotel. It was almost 10:00 PM so instead of paying to park in a garage I simply parked on the street a block and a half from the hotel. In total I'd spent $7.50 to park at two meters that day. Along the coastline and down in Carmel the parking had been free.

As I walked back to the hotel the music was pouring out of Sly McFly's and I could peek in and see people were having a lot of fun just hanging out and dancing up a storm.

Imagine my surprise to discover a plate of chocolate covered strawberries was waiting for me in my room. My first thought was: WOW this is over the top! My second thought was: I can't eat another bite. My third thought was: This will be a great breakfast after I return from shooting in the morning :)

By 10:30 PM I was sound asleep which was a good thing because I'd set my alarm for 4:45 AM to be up in time to photograph the sunrise on my second day in Monterey.

My thanks to Nicole Lisanne and Betty Ellen Salazar for the invitation and site tour. If you'd like to recreate any or all of my day when you visit Monterey here's all you need to know:

The Clement Monterey - website
750 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
Front Desk: 831-3754500
Fax: 831-3754501

• For Weddings, Events and Meetings - Click Here

The C restaurant + bar - website

Pacific Grove Tide Pools -  map
The map will take you to the Point Pinos Lightouse Reservation. The tide pools are across Sunset Drive along the coast side.

Carmel State Beach - map
Del Mar Avenue x Ocean Avenue
Carmel by the Sea

Bistro Moulin - website
867 Wave Street
Monterey, CA 93940
Phone: 831-333-1200

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