As visitors, guests, and customers of SSCS know well, Carmel, Pebble Beach and the city of Monterey head the list of destination sites on the Monterey Peninsula, but you shouldn't overlook a little town called Pacific Grove, known as P.G. among local residents.
To be fair, P.G. does get its share of kudos. Life magazine called it “The Most Romantic City in the U.S.” and you’ll find it on countless lists of best small towns to visit. But what makes the town truly distinctive is how quiet and remote it is. It's stuck way out on the end of the Peninsula, so you have to make an effort to get there as shown in the map at left.
This means even on crowded Summer weekends there’s a little less traffic and noise than the rest of the touristy Peninsula. The speed limit downtown is 15 miles an hour. Herds of deer stroll leisurely down streets. It's gets pitch black at night when anything could happen, yet you get the sense that nothing will ever happen. It’s one of the foggiest cities on the Peninsula which adds to the effect. It's a pretty effective setting for writers of mysteries or ghost stories.
So what else makes Pacific Grove special? Well, it's right on the coast (because of the way it juts out the Pacific Ocean is on one side and the Monterey Bay on the other) so there's a pretty healthy surfing culture, though everyone has to wear wetsuits because the water is so cold. If you can deal with that, P.G. boasts Asilomar Beach which to local residents (P.G. residents are sometimes called “Pagrovians”) is one of the greatest beaches in the world—and it doesn’t get that crowded! Here’s a peek:
The rest of this page contains a number of photographs and descriptions to help you get a sense of the uncommon flavor of Pacific Grove. They call it "America's Last Hometown" among other things, which should give you kind of an idea of the kind of image they are going for.
The sights we've included on this page include the newly remodeled P.G. city hall, shot in early morning light which accentuates its "sunset red" facade, a modern take on the quaintness that seems to permeate the town (a friend of ours once described entering P.G. as "driving right into a living Norman Rockwell painting."
You'll also find an example of one the Victorian architecture that dominates certain areas of the city's landscape. Houses designed in the variety of styles that fall into this category (including Gothic Revival, Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, Stick/Eastlake, and Tudor) add to the city's special vibe, a vibe which some describe as being a bit spooky due to their considerable age. (Over 500 buildings in Pacific Grove are designated historical buildings by the Pacific Grove Heritage Society. The casual bystander can identify them because each has a green plaque attached to it that displays the date of the building's construction and the name of its original owner).
At the other end of the design spectrum are P.G.'s cabins and cottages, much smaller structures which make evident the town's origins as a Methodist retreat, and contribute to the city's cozy, romantic side. some neighborhoods, especially those close to the Monterey Bay, are crossed with streets lined with these tiny domiciles, stacked next to each other like paperbacks on a bookshelf inclining down toward to water.
And speaking of the Bay, Lover’s Point Park and Beach is another key destination, which has something for everyone. You can bike, kayak, run, play volleyball, swim, dive, or just hang out. Because of its unique east-facing location, it is also one of the only spots on the West Coast where you can watch the sun rise over the water. The Beach House, a nice restaurant with large windows to accommodate its one-of-a-kind views, leverages the location to full effect.
We'll conclude this brief overview with one fact about P.G. that isn't so well-known and is of more specialized interest. We're talking about the Clark Ashton Smith house, high house on a hill overlooking the water, surrounded by a stone wall with a somewhat arcane sculpture crouched atop it.
The sculpture is that of a cat, albeit a somewhat otherworldly one, which makes sense when you find out that Smith was a poet, writer and sculptor, who for the first-half-decade of the 1930's was a prolific writer of weird tales that were published in the popular pulp magazines of the time.
He sculpted strange creatures and whatnot, as well, which explains the appearance of the cat. If you ever visit, make sure you check it out, although be careful because an acquaintance of ours tried to climb up the wall to have his picture taken with the thing and he ended up slipping and crashing to the ground, breaking his ankle.
Coincidence? You decide. But don't let that small thing deter you from Pacific Grove, a town that is, indeed one of a kind.