When my sister, Pat, actually agreed to join me for a weekend of hiking in the Monterey area, I was surprised. An urban sophisticate, Pat's idea of a hike is two laps around the makeup counter at Macy's. Much more fun, to her, is lingering over a good meal.
But California's Monterey Peninsula, with its wave-washed shoreline and forests laced with morning mist, intrigued her: The dining scene is just as famous as the scenery. It wasn't hard for us to find a handful of inviting trails that were near good restaurants, and that was all the incentive she needed. Pat happily hiked all four of these trails carrying her version of a day pack ― a bulging Gucci purse.
In June the wild side of the parks emerges. The dunes at Asilomar State Beach are awash in flowers, and Douglas iris blooms in Mission Trail Nature Preserve (at tiny Lester Rowntree Native Plant Garden). The remote Central Coast is home to the California condor; when you're hiking in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, carry binoculars.
You'll find that Monterey coast weather changes quickly this time of year: It can be sunny or socked in, or some of both. Still, when a brisk hike ends with a steaming bowl of clam chowder and a nice white wine, who minds a little fog? Not Pat.
LODGING INFO: www.montereyinfo.org or 888/221-1010.
1. Carmel Valley
Garland Ranch Regional Park
On cool mornings, when the coast is shrouded in mist, head up the Carmel Valley and you'll usually find sunshine. Cross the Carmel River bridge to reach 3,500-acre Garland Ranch Regional Park. Wildflowers scatter the valley floor and trails wind up to the ridgeline. It's worth a climb for vistas of Santa Lucia Range and the coast.
ROUTE: Hike the Waterfall Trail to Mesa Pond, set in a high meadow where you can pause under an oak to look out over Carmel Valley woodlands, golf courses, and vineyards. Then return via Mesa Trail and Lupine Loop for a moderate, 4-mile round-trip; watch for poison oak.
FOR KIDS: Cool off on the banks of the Carmel River, where kids can wade and look for crayfish.
INFO: Garland Ranch Regional Park (on Carmel Valley Rd., 8½ miles east of State 1 in Carmel Valley; www.mprpd.org/ parks/garland.html or 831/659- 4488)
NEARBY TREAT: Dig into a breakfast of smoked salmon or poached eggs with chicken hash on the terrace at Wickets in Bernardus Lodge, just up the road from the park. $$; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. 415 Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel Valley; 831/ 658-3400.
2. Carmel-bythe- Sea
Mission Trail Nature Preserve
Start by visiting Carmel Mission (San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission), one of the most beautiful destinations in California's chain of 21 missions. Then hike into the nearby Mission Trail Nature Preserve, up well-shaded trails that offer occasional oak- and pine-framed glimpses of the coast.
ROUTE: The grounds of the Carmel Mission are awash in roses and bougainvillea this month. Cross the street to the nature preserve and head up the Serra Trail, looping back on the Dolittle and Mesa Trails for an energizing 1.5-mile walk.
FOR KIDS: Learn about California mission history at the one that founder Junipero Serra called home.
INFO: Carmel Mission (9:30- 4:30 Mon-Fri, 10:30-4:30 Sat-Sun; $4; 3080 Rio Rd., Carmel; 831/624-1271);Mission Trail Nature Preserve (across from the Carmel Mission on Rio near Lasuen Dr., Carmel; www.carmelcalifornia. com/scenic2.html)
NEARBY TREAT: At the Restaurant at Mission Ranch, take in a pastoral view of grazing sheep as you chow down on first-rate comfort food (steaks, baby back ribs, roast chicken). Dinner is first come, first served and starts at 5 (arrive early). $$$; dinner daily, brunch Sun. 26270 Dolores St., Carmel-by-the-Sea; 831/625-9040.
3. Big Sur
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Just getting to the trailhead makes this hike worthwhile. On a 30-minute drive south of Monterey, State 1 edges turquoise bays and steep, green hills. When you finally turn in at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, it feels as though you've entered an enchanted wilderness. You'll hike through soaring redwoods; the payoff is the view down the green gorge of Big Sur Valley.
ROUTE: Take the Pfeiffer Falls Trail to the 60-foot cascade, which, even in June, usually has a steady flow. Then climb the Valley View Trail to the viewpoint; from here you can see Point Sur Lighthouse. It's a moderate, 2-mile roundtrip; watch for poison oak.
FOR KIDS: The trailside banana-slug gross-out factor thrills kids. Call ahead for details on free junior ranger programs.
] INFO: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park ($8 per vehicle; off State 1, about 31 miles south of Monterey; www.parks.ca.gov or 831/ 667-2315)
NEARBY TREAT: Start your day at Big Sur Lodge with a veggie scramble; end your hike with an ice cream there. $$$; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. 47225 State 1, Big Sur; www. bigsurlodge.com or 831/667-3100.
4. Pacific Grove
Asilomar State Beach
Asilomar State Beach's Coast Trail wanders above lovely shoreline. Explore the dunes at Asilomar Conference Grounds, stroll the beach, and end your trek at the luxurious Inn at Spanish Bay on famed 17-Mile Drive.
ROUTE: Check out the 12 Julia Morgan-designed structures at Pacific Grove's Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds, then follow the boardwalk trail to the beach, cross Sunset Drive, and pick up the Coast Trail. Survey the shoreline, then follow the path south along Sunset Drive. Turn into the 17-Mile Drive (free entry for hikers) and follow it along a St. Andrews-style golf hole to the Inn at Spanish Bay. Backtrack for an easy 2-mile stroll.
FOR KIDS: You'll still find bush lupine, seaside daisies, and sand verbena blooms; call ahead for ranger programs.
INFO: Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds (park on Sunset Dr. by Jewel Ave. in Pacific Grove; www. parks.ca.gov or 831/372-4076)
NEARBY TREAT: Warm up by the firepits with a Foglifter coffee at Roy's. $$$$; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. In the Inn at Spanish Bay, 2700 17-Mile Dr., Pebble Beach; 831/ 647-7423.