I am sitting in the back seat of my daughter's car as we drive down the spectacular coast from San Francisco to Carmel, waves crashing.
I usually lead the way, but this weekend I'm following the passions of my 25-year-old daughter Reggie Yemma and her boyfriend, Dan Foldes, who live in San Francisco and know this area well.
There is much to see and do all around Monterey (www.seemonterey.com) -- about 120 miles south of San Francisco -- the Monterey Bay Aquarium (www.montereybayaquarium.org), the National Steinbeck Center (www.steinbeck.org), hiking, kayaking, golf, diving, whale-watching, shopping (Carmel-by-the-Sea has more than 100 art galleries, www.carmelcalifornia.com) and even wine tasting. Monterey Wine Country (www.montereywines.org) is home to some 40 wineries and 40,000 acres of vineyards.
All I did was book the hotel -- the newly renovated Carmel Valley Ranch (www.carmelvalleyranch.com), which sits on nearly 500 acres in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains (and backing up to 4,400 acres of Garland Ranch Regional Park). This is a great locale for a getaway with its oversized suites and complimentary activities (yoga or a morning hike). I booked one dinner reservation too -- at Wickets at the nearby Bernardus Lodge (www.bernardus.com), which was a hit, from the grilled artichokes to the homemade pizzas and the wine that came from the Bernardus Winery.
The best part is that the kids showed us places we never would have found on our own, like Harley Farms Goat Dairy (www.harleyfarms.com) in Pescadero, Calif., where we ogled the baby goats and bought some delicious cheese.
One damp, rainy afternoon we found ourselves at Point Lobos State Reserve (www.ptlobos.org), binoculars in hand, looking for sea otters and their pups.
That evening, we relaxed over dinner at Carmel Valley Ranch, glad to see that the salad greens and herbs and other produce comes from the huge organic gardens here. There is lavender growing here, too -- hence the sweet-smelling soap and shampoo in our room.
The next morning, after a first-rate breakfast at the small Wagon Wheel Restaurant -- a local institution we learn -- we headed to the Monterey Bay Aquarium -- first to see the rescued sea otters. We also saw pink flamingos, Magellan Penguins rescued from South America, sea horses, the touch tank with its anemones, sea stars and sea cucumber and the Kelp forest, which can grow to be 200 feet tall.
We stopped for lunch at the aquarium's new restaurant whose menu was designed by Napa chef Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustard's Grill. The results were delicious -- fresh oysters from Washington State, Grilled Albacore tuna (troll-caught in California) served on Udon Noodles with sesame seeds and miso glaze, and perhaps the best carrot cake I've ever tasted with cinnamon-caramel sauce.
It's after 4 p.m. by the time we leave the aquarium, but our guides tell us we have more to see. It's low tide and the rain has finally stopped so we head nearby to Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove to check out the tide pools.
Reg and Dan suggested a spin along the famous 17-mile drive in Pebble Beach (www.pebblebeach.com) and the Del Monte Forest (for which we pay roughly $10 for the privilege -- but worth every penny). We stood at Bird Rock, home to countless shorebirds, harbor seals and what seemed like a convention of sea lions honking at us from a huge rock offshore. We paused at the famous Lone Cypress that has lived on this rocky ledge for more than 250 years. It's an incredible sight.
The next day, after a morning spent whale-watching (www.chriswhalewatching.com), as dolphins swam, jumped and dived right by our boat, we headed back to San Francisco.
I'm still in the back seat. And I'm still smiling.