Of all the things to do when visiting Monterey, California, the 17 Mile Drive is high on most peoples list. We recently visited and I wanted to share what we found to be the best 17 Mile Drive stops to make to see the most breathtaking views and landscapes.
What to know about the 17 Mile Drive
The 17 Mile Drive is – as advertised – a 17 mile drive that hugs the coast from Pacific Grove to Carmel in Monterey, California. The drive offers incredible views over the ocean on a gorgeous scenic road surrounded by amazing houses and is incredibly popular, especially during peak seasons and big golf tournaments. I would suggest allowing at least 2 hours for the drive, especially if you want to stop for photographs or have a picnic on the way.
There is a fee to take the drive ($11.25 per vehicle when we visited in March 2023) and you can enter through any of the gates. My recommendation would be to enter through the Pacific Grove Gate and leave through the Carmel Gate so you can easily follow the guide that you’ll be given when you pay your fee upon entrance.
The guide has numbered stops with a little information about each one so you know what you’re looking at along the way. There are 21 stops in total and although I’ve included my favorite 17 Mile Drive stops here, there’s something to see at each of them. The road has red dashes painted along it which make it easy to follow along without getting lost, and the stops are well signposted.
Note: One thing I want to mention is that I haven’t included The Lone Cypress in this list and that’s usually somewhere that I see recommended on lists of stops on the 17 Mile Drive. The only reason I haven’t included it is that this stop was closed due to storm damage when we visited and I don’t usually recommend places I haven’t personally been to. But I do think The Lone Cypress might be worth adding to this list because it’s so iconic.
Spanish Bay Beach
Spanish Bay is stop number 5 on the 17 Mile Drive guide, but it’s the first one that we came to that I really thought was worth stopping at. In 1769 the Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola camped out here with his crew while searching for Monterey Bay, which they didn’t find for another year. The beach was named after them.
Although this is mainly a pebble beach and maybe not great for laying out the catching some sun, it’s a great spot for a stroll or to stop and have a picnic.
Both this stop and the next can be accessed from the same parking lot so pick whichever is emptier and go with that one. You can easily walk between Point Joe and the Restless Sea.
Point Joe has an interesting history. It was originally mistaken as the entrance to Monterey Bay by mariners which resulted in many shipwrecks. In the early 1900’s a man named Joe built a hut here and sold souvenirs and trinkets to tourists. It’s unknown whether Point Joe was named after this man, or vice versa.
The Restless Sea
The Restless Sea was one of my favorite 17 Mile Drive stops. So called because of the crashing waves over this particularly turbulent part of the coast, the Restless Sea is an incredible place to stop and really admire the power of nature.
It’s easy to see why there were so many shipwrecks when mariners originally tried to enter Monterey this way; the submerged rocks that create the huge waves must have been impossible for ships to navigate.
Bird Rock & Seal Rock
Bird Rock and Seal Rock are exactly what they sound like: amazing places to spot wildlife such as harbor seals, sea lions, pelicans, cormorants, and even whales during the winter season. This was one of my favorite 17 Mile Drive stops because of the incredible wildlife.
If you own binoculars, this would be the stop to pull them out. Although you can kind of see movement on the rocks, it’s pretty hard to see all the way out to them with the naked eye and kids especially might get frustrated trying to spot wildlife. Binoculars would really come in handy to get a closer look at the birds and animals.
Fanshell Beach Overlook
Of all of the 17 Mile Drive stops, this is my number one recommendation for a beach stop. With the white sand of the beach and the relative calm of the bay (at least compared to other areas on the coast) this is a great place to stop and sit on the beach for a while.
Even if it’s not necessarily beach weather – as it wasn’t when we visited – then this is still a beautiful spot for a walk to stretch your legs or just watch the ocean.
Sections of Fanshell Beach are closed from April 1st to June 1st for Harbor Seal pupping season so this is something to bear in mind if you’re visiting in the spring or early summer.
The Ghost Trees at Pescadero Point
Pescadero Point is a beautiful overlook where you can see across to Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove. The area is also known for some incredible waves to add to the breathtaking views, and for the famous ghost trees.
The ghost trees at Pescadero Point are famous for their white, sun-bleached look that make them look almost spooky. They frame the views over the bay beautifully and the landscape is really unique. The whole area also smells like pine, which I loved and reminded me of Christmas!
Pebble Beach Visitor Center
The visitor center isn’t somewhere we planned to stop on the 17 Mile Drive, but we needed to get something to eat and drink so we decided to swing by, and I’m so glad we did.
The Pebble Beach Visitor Center is a great place to learn the history of Pebble Beach, as well as do some shopping and grab a bite. There are shops that specialize in Pebble Beach themed merchandise, as well as higher end stories dedicated to men, women, and children. There are also some incredible restaurants as well as a grab and go store and coffee bar.
I’d recommend going into the main visitor center first to learn the history of Pebble Beach, which is interesting even if you’re not a golfer. We browsed the stores and then picked up coffee and snacks from the marketplace. The seats pictured above had incredible views and were the perfect place to eat before we headed out.