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A California Coastal Adventure

Monterey, A Pacific Masterpiece

Driving about 70 miles south of San Jose will bring travelers to Monterey County, famous for its coastal beauty. Here, the Pacific Coast Highway winds its way around towering cliffs, offering mile after mile of striking views.

For a more immersive experience with Monterey’s natural beauty, groups should plan a guided hike at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

“It’s known as the crown jewel of the California parks system,” said Jessica Keener, communications manager for the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “In the park, you can see breathtaking views of the Pacific and wildlife like sea lions and sea otters. And you can keep your eyes peeled for whales, especially during the great whale migration of the wintertime and springtime.”

Groups can see harbor seals, sea lions and other aquatic animals at numerous other protected areas along the coast, and outfitting companies offer a variety of guided kayaking excursions. And there are hundreds more species to discover at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the country’s largest and most famous aquarium institutions.

“It’s world renowned,” Keener said. “You can explore on your own or take guided tours. During the tours, they talk a lot about sustainability. The aquarium really leads in sustainability and protecting the ocean and marine life. The work they do is incredible.”

The aquarium is on Cannery Row in downtown Monterey. John Steinbeck made the area famous in his novel “Cannery Row,” and a statue pays tribute to him. Cannery Row today houses restaurants and shops for visitors to explore. Nearby is Old Fisherman’s Wharf, where groups can board boats for half-day or full-day whale-watching and photography excursions.

Wine lovers should allow some time to visit the wineries throughout the county.

“We’re the state’s largest premium wine region, with more than 46,000 acres of planted vineyards,” Keener said. “We’re the largest grower of chardonnay in the country, and there are wine-tasting rooms in places like Carmel Valley and Carmel by the Sea. There’s also a place called the Wine Experience in Monterey where groups can try their hand at custom wine blending.”

Solvang,  A Danish Classic

An outpost of Danish culture might be the last thing travelers expect as they make their way south along the California Coast. But in Solvang, a town of 5,500 residents about 200 miles south of Monterey, groups can revel in Danish heritage that has lasted for generations.

“In 1911, Danish educators decided to find something warmer than Iowa and Minnesota, where they lived, so they bought 9,000 acres in California and started advertising it to other Danish-American families,” said Tracy Farhad, executive director of the Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau. “They decided very early on to have it look like a Danish community. So you see the farmhouse look, with cross-timbered beams and tile roofs. There are even storks perched on the rooftops because that was the national bird of Denmark.”

Though the town is small, tourists will find lots of options there, including 18 hotels and 35 restaurants, many of which serve classic Scandinavian cuisine. There are also five Danish bakeries in the town’s five-block historic district, and groups can visit them to learn about and sample traditional pastries.

“We do activities with groups by walking them through the village and helping them find Danish icons,” Farhad said. “We do a lot of baking classes. We want you to see why the bakery lifestyle is so important here. We take you in the back of the bakery, and you learn how to make one of those pretzel-shaped Danish kringles. We can also do classes where you decorate gingerbread houses.”

Since the bakeries tend to be small, Farhad recommends splitting groups in half, with one half working in the bakery while the other half takes a horse-drawn trolley ride through the village.

Historic walking tours are also popular ways of seeing Solvang. During these tours, groups can explore some of the village’s five museums. The Elverhoj Museum of History and Art gives visitors an overview of the area’s Scandinavian heritage, and the Hans Christian Andersen Museum features collections of personal effects that belonged to the famous folktale author. Groups can also tour the Old Mission Santa Ines, which is one of the original 21 California Missions.