Young women pose at 148 16th Street, c1898.
Young women pose at 148 16th Street, c1898. (Courtesy of Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History)

HISTORY WAITS around every corner in Pacific Grove. Walk in any direction from the heart of town and it's easy to see, gazing at the brightly hued Victorians and other historic buildings, that this is a place where the past is present.

Here is the cottage where writer John Steinbeck hung his hat; there is the Point Pinos Lighthouse, the oldest continuously operating light station on the West Coast. And over there is where President Teddy Roosevelt rode his steed in 1903, in a mad dash toward 17-Mile Drive.

Add to that the natural beauty of the coast, the intrigue of the yearly Monarch butterfly migration, and the many recreational opportunities, and it's obvious that Pacific Grove has its own remarkable charms in an area full of notable attractions.

Lovers Point, showing the glass-bottom swan boat and Japanese tea house, c1907.
Lovers Point, showing the glass-bottom swan boat and Japanese tea house, c1907. (Courtesy of Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History)

"It's a special place," agrees Moe Ammar, president of the Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce, noting the family-friendly atmosphere and easygoing ambiance of the city known as "America's Last Home Town."

The outside world is now sitting up and taking notice. Life Magazine proclaimed Pacific Grove "Most Romantic City in the U.S." in 2002, and Via Magazine recently named it "Best Seaside Sanctuary." Earlier this year, the San Francisco Chronicle praised the city of 15,000 as the most walkingand bike-friendly of Monterey Peninsula cities.

Bounded by Monterey, Pebble Beach and Monterey Bay, Pacific Grove is also renowned as an ideal outdoor recreation destination, with beaches and parks providing a beautiful backdrop for such coastal activities as surfing, scuba diving and kayaking.


Oceangoing Spanish explorers like Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo were the first to land on the northernmost tip of the Monterey Peninsula in the 16th century; the first official settlers were Chinese immigrants who in 1853 founded a thriving fishing village, according to Kent Seavey, who authored the Images of America book "Pacific Grove" with the Pacific Grove Heritage Society.

"They came directly from China, and it was men, women and families," says Seavey. "It was the biggest Chinese community in California at the time."

The Methodists were the next to notice the windswept point dotted with pines and cypress. In 1875, the faithful pitched their tents near Lovers Point for a summer church retreat. By 1889, the tent city had become a real city, as people built homes and businesses there.

Pacific Grove now boasts more than 2,700 vintage properties, many lovingly restored to their former glory. It's a feast for current-day history and architecture buffs — the popular Victorian home tour each October is typically a sold-out affair.

The city's annual Good Old Days celebration, held in April, reflects a kinder, gentler bygone era, with a vintage fashion show, fireman's muster and old-fashioned parade.

Downtown Pacific Grove.
Downtown Pacific Grove.

Other favorite events include December's Christmas at the Inns, a holiday celebration at the town's historic hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments; summer's Feast of Lanterns, a pageant based on a Chinese folk tale; and the autumn Butterfly Parade, which heralds the return of the Monarch butterflies that migrate to spend each winter in the pine groves.

Scientists flock here as well to study the monarch and other wildlife. When the Monterey Bay Aquarium, located on the border between Pacific Grove and Monterey, was founded in 1984, it brought new awareness and regard for the ocean environment.

Ammar points out that one-third of Pacific Grove residents are members of the nonprofit aquarium, and some 400 "Pagrovians" either work or volunteer there.

17th street tent #49 in retreat section, c1885.
17th street tent #49 in retreat section, c1885. (Courtesy of Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History)

Of course, having the aquarium has enhanced tourism as well, bringing visitors to stay at Pacific Grove's quaint inns and hotels, enjoying fine dining at its restaurants and shopping in the downtown area.

One surprising fact about Pacific Grove is that it was the last "dry" town in California. In fact, no alcohol was sold in the city until voters overturned the law in 1969.

It's also probably the only city anywhere that has made it illegal to harm a Monarch butterfly.

Learn more about the Monterey Bay area at