Point Lobos
Point Lobos (VERN FISHER/Herald Archive)
Monterey County highlights everything that's best about California. From Monterey's seaside restaurants to the Salinas Valley's hillside vineyards, from Big Sur's redwood groves to Pebble Beach's perfectly groomed golf courses, from Salinas' old-fashioned rodeo to Carmel-by-the-Sea's elite music and art festivals, our county has a feast of fun just waiting to be sampled.

Experience the top road trip in the United States as you wind along the breathtaking Big Sur coastline on Highway 1. Sip handcrafted wines at tucked-away tasting rooms where the winemaker might just be the person pouring.Take a surf lesson and catch a glimpse of a barefoot beach wedding as you ride your board to shore. Play 18 holes at legendary golf courses, or just hang out at the 19th hole and watch the pros practice. Monterey County has a little something special for everyone.

Four years ago we asked Herald readers to vote for their favorite iconic spots in the county, in order to compile the Seven Wonders of Monterey County.

When the territory under consideration ranges from the rocky cliffs of Big Sur to the bountiful fields of the Salinas Valley, it's difficult to narrow down what makes Monterey County wonderful. But Herald readers rose to the challenge and came up with the following, plus 19 contenders.

Like the places, the list is worth revisiting. The top seven, in order of votes received, appears below.


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THE SEVEN WONDERS OF MONTEREY COUNTY

1. MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM
86 Cannery Row, Monterey
Home to more than 35,000 animals and plants, and voted the No. 1 aquarium in the country in a tourism survey.

2. POINT LOBOS STATE RESERVE
3 miles south of Carmel, on Highway 1
Boldly — many say aptly — described by an artist as the greatest meeting of land and water in the world.

3. 17-MILE DRIVE
Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach
A pleasure trip around Pebble Beach. Suggested route: Starting and ending at the Pacific Grove gate off Highway 68 near Spanish Bay.

4. CARMEL BEACH
At the end of Ocean Avenue and at marked access points along Scenic Road
A white-sand slice of heaven, perfect for people and their dogs. Western edge of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

5. BIXBY CREEK BRIDGE
18 miles south of Carmel, on Highway 1
Architectural and artistic wonder that links the California coast.

6. CANNERY ROW
from Reeside to David avenues on Monterey's waterfront
The place John Steinbeck once described as "a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream" is now a major tourist attraction.

Bixby Bridge
Bixby Bridge (VERN FISHER/Herald Archive)

7. CARMEL MISSION
3080 Rio Road, Carmel
Father Serra's personal favorite among the missions he founded.


The Runners-up: A brief guide to the other 'Wonders'

· Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds
adjacent to Sunset Drive in Pacific Grove
Historic architecture and a scenic beach combined.

· Downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea
A quaint village endowed with a rich artistic history that attracts visitors from around the world.

· Elkhorn Slough
1700 Elkhorn Road, Elkhorn
A wetlands wonderland home to a wide variety of birds and sealife.

· Fisherman's Wharf
Off Del Monte Avenue and Figueroa Street, Monterey
Monterey's "working wharf" found new life as a tourist destination.

· Old Monterey
throughout downtown
Trace the beginnings of California along a historic trail.

· Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
37 miles south of Carmel, off Highway 1
Almost 2,000 acres of coastal, canyon and mountain greatness and stunning beauty.

· Lone Cypress
17 Mile Drive in Pebble Beach
This trademarked tree is symbolic of The Pebble Beach Co., and the Monterey coast.

· Lovers Point
Ocean View Boulevard near 17th Street, Pacific Grove
A picturesque point with a disputed name.

· Monarch Grove Sanctuary
Ridge Road, off Lighthouse Avenue, Pacific Grove
Winter home of the well-traveled orange and black butterflies. 

· Monterey Submarine Canyon
Off the coast of Monterey
Out-of-sight but not out-of-mind, this underwater canyon rivals the Grand Canyon.

· National Steinbeck Center
1 Main St., Salinas
Salinas pays tribute to its favorite son, John Steinbeck, and biggest industry, agriculture.

· Pebble Beach Golf Links
1700 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach
This world-renowned, links-style course dazzles pros, amateurs and onlookers.

· Pfeiffer Beach
26 miles south of Rio Road in Carmel
Stretch of sand and sea that's hard to find but worth the search.

· Pinnacles National Monument
West side is accessible from Highway 101 near Soledad
A geologic playground rises on the Monterey/San Benito county line.

· Point Pinos
Lighthouse Avenue, off Asilomar Avenue, Pacific Grove
Piece of coastal land housing the oldest continually operating lighthouse on the West Coast.

· Point Sur State Historical Park
Highway 1 in Big Sur, 19 miles south of Rio Road in Carmel
For more than a century, a lighthouse has warned mariners off the point.

· Salinas Valley Agricultural Fields
The valley south of Salinas
Patchwork fields yield the makings of America's salad.

· Tor House
26304 Ocean View Ave., Carmel
Inspirational and architectural wonder built by poet Robinson Jeffers.

· View from Nepenthe
29 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1, Big Sur
Breathtaking panorama along the Big Sur coast at iconic restaurant, home of the famous Ambrosia burger.

On the Web
A special section (PDF) of the Seven Wonders of Monterey County, including a map, is available on The Monterey County Herald's Web site, along with a slide show of the photographs and narration by the photographers.