MONTEREY COUNTY is not only one of the United States' premier tourist destinations, it's also a foodie haven in its own right, with award-winning restaurants, respected chefs, wonderful wineries and fascinating bits and bites around every corner.

Here's a look at some of the great places nearby and some of the fabulous food outings that you'll find in each area.

PEBBLE BEACH

From casual to elegant, every restaurant here has something special to offer, but serious gourmets will want to dine at either Club XIX at The Lodge, or Roy's at The Inn at Spanish Bay. At Club XIX, chef de cuisine Ressul Rassallat has created a menu that borrows from French and Mediterranean traditions. At Roy's, celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi fires up a unique Hawaiian-fusion cuisine.

Club XIX at The Lodge in Pebble Beach
Club XIX at The Lodge in Pebble Beach (Herald Archive)
RSVPs are a must. Club XIX: (831) 625- 8519; Roy's: (831) 647-7423.

BIG SUR

It's worth the effort to visit this area, both for its scenic beauty and for the food. No trip to Big Sur would be complete without a stop at Nepenthe, a noted hangout for poets and artists, but also known for its gorgeous views and its menu, which offers everything from the famous Ambrosia Burger to the smoked wild salmon appetizer and Lolly's Roast Chicken. Details: (831) 667-2345.

Also worth checking out are the woodfired specialties of Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, which include handmade breads and pizza as well as fish, steaks and game, served in an old ranch house. (831) 667-0520.

Playing up the Central Coast's bounty are Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn and The Restaurant at Ventana Inn, both with menus with the emphasis on organic, sustainable fare. At Sierra Mar, helmed by executive chef Craig von Foerster, you'll find specialties like local asparagus with prosciutto and carpaccio of diver scallops. At Ventana, try the Dungeness crab cake appetizer or the spice-roasted duck entrée, created under the guidance of executive chef Truman Jones.

For details, see www.

View from the Nepenthe deck
View from the Nepenthe deck (Herald Archive)
postranchinn.com and www.ventanainn.com.

Big Sur's natural wonders include the redwood forests and beautiful beaches. Also worth a gander is the Henry Miller Library, dedicated to the free-spirited American writer/artist who wrote "Tropic of Cancer" and other controversial novels.

CARMEL

Come to Carmel for the shopping ... stay for the food. A wealth of fantastic restaurants beckon as you peruse the quaint downtown for the latest at Anthropologie, Coach, Tommy Bahama, Tiffany and other designers. Don't overlook the local shops and galleries, though, since each has its own particular charm. While going through Carmel Plaza, stop for a sample and education at The Cheese Shop, with hundreds of different cheeses to choose from. Other local attractions include beautifully restored Mission Carmel, scenic Point Lobos State Reserve, and several dog-friendly beaches.

Among the many worthy eateries in Carmel, a few stand out: Mundaka, a hot spot for tapas and Spanish-inspired cuisine, (831) 624-7400; Cantinetta Luca, the go-to place for casual Italian, (831) 625- 6500; and Mission Ranch, with classic American cuisine in a gorgeous setting, (831) 625-9040. Others worth a look are Grasings, Fresh Cream, Anton & Michel, Casanova, and Andre's Bouchee Restaurant & Wine Bar.

CARMEL VALLEY

Just down the road from Carmel is an area with a similar name, but with a whole different attitude. Carmel Valley, just to the east, at one time was mostly ranch land; it's since become renowned for its vineyards and wineries as well as some fine resorts.

For wine tasting in style, and with a designated driver, check out the Wine Trolley. During the Wine Trolley's five-hour tour, you'll sample vintages up and down the valley, as well as on the bus, and can enjoy a gourmet box lunch. Information: (831) 624-1700.

PACIFIC GROVE

Next it's on to this Victorian jewel of a town nestled by the sea. Pacific Grove is home to a historic lighthouse, a darling downtown with antiques shops and art galleries, and beautifully restored homes from the early 1900s.

The town also boasts some outstanding and unique cuisine. Passionfish, owned by Ted and Cindy Walter, has championed the sustainable seafood movement, (831) 655-3311; Fandango brings a continental twist to its cuisine, serving up pastas, paellas and regional French dishes, (831) 372-3456.

MONTEREY

Here you'll find the biggest local attraction of them all, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Visitors from around the world come to see all the wonders of our local ocean ecosystems, from the kelp forest to the open ocean.

Downtown Monterey boasts a wealth of California history in its gardens and well-preserved adobes, and is adjacent to Custom House Plaza and Fisherman's Wharf, also popular tourist spots. Don't forget to check out the Plaza's Duck Club Grill for wood-roasted specialties and award-winning wine list. Information: www.montereyplazahotel.com and www.portolahotel.com.

Some of Monterey's most delicious restaurants are also nearby. Enjoy a blend of European style with California ingredients at Montrio Bistro, (831) 648-8880, or old-school surf 'n' turf at the acclaimed Sardine Factory, (831) 373-3775, and John Pisto's Whaling Station, (831) 373-3778. For signature martinis and dry-aged steaks, plus Italian and Mexican selections, check out LALLApalooza, (831) 645-9036.

MOSS LANDING AND SALINAS

A bit further away but worth the trip are Salinas, home to the National Steinbeck Center downtown and south of town, on River Road, a string of fine wineries.

Later, swing over to Highway 1 northbound to visit the quaint village of Moss Landing, where some wonderful seafood restaurants can be found, including the Food Network-featured Phil's Fish Market & Eatery, (831) 633-2152.