The Recreation Trail near Lovers Point allows walkers to enjoy the natural beauty of Pacific Grove.
The Recreation Trail near Lovers Point allows walkers to enjoy the natural beauty of Pacific Grove. (VERN FISHER/Herald Archive )
Big Sur
The wild, breathtaking scenery of Big Sur has inspired some of the world's most famous artists, photographers, writers and musicians. Dramatic crashing waves, cliffs and redwood forests provide a cinematic backdrop for an eclectic population. The state and federal park systems oversee much of Big Sur, which invites hiking, camping and exploring a sprawling and unspoiled wilderness. Rustic resorts, restaurants and small art galleries dot the coast highway that winds through the community.
Population: 973
Visitor information: Big Sur Chamber of Commerce, 667-2100, www.bigsurcalifornia.org

Carmel
Once a colony for artists, actors, writers, intellectuals and other "bohemians," this quirky hamlet exudes a quaint European charm. Bordered by a famous mile-long swath of white-sand beach perfect for surfing, sandcastles and no-leash-required dog-walking, this little village by the sea is home to hundreds of galleries, world-class restaurants, exclusive shops, a 240-year-old mission and a tight-knit local population who live in picturesque cottages on flower-lined streets. A popular destination for tourists, celebrities, gourmands and dog lovers, Carmel retains a personality all its own.
Incorporated: 1916
Population: 3,928
Visitor information: Chamber of Commerce/Visitor Center, San Carlos between Fifth and Sixth, 624-2522,