There are countless reasons to visit California’s picturesque Monterey Peninsula, home of historic Monterey with its Cannery Row of Steinbeck lore, Fisherman’s Wharf, and charming Carmel-by-the-Sea. We’ve made road trips to this storied destination many times over the years on holidays, to take in races at Laguna Seca Raceway (now Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca), and attend automotive events of one stripe or another, including the region's high-profile Monterey Car Week. More on that in a bit.
The drive from Los Angeles to Monterey is one of contrasts. Heading north on California’s Highway 101 from Southern California, you’re treated to diverse scenery ranging from crowded cityscapes to rolling hills and wide-open spaces. It’s when you reach Ventura that things begin to markedly change. This is where, for a time, your vista to the west gives way to brilliant blue Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands, signaling a welcome transition that finds you leaving city life behind for the more relaxed lifestyle of the Central Coast.
The next 275 miles are quite scenic with such jewels as Santa Barbara, the Riviera of the Pacific; San Luis Obispo, a wonderful mission town with its circa-1772 Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa; and the bucolic Paso Robles, a short drive after cresting the Cuesta Grade.
Heading Out in a Sonata Hybrid
Our latest road trip to the area began in San Luis Obispo behind the wheel of a 2019 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, one of this automaker’s high-profile answers to driving ‘green.’ Our drive this time was via US 101 to Salinas and then SR 68 to Monterey, an easy 2 1/2-hour trip. Along the way you pass through a landscape of rolling hills, farmlands, and wide-open spaces dotted with fruit and vegetable stands, small towns, and a few modest cities that are worth a quick visit if you have the time.
A spectacular alternative is negotiating winding Highway 1 from San Luis Obispo to Monterey, the most awe-inspiring section of California’s historic El Camino Real (Spanish for “The King’s Highway”). El Camino Real is the heart of the historic Mission Trail that connects the state’s 21 Spanish missions established between 1769 to 1833, running from San Diego to Santa Cruz . From Cambria to Monterey, this section of El Camino Real hugs the coastline and goes through Big Sur, providing truly breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean along the way. Be prepared for at least a 4 hour or longer drive on this more leisurely route, hence the reason we take US 101 more often than not. Still, we drive Highway 1 every few years as a reminder of just what an unhurried and sensory fulfilling road trip can be for the soul.
Road Trip Efficiency
As the miles roll by, it isn’t lost on us how the Sonata Hybrid is a stylish and accommodating vehicle for our road trip. The hybrid variant of Hyundai’s popular Sonata sedan is quite fuel efficient at a rated 46 mpg on the highway and 40 mpg in city driving, which goes a long way toward mitigating carbon emissions. It’s also ideal for road trips with a driving range up to 668 miles on a tank of fuel.
While the Sonata Hybrid has the overall bold and distinctive look of its conventionally powered counterpart, there are some distinguishing features. These include a slightly different front and rear fascia and aerodynamic wheels that help achieve a low drag coefficient of 0.24. It’s powered by a 2.0-liter GDI Atkinson cycle, 4-cylinder engine with a Blue Drive parallel hybrid system. Engine output is 154 horsepower with 140 lb-ft torque to provide spirited and confident driving.
Like all Sonatas, the hybrid offers standard Bluetooth with audio streaming and a 7.0-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Standard safety tech includes blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert. New standard features on the Limited trim include automatic emergency braking, smart cruise control with start/stop, and lane keeping assist. Importantly the Sonata comes with a hefty 5-year or 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, or 10 years and 100,000 miles of coverage for the powertrain.
The Quail and Pebble Beach
As we arrive in Monterey, we’re reminded of the very special nature of this place. Views here are among the awe-inspiring in the world. If you ever have reason to question that, just take a leisurely journey along the area’s famed 17 Mile Drive from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach as the route hugs the Pacific coastline.
Stop along the way at such scenic vistas as Spanish Bay, Bird Rock, Stillwater Cove, and Point Joe, where converging currents create a mesmerizing and constantly restless sea. Take time to appreciate The Lone Cypress, which has majestically withstood the elements for over 250 years. Take in the stately Lodge at Pebble Beach and appreciate the Pebble Beach Golf Links, considered one of the finest golf courses in the world, then get a bite at one of the resort’s excellent restaurants.
Beyond its grandeur, there are other compelling reasons to head to the Monterey Peninsula. One of the highlights is the annual spectacle of Monterey Car Week each August, a celebration of classic and modern vehicles with a 10-day series of events capped by The Quail – A Motorsports Gathering at Quail Lodge & Golf Club, and the renowned Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance that’s taken place at this famed golf resort for the past 60 years.
Electric Cars Amid Classics and Exotics
We recently attended both along with other elements of Monterey Car Week, including Exotics on Cannery Row and classic car auctions with some of the most amazing and historic automotive iron on the planet. In recent years, these events have seen a major showing by automakers at exhibits and pavilions as they display their current vehicles, along with concepts, pre-production, and electrified models. Examples of advanced and electrified vehicles on hand included the electric Polestar 1, Porsche Mission E, Karma Revero, Mercedes-AMG Project One, and Byton K-Byte.
Beyond the visceral thrill imparted by all manner of automotive history on display, one of our most memorable moments was during an afternoon at the Mecum Auction. Here, we witnessed a vintage Porsche 550 Spyder (think James Dean) bid up to $925,000…without selling because it failed to meet the seller’s reserve price.
A Memorable Outing
More often than not, our sojourns to the area have included stays at the seaside Monterey Plaza and Clement Monterey hotels, or the Portola Hotel at Monterey Bay adjacent to Fisherman’s Wharf. The Carmel Valley Ranch Resort, where you can appreciate an inevitable greeting by deer and perhaps even wild turkeys, is also a favorite. All are located within easy reach of such memorable Monterey attractions as Fisherman’s Wharf, the historic Carmel Mission, the Maritime Museum of Monterey, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the historic Carmel Mission that was founded in 1771 by the Franciscan friars.
Heading home with the sights and sounds of Monterey behind us, we can only say that this is one road trip that everyone should take at some time in their life, if it’s in the cards. Doing so in the month of August when Monterey Car Week is happening, of course, makes it all the better.
Photography by Sheree Gardner Cogan