MONTEREY, Calif. -- The Monterey Peninsula is, of course, known for Pebble Beach Golf Links. And while the course with the $495 green fee should be on every avid golfer's bucket list, a golf trip to the area is hardly lacking if you don't get to play the famous course above the bluffs.
The Monterey Peninsula, which includes Carmel-by-the-Sea, Seaside, Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach, offers some of the best golf, weather, things to do, dining and most of all scenery that you'll ever experience. If budget isn't a concern, there's no limit to the delights. But you might be surprised to find out that even on limited funds, this golf vacation can be affordable, and you'll create memories that will last a lifetime.
What follows are eight tips for a great Monterey Peninsula golf vacation, whether you play the 1919 Jack Neville/Douglas Grant design or not.
1. Don't have to stay there to play there
If you want to schedule an advance tee time at Pebble Beach Golf Links, you normally have to book two nights at the Lodge at Pebble Beach or Inn at Spanish Bay, which pushes your cost up considerably. But if you're willing to chance it, you can get a tee time the day before or the day of if there are any openings without staying at the resort. It will still cost $495, but it's a lot less than having to stay a couple of nights at several C-notes each night. Helpful hint: On many holidays, the course can be somewhat open. Last Memorial Day, the course had tee times open throughout the day, including early morning.
2. Accommodations run the gamut
Everything from the Marriott to bed and breakfasts and budget motels are available. It's typically a little pricier than most locations, but you can find cheap digs for less than $100 a night. And if you're only sleeping in your hotel room -- which is likely since there's so much to do in the day -- a night or two in the Motel 6 or Super 8 just might do the trick.
On the other hand, you might want to step it up a little. The Embassy Suites, for example, in Seaside offers great golf packages with Bayonet/Black Horse Golf Course, which was renovated a couple of years ago and is one of the best values in California. Together, packages can be had for less than $200 a night at times.
3. Check out other Pebble Beach golf courses
Pebble is just the beginning when it comes to golf on the Peninsula. The other Pebble Beach properties aren't too shabby either, don't take six hours to play and are considerably less expensive. Spyglass Hill, for example, has plenty of ocean views and is typically much less crowded. Same with the Links at Spanish Bay, which runs along the coast on the famous 17-Mile Drive. And if you're really looking for a gem, check out Del Monte Golf Course, one of the oldest courses in America. It's always in terrific shape, easily walkable and very affordable (about a fifth of what it costs to play Pebble).
4. Look to Seaside for affordable, spectacular golf
Bayonet and Black Horse are two other great picks, even if you don't book a package. They can be played for around $100 or less at times, especially if you book through the Internet. Both courses were completely renovated a couple of years ago by architect Gene Bates and provide some of the best tests of golf combined with ocean views. Bayonet, which has been the site of U.S. Open sectionals as well as the 2012 PGA Club Professional Championship, is particularly difficult, especially from the tips with a slope/rating of 141/74.8.
5. Play the "other" Pebble Beach
If you really want to talk bargain, head over to Pacific Grove and play Pacific Grove Golf Links. This little gem was designed by the same guy who did Pebble beach -- Mr. Neville. And while the conditioning won't match Pebble, the views aren't too bad, especially on the back nine, which is mostly on the ocean.
6. Head to the Valley
Other recommendations include Rancho Canada, Quail Lodge and Carmel Valley Ranch. If you can afford it, stay at the peaceful Carmel Valley Ranch Resort -- you won't be disappointed. The course there is a really cool Pete Dye design that works its way around beautiful rolling hills, vineyards and lakes. And the rest of the resort is simply serene, with championship tennis, impeccable farm-to-table dining and some of the most comfortable suites in the country.
7. Great dining around the Peninsula
It's almost impossible to get a bad meal in Monterey, Carmel, at Pebble Beach or anywhere else in the area. And the offerings span every budget.
The real finds are often the beaten path, but there are some pretty good offerings along the well-traveled roads as well.
One recommendation is that even if you don't play Pebble Beach, have lunch or dinner at the famous Tap Room at the Lodge. The photographs and trophies alone are worth the visit, but when you step into the lodge and check out the view of the 18th and Carmel Bay below, you'll be glad you made the trip. The Tap Room isn't cheap -- a Guinness Draft is almost $10 -- but it's not overly pricey either. You can get great soups and appetizers that will certainly fill you up, but the best deal might be the authentic bratwurst, warm potatoes and sauerkraut for just $10.
The next morning, you might want to try breakfast at Em Le's in Carmel. Famous for its battered French toast that probably approaches 2,000 calories, everything on the menu is good, and there are healthier options. The seasonal fruit, picked from nearby farms, is particularly impressive, as is the homemade syrup for the above mentioned French toast, waffles and flapjacks.
And finally, if you're looking for a reasonable seafood dinner in a great atmosphere, you can't go wrong at Fisherman's Wharf in Carmel. The restaurants, which sit right on the water, compete with each other for customers, so the prices are kept down. They even tempt passers-by with free clam chowder samples. Gilbert's, for example, offers freshly caught snapper entrees for less than $13 as well as free calamari, and you won't be disappointed in the quality.
8. Plenty to do and see besides golf
Any first timer to the Peninsula needs to make the trip along the famous 17-Mile Drive. It costs about 10 bucks to get in (free with a tee time or dinner reservation), but it's well worth it. Along the way, you'll find several famous landmarks, including the Lone Cypress Tree near Cypress Point, with incredible views of the Pacific Ocean.
The Monterey Aquarium, one of the best of its kind in the country, is a must. The aquarium is located at the end of the famous Cannery Row of author John Steinbeck fame. Not only is there a museum dedicated to the great author, but the area features scores of restaurants, shops and boutique hotels.
You'll also want to check out Fisherman's Wharf for more than just the food. It's a great spot to spy on sea lions and seals and you can also take a whale-watching cruise from the wharf.
Both Carmel and Monterey are also great communities for the arts. Galleries are everywhere, especially in Carmel. And speaking of Carmel, the shopping and people watching is some of the best in the West.
And be sure to work your way all the way down Ocean Street to the beach at Carmel Bay. The views, which include a panoramic picture of Pebble Beach Golf Links from below the bluffs, are breathtaking.