Tips for making the most of your Monterey trip

Seven things to know if you're planning a golf vacation to California's Monterey Peninsula

MONTEREY, Calif. -- The Monterey Peninsula, which includes Carmel-by-the-Sea, Seaside, Pacific Grove and, of course, Pebble Beach, offers some of the best golf, weather, things to do, dining and most of all some of the most spectacular views in the world.

If you have all the money in the world, this is a golf vacation you should probably take several times a year. But even if you're on a budget, you can enjoy playing golf and going out in the Monterey area. Here are seven things you should know if you're considering a Monterey golf vacation.

1. Go play Pacific Grove

It's often called the "Poor Man's Pebble Beach," but that probably isn't the best description of Pacific Grove. While it's true that the two courses share the same designer -- Jack Neville -- and both have ocean views, that's where the similarities end. The front nine at Pacific Grove is rather pedestrian, but the back nine is links style right on the ocean, minus the bluffs. Best of all, you can play it for less than $50, and it takes far less time to play.

2. But if you do play Pebble Beach ...

It's no secret that Pebble Beach Golf Links costs about $500 just for the green fee, which can be just the beginning. For a while now, there's been a requirement that you have to stay at the Lodge at Pebble Beach or Inn at Spanish Bay, which pushes your cost up considerably. What many don't know, though, is that you can get a time there the day you play or the day before, so if you're in the area, you can go that route without staying at the resort. And here's a helpful hint: On many holidays, the course can be somewhat open.

3. The other Pebble Beach golf courses are pretty good, too

The other courses at Pebble Beach aren't too bad either, you can play them more quickly and are considerably less expensive. Spyglass Hill, for example, has plenty of ocean views and is typically much less crowded. It's the 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.

4. Check out Bayonet/Black Horse in Seaside

Not too far away from Monterey is the city of Seaside where you'll find two really spectacular golf courses, recently renovated by Gene Bates. We're talking about Bayonet and Black Horse, which can be played for around $100 or less. Both now have ocean views, thanks to the renovation, and are a great test. The Bayonet Course, for example, has hosted U.S. Open sectionals as well as the 2012 PGA Club Professional Championship.

5. Courses in the valley are pretty good

You don't have to have an ocean view to have great golf. In fact, if you head to the Carmel Valley, you'll get a nice contrast with courses such as Rancho Canada, Quail Lodge and Carmel Valley Ranch. And the best part is while the fog might be hanging over the courses by the coast, sunny and warmer conditions usually prevail inland.

6. Bring your appetite to the Peninsula

Simply put, the food and wine in the Monterey area is reason enough to plan a golf vacation there.

One recommendation is that even if you don't play Pebble Beach, have lunch or dinner at the famous Tap Room at the Lodge. 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 fried battered French toast, 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.

7. More to Monterey besides golf and eats

If this is your first time to the Monterey area, 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.

The Monterey Aquarium, located at the end of the famous Cannery Row of author John Steinbeck fame, is also a good bet. There's also a museum dedicated to the great author.

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 while in Carmel, 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.

Video: Matt Ginella's travel tips for Monterey, Pebble Beach

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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Seven things to know if you're planning a golf vacation to California's Monterey Peninsula