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Set on a jaw-droppingly scenic bay, the fishing village of Monterey couldn’t possibly be a more relaxing seaside escape. Stroll along the rocky waterfront out to Lovers Point or the lighthouse, hop aboard a whale-watching boat or let yourself be mesmerized by the luminous jellyfish inside California’s top-rated aquarium.

Made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel, Cannery Row today resembles nothing of the sardine factory it once was, although remnants of the past still peek out from the early-20th-century cannery worker’s shacks. Downtown, Monterey State Historic Park evokes California’s early days with Spanish and Mexican adobe houses, civic buildings, churches and hidden flowering gardens.

If you’ve got a car, the famous 17-Mile Drive toll road winds from Monterey past ocean views, wildlife and the trademarked “Lone Cypress Tree” to Pebble Beach, an upscale golf resort. It ends in Carmel-by-the-Sea, once a retreat for artists and poets. Today, Carmel is all about ritzy shopping, European bistros and art galleries galore. Don’t miss the village’s serenely beautiful 18th-century Spanish mission church.