Monterey Bay Food Tour

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Airbnb is trying to get out the word about their experiences so they offered to sponsor my wife and me to try one. We looked at what was experiences were available in Monterey California. We were interested in experiences like:

  • a guided eBike tour
  • a sailing cruise
  • sea kayaking

But when presented with choices I almost always choose the food tour.

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Monterey Custom House

Monterey Bay Food Tour

Airbnb Experiences are run by locals and our guide was no exception. Casey was originally from Georgia but had wanted to live in Monterey for years before her husband got a job in the area. Her sister-in-law had run a food tour in Athens Georgia which is a college town and Casey was surprised that an area like Monterey which had such a great food scene did not have any food tours that she could find.

Mix in a love of food, a love of Monterey and its people and history and you get an idea what this tour was like.

Custom House and the Path of History

We met Casey and our other tour participants at the big flag outside the Custom House right by Old Fisherman’s Wharf. The Custom House is on Monterey’s 2-mile long Path of History. You can take a one-hour long tour of the history of Monterey with one of the state park rangers from the Custom House or even explore the path with a cell phone tour or a cell phone app. We would do some exploring of our own, but first… we needed to eat something.

Casa del Oro / Joseph Boston Store

Casa del Oro / Joseph Boston Store

Our first stop was at the historic Joseph Boston Store which is adjacent to the Custom House Plaza. Miners called Mr. Boston’s store the Casa del Oro (House of Gold) as it had the first safe in California which made it a safe place for them to store their gold when they returned from the goldfields.

Casa del Oro / Joseph Boston Store
These days the Joseph Boston Store is a store again. It is a ship run by Monterey’s Historic Garden League. The money that they collect (cash only) is used to support the preservation of the gardens in the city. In the 1850s Boston used the building as a general store selling such things as silverware, pans, coffee mills, brooms, walnuts, tea, hams, and soap. These days you can buy local books, gifts, and products.

Home Girl Jams
Casey had arranged for there to be a series of products to taste. We tasted tapenade and a garlic champagne mustard from Happy Girl Kitchen Co. in Pacific Grove.

Schoch Family Farmstead Monterey Jack
We also tasted Monterey Jack cheese from the only dairy in Monterey County that is still producing it, Schoch Family Farmstead in Salinas.  We tasted it with salt infused with elderberry from Big Sur Salts. They also had a My Toro Tomme cheese to try from Schoch.

Monterey Jack cheese is named for David Jack who first sold the cheese commercially… or at least that is one story. The recipe for the cheese probably goes back to the original Spanish friars. Jack was a bit of a scoundrel Casey told us. He was a very successful businessman, however, who helped found both Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach.

Monterey's tasty Olive Bar
We tasted two different olive oils with two different paired balsamic vinegars from Monterey’s tasty Olive Bar. We had these with bread from the local Paris Bakery. We came back later in the day and picked up a bottle of the unusual pineapple white balsamic vinegar and a jar of the garlic champagne mustard.

Already we were seeing the value of the food tour. We could have driven all over the area to sample these products.

California's First Theatre

Path of History

We took a break from eating to walk a bit on the path of history. Directly across from the Boston Store is The Pacific House. There was a wedding being held in its garden during the Sunday in June when we visited. I did wonder if the bride knew that be grounds were once used for fights between bulls and bears and that the building was, at one time, a brothel. Best not to mention it.

We stopped outside California’s First Theatre (now closed). I remember visiting here as a kid to watch one of the melodramas that they performed there.

Old Whaling Station
We also saw the Old Whaling Station Adobe which was a center for shore-based whaling in the 1850s. If you get there, notice the unusual paving stones in the front of the building which are the vertebrae from whales. These days the whales are protected and the building is used for events.

Next door to the Old Whaling Station is the first brick house in California. In an era where the other buildings in the area were made of adobe (sun-dried mud bricks), this building was built in 1847 of the style of brick that is more familiar to many of us. Gallant Dickinson, who was the home’s owner did not finish it before he was drawn to the gold fields in the 1948 gold rush.

Dali Museum Monterey

Dali Expo

Much to my surprise Monterey now has a Dali museum on Custom House Plaza where the old Maritime museum use to be. Salvador Dalí lived in Monterey for 6 years starting in 1941 and this museum houses the largest private collection of his works in the United States. As with some of the other vendors on the tour, you could come back to the museum in your own time and get a $5 discount off the $20 entrance fee by showing your tour brochure.

Nitro-Cycle
Beneath a mural of Dali on the patio, we met with Mike who is the entrepreneur behind the new Nitro-Cycle cold brew coffee cart. Coffee lovers in the group were able to try a coffee or a mocha before we hit the road again. Mike is hoping that the coffee trike can be a stepping stone to a more permanent location. Recent relaxing of the laws for food carts made this operation a possibility.

If you remember Monterey from the 1970s then look for the sign of the old Dream Theatre in the patio of the museum. If you don’t remember the Dream Theatre it was an art theatre in Pacific Grove where the seats in the back of the theatre were love seats.

Downtown Monterey

At this point, the tour headed down Alvarado street into the heart of the historic downtown. We passed the Osio Theatre which was re-opened as a nonprofit theater in 2019. Their plan is to show “art, independent, foreign, alternative, and classic films”.

Aabha Indian Grill

Aabha Indian Grill

Our next stop was at the Aabha Indian Grill for one of the more substantial tastings we did. The restaurant is in an old adobe building that served many functions over the years. It was at one time a bar and what is now the open kitchen used to be a stage.

Aabha Indian Grill

We sampled an arugula salad with a mango vinaigrette and a  mango lassi. We also tried a samosa with mint, tamarind, or chutney sauces. Finally, we tasted their chicken tiki masala and rice. I enjoyed everything I tried and would definitely return. The lassi was great and reminded me of an eventful lassi I had in Varanasi India except with far less wailing.

Downtown Tour

We passed the Bull and Bear Whiskey Bar and Taphouse which is at another site where the early settlers would pit bulls and bears against each other.

Monterey Transit Center

It is right across from the triangular park that is now a transit center where you can hop a bus to Salinas or Carmel. You can also board the free trolley to Cannery Row or even a wine bus to Carmel Valley for wine tasting. Author Robert Luis Stevenson would hang out in this area at the restaurant of a friend that used to be on this spot. He roomed at the nearby French Hotel, which is now known as the Stevenson House.

Look up to notice the 4 flags of countries that once claimed Monterey. You can see the flags of Spain, Mexico, the California Bear Republic and the flag of the U.S. from the era when California became a state.

Cooper Molera adobe complex

We walked through Alta bakery in the recently restored Cooper Molera adobe complex. These buildings were built in 1827. Behind the bakery is a garden that I never knew was in Monterey. Somehow this 2.5 acres patch of rural Monterey has been preserved including two of the original barns which are used for events. The building where the bakery is now, use to be a general store.

We learned that every day of the week you can find a farmer’s market on the peninsula and you can find one on Alvarado Street on Tuesdays.

Fieldwork Brewing Company

Fieldwork Brewing Company

We next made a stop at the open-air Fieldwork Brewing Company where the beer lovers could try some of the beers from their beer list. The Cloe Belgian Pale Ale was well received. They also offered a double pale ale but my wife Joan opted instead for the Morning Time coffee stout. Non-beer drinkers like me tried the Caribbean Queen sour which I thought was pretty good.

Fieldwork does not have a food menu so Casey had arranged for Mike from Green Pedal Couriers (the same Mike from Nitro-Cycle) to meet us there with a deep dish Heirloom pizza from Heirloom Pizza Co. I loved the pizza, but to be fair, I love a great variety of pizza.

Melville Tavern

Melville Tavern

We walked to Melville Tavern in an old brick building on Washington Street. The owner Colin Ling had specifically planned not to go into the restaurant business like his family who have run 7 different restaurants including the popular Sandbar and Grill which is under Wharf 2. After a time playing, ice hockey, Ling returned to the Monterey restaurant scene. He named the tavern after seeing a quote from author Herman Melville, “If you get nothing better out of the world, get a good dinner out of it, at least.”
We tried a “bone-dry” apple pear cider from local Ratel Cider along with a mystery pasta that turned out to be beet ravioli with multi veggie filling and lemon and cream sauce. I can say with some confidence that it was the best beet ravioli I have ever tasted, although it might be the last one that Joan tries.

Revival Ice Cream

Revival Ice Cream

Our second to the last stop was Revival Ice Cream back on Alvarado. Revival makes their ice cream on the premises from locally sourced, organic ingredients. We got a tour of the back of the store while we ate our Bees Knees sundaes. We learned how they toast their chocolate for their s’more flavor or infuse the cream with honeycomb for the Bees Knees.

Revival Ice Cream

Revival offers 12 flavors at a time, but Bees Knees is a favorite and is always available. Having tasted it, I completely understand and applaud that decision.

Comanche Cellars Tasting Room

Comanche Cellars Tasting Room

Our tour concluded at the downtown tasting room for the boutique winery Comanche Cellars. The winery is named after a horse named Comanche that owner Michael Simons had as a boy. They produce a surprising number of varietals in small batches. They produce 1800 cases of wine a year in what is practically a one-man operation. The number of cases has more than doubled from 3 years ago.

We tasted late harvest Zin, dessert wine. It was sweet but not as sweet as a port. With it, we had painted cinnamon chocolates from the Alta Bakery that hey had created specifically for Casey to pair with this wine. They also opened a few other bottles for us to taste and we can return to Comanche and get a 2 for 1 tasting by showing our tour brochure.

Conclusion

I love a good food tour and this tour is the kind that I love. I have been coming to Monterey for over 50 years and was definitely trying to contribute a few pieces of Monterey trivia to our guide. But mostly I found myself surprised. I was surprised by the things I learned. I was surprised by how much I learned about the Monterey food scene. And I was surprised by how that scene is still changing. If you took this tour tomorrow you would stop at some of these same places but Casey likes to vary the tour from day to day. Local guides make the best guides and make for the best experiences.

My thanks to Airbnb experiences for sponsoring our tour and to Monterey Bay Food Tours for making it a great one.

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

One Response to “Monterey Bay Food Tour”

Casey Aguilar

Says:

Thank you Chris for the great write up! I enjoyed having you and Joan on my tour!

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