To some of us raised in the seventies and eighties, there is no summer like a California summer. The dream of shimmering horizons on sandy beaches, classic muscle cars, tall sundaes and a dazzling Technicolor of pastel neons everywhere.

Think of California, and you think of Los Angeles, movie stars, movie studios, Disneyland, and endless boulevard. If you’re more technically inclined, you may come up with San Francisco as well, with its perfectly landscaped city center, enormous bridges and prison island. Few will think of the true jewel of the West coast: Monterey and its surroundings.

Located just 100 kilometers or so South of San Francisco, this sun-drenched town and its peninsula easily number amongst the most beautiful places on Earth.

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Monterey itself looks every bit the sleepy Californian town, with open avenues, nary a skyscraper in sight, and palatial villas spread along a breath-taking coastline. In fact, if you’ve ever seen footage of a savage stormy beach, it probably was shot within walking distance of Monterey itself.

The light over there is different. It’s not Hollywood magic, or subjective perception. This is the very edge of the Western world, and the sun saved some choice rays for the last land this side of the Pacific. Slow, lustrous light bathes the city in an unreal golden glow that casts pale shadows over the carefully manicured lawns, quiet people and majestic townhouses.

While San Francisco claims the prize for housing the most expensive real estate in the most expensive state in the United States, Monterey is no slouch. With the average price of properties averaging at just over a million dollars, you’re not going to find shacks, or likely affordable housing, anywhere near. This is the place where California summer dreams are gold-plated, diamond-studded and paraded for every European dreamer to enjoy.

This is the city that housed California’s first theater, printing press and public library. Monterey is where Steinbeck set East of Eden, Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row. It’s the prototype of the American coastal town, and you don’t need to hear about its Aquarium or Jazz Festival – you just walk the streets, soak the glorious golden sunlight, and smile.

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If you visit in summer, you’ll be hard pressed not to notice the bright purple flowers that bloom from what looks for all the world like a weed. You’d only be half right. Monterey and neighboring town Carmel-by-the-Sea host a controlled population of ice plants, which are usually considered pests, but whose purple flowers attract monarch butterflies. The ubiquitous mossy carpet covered with those colorful flowers can be seen growing almost everywhere along the waterfront.

We don’t live exclusively on soul-nourishing experiences, however, and Monterey has us covered for the rest as well. In town, you’d be remiss not to visit Henry’s BBQ, where you can enjoy delicious meat cooked over impressive fire pits loaded with mesquite coals.

One does not live on food and soul-nourishing experiences alone, however, and Cannery Row has you covered for that. The picturesque waterfront road is perfect for night-time strolls, where you can pretend you’re visiting the historical canning operations as you pick your next restaurant, or check out some local shops. Eventually, because a girl needs a break, you’ll reach the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is the perfect place to seek some shade.

Sure, the town that names the bay is spectacular, but spectacular isn’t going to cut it when Clint Eastwood is the former mayor of the next municipality over. Just a mile or so out of Monterey is Carmel-by-the-Sea, which takes relaxation to a whole new level.

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Carmel is a dreamer’s city, with quiet little streets, powerfully built trees casting their shadows on your walks down to its pristine beaches that no matter how many visitors land in town never seem to fill up. In Carmel, the streets do have names, but no numbers, because the town’s founders were artists who opted to name their houses rather than give them numbers. The light may be different on this side of the world, but in Carmel, the quiet itself takes on a new depth, and you’ll feel clumsy for driving that gas-guzzling monstrosity in town.

If you manage to ever tear yourself away from Carmel or Monterey, you’ll have your fill of wild nature to explore, in one of the area’s endless supply of coves, secluded beaches and tiny little restaurants on hillsides that will spark romance in the most burned out of hearts.

[quote_box_right]Monterey is a vibrant holiday destination if you’re seeking something beyond the glitz that California’s West coast is all too famous for. This sedate town doesn’t need to show off: it’s California’s first city, and it’s learned to wear its age extremely well.[/quote_box_right]

Do you like seals? This is one of the few places where access to your favorite beach may be temporarily curtailed because baby seals are swimming in the bay, and people aren’t allowed to bother them. That’s right. Baby seals and otters roam these locations, and you’ll be needing a few extra memory cards in your digital camera, if you come this way.

You’ve done the beaches, and you’ve been to capitals for their hectic entertainment and monuments. Now it’s time to come home to the place that, while it may not claim to have invented sunsets, certainly gets them right more than any other place in the world.

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Bella isn't Bella's real name, but Swindon comes dangerously close to being her real last name. She's our resident traveling reporter, and will be checking in with her stories from all over the world. If only she weren't so camera shy...

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