Your Best Vacay in Monterey

By Emma Krasov. Photography by Emma and Yuri Krasov

It’s not like you need a reason to visit the breathtakingly gorgeous Monterey Peninsula on the Central Coast of California, but if you do… mid-January yields one of the most intriguing annual events—Big Sur Foragers Festival.

Fungus Face-Off, the festival’s focal point, and a major fundraiser for the nonprofit Big Sur Health Center, is a delicious competition of the area’s chefs and winemakers. Local chefs showcase their creativity using the mushroom bounty foraged from the wooded areas of the Central Coast. This year’s Best of Show winner, Chef Nick Balla of Coast Big Sur, impressed the judges with his curried squash soup made with butternut and kabocha squash, and topped with matsutake mushroom oil that contained bits of mushrooms, and a variety of herbs and spices.

“Le Souvenir” 2017 Chardonnay by Paul Lato Wines was named the best of whites, and the winning red was a 2016 Chalone Grenache from Brosseau vineyard by I. Brand & Family.

The Next Foragers Festival planned for January 21-24, 2021, will probably sell out early, same as every year, so you might want to start planning for it soon.

To Stay

The Hofsas House in Carmel-by-the-Sea is your best bet. The Bavarian-inspired family owned boutique hotel with 70 years of experience in European-style hospitality offers an incredible array of services and amenities, like a heated outdoor pool, dry saunas, wrap-around terraces and individual balconies with ocean views above cypress treetops, spacious rooms–many with fireplaces and kitchenettes, and a daily continental breakfast with pastries from a local bakery.

Hofsas House is located steps from the city’s main attractions—wine tasting rooms, restaurants, art galleries, and ocean beaches, and partners with local spas, golf courses, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

It’s a dog-friendly property, so you can travel with your four-legged companion. The hotel’s special event, “Locals’ Favorites Wine Fridays” benefits the Peace of Mind Dog Rescue, and is held at the poolside meeting room featuring Monterey County wines and small bites—the remaining Fridays this year on May 8 (Scheid Vineyards) and September 18 (Twisted Roots).

To Eat

Mezzaluna Pasteria & Mozzarella Bar in Pacific Grove is the newest kid on the block brought to you by Amy Stouffer of Sustainable Dining Group and Chef Soerke Peters—the dynamic duo behind the instantly popular États-Unis, a French-American bistro opened last year in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Chef Peters, who recently received the Ocean Hero Award from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, is a leader in sustainability among the Monterey restaurateurs, using only the freshest local ingredients in his kitchen. At Mezzaluna, handmade pasta, mozzarella cheese, gelato, and practically every morsel of dough, pickle, candid fruit and condiment are made fresh daily, delivering exquisite tastes and intriguing variety to every single dish.

You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but try not to miss Pâté di Anatra (duck liver, mustard fruits, house-made crostini, house-made whole grain mustard), Fungi é Burrata (wild foraged mushrooms—mmm!, sautéed kale, country toast), and those mind-boggling pastas, like Porcini Fettucini in garlic-white-wine-parmesan sauce, Agnolotti di Capra with braised goat and ricotta stuffing, Ravioli di Manzo filled with braised beef short rib and topped with horseradish, Pappardelle di Coniglio (rabbit braised in vin santo), or Mastro Ravioli di Granchio with Dungeness crab.

Bartender Francis Verrall adds a rainbow of craft cocktails to the mix, while house-made desserts include such seasonal delicacies as Candy Cap Mushroom Gelato and Meyer Lemon Sorbetto in addition to half a dozen other amazing flavors.

California Market at Pacific’s Edge in Hyatt Carmel Highlands overlooks the Big Sur rugged coast, and might be the best place to have your breakfast prepared by the Executive Chef Chris Vacca (a popular participant of the Fungus Face-Off competition). Start with Highlands Bloody Mary (Grey Goose vodka, spicy Bloody Mary mix, lemon, lime, celery salt, celery stalk, olives) or Mimosa (a choice of orange, cranberry or grapefruit) or both! Then go for an omelet with local mushrooms or Eggs Benedict that can be prepared with Canadian bacon, Dungeness crab, turkey or smoked salmon. Most of all, enjoy the unparalleled views of the Pacific!

TusCA Ristorante marries flavors from Tuscany and California using mostly locally sourced ingredients inside the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa on Del Monte Golf Course. Original cocktails like Aquajito (smoked margarita with charcoal) and signature dishes like Dutch baby pancake with smoked salmon or Berkshire pork chop with smashed potatoes and blueberry chipotle will make a substantial dinner with an added bonus of listening to the live jazz at the adjacent Fireplace Lounge.

To Drink       

Twisted Roots Winery produces small lot craft wines specializing in Petite Sirah and Old Vine Zinfandel, but not limiting its rather successful production to just these varietals. Josh & Julie Ruiz (participants of Fungus Face-Off, much appreciated by all the attending wine lovers), the third-generation family farmers, tend to the vines planted back in 1918, some of which are still producing today. Their beautifully appointed modern facility in Carmel Valley boasts a spacious tasting room with an artsy tiled bar, a private room with a display or a real century-old twisted grape root, and a patio decorated with sculptured fountains and potted lemon trees.

De Tierra Vineyards has a cozy testing room in the heart of Carmel-by-the-Sea, where co-owners Dan McDonnal and Alix Lynn Bosch (a judge of the wine competition at Fungus Face-Off) pour delicious award-winning wines made of sustainably harvested fruit from the unique terroir of Monterey County.

To Enjoy the Views

China Cove Point Lobos

Monterey, Carmel, and Pacific Grove are all located on the Monterey Peninsula that embraces the stunningly beautiful Monterey Bay—home to dolphins, sea otters, and numerous water birds—as well as migrating monarch butterflies. Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail overlooks the dramatic cliffs and crushing waves. Among the major nature attractions on the peninsula are the 17-Mile Drive, Point Lobos State Reserve, Carmel River State Beach, Asilomar State Beach, and Garrapata State Park, plus many others to choose from.

More information at:,,,,,,,