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This Big Little Lies Guide covers everything from where to see filming locations to the best places to eat, all told by a local!
With the recent announcement that everyone’s screen queen, Meryl Streep, was joining the cast of Big Little Lies, the internet is again a flurry over the HBO show’s return. I mean, it’s Meryl – come on! As a huge Big Little Lies fan (and a Monterey, California native – which is the town most of the show is filmed in and based on), I knew I had to put together a Big Little Lies guide to Monterey! I will also be including some of the surrounding areas like Pacific Grove, Big Sur, and Carmel, which shouldn’t be missed.
I can’t wait for season two of the show (2019 can’t come soon enough)! I’m excited to see my hometown onscreen again, even if they do take a few artistic liberties and pretend that the geography of the area is completely different. I forgive them.
Pssst…check out this post for a complete guide to Big Sur, including all the local favorites and do’s and don’ts!
There are a few generic Big Little Lies guides to Monterey floating around the internet, but after reading through some of them, I can tell you that they weren’t written by a local! I’m going to give you my California girl faves for everything from brunch spots to where to stay, not just the basics you can find browsing TripAdvisor. And if by any chance you’re not a Big Little Lies fan, you should still keep reading because this guide has a ton of great recommendations for anyone visiting the Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur. Here are some additional things to do in Monterey in 2 days if you’re looking for even more ideas!
Side note: am I the only one who is constantly messing up the title of this show? I’ll call it Pretty Little Lies, Big Little Liars…anything but its actual, God-given name. Please tell me my brain isn’t the only one playing TV show scramble?
Okay, enough intro-ing. Let’s dive in to the guide!
The Big Little Lies Guide to Monterey
*Check the bottom of this post for a handy-dandy map which includes all of the spots mentioned in this Big Little Lies guide to Monterey! Super easy to use while on-the-go and helps you plan your route. You’re welcome in advance.
Note: This guide is written with travelers in mind who have two full days to explore the Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur. If you only have one day, feel free to pick and choose the Big Little Lies filming locations and activities that look most appealing to you to cut down on time!
Start Off With Breakfast
You’ve got a long couple of days of Big Little Lies exploring ahead of you, so be sure to fuel up with a great breakfast! There are plenty of options sure to satisfy. I recommend getting a pretty early start each day (7 or 8 a.m.) so you have time to see all the sights!
If you’re staying in Monterey, Seaside or Pacific Grove, I’d recommend:
- First Awakenings (125 Ocean View Blvd in Pacific Grove) – Breakfast fit for a queen, and my favorite on the Central Coast, hands down. Check out their menu and start drooling. My favorite dish is the Joaquin Yahoo omelette!
- Pavel’s Bakerei (219 Forest Ave in Pacific Grove) – Perfect if you’re in the mood for a light “breakfast” (and by breakfast, I mean stuffing your face with massive cinnamon rolls and chocolate croissants). My holy grail items: the almond croissant, which is to die for, and the chocolate croissant. Though literally everything is delicious. Pro tip: get there early in the morning, the line only gets longer by the minute. Also, they sell out of baked goods fairly quickly due to their popularity, so don’t sleep in and expect to have your pick of croissants!
- Paris Bakery (271 Bonifacio Place in Monterey) – Another delicious light breakfast option if you’re not quite hungry for a full meal yet. The raspberry croissant, almond croissant and chocolate croissant are my personal favorites.
- The Breakfast Club (1130 Fremont Blvd in Seaside) – Great name, great service and great grub. What more could you want? It’s simple, down-home and friendly.
I’d personally recommend choosing First Awakenings since it’s so close to the next Big Little Lies stop, The Monterey Bay Aquarium! Local tip: Park in the Cannery Row Outlets parking lot above the restaurant, get your parking slip validated, and voilá! Free parking during breakfast.
I’d suggest moving your car to a parking spot a couple of streets above the Aquarium after breakfast so you don’t run the risk of getting ticketed. More info on parking can be found here.
On to the next location!
Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium
In the Big Little Lies opening credits, the exhibit pictured above features prominently, and there are mentions of the Monterey Bay Aquarium throughout the show. Renata is on the board of the Aquarium (what board isn’t she on?) and Jane takes her son Ziggy there during episode four.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-do in my opinion, well worth the entry fee. They do a lot of extremely important conservation and marine research in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and beyond, so keep that in mind when forking over your dough. It’s for a good cause (and Aquarium itself is incredibly well-maintained and beautiful).
Fun fact: My own dad (who is an incredibly talented woodworker and craftsman) built a beautiful piece for the Aquarium prior to the Open Sea Exhibit opening. That meant that I got to “go to work” with him a couple times after visitors’ hours! I would lay on the floor and stare up at the exhibit’s gorgeous, massive aquarium tank before it was even open to the public. I will never forget the feeling of complete quiet and solitude in that dark room, watching sunfish and sharks swim around for hours. It was pure magic and remains my favorite exhibit in the entire aquarium.
If you only have one day, I’d recommend spending around one hour at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, leaving no later than 11:30 a.m. so you have time to hit up as many of the other Big Little Lies locations as possible! However, spending such a short time will definitely make you feel rushed, so if you have a couple of days (or more) in the area, I highly encourage you to stay longer and enjoy a more leisurely visit at the Aquarium and other stops on this itinerary.
Check Out The Cute Houses in Pacific Grove
In the show, Jane supposedly lives somewhere in the Monterey area with her son Ziggy. However, if you drive around Pacific Grove’s tiny little streets, you’ll see that her home would likely fit far better here than in Monterey. That being said, Pacific Grove’s streets are narrow, so they probably didn’t actually film her home scenes here.
There are lots of adorable homes of every shape, color and size dotted along the Pacific Grove coastline as you drive down Ocean View Boulevard away from the Aquarium. Lots of cute photo ops and beautiful bougainvillea everywhere, as you can see in the photo below! This is an activity no one else mentions in their Big Little Lies guide to Monterey, but as a local, I think it’s worth the time to drive around and really get a feel for the area.
In A Rush?
If you have two or more days to complete the tour, I’d recommend saving Old Fisherman’s Wharf for Day Two so you don’t have to cram everything into one day! It can be done in one day, however. The wharf isn’t far from the Monterey Bay Aquarium if you want to take a peek at it before continuing on with your drive.
If you do have a little more time, I highly recommend adding in a full weekend getaway to Big Sur and Carmel, two of the most picturesque areas on the Central Coast.
Visit Old Fisherman’s Wharf
According to Google, one of the top things people search for when it comes to the show is “Where is the coffeeshop in Big Little Lies?” So I’m going to tell you!
On Big Little Lies, Old Fisherman’s Wharf is the location of Madeline, Celeste and Jane’s favorite harbor-side coffee shop, Tom’s cafe. In real life, Tom’s is actually Paluca Trattoria, an Italian and seafood restaurant! But they proudly display their cinematic fame with a small poster boasting that yes, this is where that shot that show.
Space permitting, you can park for free for up to 30 minutes in the tiny parking lot on the west side at the top of the Old Fisherman’s Wharf (what City of Monterey calls “Waterfront Lot 6”). I wouldn’t recommend doing this unless you’re sure that you just want to take a super quick walk up and down the wharf and see the filming locations here.
If you plan on spending more than 30 minutes, on the east side is a large parking lot (“Waterfront Attendant Lot 1”). If that’s full, you can make use of “Waterfront Lot 2.” Click here for more information on parking in Monterey.
Things To Do On Old Fisherman’s Wharf
(Not to be confused with the neighboring Municipal Wharf #2, which has more smelly fish, actual fisherman and less tourists):
- Eat some clam chowder – a must if you’re a fresh seafood fan! I won’t try to influence your decisions, but I’d recommend testing out a few different clam chowder samples which will inevitably be waved in your face regardless as you stroll down the wharf. Then make your final call and go order a bowlful.
- Go whale watching. There are numerous companies sending boats out daily, and it doesn’t really matter what season you visit – there are always whales and dolphins of some sort frolicking about.
- Walk to the tip of Old Fisherman’s Wharf and up the stairs above the Big Fish Grill for a great view of the harbor and my secret photo spot where you can get a really cool overhead shot of some old, colorful boats and the harbor.
- Unless you find something you truly can’t live without (maybe an otter keychain that says “Monterey” is on the wish list of someone you love), I’d recommend that you look for your Monterey souvenirs elsewhere. The ones here are priced for tourists, and your wallet may scream.
Still, since this is a Big Little Lies guide to Monterey, I couldn’t not mention Old Fisherman’s Wharf! It’s quaint and cute – but like any tourist attraction, it’s generally overpriced and not that exciting. My local perspective? Rather than spend more time on Old Fisherman’s Wharf, or at touristy Cannery Row shops, spend the majority of your time in more beautiful locations. I vote for Big Sur, and here on the Monterey Peninsula, more time at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
An aside, for when you have more time: Other local favorites are walking, skating, or biking on the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail’s peninsula section. An 18-mile section of the coastal trail from Lovers Point in Pacific Grove through Monterey and on up to the Castroville area is virtually car-free! Walking on Monterey’s Del Monte Beach sometimes means seeing dolphins frolicking, and sand dollars on the beach.
Heading west from the Aquarium, you can drive, bike, or walk on Pacific Grove’s Ocean View Boulevard to Asilomar Beach—more about that below! Likewise, on Carmel’s Scenic Drive, the views when driving or biking will likely entice you down to walk on the squeaky sands of dog-friendly Carmel Beach. For a wonderfully in-depth collection of resources and tips for bicycling in Monterey County during your visit, check out Bicycling Monterey!
Next up: a leisurely drive along the coast through Monterey and Pacific Grove as you head towards Big Sur. Put your favorite tunes on the radio (I recommend this epic Big Little Lies playlist), roll the windows down and breathe in some fresh, salty sea air!
Take A Drive Along The Coastline
One of my favorite things to do to relax has always been driving down Ocean View Boulevard, which begins near the Monterey Bay Aquarium and continues to beautiful Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove. It’s a slow, pleasant drive as there are lots of tourists, and locals, with the same idea at any given time of year. It’s a lovely excuse to relax and take it easy, pulling over now and then to gawk at the gorgeous Monterey Bay, then the vast Pacific Ocean.
Ocean View Boulevard features prominently during one of the opening scenes in Big Little Lies, where Celeste nearly gets in a collision with the car in front of her (which turns out to be her daughter and her friends, who are texting and driving, how dare they). You’ll recognize it immediately by the orange aloe stock (pictured above on the right) or by the proximity to the ocean. The entire drive takes around twenty minutes; add on more time for photo stops of course!
Lovers Point Beach
This beach is a place with tons of childhood memories for me, but it also served as a mainstay filming location in Big Little Lies! It is the place where Jane took her son Ziggy, where Ed and Nathan argued, and you can spot it in a few other scenes as well. Lovers Point is a beautiful place to stop off and eat your lunch on a picnic bench or down by the water with a great view.
Please, don’t be one of those tourists who climbs out on the rocks at Lovers Point with their camera and tries to get the best shot. Tourists have died here doing just that. The waves can get unexpectedly big, and the current is stronger than it looks. Getting knocked off a rock and swept out to sea may sound exciting, but trust me, it’s not. Be careful!
Next up: LUNCH. And it’s not a visit to California without some authentic Mexican food, am I right?
Is It Lunchtime Yet?
Depending on where you’re at in your Big Little Lies tour, you may be approaching lunch and getting peckish, as the Brits say. My two favorite spots to stop for lunch along this route are both Mexican food joints (and I’m throwing in a vegan-friendly option too), so you may have to backtrack just a few minutes to get there. It’s worth it, and won’t add a ton of time to your tour, I promise.
- Pepper’s Mexicali Cafe (170 Forest Ave in Pacific Grove). My favorite dish is the cheese enchilada platter with rice and beans. Simple but freaking delicious. Service is friendly at this family-owned restaurant and the food is fresh and fast!
- Taqueria del Mar (530 Lighthouse Ave in New Monterey). This hole-in-the-wall Mexican spot is possibly my absolute fave on the Central Coast. The family that runs it is exceptionally friendly and kind, their prices are right and the food comes out quick! My dish of choice is always the shrimp sope platter. SO GOOD.
- Vegan-friendly Mexican food option: El Cantaro (791 Foam St in New Monterey). I haven’t actually been here yet, but reviews are great and it has been open a few years so far, so it’s gotta be good!
Again, if you only have one day to work through this Big Little Lies guide to Monterey, I’d recommend skipping this stop. However, if you have two days, you should have plenty of time to keep it on your itinerary!
For a lot of the beach scenes in Big Little Lies, HBO producers headed to Pebble Beach. This 17-mile strip of rocky coastal scenery is home to the famous Lone Cypress, a natural local icon that has been called one of the most photographed trees in North America. This poor tree was set on fire by some arsonists (jerks!) in 1984 and weakened, leading to its current assisted standing position with cables. Still beautiful!
There is so much gorgeous scenery along 17-Mile Drive, it’s no wonder that tourists from all over the world come to the Monterey Peninsula just to see it! And for golf-lovers, the views from Pebble’s courses are even more amazing than they look on the televised annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am tournaments!
Stop in at The Lodge in Pebble Beach for a cup of coffee or tea in their main lobby and savor the luxurious views. Thank me later.
Now we’re getting to the truly spectacular scenery featured throughout Big Little lies! Big Sur is probably what viewers remember most from the show, because it’s so visually impressive.
However, even before you get to Big Sur, there are some gorgeous views you shouldn’t miss! One such spot (which is kind of a local secret) is Spindrift, located near the Carmel Highlands, where Celeste’s house is located.
Fuel up your car before leaving the Monterey or Carmel area, as Big Sur doesn’t have “real” gas stations. (Well, they do have a couple, but hauling things to Big Sur—be it groceries for the market or gas for the fuel stations—mean their prices are jacked up.)
Looking for Celeste’s House?
Don’t even bother trying to find out which house in Carmel Highlands was used on Big Little Lies as Celeste’s not-so-humble abode…the location scouts did a great job of staying mum and protecting the homeowners’ privacy (as they should) and it’s likely one of the fancy homes tucked behind a tall gate anyways.
However, driving down Spindrift Road provides close-up views of some very similar homes that you can check out from the comfort of your car. The road is very narrow and essentially a one-way street, so drive carefully and be respectful of homeowners’ privacy!
Things to Note:
Spindrift Road is a bit hidden, and will require some pretty good vision to spot as you’re driving down the coast. It will be on your right-hand side as you drive south down Highway 1, check the map here for some assistance or pop it into your GPS.
Also be aware that there is virtually no cell phone reception once you pass this area, so don’t expect to be looking things up on your phone. Plan your route out beforehand and just enjoy the peace and quiet of being social media-less! Besides, enjoy the freedom from the temptation to make calls or text while driving—which would be even more dangerous on this scenic highway than just about anywhere.
Bixby Creek Bridge
Now we’re getting to the main event: Big Sur!
Featured in the show’s opening credits as well as being a prominent fixture throughout most episodes, Bixby Creek Bridge is a must-visit spot in Monterey County! While not technically in Monterey, Big Sur is a mainstay throughout Big Little Lies and possibly the most important silent character in the show itself.
Growing up next to such a gorgeous landmark, I certainly got used to its impressive beauty. It was only after I left California and moved to New York that I truly appreciated the grandeur and magic of Bixby Creek Bridge! Easy to pull off of the road and snap some quick photos, but I recommend sitting for a bit to truly soak up this big guy. Just be careful and drive slowly in and around the parking area by the bridge, as it’s pretty tiny and always busy!
Later, if you choose to stop at Nepenthe, you will get the chance to see photographs of 1930s work crews from the bridge’s construction; it opened in 1932.
Side note: You know all those times where the main characters are pictured driving back and forth across the Bixby Bridge supposedly “going home” to their impressive beachfront homes? Yeah, not quite. Neither Big Sur or Monterey have any fancy homes right on the beach (thanks to strict zoning laws and the jagged landscape).
The characters’ on-screen abodes were located in at least two different places! Celeste’s cliff-side home is located in Carmel Highlands, while Madeline’s house was actually in Malibu. Read about Spindrift above for a secret local’s tip on how you can view some very similar homes.
Got More Time?
Depending on whether or not you have one, two, or more days to explore the Central Coast, I’d recommend spending anywhere from a half day to a full day (or more!) in beautiful Big Sur. For the ultimate California road trip, check out this wonderful Pacific Coast Highway itinerary! There’s plenty to see and so many photo ops that you’ll be pulling over every ten seconds. Below are some options if you have more time to spend in the area!
If you have the time and want to get some exercise (while taking in all of Big Sur’s incredible scenery), you might want to take a bike ride in Big Sur! It’s not the easiest spot for bicycling, but it sure is beautiful. Whether or not biking Big Sur is right for you, here are some tips that include resources to help you be the kind of visitor that Big Sur residents appreciate most.
What To Do/See/Eat in Big Sur
- Stop at Hurricane Point for spectacular, iconic views of Big Sur as you drive down the coast.
- Visit Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where you can hike out to view Instagram favorite McWay Falls. As a local kid, I just liked this short, scenic walk. I never thought about how much of a social media hot spot it was becoming until I joined Instagram. Julia Pfeiffer Burns is home to some lush hiking trails and beautiful old redwood trees. Even a short walk from the parking lot gives you a taste of getting off the beaten path (literally).
- Big Sur River Inn – A childhood favorite full of many wonderful memories for me, the River Inn is a magical, only-in-Big-Sur type of place. In and around River Inn, there is a cute little general store, lodging, a popular restaurant with a back deck that sometimes features live music, some art galleries showcasing local artisans (including some of my friends!) and my favorite part: the Adirondack chairs sitting in the river that you can plop down in for some relaxation.
- Pfeiffer Beach – Open again to the public after being inaccessible for awhile, this is probably my favorite beach on earth. There’s something truly magical about it. Lots of beautiful natural rock formations too that are especially amazing at sunset time (pictured below).
- Big Sur Bakery – In case you didn’t get your fill of baked goods in the morning, you can always stop here to top up!
- Lots more restaurants, shops and stops can be found here in this complete Big Sur guide!
What’s For Dinner?
Monterey and its neighboring towns are full of amazing restaurants, but here are a few of my favorites. I think the Big Little Lies clan would approve of this local’s recommendations (and probably frequent these):
- Forge In The Forest (Junipero St & 5th Ave in Carmel-By-The-Sea) – Remember those scenes where the women of Big Little Lies would be sitting outside at a restaurant with fire pits, drinking wine and slinging gossip? That’s the Forge.
- il vecchio (110 Central Ave in Pacific Grove) – An incredibly authentic Italian restaurant with fresh pasta, friendly owners, and a beautifully-designed interior. A must for anyone visiting the Monterey Peninsula!
- Restaurant 1833 (500 Hartnell St in Monterey, next to the public library) – A “sophisticated farm-to-table” restaurant located in a charming old adobe from, you guessed it, 1833. It was temporarily closed recently in the process of new owners taking over and is now back in action. Check it out!
Looking for some of the best breweries in California? We’ve got plenty of those nearby too!
After all that exploring, you’re probably wondering: where the heck am I supposed to sleep in style? Well, fear not, Big Little Lies fan. I’ve got you covered with a few exceptionally picturesque hotels.
Where to Stay in Monterey
It wouldn’t be a proper Big Little Lies guide to Monterey without some Renata-level accommodation recommendations! One benefit to the Monterey Bay area being such a tourist hot spot is that there is no shortage of places to lay your drama-loving head.
However, I advise booking your hotels early, because especially during busy events like the Pebble Beach Golf Pro-Am or Concours d’Elegance things are completely booked up way in advance and prices can jump sky-high. Here are a few beautiful, unique options to choose from that you might not have heard of.
Also, if you’re looking for accommodations and activities in the area that you can bring your pets to, check out this awesome dog-friendly guide to Carmel!
Rub elbows with the upper class neighborhood of Carmel Highlands (home to Celeste’s dysfunctional family unit on Big Little Lies) and stay at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands. Views of the ocean, a quiet atmosphere, and superior service make this one of the most desirable spots to stay on the Central Coast.
The coziest, most unique spot on the list! I’ve never stayed at Deetjen’s (downside of being a local!) but it’s high on my bucket list. Deetjen’s is made up of a few adorable cabins in the redwood trees, nestled into the hills of Big Sur. Ideal for anyone looking for a truly memorable experience with a local vibe.
Not for the faint of wallet, Ventana Inn is the many place locals want to stay and lots of visitors dream of booking. If you’re looking for a fully luxurious Big Sur experience, I recommend Ventana. It’s absolutely gorgeous and offers incredible rooms, amenities and service.
As I mentioned above, the River Inn truly is something special! Their location, cozy rooms and proximity to the peaceful Big Sur River makes it the perfect spot to pull off the highway and get some beauty sleep.
For a truly unique experience, why not go glamping on the cliffs of Big Sur? I mean, seriously!
Accommodations are far more limited in Big Sur, so I recommend doing your research and booking early!
If you’d rather stay in the Monterey area, I recommend Portola Hotel! After a $6 million renovation, this eco-friendly hotel is a Monterey classic and the perfect location for strolling around downtown Monterey and Old Fisherman’s Wharf to spot many recognizable Big Little Lies filming spots!
Easy access to whale watching, with a beautiful spa on-premises and Portola’s own Peter B’s Prewpub—a local’s favorite, Portola Hotel is a great choice for families or anyone looking to walk or bike around Monterey or simply to have a convenient jumping-off point for the rest of the peninsula.
If you’re looking for charm, this adorable historic inn is located right across from Lovers Point, which is the backdrop for a majorly dramatic Big Little Lies moment between Ed and Nathan. Set along the waterfront with beautiful views of the Monterey Bay, this quaint 1886 hotel is spread across seven elegant houses and less than a mile from both the Monterey Bay Aquarium and visitor attraction Cannery Row.
Search for specific dates and hotel rates below and get planning!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this Big Little Lies guide to Monterey! It was so much fun to put together, and I loved driving around the Central Coast while I was home to get all the extra photos and ideas needed for this post.
If you’d like a full guide to the Monterey Bay area, drop a comment down below and let me know! You can also subscribe (scroll up to the top right of the sidebar!) to be the first to know when new travel guides go live.
Here is a handy-dandy map of all of the locations mentioned in this Big Little Lies guide to Monterey:
- This epic San Francisco bucket list
- Stay at The Herbert Hotel in SF
- Explore San Francisco with kids
- Take a road trip up to Northern California
Thanks for reading!
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