No other Monterey Peninsula city has as many nicknames as does Pacific Grove. A sampling: “Butterfly Town, USA,” “Pagrovia,” “A Piney Paradise,” “God’s Kingdom by the Sea,” “The Last Hometown,” “A Dreamy Seaside Sanctuary” and “The Most Romantic City in the U.S.” Those are the Chamber of Commerce-style monikers…most local residents refer to the cheerful town simply as, “PG.”
Located at the tip of the Peninsula, with one toe in the Pacific and one in the Monterey Bay, PG fiercely maintains a character all its own, a reputation of piousness, temperance and family-based values. Its grid-like streets are lined with panoply of architectural styles, from California bungalow to board-and-batten to non-descript apartment blocks to sleek, modern, ocean-view mansions, but it’s perhaps the Queen Anne Victorian gingerbread houses that are PG’s calling card. This style was popular in the United States between 1870 and 1910— exactly the time the city was being built up. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 of these beautifully busy and fancifully painted structures in PG. Many are lovingly maintained as single-family homes; a few have been converted into successful bed and breakfast businesses: Green Gables, Seven Gables and Gosby House Inns being the most famous examples.
While neighboring Monterey was a busy, bustling port town and crossroads of California history, PG was pretty much ignored until the mid-19th century, when a lighthouse was constructed near Point Pinos to warn ships of the nearby submerged rocks. Keepers of the light were supplied with victuals and fuel by sea until nearly 20 years later in 1874, when a road was built from Monterey. Then, as now, things just move more slowly in Pacific Grove.
There is one other nickname for PG: a playful saying developed in the early days of the twentieth century: “Carmel by the Sea, Monterey by the Smell and Pacific Grove by God.” The Monterey name referenced the stench produced by its seaside canneries, and while those were mostly silenced by the late 1940s, Carmel is, of course, still by the sea. “By God” refers to the summer camp meetings held by the Methodist church, commencing in 1875. Meetings were held in a huge tent, locat-ed on the site of the present day Jewell Park. The surrounding pine forest was divided into 30-by-60-foot lots, intended for worshipers’ tents. Permanent structures were eventually built on those pocket lots, creating today’s densely populated downtown area.
Other echoes of the town’s Methodist influence remain. The name of PG’s most popular seaside park, Lovers Point, was originally “Lovers of Jesus Point.” It’s also arguably one of the most difficult towns in California in which to procure an adult beverage. It wasn’t until 1969 that an imbiber could buy a cocktail in Pacific Grove, giving the city the distinction of being the last dry town in the state. Today there are only a handful of restaurants that have full liquor licenses.
At any rate, Pacific Grove is best experienced while sober. Blessed with some of the sweetest air anywhere, it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. The Monterey Bay Recreational 140 C Trail ends at Lovers Point, but from there a lovely seaside trail winds through annually flowering iceplant (a spectacular, neon-pink display known as “the magic carpet”), around the tip of Point Pinos, past the lighthouse and on through Asilomar State Park. On clear days, Santa Cruz is clearly visible more than 25 miles across the Bay and sightings of whales, dolphins, sea otters and other marine animals are as common as sea gulls.
Golfers flock to the PG Municipal Golf Links, a challenging course with ocean views that rival its more famous cousins to the south in Pebble Beach—and with much more down-to-earth green fees. The fertile waters surrounding PG are paradise to surfers, kayakers, scuba divers and anglers. At Lovers Point, many brave the chilly water temperature to swim from its gorgeous white sand beaches.
Downtown Pacific Grove life is centered on Lighthouse Avenue, the same road originallybuilt to supply the keepers of the Point Pinos light. It’s a charming district, with many Victorian-era storefront facades still in place. Each spring, the street is closed off for the hugely popular Good Old Days Celebration, a not-to-be-missed fete for Peninsulans of all ages. During the events surrounding the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Lighthouse Avenue becomes the venue for the whimsical Little Car Show, a celebration of diminutive motorcars from around the world.
As befits “The Last Hometown,” this is a community that loves a good parade, and the city stages one at every opportunity. The city’s Monarch butterflies are honored when scores of school children dress up like the famous bugs and take to the streets. There’s a parade for
PG’s unique Feast of Lanterns pageant, as well as one that kicks off Good Old Days and one
that commemorates Christmas.
In November 1879, famed author and onetime Monterey resident Rober t Louis Stevenson strolled through Pacific Grove after the worshipers had departed for the season. He related the experience in his book, “The Old Pacific Capitol.”
“I have never been in any place so dreamlike. Indeed, it was not so much like a deserted
town as like a scene upon the stage by daylight, and with no one on the boards.”
And that description remains apt. PG is most definitely the most staid and sleepy of cities that ring Monterey Bay. And that’s just fine with the proud “Pagrovian” populace. This is a highly healthy, wholesome habitat, long prized as a great place to live and raise a family. While some might consider it staid and somnolent, many consider it a refreshing change from the fast paced, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter world.
In fact, if Stevenson were to wander the streets of 21st century Pacific Grove just about
any evening after 10pm, he’ll likely have the same reaction he did in the 19th. It’s a land out of time…a place where things move just a tad more slowly.
And that’s just as it should be.
For more information regarding the town, go to www.pacificgrove.org.