Without knowing where to look, it’s easy to bypass Monterey’s collection of atmospheric, hidden gardens in favor of the alluring — and more obvious — Monterey Bay. But if you appreciate the rustic patina and romance of Early California — Spanish tile, peaceful courtyards, mature gardens of cacti and succulents — you’ll want to seek out the following six spots, all within walking distance of each other. Afterwards, enjoy drinks or dinner in an enchanting historic adobe from the same era.
1) Cooper-Molera House
A stone’s throw from the Spicy Black Bean Dip at Trader Joe’s, this garden is hidden in plain site, concealed by tall adobe walls on a busy downtown corner. The expansive space is filled with fruits and vegetables, a small vineyard, picnic tables and quiet nooks to sit. The house’s noteworthy gift shop, modeled after a 19th Century general store, sells vintage toys, Mexican craft art and preserves made from the garden’s fruit. If you only visit one property, make it this one.
525 Polk St. at Alvarado St.
2) Larkin House Garden
Jagged stone walls surround this quiet, peaceful garden in the courtyard of the impressive Larkin House built back when the area was known as Alta California. Look for the old cobweb-and-fern-lined well.
464 Calle Principal at Jefferson St.
3) California’s First Theatre Garden
This charming 1847 theatre is richly evocative of Old California. Given the current heritage style trend, its antique bottle filled tavern could easily serve craft cocktails. Behind the theatre sits a diminutive garden filled with succulents and Monterey Cypress trees.
Pacific St. and Scott St.
4) Memory Garden at Pacific House
This is the most visited garden of the bunch, located behind the prominent 1847 Pacific House Museum. A lily-pad filled fountain serves as the focal point of this beautiful courtyard shaded by large trees that are strung with lights. It also sports a massive pit BBQ that immediately had me checking their event calendar.
Custom House Plaza at foot of Scott St.
5) Casa Soberanes Garden
Built in the 1840s, The “House of the Blue Gate” is famous for its azul entrance. The garden is distinctive for its meandering paths lined with whale bones, abalone shells and colorful, translucent wine bottles that glow in the sun.
Pacific St. at Del Monte Ave.
6) Casa del Oro Herb Garden
This open garden is trumped by the history of its namesake building, Casa del Oro. The easily-overlooked building was Monterey’s first mercantile store and housed the city’s first safe to store the gold — or oro — of miners. The diminutive, herb filled garden makes for a pleasant stroll between the First Theatre and Memory Garden.
210 Olivier St. at Scott St.
The Monterey State Historic Park has more info — including a map — on the gardens and buildings within Monterey’s historic core.
Historic Monterey has an easily-digestible history of the area, including the properties listed above.