Looking for something to do in Monterey Bay? How about a food tour?
Trudging through the lists of Monterey Bay eateries is a job within itself, and picking the right food options can make or break a vacation or night out.
Most people stick to review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp to make their assumptions based on customer reviews. However, a mix-and-match of customer voices can make the right choices harder to come by. Thankfully, people out there like Casey Aguilar of Monterey Bay Food Tours take it upon themselves to show you your options.
What is a food tour?
A food tour simply takes you around to local eateries and cafes, allowing you to sample dishes and meals with the intent of bringing you back as a return customer. The idea is to present an opportunity for locals and tourists alike to sample local product to familiarize yourself with the food options in a particular restaurant.
If you’re lucky and you’ve got a tour guide like Casey, you’ll make historical stops along the way with little bits of trivia that bring the history of the city to life. The food tour itself will vary depending on the city you’re in, and Casey sets a great bar if Monterey’s becomes the first food tour you experience.
As an eleven-year local of Monterey, I found myself walking out of the tour feeling like I’d just seen the city for the first time. Certainly didn’t hurt that all that knowledge came with a full stomach, either.
What’s so great about Monterey Bay Food Tours?
It’s the first one!
Well, in Monterey, that is. After relocating to California from Georgia, Casey found herself drawn by the community-centered focus Monterey proudly boasts. She’d always wanted to start up her own business, but never seemed to connect with the right ideas. Her sister-in-law owned and operated a food tour out of Athens, Georgia, where Casey learned the basics. Once she’d settled in Monterey Bay and realized we didn’t have a food tour, the opportunity essentially presented itself.
Starting the food tour from scratch.
Without a business degree, Casey found herself starting from scratch to build it up. Through the help of mentors involved in SCORE, mixed with the knowledge from her sister-in-law’s tour, she became the sole proprietor of the Monterey Bay Food Tours in September 2017, and business continues to grow.
As to the restaurants she’s included, everything is locally owned and operated, with the exception of Fieldworks brewery, which is operated out of San Francisco.
“We’re all supporting each other,” she says. With the recent traction locally-owned restaurants have gained over company-run behemoths, those who remain leery about mom-and-pop shops are presented with a taste without the worry of whether or not they’ll like it.
Building up the business.
A plethora of options rests at her fingertips, and Casey says, “I’m always looking to explore new things.” As of now, the tour focuses only on the Old Monterey section of downtown Alvarado Street, but as business grows, the sky’s the limit in what she’s willing to include.
With a steady string of five-star reviews (and only five-star reviews,) the Monterey Bay Food Tours is making quite a name for itself in a town where new eateries sprout up all over the place. With each location and visit, Casey and the restaurant owners both share the goal of having at least one tour guest saying, “I would never have ordered that off the menu… but it’s so good.”
A new perspective on Downtown Monterey.
Having lived on the Monterey Peninsula for eleven years, I thought I’d seen it all when it came to Alvarado Street. As it turns out, I hardly knew a thing, and these are a few standout highlights for me:
California’s first safe in the Joseph Boston General Store.
California’s first theater.
The first brick house.
Information on the whaling station and the production of turning blubber into oil.
Plenty more, but I can’t give away all the secrets!
Not a history fan? Don’t worry!
Casey does everything in her power to make the history feel more interactive and less lecture-like, and the sprinkled historical elements come between the food tastings. In the end, it provides a good balance between taking in new food and new information, and the pacing of it all couldn’t be better thought out.
So, what does the itinerary look like for the Monterey food tour?
If you’re a return guest (which we had when I went,) Casey does her best to change it up a little so you still feel like you’re doing the tour for the first time, so each go around might be a little different. As for me, my tour included the following:
Joseph Boston General Store
All tours go Joseph Boston General Store which is where we started. There, we sampled honey products made from a vegetarian restaurant called Happy Girl Kitchen, alongside some bread from Paris Bakery to dip into some oil and vinegar from Monterey’s Tasty Olive Bar and a spinach and olive tapenade from Gil’s Gourment.
Aabha’s Indian Grill
Following that, we made our way into the gardens of Monterey, which is where the bulk of the history is included. Just as our stomachs started the smallest of grumbles, we headed into Aabha’s Indian Grill, which for me was a pleasant surprise. I’m not a big spicy fan, and as such, I tend to avoid Indian food. Aabha’s, however, has some out-of-this-world-awesome food that wasn’t spicy at all. (Though, if you are a spicy fan, they definitely have the options on the full menu outside of the tasting.) We had a salad, chicken tikka masala, and samosas alongside some mango lassi — a refreshing blend of mango puree and yogurt. Definitely something I would drink on more than one occasion, and the highlight of the non-alcoholic beverages on the tour.
Following Aabha’s, we stopped in at Melville’s Tavern, a wonderful literary-themed restaurant on the corner of Washington and Pearl Street. We sampled one of their ciders paired with a ravioli dish made out of a secret ingredient — which is exclusively shared on the tour. The cider itself was from Ratel’s Cider, and is the only hard cider produced in Monterey.
Epsilon Greek Food
After that, the list of main courses ended at Epsilon for some wonderful Greek food, including dolmades, which are grape leaves stuffed with meat, rice and herbs. A white bean salad, a Greek salad, and a lentil salad accompanied that, all which complimented each other seamlessly next to a glass of Retsina wine. Bonus points for the fact the wine bottle lights up!
Revival Ice Cream
What meal is complete without a dessert? Finishing the tour, we landed ourselves at a local-favorite shop: Revival Ice Cream. Here, we had the fortune of trying out the award-winning Bee’s Knee’s sundae. As we enjoyed the ice cream, we had a private tour of the kitchen. There, we learned all about the process of how they create their ice cream.
The end of the tour had us tasting wine from Comanche Cellars in the Venture Gallery, and we wrapped up the tour by grabbing our own Monterey Bay Food Tours tote bag and dispersing with full bellies and smiles on all our faces.
What’s next for Monterey Bay Food Tours?
Expansion, expansion, and more expansion. Coming up on the second summer of the tour’s operation, Casey expects business to increase more than ever. When she first started, the tours operated Thursday-Saturday, but she’s already had to add in a Sunday option. Apart from the assigned times, she’s available for private tours, where you can set up more of your own itinerary.
Being the main tour guide is a challenge in and of itself. Part of the expansion includes hiring other guides — ones that must be as passionate about food tours as Casey. As her team builds around her, there’s only one place for this business to go:
And then up some more until it gets out of this world.
Where do I sign up?
Booking for the food tour can be done either through TripAdvisor or the website itself at Monterey Bay Food Tours. The tour is $95 and includes all gratuities and bills paid. It’s always encouraged to give your tour guide a little extra love, so keep that in mind during preparations.