Do you know what lurks beneath the deep blue waters of Northern California's Monterey Bay? Visitors will be sucked into the new 'Tentacles' exhibit at Monterey Bay Aquarium, then drive over to Coast Guard Pier and take in the salty sea air on a Fast Raft marine eco tour with a naturalist.

In addition, several new restaurants have opened from Big Sur to downtown Monterey.

Almost three years in the making, Paul Clarkson, aquarium husbandry curator, and his Monterey Bay Aquarium crew have been working behind-the-scenes to bring the largest exhibit of octopus, cuttlefish and squid to Monterey.

It's a complex undertaking, as these camera-shy creatures "sometimes eat each other and sometimes life cycles are months, not years," said Clarkson when it comes to keeping these cephalopods on display.

After you've seen these critters up close, join Captain Kate Spencer on a Fast Raft adventure exploring Monterey Bay. Our group spotted California sea lions, sea otters with pups, sea birds and a whale on a morning outing. The "rib" (rigid inflatable boat) holds six passengers and offers a unique way to see Monterey.

Once back on solid ground, head over to Monterey's Bay of Pines restaurant, serving American organic cuisine or dine at the Beach House in Pacific Grove, overlooking Lover's Point. Further exploring down Highway 1 leads travelers to Point Lobos State Reserve and Big Sur. Stop for a bite at Big Sur Roadhouse, where Chef Matt Glazer blends California cuisine with a New Orleans twist. Now is the perfect time to explore Monterey County before the summer crowds arrive.

Is Cancun the new Vegas?

Dr. Reginald Rampaul of San Jose was in Cancun attending a medical conference. On his third trip to Mexico in 12 months, Rampaul sees Cancun as the new Vegas without the casinos.

"It has the strip, traffic at night and people do things they otherwise wouldn't do at home and might not always remember," laughs Rampaul.

Lafayette's Barbara and Paul Lefcourt were also spotted in Mexico at Banyan Tree Mayakoba, Riviera Maya, near Playa del Carmen. The couple went zip lining and said the resort was amazing.

David Amar, Founder of Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival has staked his claim in the culinary white sands of Mexico. Now in its third year, the March Festival is attracting top-notch talent such as French Chef Daniel Boulud, Puerto Rican-born Thierry Blouet and Chef Guillermo Gonzales Beristain, among others. The four-day culinary festival saw Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger drinking champagne with a world-ranked sommelier team, including Veronique Rivest and Elyse Lambert. I raise my glass in a toast to the female sommeliers! Who knew Mexico's Guadalupe Valley offered such dynamic wines?

"Today the adventure is the food adventure," said Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger. "This festival is encouraging creativity."

Secrets the Vine Cancun

It's not often that one makes the connection between Mexico and wine, but after attending the Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival, my mind and palate are open to new possibilities. Secrets the Vine Cancun, a luxury all-inclusive resort carries the wine-themed concept throughout the 495-room, all-suite property.

With complimentary wine tastings offered in the afternoon and wine-infused spa treatments at the adults-only resort, this is the place to discover Mexican wines from Baja California. But don't feel limited in your wine selection; their cavernous wine cellar will blow you away.

Where have your travels taken you lately? Read Lamorinda-based Nancy D. Brown's blog at www.Nancydbrown.com.

ONLINE RESOURCES
  • Cancun Riviera Maya Wine & Food Fest: www.crmfest.com
  • Fast Raft: www.fastraft.com
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium: www.montereybayaquarium.org
  • Secrets the Vine: www.secretsresorts.com/vine-cancun