by Annette Bignami

Since it hides its attractions between the tourist veneer of Monterey and the "if you have to ask you can afford them" homes of Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove gets less respect than Rodney Dangerfield. That's too bad for more than any other Monterey Peninsula city, Pacific Grove has retained it's sense of place and past.

Back in the late 1800's vacationing Methodists sought refreshing vacations and spiritual uplift at the Chautaugua Hall -- it's still there -- this was sort of a combination of Billy Graham and vaudeville show that filled time before movies and TV. You can make a case that the natural summer air-conditioning "Monterey's fogs" were a major part of the attraction. When California's Central Valley cooks they're still nice and, more than anywhere else on the peninsula, Pacific Grove's the best spot to avoid crowds.

One of the ways to do this is by staying in a local B&B and, after their usual killer breakfast, "Gazing and grazing" downtown along Lighthouse Ave. Shops of various merits, ice cream, expresso and an assortment of folks that might inhabit an old Fellinii movie offer a moving feast for your eye and tummy might lake most of the afternoon. If your feet tire buy a PINE CONE or other local paper, check out a bench and watch the passing parade. TIP: a morning visit to more popular attractions such as Carmel or Monterey's world-class aquarium reduce crowds and confusion -- with luck you may even find a parking place. Old Pacific Grove stores, like Holman's Department Store survive in fact or in the memory of the money capsules that flashed on wires to the cashier's cage decades ago. New shops run to upscale clothing and you'll find number of restaurants to choose from.

If you must drive start near Cannery Row and stay on your right on Ocean View along the water where a host of tiny beaches run you around to the 126 year old Point Pinos Lighthouse and on towards Asilomar Conference Center. The last is a sort of a transcendental meditation, eat veggies and explore your inner self-resort you expect to find in California. So there's usually something improving available even though reservations are recommended at least a month ahead.

Frankly, I'd rather walk over or down from the day's digs and hike or bike along the curving bay front road. Benches, a mini beach and surf breaking on the mussel-decorated rocks make the day. Checking tide pools -- you can look but save touching for the Aquarium where it's allowed -- and watching the water offer a sense of calm that's rare today.

Then, if I must do something, I make sure my childhood favorite Monarch butterflies have made it back to their "Monarch Tree." Then it's time to contemplate the dozens of restaurants that dot the peninsula. With luck, I can repeat this day with minor variations until it's time to head back to the confusion at home.

CLASSIC STAYS: The Centrella Inn, built in 1889 was first used as a boarding house in "the Grove" by the Monterey newspaper. The Centrella is now an award-winning Bed and Breakfast Inn, with a couple of dozen rooms and five cottages each with a fireplace just three blocks from the ocean at Lover's Point.

The bright yellow 1996 House of Seven Gables Inn's is another antique classic with wonder views of Monterey Bay. The Elegant Victorian mansion is furnished with antiques and all 14 rooms have ocean views with private baths.

Centrella Inn 612 Central Ave., Pacific Grove, CA 93950 831-372-3372 House of Seven Gables Inn, 555 Ocean View Blvd., Pacific Grove, CA 93950 831-372-4341