7 Strange Facts About the 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach

We had the opportunity to cruise the picturesque 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, California, this week, and I must say: Wow! If you find yourself in Northern California, take a day to go see it—you will not be sorry.

Anyway, because I’m a bit of a “fun fact” nerd, I couldn’t help but do a little research to see if there are any quirky bits of trivia about the ritzy route. I was not disappointed!

  1. Author Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired to write Treasure Island after hiking the site of Spyglass Hill Golf Course.

Robert Louis Stevenson

“I have never been in any place that seemed so dreamlike,” wrote Stevenson in his 1880 essay about his visit to Monterey, entitled “The Old Pacific Capital.

The author had visited Monterey the year before to visit his soon-to-be-wife Fanny Osbourne and—like most people—was enraptured by its beauty. Legend has it that he would often wander the hills, hoping the scenery would strike him with inspiration—and it worked! The beach cliffs and sandy white beaches set the scene for his famed 1883 adventure novel Treasure Island.

The now-famous golf course was even named after the Spy-glass Inn, where Long John Silver works in Treasure Island. The 10th hole on the course is named Captain Flint, which is the name of the pirate captain who buries the treasure in the novel.

2. Residents used debris from a shipwreck at Point Joe to decorate their homes.

SS Celia
The S.S. Celia sinking off Point Joe in 1906. Source: WayMarking

Around 11 p.m. on August 28, 1906, a lumber schooner named the S.S. Celia rammed the rocks of Point Joe in dense fog. Witnesses say her distress signal blew all night as she sank lower in the water.

Fortunately, everyone aboard was saved. The ship’s cargo, however— which included 160,000 board feet of lumber—was a total loss. Doors that were being stored on deck floated ashore after the wreck, and residents reportedly “nailed them into the front door of their tent cabins.”

3. The Lone Cypress tree has been trademarked by the Pebble Beach Company.

Lone Cypress Montery California
Source: WPPilot | CC BY-SA 3.0

If you’re planning to photograph the famous Lone Cypress for a calendar you’re selling, you better lawyer up. The 250-year-old tree and its likeness have been trademarked by the Pebble Beach Company since 1990, meaning you cannot photograph it for commercial use.

Neal Hotelling, Director of Licensing at Pebble Beach Company, says:

An artist can paint the tree and hang it on their wall, but if they sell it, it becomes a problem. The company even scours local galleries to see who”s selling unauthorized pictures of the Lone Cypress. We have 1,500 employees, and they keep their eyes open. We search the Web constantly. We have an outside agency that searches, too.

Of course, not everyone is thrilled with these restrictions.

As photographer Ed Young told the New York Times in 1990, ”It’s like the Government saying no more photos of the Grand Canyon.”

4. An arsonist nearly destroyed the Lone Cypress in 1984.

burning tree
Source: Giphy

Had it not been for the watchful eyes of a nearby resident, the world’s most-photographed tree could have been lost forever. Frances Larkey, who was in her 80s at the time, called the fire department around midnight when she awoke and saw the old tree in flames. An arsonist had doused the tree and set it ablaze, destroying much of the root system.

Ironically, Larkey had been interviewed about living near the tree several years before the fire took place. She said, “There’s a kind of lift or exhilaration you get from just looking at the tree on that impressive rock. It’s one of those intangibles . . . It represents eternity.”

5. According to legend, a “lady in lace” haunts the area around Ghost Tree.

Motorists have reported seeing a ghostly figure walking barefoot in a white lace dress along Pescadero Point, near the gnarled Ghost Tree. A couple who reported her in 1980 said she looked like a jilted bride, wearing what appeared to be a wedding dress. Others claim it is Dona Maria del Carmen Barreto, the woman who reportedly once owned the coastal lands, and that she’s simply coming back to check on her property.

She’s known by local ghost hunters as “The Lady in Lace of Pebble Beach.”

6. The California Ground Squirrels commonly found in the area are named after the guy who explored Northern California.

California Ground Squirrel
This California ground squirrel thought my phone was food. Sorry, no handouts, buddy! Source: Two Guys and a Camper

These adorable and insatiably hungry creatures get their scientific name (Otospermophilus beecheyi) from English geographer and naval officer Frederick William Beechey.

Beechey explored Northern California from 1826–28 aboard the H.M.S. Blossom, entering through the Golden Gate and mapping the coastline. In his travel diary he wrote that the Bay Area “at some future time, [would] be of great importance.”

His maps were published in 1833 and were foundational in establishing the cartography of the region. (I wonder what he’d think of his name being used for needy squirrels?)

7. The guy who accidentally discovered San Francisco Bay camped out at Spanish Bay.

Gaspar de Portolá

Today, visitors of the 17-Mile Drive can picnic at Spanish Bay, but nearly 350 years ago, the area served as the campsite for Gaspar de Portolá and his team of 60 men. Portolá and his crew of Spaniards had been commissioned to find Monterey Bay, which, up to that point, had only been described by passing ships. Due to this lack of visual detail, Portolá and company walked right through Monterey and continued on over the San Pedro Mountain. On November 4, 1769, they came to an area they thought might be Monterey—but it was actually San Francisco Bay. Upon realizing their mistake, they turned back around and established Monterey on June 3, 1770.

Let me know if there are any particular places you’d like to learn about! And if you’ve visited Monterey, let other readers know in the comments what you think they should check out during their visit!

Thanks for reading!

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