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The Ultimate 'Big Little Lies' Guide to Monterey, California

AFAR logo AFAR 6/10/2019 Lyndsey Matthews
a train crossing Bixby Creek Bridge over a river: The Ultimate “Big Little Lies” Guide to Monterey, California © Photo by Shutterstock The Ultimate “Big Little Lies” Guide to Monterey, California

After a two-year hiatus, Big Little Lies, the Emmy award–winning drama, has finally returned to HBO for its second season. A continuation of Liane Moriarty’s novel of the same name, Season 2 brings back the original cast of A-list celebrities—including Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, plus Meryl Streep this time around—along with the show’s other star: the sweeping landscapes of California’s Monterey Peninsula. While Otter Bay Elementary School and several of the characters’ beautiful coastal homes are actually shot in Los Angeles, here are the filming locations you can visit in Monterey and other nearby towns from Season 2 (as well as some local favorites the cast frequented during their time on the California coast).

Bixby Creek Bridge

If you’ve ever taken a Highway 1 road trip through Big Sur, you’ll recognize the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge that’s featured in the both the title sequence of the show, as well as in shots whenever Kidman’s character, Celeste, is shown driving to and from her house. In reality, the bridge is about a 15-minute drive south of where Celeste’s Carmel Highlands home is located and a full 30-minute drive south from the rest of the filming locations around the towns of Monterey and Carmel, but that shouldn’t stop you from making the drive to the scenic spot that serves as the unofficial entrance to the Big Sur area.

a group of people standing in front of a window with Monterey Bay Aquarium in the background: Jane, played by Shailene Woodley, works at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Season 2. © Photo by Shutterstock Jane, played by Shailene Woodley, works at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Season 2.
Monterey Bay Aquarium

Now that Shailene Woodley’s character, Jane, has a new job at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Season 2, one of the most visited places in Monterey is bound to become even more popular this summer. Highlights of the aquarium include the 28-foot Kelp Forest—one of the tallest aquarium exhibits in the world—which is home to a leopard shark, Pacific sardines, and a red octopus that can camouflage itself to match its surroundings (as mentioned in the first episode of Season 2). Fans of Pixar’s Finding Dory may also recognize the aquarium, which served as the inspiration for the Marine Life Institute featured in the 2016 animated film.

a group of people on a beach: The cast is frequently seen jogging along Del Monte Beach in both seasons of the show. © Photo by Shutterstock The cast is frequently seen jogging along Del Monte Beach in both seasons of the show.
Monterey Beaches

For a show set in a coastal town, it’s no surprise that the beaches of Monterey County are featured heavily throughout both seasons. If you’re looking to go for a beach run as many characters on the show do, you’ll want to head to Del Monte Beach near downtown Monterey, which was the backdrop for many of those scenes, according to the county’s visitors bureau.

The windswept scenes showing crashing waves and steep cliffs were mostly filmed off Highway 1 at Garrapata State Park and Beach, just before you reach the Bixby Creek Bridge. To make filming there easier, the production designers installed a staircase from the cliffs to the beach, which they left for visitors to use after filming wrapped, the tourism board says.

a small boat in a body of water: Blue Blues café is inspired by a restaurant at the end of Old Fisherman’s Wharf. © Photo by Shutterstock Blue Blues café is inspired by a restaurant at the end of Old Fisherman’s Wharf.
Old Fisherman’s Wharf

Blue Blues, the coffee shop that the main characters frequent in Season 1 is actually filmed on a soundstage with the background “digitally dropped in,” production designer John Paino told the New York Post. But the fictional café is based on a real family-run Italian restaurant, Paluca Trattoria, that is located at the end of the historic wharf in downtown Monterey. It has become so popular with the show’s fans that the owners of Paluca Trattoria told San Jose's Mercury News that they’ve had to install a bigger espresso machine to keep up with demand.

a large body of water: Lovers Point Park is the location of that dreamy outdoor café in Season 2. © Photo by Shutterstock Lovers Point Park is the location of that dreamy outdoor café in Season 2.

For unknown reasons, it looks like the Big Little Lies ladies have found a new café to patronize in Season 2 instead of Blue Blues. The new coffee spot is an outdoor café located at Lovers Point Park in Pacific Grove, a small town between Monterey and Carmel. The fictional Blissful Drip Café was built on location specifically for the show, according to theHollywood Reporter. After filming wrapped, HBO donated the coffee shop to the city with the plans for how to reassemble it. It’s unclear if Pacific Grove will open it as a coffee shop for people to visit, but the park is available to the public year-round.

Happy Girl Kitchen

Even though the cafés in the show don’t exist, you can get a cup of coffee at Happy Girl Kitchen. While the Pacific Grove café and bakery doesn’t appear in Big Little Lies, Witherspoon was spotted there several times during the filming of Season 2 (she even posted this Instagram shot there to promote a pick for her book club last year). In fact, if you look closely at Season 2 scenes filmed in the kitchen of Witherspoon’s character, Madeline, you can spot jams and pickles from Happy Girl Kitchen.

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