Visiting my cousin who is driving up from Los Angeles and plan on spending a few days in Carmel. OK, what to avoid, what to see. Restaurants? How far from San Fran?
See - Monterey Bay Aquarium, lovely place. The beach in Carmel By The Sea, not warm but so beautiful.
Avoid - the 17 Mile Drive, at least during summer or holiday weekends, when the traffic crawls along at 10 MPH. And Monterey Fisherman's Wharf, meh.
Other than that, what do you like? Shopping, museums, hiking, scenery, beaches, restaurants, sea kayaking, diving? I'm planning a trip to that area myself.
If you're into old-fashioned seaside amusement parks, check out the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The rides are only open on weekends after summer is over, but some of the other stuff is open year-round. There's also the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas if that interests you. Carmel is a quaint little town to walk around in.
If you're driving from LA and want to go up the coast (CA-1 vs. US-101), there's Hearst Castle and Big Sur.
Depending on traffic, it's probably about 2.5-3 hours to SF from Monterey. (It's about 120 miles, but there's always traffic.)