Carmel-by-the-Sea. Ridiculously charming. Incredibly costly (a nice 1500- square-foot bungalow might be yours for only $1,200,000, but wouldn’t you prefer a great ocean view at $5M or, hey, why not $10M?). But all so full of character it’s well worth a visit.
You’re sure to find restaurants from the superb to the so-so, which makes deciding where to eat quite difficult. We ask in the local shops for suggestions and are seldom disappointed. Art galleries are also plentiful, so there are always new and beautiful paintings, photographs and sculpture for pleasurable window shopping (and if your budget allows, you are always welcome to enter and purchase.).
Oh, did I mention the stunning city beach with breathtaking vistas of the Pacific Ocean, the sandy shore a perfect frame for every sunset? Don’t miss Scenic Drive with its incredible homes as you head south from Ocean Avenue, and famed 17-Mile Drive heading out of town to the north.
I’m always amazed to encounter Californians who have never visited this tucked-away idyll, even though it lies only a few hours’ drive from many areas of the state. Vacationers often stop short at Monterey for its famed aquarium and beautiful bay, but fail to drive just a few minutes farther south. All you need do is turn down Ocean Avenue to enter this jewel of a town and feel welcome.
For those of you who know Carmel-by-the-Sea, there’s probably nothing new for you in this post. But if you—like me—enjoy small towns in Europe, Carmel is one of the few worthy stand-ins for a quick getaway at far less expense than a trip overseas.
So get up early when the shopkeepers are sweeping up before their stores. Wander down from one of the many bed and breakfasts or small hotels to find a morning coffee. A few good European-style bakeries in town, as well.
Having just returned from three days of relaxation and writing, I can recommend a few places.
For the best java, try Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co., offering an excellent organic selection.
For breakfast, should your B&B offerings be too predictable for your tastes, check out La Bicyclette at Dolores & 7th. The aroma of freshly-baked European breads alone will draw you in. Great for other meals, too.
For a delicious (and entertaining) lunch, spend a midday hour at Dametra Café, on Ocean between Dolores and Lincoln. This Mediterranean restaurant offers appealing takes on food and wine, and a family-run atmosphere with friendly staff that might just break into music and song at a moment’s notice. And little children playing with wooden toys on the floor at the back. Dametra advertises a restaurant “Like nowhere else.” It’s true.
And for dinner, make reservations for Casanova, 5th Avenue and Mission, known for its romantic atmosphere and French- and Italian-inspired cuisine. We’ve returned time and again and never been disappointed. Dine out front under the trees (and heat lamps on a cooler evening, if needed), or ask for an inside table in the two small front rooms off to the left as you enter for a more intimate dining experience.
Where to stay?
We tend to try someplace new at each visit, but we do find the Cypress Inn (Lincoln and 7th) particularly pleasant, with its beautiful courtyard for dining or a drink, its 1930’s architectural flair, a gracious staff, and plenty of dogs who bring their well-trained humans to this pet-friendly inn.
Yes, dogs. Be prepared for canines of every breed and beauty, for Carmel is one of the dog-friendliest places we’ve visited.
Many places also welcome cats, even providing cat strollers (!). Try out the Carmel Country Inn (Dolores and 3rd), for example, and please scratch the head of their geriatric feline-in-residence, Tescher. He expects it. This beloved figure steps out to greet you dressed in black tux with white shirtfront.
Do be careful pulling a morning Herald from the stack on the breakfast room hearth. Tescher is sometimes found atop the newspapers pondering the flames. He may give you a look of disgust at such rudeness, but it’s just old age. He’s seen it all.
This little town first gained popularity as an artists’ colony, a Bohemian getaway in the early years of the 20th century. Nowadays only a very successful artist could afford to buy one of the cozy cottages, each bearing a distinctive name such as “Windswept” or “Prince of Tides.” My favorite: “Carmelized.”
Before then it was known for its legacy as one of the Franciscan missions of Father Junípero Serra. You should take a look at the old mission while you’re here, then drive down the coast a ways toward Big Sur to experience the incredible natural beauty.
And there you have it—a beautiful getaway, whether you drive a few hours (watch out for the speed trap alongside the reservoir between Interstate 5 and Patterson!) or come from farther afield to spend some time in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. I highly recommend it.
In fact, I’d head back today if I could. And this time watch for that darned speed trap.
Copyright 2014 Patrick W. O’Bryon
I’m thinking I probably spent an afternoon there when I was a kid, but it’s probably been 40 years since that limited visit. Sounds like I need to add this to my list of places to go.
Can’t imagine you wouldn’t enjoy it–such a nice combination of artistic ambiance and natural beauty, and I’m a sucker for the very cool architectural design of the houses, that 1920’s/30’s bungalow look with a European flair.
Carmel-By -The-Sea sounds like the perfect place for me to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time from an American perspective. I have only seen it from Costa Rica. Being an artist, I am a sucker for anything quaint, Bohemian, and artsy. The way you describe it makes me want to book a flight…when it is warmer.
Quaint, Bohemian and artsy…you’ve nailed it, Susan. And all that in the midst of natural beauty that is hard to match. The weather was our friend, as well, hovering around 65-70 with clear skies every day and just a few clouds over the ocean in the late afternoon to turn the sunsets perfect.
O’Bryon this was a really enjoyable read. I used to live in Monterey and would often drive the 17-Mile Drive and continue down HWY1. Love the local shops you listed. Such a treat to see these places again. It’s been over 13 years! … Love Carmel 🙂
Thanks, Anita. So pleased it spoke to you. Carmel is truly one-of-a-kind! And thanks for following my blog. I’m not the twice-a-week blog post kind of writer (twice-a-month might prove possible this year), so bear with me and I’ll try to have something of interest for you from time to time.
Oh you are most welcome!
Lol, I know what you mean, I do try to keep up and make regular posts, but designing is so much more fun. 😉 Looking forward to read your next post! 🙂
Oh and by the way, I think you might enjoy visiting Solvang, Sausalito, and Mendocino if you haven’t already explored these 🙂
Three great destinations, you are right! Although my favorite of these has to be Mendocino with its windswept bluffs overlooking the Pacific and that New England coastal feel with the old clapboard-sided Victorian houses and the charming main street with interesting shops. Glendeven and Albion River Inn, both south of town, are favorites for overnighting and great breakfasts. I can almost hear the gulls right now…
Yes, Mendocino is a beautiful place. Funny you should mention New England – I’m located in the Cape region, and loving it. The National Sea Shore is magnificent and there are so many charming villages here. Plenty of places to explore for sure! 🙂
Lucky you! We lived on the East Coast for three years and loved exploring the New England coastal villages.