Twenty-Four Hours in Carmel
Once upon a time, far up the Pacific Coast Highway, nestled in the forest, there lay a quaint little town by the sea. A place inspired by European romanticism. A place where there were no street lamps or house numbers, where the townsfolk picked up their mail from the post office, ate fine foods, made merry, and knew everyone’s name. A place where Hollywood legends relax and prosper, such as Doris Day and former mayor Clint Eastwood. There once was a place called Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.
Situated just south of San Francisco, Carmel’s charm captivates a weekend traveller. Since gastronomy is one of its major draws, begin your day working up an appetite with a walk on the beach or gentle hike through the stunning coastal scenery of Point Lobos State Park. You’ll then be ready for an epic brunch, such as dining on signature, fresh crab Benedict at Grasings Coastal Cuisine restaurant, complemented by bottomless mimosas, or watching the waves crash from the patio at Eastwood-owned Mission Ranch.
From there, stroll around the square-mile village, taking in the various stores and art galleries and appreciating the architecture, a classy and tasteful storybook recipe of cottages and hidden courtyards. You can browse independent boutiques full of hand-crafted candy, Moroccan lanterns, or artisan jewelry or shop more traditionally at elegant outlets Coach and Tiffany & Co.
A lazy stop for tea and cakes or a light snack at French-themed La Bicyclette will set you in good stead for a trip to neighboring Monterey, either for a walk on their yesteryear pier for clam chowder tastings or through the highly regarded aquarium, which houses a beautiful seahorse exhibition and various interactive zones. Return via the 17-mile Drive to the Spanish Bay resort. Find yourself a spot by the fire pits, order one of the specialty Irish coffees, and absorb the sunset, just as a nightly lone bagpiper walks the horizon.
For dinner, the choice is overwhelmingly wonderful, from chef Brandon Miller’s organic tapas at cozy, candlelit but still socially informal Mundaka (watch out for his experimental, off-menu dishes) to Pacific Grove’s rustic whilst opulent Mediterranean tradition Fandango, or from refined Italian in a modern setting at TusCA Monterey to the labyrinth of lovingly decorated dining rooms at Casanova.
However, finish up dinner with enough time and appetite to hit the beach once more; uniquely, Carmel allows beach fires and alcohol until 10 p.m. so head to the bay loaded up with s’mores and brandy (you can walk from most hotels) and stargaze until your marshmallow’s gooey and your soul is warm.
Finally don’t forget to enjoy whichever characterful hotel you’re staying in, from the Dutch-inspired Hofsas House, where the efficient, friendly owner Carrie is a fountain of great local knowledge and tips, to the Doris Day-owned Cypress Inn or the recognizably classy but intimate L’Auberge. The exceptionally charming and pictureque Vagabond’s House Inn has personal décor touches in each room and is a featured location of the upcoming film “Stefano Formaggio“. Well exercised, well fed, and well rested… well, that sounds just like a great Carmel day to me.