Carmel-by-the-Sea is a postcard village of shady, tree-lined streets, charming hotels and inns, unique shops, gourmet restaurants, and a big, beautiful beach at the end of town. It is slow-moving, Northern California paradise.
A friend and I recently snuck away to Carmel for a couple nights and the memories are still swaying in my head like leafs on the town’s ubiquitous Monterey Pine trees.
Our adventure began at Hotel Carmel, where we checked into a cozy, 2nd story suite overlooking the lobby, the garden courtyard and the Pacific Ocean. Completely refurbished, Hotel Carmel features 27 spacious and inviting guest rooms and suites designed in traditional cottage-style architecture, with a modern seaside feel.
Our room boasted a brick fireplace, comfy king bed, mini-fridge, spacious bathroom, big screen TV, an office desk with Wi-Fi, and two chairs outside our door overlooking the ocean through the pine trees.
The boutique hotel is located at 4th and San Carlos, just steps from renowned shops, galleries and restaurants. Set among a forest of tree’s that surround town, it is within in a short walk of all the local attractions.
When not sitting on our balcony, gazing at the sea twinkling through the trees, we were exploring town. Our favorite spot was Carmel Beach, located at the end of Ocean Ave, a few blocks from the hotel.
Carmel Beach welcomes visitors with giant Monterey Pine and cypress trees, and gorgeous, rolling sand dunes leading to the ocean. On the fall day that we were there, it was about 75 degrees, with a refreshing sea breeze. The sand was speckled with sunbathers, walkers, joggers and a few playful dogs. The beach allows well-behaved dogs to be off the leash.
Just offshore the beach was teaming with lazy sea otters, floating and rolling on the surf. And beyond these cute creatures, there were incredible views of Point Lobos to the south and Pebble Beach to the north. For a better view of these landmarks, there is a nearby Scenic Bluff Path that meanders through shady Monterey cypress and landscaped gardens to Carmel Point.
Besides the beach, Carmel offers tons of small village allure, with gift shops, art galleries, quaint inns and B&B’s, restaurants, and even an historic California mission. Known as Mission San Carlos Borromeo del río Carmelo, or simply Mission Carmel, the structure was originally built in nearby Monterey in 1770 and relocated to present day Carmel a year later. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and a U.S. National Historic Landmark. It is the only California Mission to still have its original bell tower dome.
Other interesting sites include the town’s historic, volunteer fire department, with its classic stone façade; the Shell gas station, located on a quiet residential street and hidden by trees; and the Cottage of Sweets (www.cottageofsweets.com) store with mounds of delicious imported chocolate.
After a day of exploring, we headed back to Hotel Carmel for wine hour in the Lobby living room. This daily, complimentary wine hour features Northern California varietals, along with a wall full of retro cassette tapes and a player to listen to them with.
From wine hour, we walked through the lobby to Brophy’s Pub, hotel’s signature restaurant/bar/meeting spot/sports hangout. Here, we had a couple beers and enjoyed fresh halibut fish and chips; and a braised pork and goat cheese quesadilla, with fig jam, tomatoes and caramelized onions. We sat at the bar while eating and met a couple of people visiting from Virginia and San Jose, CA who told us how Carmel was one of their favorite places.
The next day, we booked a bike ride with Big Sur Adventures, a new company that offers a chance to pedal around the breathtaking Big Sur area on powerful, electric-pedal-assisted bikes. The most popular tour the company offers is McWay Falls. This weekend adventure begins with a short hike to get to the starting point, followed by an 18-mile journey that one professional cyclist called “The best bike path on earth, period.”
The trek meanders through one of the most scenic stretches of the Pacific Coast Highway during the quiet of the morning, stopping at multiple scenic points along the way to see things such as California Condor nesting cliffs, whales swimming by, and trail heads to some of the best hidden hikes in Big Sur. The turn-around point is majestic Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.