Carmel-by-the-Sea, Where Dreams Start

by Desiree Miller on May 5, 2017

pebble beach

Strolling down Ocean Avenue, savoring the chocolate-covered macaroon I’d just treated myself to at the Carmel Bakery, I realized this little one-point-one square mile city known as Carmel-by-the-Sea is a land unlike any other. It’s a tiny little corner of slow calm in a world of fast-paced chaos, an area filled with back alleyways that lead to flower-filled gardens, a food-lover’s dream where each corner has another quirky, often quite romantic, restaurant. It’s an art lover’s mecca, complete with a gallery where a world-famous sculptor stands in front of you, molding projects that the world will admire once the completed piece is on display in far away lands. And it’s a city where every dog has his day, every day.

church garden

garden fountain

When you get to Carmel, the first thing you’ll want to do is park the car. You won’t need it again until it’s time to leave. You’ll spend your time walking anywhere your heart desires, whether it’s down to the shore or off to city hall, where Clint Eastwood used to serve as mayor.

clint eastood

Nothing is more than a few blocks away. At night, you may struggle walking along its uneven sidewalks because it’s so very dark out, but even that is part of its charm, because there’s no rowdy late night parties to worry about in Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s just not that kind of place.

And most people are good with that.

The big news in town is a neighbor’s missing cat (trust me—it was on the front page of the city paper while I visited.

The police chief tells me there isn’t much crime to keep him busy, but what little crime reported is typically pretty interesting. The mayor keeps busy with city business, from overseeing the budget to signing the special permits required if you want to wear high heels (2” is the cut off).

mayor signing decree

high heel proclamation

It’s meant to keep heel-lovers from hurting themselves on those uneven sidewalks (blame the aggressive tree roots and cobblestone sections). And yes, it protects the city, since everyone is required to get the permit if they are wearing heels.

There used to be an ordinance that prohibited eating ice cream outside, but Eastwood overturned that during his tenure in the mayor’s chair.

One thing that’s banned in most other towns is extremely welcome in Carmel-by-the-Sea ad that’s dogs. The country’s first pet-friendly hotel is located here. The Cypress Inn also has a famous co-owner in Doris Day. You’ll see her movie posters framed on the walls, along with dog biscuits on the counter at check-in and water bowls sprinkling the restaurant and the rest of the town.

dreams here

hotel courtyard fireplace

You’ll notice as you drive into town that there are inns lining the streets, one after another and throughout town. Many may have just a couple dozen rooms, but you won’t find any high-rise massive hotel chain here. From La Playa Inn down closer to the water, to the newly remodeled Hotel Carmel with its fun outdoor fire pit designed for unwinding after your day walking the city, there is something for everyone if you choose to stay for a few days. Some even offer multiple rooms, like the Hofsas House, which would make a good landing spot for a family or girlfriend getaway where the gals don’t want to split up into different rooms.

carmel food tour

gnocci

There are dozens of restaurants to sample, from Anton and Michel’s fancy options to Brophy’s sports bar pub feel. We tried those two, along with Vesuvio’s Italian fare (do yourself a favor and get the gnocchi—you will want to lick the plate) and Grasling’s fine-dining (don’t miss the filet mignon or the Mounds Bar drink if you have a sweet tooth).

If you want to try a little of several eateries in town, take the food tour (video above), which lets you sample some of many spots for just a snack, including Casanova’s, which appears to be a quaint house from the front, but once you’re in the front door, you’re led through room after room, past vintage décor that will leave you wanting to stay a little longer. There’s also Affina, which serves up a little more funk than the other spots in town, complete with live music. You can’t miss dessert samples from Il Grillo (pignoli cookies—yum) or the sea salt caramels from Lula’s (double yum).

silvestris

forrest gump poster

Or, if you are interested in the area’s wine, book the Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Tasting Passport, which covers a self-paced, self-guided tour where you can sample wines at multiple stops around town. I highly recommend starting at Silvestri’s. You’ll love learning about the owner’s musical past (including on the movie Forrest Gump), along with sipping on some superior wines.

It’s also worth booking the walking tour of the town if you want to learn more about some of the galleries, which seem nearly as popular in the city as the eateries. Plus, you can get the inside scoop on many of the gardens hidden away in alleyways. Over and over, you’ll walk through an arched alleyway or the backside of a building, and end up in a very different world when you come out the other side. It truly is a great place to get lost, only to discover something beautiful at every turn.

doorway to garden

And, of course, you have to make your way down Ocean Drive to the beach. If you’re an east coaster, like me, you’ll be stunned at how cold the sand is to your toes. But you’ll adjust soon enough as you look off to the left at the view you won’t find on any Florida beach, or to the right, where you can see the famed Pebble Beach golf course where all the greats go to play (and where you can play a round, too, for about $500).

mission

pebble beach tree

pebblebeachdining

pebble beach golf trophies

If you want to leave the sweet ‘Golden Rectangle’ that they call Carmel-by-the-Sea, I highly recommend a drive past the Carmel Mission and farm/ranch that Eastwood saved from condominiums…into Monterey Bay’s waterfront zone with the Monterey Aquarium and Cannery Row. You’ll spot sea life from the road and catch some breathtaking views as you make your way on over to the 17 mile drive (which really isn’t 17 miles, but that’s another story). It’s worth parking at some of the marked zones to take in the beauty, from the cliffs of the coast to the pristine greens you can get an up-close view of at the Pebble Beach golf club that you saw earlier from shore.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is an ideal spot to escape to for a romantic getaway with your honey, a girlfriend getaway for a weekend, or a family trip that will leave lasting memories.

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