A day in…Carmel, CA

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small beach city on the Monterey Peninsula, two hours south of San Francisco. Historically a Bohemian artists village, Carmel-by-the-Sea has been home to many famous people such as Doris Day, John Madden, Ansel Adams, and John Steinbeck. Clint Eastwood was not only a resident, he was elected Mayor of Carmel. The picturesque city of less than 4,000 residents features unique homes including many cottages with minute detailing valued in the millions because of the location. One house which we viewed was decorated with heart-shaped cut-outs decorating the picket fence, the shingles, and gracefully furbishing the interior decorative trim. The luscious gardens rolled into each other in everflowing bloom.

Timing: We happened to visit Carmel during the Concours d’Elegance (“Competition of Elegance”), an annual event in which illustrious cars are displayed and judged.  The event provided an interesting car (and people) watching all around town. My brother, a gearhead, was definitely jealous, I could tell the color of a car but I knew nothing about make or model. The Concours is normally the second week in August. 

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for the Santa Cruz Mountains, Oakland, Berkeley, and the Mission District.

Addresses: Please note that much of Carmel is a grid system, so most businesses use cross streets instead of a number. 

When I explore a new neighborhood I enjoy exercise, learning about the local culture, and then taking time to replenish and often indulge in some food and drink. Here is how to spend one day in the picturesque Carmel, California:

Morning:

Start your morning at the Carmel Mission Basilica. This is the final resting place of St.Junípero Serra, who founded the first 9 of the 21 Spanish missions in California. You won’t need more than an hour to enjoy this peaceful and well kept historic site. The mission boasts housing the first library of California which started with only 30 volumes in 1778. Those first books and accompanying Franciscan sherpa’s came north from Mexico City’s San Fernando Apostolic College. Many of the original books are far older than the mission itself, having been printed in Spain, probably in the early 18th century and travelled to Mexico and then on to the mission in what was then called “Alta California”. 

After learning about California’s rich mission history of “El Camino Real” (English: “The Royal Road”), enjoy brunch at the nearby Mission Ranch Restaurant. Despite the name the farm is unaffiliated with the mission itself. The restored farmhouse serves as a restaurant and inn. Clint Eastwood owns the 22 acre estate that has views of Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountains. On Sunday’s Mission Ranch offers a jazz brunch. Make sure to take a stroll on the property to see the sheep grazing. If the weather permits, try to sit outside. 

The view of Carmel Riverstate Beach.

Burn off your brunch with a walk along the coastal trail between Carmel River State Beach and Carmel Beach. This should be less than two miles, but feel free to turn back at any point. This is also a great car ride. This seaside walk passes many historic houses, don’t miss any of the beautiful detailing on the houses, for modern lovers there is a Frank Lloyd Wright original. The houses mostly remind me of childhood fairytales with abundant beds of flowers, whimsical architecture, and ornate detailing. 

Afternoon:

Drive or walk back into the downtown of Carmel.  Enjoy walking through the shopping district, with many boutiques and smaller locally owned businesses. Carmel-by-the-Sea’s downtown is an outpost for specialty stores: tasting rooms of local Monterey County vineyards, cheese shops, and small bakeries and restaurants. Established in 1899, The Carmel Bakery (Ocean Avenue, Suite 203), is the oldest commercial building in the town. The original owner even lived in an apartment above the bakery! There is a reason this small bakery has been in business for over 100 years: it offers delicious pastries and suburb sandwiches daily. 

Rub elbows with various vintners while sampling local wines at one of the small tasting rooms.  Most of the shops, like most of Carmel-by-the-Sea, are dog friendly. Three tasting rooms that will not disappoint are: Albatross Ridge Tasting Room (Dolores Street between Ocean and 6th Avenue), Caraccioli Cellars (7393 Dolores Street), or Scheid Vineyard Tasting Rooms (San Carlos Street and 7th Avenue). My favorite is the combined art gallery and tasting room, Scratch Wines Tasting Room (Dolores between Ocean and 7th Avenue). It is female-owner by a UCLA alumni, my alma mater! There is also The Cheese Shop (Ocean and Juniper), with its fun selection of cheeses, olives, and wine. For those who would like to sit down in a quaint lunch spot, Tuckbox (Dolores Street between Ocean and 7th Avenue), housed in a 1927 cottage offers tea and snacks. 

I usually am exhausted at this point in the day, so I would recommend relaxing at your accommodation or down at the beach. 

Late Afternoon:

Spend about an hour and a half before dinner to enjoy a joy ride on the famous 17 Mile Road. While the entrance ticket seems like a rip off; the houses are extravagant, the sunset views are magnificent, and it hosts the ‘golf capital of the world’, Pebble Beach.  On this path is the well-esteemed Pebble Beach Resorts which has hosted the U.S. Open six times. Pebble Beach Resorts has a small visitor center, which is worth the visit to learn the history of the iconic golf course. I would recommend getting a sunset drink at one of Pebble Beach’s sundrenched restaurants that offer outdoor seating: The Bench or Stillwater Cafe. At both, you should expect steep prices and affluent clientele. 

Evening:

For dinner there are many options: Forge in the Forest (Junipero Street and 5th Avenue); order tapas and enjoy live music at Terry’s Lounge at Cypress Inn (Lincoln St and 7th Avenue); if you enjoy farm-to-table asian fusion with a piano bar, Affina (6th and San Carlos Street) is the place to go. Both Treehouse Cafe and Vesuvius offer rooftop dining. Treehouse offers a global menu while Vesuvius (owned by Chef Pepe, who owns the Carmel Bakery) has great italian fare.

While Carmel is not known for their nightlife, you could venture to get a cocktail at one of the rooftop lounges: Vesuvius or Starlight Rooftop Lounge (6th Ave), or get some live music at Barmel which sometimes turns into a dance party. 

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