The name “Carmel-by-the-Sea” conjures up visions of storybook cottages with fragrant flowers, cozy cafes and beguiling back street bistros.
Carmel’s a great walking town, so book your room in the heart of town and began to explore on foot beneath a canopy of majestic Monterey pines and giant cypresses that rustle in the breeze.
You may begin to wonder why most houses in the mile-square village are named, not numbered. Many years ago, Carmel’s founding fathers of bohemians and artists decided to ban home delivery of mail because they thought having numbers on their houses was a sign of being “citified”. The tradition continues today as neighbors gather at the post office to pick up their mail and gossip.
For an early morning coffee and a decadent pastry, stop in at Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company on Ocean Avenue to chat with the locals and other visitors.
Stroll down past the high-end shops of Ocean Avenue to where it ends at Carmel Beach, an enchanting crescent of silky white sands set off by the sparkling blue waters of the bay. Ringed with bluffs and showpiece homes, it is one of the few beaches where dogs are allowed to run without a leash.
When you return from a brisk sunset walk on chilly days, a crackling hearth awaits you at one of many dog-friendly inns and restaurants. (My current favorite is the historic La Playa Hotel and Cottages, just two blocks from the sea.)
On the quiet streets that surround Ocean Avenue art studios, galleries and antique stores are tucked away in secluded courtyard gardens. The small Cima Collina art gallery also has a tasting bar of hand crafted local wines.
Be sure to include a visit to the Carmel Art Association gallery, a cooperative that exhibits and sells affordable pieces by local contemporary artists.
In the evening , a walk through the town’s quaint residential neighborhoods (no sidewalks and few streetlights) lead to one of Carmel’s wonderful theaters. The Pacific Repertory Theatre has everything from Shakespearean drama to Tony Award winning musicals and plays. In the summer, the intimate Sunset Cultural Center hosts the Carmel Bach Festival, as well as jazz greats and contemporary pop performers. At the Forest Theater you’ll find films and live productions, often accompanied by picnics in the summer.
At the south edge of the village, Carmel Mission Basilica still stands beside Father Serra’s burial spot and hosts regular Catholic masses.
On Fridays and Saturdays there are docent tours of Tor House, poet Robinson Jeffers’ stone home. The poet lovingly gathered by hand the stone from nearby Carmel Beach.
You’ll need your car again to visit two other special places nearby. The entrance to the winding 17-Mile Drive begins at the bottom of Ocean Avenue. Synonymous with golf and gorgeous scenery, it wanders north through Pebble Beach.
For a hike and a close up view of otters and other sea life, Point Lobos is just two miles south of the village on Highway One. A jewel in California’s state park system, it’s great for kids big and small.