A Carmel Vacation – Our 5 Day Holiday
If you've ever considered Carmel for a vacation, read this 5-day holiday faux-diary and all the fun things you can do in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Day 1 - Getting to Carmel
We arrived in San Jose this morning. Our plane came in early. The sun was up and it was postcard weather. I was very excited to be visiting Carmel-by-the-Sea for the first time. We decided to bypass 101 and took a different route instead - highway 17 to Santa Cruz then down to Carmel on the Pacific Coast Highway. I’ve seen photos but have always wanted to see those vistas in person. The scenery is nothing short of awe inspiring.
Pacific Coast Highway to Carmel-by-the-Sea
Though we could have driven to Carmel in under 2 hours, we slowly made our way there because we wanted to take in some other sights on the California coast. We made several stops along the way including Santa Cruz (we walked the boardwalk and ate lunch), and then Capitola – a very pretty and quaint little "by-the-Sea" town.
You can't drive the Pacific Coast Highway quickly – it is a winding, meandering drive amidst coastal cliffs. It's meant to be enjoyed. Everyone uses the word "picturesque" to describe the views, but seeing photos and actually being there are two different things. California's central coast is rugged, somehow foreign, a monument to nature and engineering - jutting cliffs, blue skies, ocean, salt air, and those intrepid stands of cypress trees hanging onto cliffs for dear life.
The PCH is in the National Geographic "Drives of a Lifetime" for very good reason. The drive itself is a destination. As we passed Monterey, we decided we'd save it for another day. It's only a 10-minute drive from Carmel. We were still in a kind of trance - just having taken in some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve ever seen. We nearly missed the turn-off, Ocean Drive, the street that takes you into Carmel and straight down to Carmel Beach if you want.
Arrival in Carmel
I you've never vacationed in Carmel, it's a little hard to describe. It has a European feeling, with cute shops and stores that look like they've been cut from a storybook page. You could be anywhere in Europe…then you see the ocean and the surf, time-eroded cliffs and cypresses leaning in the wind, and you know you are in California.
Before heading to your hotel or bed and breakfast, I recommend taking the scenic route through Carmel and down to the beach. You can see that map and other scenic drives in Carmel here. You’ll see Carmel Beach, a little of Pebble Beach and near the end of the drive "Walker Residence" – a home built by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Dinner on Day 1 - The Grill on Ocean Avenue
We walked from the hotel over to The Grill restaurant on Ocean Avenue. It is, as many stores in Carmel, unique (can many things be unique?), and charming. Outside, there is an A-framed entrance arch, such as you might find in a mountain town in the Swiss Alps. The building facade is stone and wood with arched windows. Inside, it is cozy and relaxed, classic Carmel character. Beautifully decorated, yet not stuffy. Inviting and welcoming with a stone fireplace and hearth. Though you're sitting in a Carmel-by-the-Sea restaurant, you could just as well be in an alpine village restaurant. It is old-world meets new.
I had a classic California Caesar with anchovies and avocados. We shared crab cakes, which were yummy. For my main course I had a Flat-Grilled Salmon which was delicious and Pat had a very hearty Cowboy Steak (a rib eye) and thick homemade fries. An hour after dinner, we were ready to call it a day. First we sipped some Sherry from our little private balcony and watched the sunset from a view I'd love to take home with me. Carmel is very romantic - voted the number 1 romantic city in America recently. Even if you are not romantic, sunset and ocean views will draw the romantic out of you.
Day 2: Our Horseback Riding Adventure
Today we were well rested and ready to see some Carmel beaches…but on horses! We had booked a private beach trail horseback ride with Molera Horseback Tours. The tours are in Andrew Molera State park which is only a 30-minute drive from Carmel. We took our horses through gorgeous, flowering meadows, along beachside trails and…wait for it…right on the beach! It was like being in a movie, but better because we were the movie. You could tell the horses loved it. They seemed so relaxed. There are a few horseback riding tours in the Carmel area – some have weekend trips and pony rides for kids.
Dinner on Day 2 - Flaherty's Seafood Grill
We arrived back in Carmel in the late afternoon and we were very hungry. I booked a table for two at Flaherty's Seafood Grill just a short walk from Monte Verde Inn. In the morning before we left, I was able to reserve a table right from the restaurant's website. We shared Pacific Fried Oysters and Abalone Medallions which were mouth-watering. I had Linguine Pescatore – linguini tossed in a sauce with mussels, clams, mushroom, capers, and black olives. It was fresh, perfectly cooked, and tasted great. Pat had a Mixed Seafood Grill with grilled salmon, scallops, prawns, clams and mussels.
Nothing says "holiday" like dining out nightly. A Carmel vacation gives you ample opportunity to try a huge variety of foods from 5-star fine dining establishments to something a little more relaxed but equally tasty.
Theatre in Carmel
After dinner, we walked over the Golden Bough Theatre to watch a PacRep production of Shakespeare’s "A Winter’s Tale" (part of the Carmel Shakespeare Festival). Carmel's Pacific Repertory Theatre was founded in 1982 and is the only professional theatre company in Monterey County. The Golden Bough is a 300-seat theatre that was saved from development by PacRep in 1993. The theatre has since been revamped, including a revolving stage.
After the play, we walked back to the inn and again relaxed on the balcony for a little drink and star gazing.
Day 3: Whale Watching in Monterey
Today was the day that Pat had waited for his entire life. He’d never seen a whale and has always wanted to. We booked a whale watching excursion for early in the morning with Monterey Bay Whale Watch. Just an hour or so out and we saw a pod of Orcas, traveling with some intent – on their way to fishing spot, I’d guess. A few minutes after seeing them, we saw gray whales breaching. They are huge! For such a large mammal they have no problem launching themselves out of the water and when they come down it’s with a massive splash.
Pat took hundreds of photos and even some video.
Dinner on Day 3 - L'Escargot
We got back to Carmel at about 5. We took some time to freshen up, put on some "casual-formal" attire and walk over to L'Escargot, which is just a few minute walk from Monte Verde Inn. L'Escargot, as you may have guessed from the name, is a French restaurant. It's very relaxed and romantic, serving Country-French cuisine. We shared Escargot in Garlic-Parsley butter and duck pate with beautiful bread. For a main course I had Chicken in Black Truffle-Madeira Cream Sauce and Pat had Rack of Lamb with a Dijon Mustard Crust. As I write this, Pat is on the balcony watching the whale videos on his camera…over and over and over. He'll be asleep in a few minutes after the meal we had.
Day 4: Breakfast at Katy's & Carmel Wine Tasting
It's hard to believe that we're leaving tomorrow. Our Carmel vacation has gone way too fast! I’m already checking the inn's website and see that they have hotel deals year round. I've bookmarked the page and have liked them on Facebook so I can quickly take advantage of special offers. I really want to come back and spend more time. We've done a lot but have only seen a fraction of what Carmel has to offer. Next time, I'd like to do some kayaking in Carmel and Monterey, and do some more relaxing, too, like this Carmel spa I’ve read about.
Pat and I needed to fortify ourselves for the wine tasting we'd be doing today. We found Katy's Place, a breakfast and lunch tradition in Carmel. If you like breakfast, brunch or lunch that your grandma may have made, this is the place to go. I had the Lobster Omelet and Pat had Buttermilk Pancakes and Eggs.
I’ve read a lot about Carmel wineries and decided it was time for a do-it-yourself wine tour. I used the map of Carmel wine tasting rooms and off we went. The shops are just a 3-minute walk or so from Monte Verde Inn and Casa de Carmel. Our first stop was Trio Carmel. I tasted several excellent wines from Monterey/Carmel vintners and was won over by Mesa Del Sol Syrah which I purchased to bring back home. The shop specializes in infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars (which you can also sample). They also exhibit the work of local artists.
After Trio Carmel, we tasted wines at the tasting rooms of Puma Road Wines, Silvestri Vineyards, and Scheid Vineyards. We walked back to our condo and decided before we did we should check out Southern Latitudes on the way back. SOLA specializes in wines from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and Chile, and they have a reputation for importing some pretty special wines - really not what you'd expect from a Carmel wine merchant and that’s what makes this place special. In the wine tasting room I tried several offerings but couldn’t decide and wound up buying a tasting pack of two Australian wines – a Shiraz and a Semillon.
I'm glad we were close to home, I was feeling sleepy after our wine tasting. Must have been the something I drank (LOL). Back at the condo is was nap time. One more dinner out and a good night’s rest because we were leaving early in the morning to Monterey to see the aquarium and Cannery Row.
Dinner on Day 4 - Andree's Bouchee
Tonight we went to Andre's Bouchee…about a 5-minute walk from Monte Verde Inn. The exterior, like many in Carmel, has unique details that somehow fit the whole Carmel vibe. It's funny how so many shops and restaurants have a truly individual look and feel in architecture and design and yet at the same time say "Carmel". Maybe it's the attention to detail. Andre's was no different to that extent. The exterior is brick and dark wood with a small awning and beautiful old door. You could just as well be in Paris. The restaurant would fit in there. Inside, it is a handsome restaurant with hardwood plank flooring, dark wood framed archways, warm color, high ceilings and chandeliers. It is very relaxed. The kind of place that feels friendly and a good place to meet friends, chat, eat and break bread. Andre’s Bouchee reminds me of paintings of bistros that you might see in French impressionist paintings.
I’m really loving the Carmel-influenced French food I've had so far during our stay. I had and Endive salad and Pat had Crème de Champignons Sauvages (wild mushroom soup) and Carpaccio De Boeuf as appetizers. For our main course, I had Risotto aux Fruits de Mer (with lobsters, mussels and prawns) and Pat had Mignon de Veau aux St Jacques – a pan-seared veal tenderloin with sea scallop sauce. Mmm. Mmm. We were so full from our meal, but had to soldier on to share a dessert – a crunchy, melt in your mouth Crème Brûlée.
After dinner we walked down to the beach. We felt like we needed a little exercise after several days of indulgence in Carmel. We headed down to Carmel Beach and walked the water’s edge, watched the waves roll in and waited for the sun to set. Then, it was time to go back to the inn and sleep.
Day 5: Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row
We were up early today and ate a quick breakfast of eggs hollandaise and fruit we bought at Bruno's Market & Deli, which is really Carmel's main grocery and produce store. We cleaned up, packed our things in the car and went down to the inn to say our goodbyes to the staff at Monte Verde Inn. They were a great resource for us and helped make sure we had plenty to do and see on our holiday in Carmel.
We drove to Monterey – about 10 minutes from Carmel – and went the aquarium first, in Cannery Row. I'd heard about it and have seen it on TV, in the news, and even featured in movies, but it was much more spectacular than I could have imagined. It was the Open Sea Exhibit that I wanted to see. All sorts of sea creatures swim by the ninety-foot wide window (the largest of its kind in the world). I saw sharks, tuna, rays and giant sea turtles and dense schools of smaller fish that I don't know the name of.
After wandering the aquarium exhibits for a couple of hours we wandered Cannery Row. The area was home to sardine canneries from about 1908, when the first cannery opened, and sardine canning was booming by 1918. The Monterey fishing industry collapsed in '58 and many canneries began closing. The last cannery closed in '73. "Cannery Row" was the nickname given to area by locals and after the success of Steinbeck's novel of the same, the Ocean View Avenue area was officially proclaimed Cannery Row. If we had more time we could have booked a walking tour to find out what cannery life was like.
Farewell to Carmel and Some Thoughts As We Leave
It's been an amazing 5-day vacation and we are sad to leave Carmel. We could have used another 5 days. I didn't do much shopping while we were here and I had meant to see some art galleries. Carmel was and is a village of artisans and there are many galleries here. On the drive back to the airport, I was already planning our next visit in my head. We should have come sooner than we did. We have many, many photos and videos to recall our time here: our cute little boutique hotel - Monte Verde Inn, Carmel Beach, Pebble Beach, Carmel Valley, Carmel shop and restaurant exteriors, our horseback ride on the beach, whales, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and that beautiful ride along the Pacific Coast Highway. We’re seeing it right now only this time it'll take us home. Still beautiful but tinged with the sadness of ending this wonderful Carmel vacation.