Carmel-by-the-Sea provides a perfect, rustic weekend

From Travel Pulse

One of the most beautiful collaborations between man and nature has to be the seaside bohemian artist village of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Located just five miles south of Monterey, Carmel’s groves of live oaks, pines and Monterey Cypress meet the white silky sands of its pristine beach.

What began as an artist colony that lured the likes of Sinclair Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson and Ansel Adams with incredible scenic beauty, the quaint collection of whimsical thatched-roof cottages, cape-cod homes, artsy boutiques and storybook restaurants give Carmel a distinctive flavor unlike any other West Coast town.

To this day, there are still no addresses, parking meters, street lights, neon signs or traffic lights.

Legendary names such as “Sea Urchin” or “Havensight” adorn most residential homes. When asking for directions, visitors will likely get something like: “It’s the third house on the left after the stop sign with the blue fence around it.”

Our weekend stay was at the peaceful historic Mission Ranch just minutes outside town and owned by Carmel’s most famous resident—Clint Eastwood. Previously a 1850s dairy farm, the seaside ranch was rescued by Eastwood from impending demolition to support a condominium development.

In 1986, he purchased the twenty-two-acre ranch with wetlands stretching to the bay, restoring it to its former glory. 31 uniquely distinct picturesque accommodations occupy the former barn, farmhouse, converted bunkhouse and eight other rustic ranch structures nestled among ancient cypress and eucalyptus trees.

Magenta bougainvillea spills from balconies while fragrant, flowering plants decorate porches and walkways. Sheep and cattle grazing the lush green grass of a seaside meadow add to the bucolic pastoral beauty of the ranch.

Eastwood, the former mayor of Carmel, is a frequent visitor to the ranch and can at times be seen mingling with his guests. (We caught just a glimpse of the famous actor riding off property on the back of his motorcycle during our last visit!)

You won’t see a fast-food or chain restaurant in Carmel. Instead, you’ll find a myriad of enchanting, locally-owned places from English tea rooms, to pubs like the Hogs Breath Inn, to finer seaside dining venues in town and at the Restaurant at Mission Ranch.

Likewise, there are no franchise stores or T-shirt shops. Rather, it’s Tudor art galleries, antique shops, bookstores, secret garden shops and charming boutiques.

A walk on Carmel’s silky, sheltered, sugary white beach with a gentle salty breeze caressing our faces made us feel like we were in a fairy tale. Edged by wind-carved cypress trees and bluffs topped with expensive quaint cottages with billion-dollar views—this roughly one-mile crescent of emerald-blue waters was a great place to relax and play.

Further south, Carmel River State Beach is a more secluded option, with silky sand dunes and a host of seabirds—including marbled godwits, brown pelicans, tiny sanderlings and black oystercatchers.

Incredibly picturesque Point Lobos State Reserve is less than four miles away. This beautiful promontory has been called “the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world” and “the crown jewel of the state park system.”

Located at the north end of Big Sur’s wildly wondrous coast, Point Lobos—with its stunning ocean vistas and crashing waves—is an absolute not-to-be-missed experience.

Rare Monterey cypress and pine groves, wildflowers, sea otters and sea lions made for a host of “stop the car” experiences. Easy to moderate hikes provided even more spellbinding views of the six-mile rugged coast in almost every direction.

Considered one of the most picturesque in the world, the 17-Mile Drive located only four miles from Carmel is a stunning stretch of roadway from Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula through Pebble Beach. Much of the trip hugs the Pacific coastline on winding roads that provide spectacular views around every corner.

There is no debate on whether the $10 entrance fee is worth it.

Roadside delights along the drive include 1920s mansions, world-class golf courses, rocky headlands and the iconic Lone Cypress—one of the most photographed trees in North America. Believed to be at least 250 years old, the gnarled cypress sits alone on a rock outcrop overlooking the Pacific Ocean—an inspiration to artists and photographers for years.

While traversing the immense Del Monte Forest area, we spotted several deer grazing in the meadows and some right alongside the road itself.

Golfer or not, a stop at Pebble Beach is also must. World-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Links at the Lodge at Pebble Beach is the most famous of several incredible courses along the Drive.

Built in 1919, this 18-hole, 6,799-yard, par 72 course is precariously perched over the rugged Pacific. Home every year to the Pro Am, Jack Nicholas once said of this stunningly beautiful place: “If I could play only one course for the rest of my life, this would be it.”

We’d heard that another truly memorable experience is to see the famed bagpiper at the Inn at Spanish Bay so we stopped in. As we relaxed beside a warm fire pit with a glass of California red wine, haunting melodies from a Scottish Highland bagpiper signaled the end of another day on the links.

Back in Carmel, we had to take in the historic Carmel Mission (San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission). We missed it on past trips and made it a point this time. (And we’re glad we did.)

For whom do the bells toll? They toll for the residents and visitors to Carmel each day at noon. Built in 1771, the golden sandstone Spanish-style mission is the burial ground of Father Junípero Serra, a driving force in the Spanish conquest and colonization of California.

The stone church—with its Moorish bell tower and curving walls—is covered with a lime plaster made of burned seashells set off by splashes of brilliant bougainvillea. Its library, (the first in California), contains volumes dating back to 1534. While walking the magnificent gardens with myriad flowers and fountains, our peaceful silence was only interrupted by the chiming of the tower bells.

Though Carmel tends to be crowded on the weekends (especially in summer), a visit to this enchanting village during an off-season like autumn or winter is ideal.

An unknown author wrote, “Find a beautiful place and get lost.”

Carmel-by-the-Sea is such a place.


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