Since I work as an attorney by day, it’s hard to get much time off to travel to all of the places I want to see. So instead of globetrotting for half the year like I would prefer, I usually take one or two big trips a year, and then try to fit in as many weekend trips as possible. For this past long 4th of July weekend, we went somewhere we have wanted to visit for quite some time: Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Work has been so stressful lately, that I wanted to go somewhere mellow and relaxing, somewhere that’s slower-paced than Los Angeles. I really just wanted a place where we could read a book by the fire, stroll through town, drink wine and eat great food. Does that make me old or boring? Maybe. Do I care? Not really.
Part of the allure of Carmel is the scenic, coastal drive up the 101, but due to a massive landslide earlier this year, a section of that road is closed. Instead, we took a slightly-less-scenic route through the inland empire. Driving up the middle of the state did have its perks, like miles of open fields, farmland, cows (maybe it’s just me, but once you’ve seen one cow, you’ve seen them all) and about 40 Denny’s restaurants. Seriously though, it was a super easy, quick drive compared to taking the coast, which meant that we had more time to enjoy in Carmel.
We had to stop twice to charge the car, which was perfect because it basically meant we had built-in bathroom and snack breaks. My boyfriend also came prepared with some classic rock playlists, which is perfect driving music.
Carmel-by-the-Sea = A-Forest-by-the-Sea
Growing up in Southern California, I always expect beaches to be like Santa Monica or Venice – warm, sunny paradises peppered with palm trees – but Carmel couldn’t be more different.
Driving into town, we were pleasantly surprised to find narrow, meandering streets, lush greenery, towering trees and the most adorable houses that looked like they were plucked straight out of a storybook. There are no chain restaurants (yes, that includes Starbucks), no neon signs, and most of the businesses close around 5-6pm.
Once we arrived, we were welcomed by chilly temperatures and an overcast sky, both of which were a very welcome respite from a scorching Los Angeles summer. It was definitely sweater weather, and I couldn’t be happier.
Carmel and its surrounding areas are home to a LOT of wineries, and most of them have tasting rooms in town. We hit up as many of the tasting rooms as we could during our short stay, and were able to maintain a lovely buzz for three days straight. We even found a few bottles at our two favorite spots – Wrath and Galante – that we loved enough to bring home with us.
Most of the tasting rooms offer something small to nibble on while you’re drinking, which is key to preventing a buzz from turning into the spins. Also, since the town is so tiny (one square mile), we could walk to and from the tasting rooms, so need for Uber.
It seems like a lot of the restaurants serve some combination of French, Italian, and American food, which I assume has something to do with the wine pairing opportunities. We ate at three restaurants – Casanova, Grasings, and Portabella – all of which were delicious, gracious, and most importantly, allowed Apple to join us.
We also grabbed appetizers and drinks at Hog’s Breath Inn, solely because the name reminded us of Hogsmeade, the village in Harry Potter. Besides having the cutest little bar and an awesome patio with several fireplaces, they played Clint Eastwood films on repeat. It really doesn’t get any better than that.
Also, anyone who knows me, knows that cheese = life, so it’s no surprise that I almost fainted from happiness when I found out there was a cheese store. And let me tell you, it did not disappoint. Our cheese monger was super sweet and helpful. We tried about 20 cheeses, and ended up buying 6, half of which we devoured as soon as we got home (along with the wine we bought).
It’s a Dog’s World
My absolute favorite thing about Carmel is that it is one of the most dog-friendly towns in California, and it shows. People take their dogs everywhere. Most of the businesses have water bowls outside their front door and jars full of free treats at the register. It seemed like almost all of the restaurants and tasting rooms allow dogs, and the employees all appear to genuinely enjoy having the dogs there (as was evidenced by the fact that they all came to say hello to Apple and give her some love).
Apple had a sensory overload when we took her to the cutest pet store, Diggidy Dog. It was packed with toys, treats, clothes, and of course, smells from the hundreds of dogs who had been there before her. We bought her a red, white and blue bandanna because it was 4th of July weekend and, being from Boston, she’s a super patriotic dog.
We also brought Apple to the beach and let her off her leash to run with the rest of the dogs, and she had THE BEST time chasing every dog and bird she could. Thank goodness we tired her out enough to sleep through dinner, because there were 7 other dogs on the patio at the restaurant that night.
Each morning, we took a drive to some of the neighboring towns to walk around an enjoy some lunch. We explored the famous Lodge at Pebble Beach and had an amazing lunch at one of their restaurants. I’m don’t think that was our plan initially, but I started to get hangry on the car ride, so we stopped at the first restaurant we could find and were pleasantly surprised.
We drove as far into Big Sur as we could (this was the part of the 101 that was affected by the landslides), and stopped a few times to get out and hike with Apple. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, and Apple had a great time exploring nature.
On our last day, we visited the Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey. It was super touristy and crowded, but did find a great lunch spot along the municipal pier called Sandbar & Grill, which was significantly less crowded because it wasn’t on the shitty tourist pier (it was on the pier where all of the commercial fisherman work).
This Isn’t Goodbye, It’s See You Later
Carmel is quaint, cozy and totally adorable. Even though it’s a tiny town, there are still so many things we wanted to see and do, like visit some of the art galleries, explore the town’s fabled courtyards and alleyways, and of course, drink more wine. We will definitely be back soon to experience more of Carmel’s magic!