The Perfect Weekend in an Idyllic town: Carmel-by-the-Sea

Hello Hendersons,

You don’t know us, but you really should. We’re entertaining (at least, we think so), we give great gifts, drink great wine, and clean up after ourselves (well, at least one of us does). I’m sure we’d be great friends… And house guests.


Sadly, the Hendersons have never responded to our overture, although we’ve coveted their house for years. It’s in one of the most enviable spots in Carmel. It’s not the biggest, but it’s a Frank Lloyd Wright house, perched over the rocks with unencumbered views of the waves coming in. And it’s located on Scenic Road, which is, well… Scenic. To say the least.

What’s Carmel-by-the-Sea all about?

  • The ocean (hence the name “by the Sea”)
  • The celebration of the sunset over said ocean, every night
  • Quirky small-town charm (although a small town you need quite a bit of cash to live in), with a collection of unique homes and great fences.
  • A lot of mostly mediocre, mostly Italian restaurants, all within a short walk
  • Close proximity to Pebble Beach and the 17-mile drive
  • A collection of happy dogs that seem to outnumber the people
  • A flight into Monterey’s tiny airport, or a manageable drive from San Jose’s airport

What’s the appeal?

Everything.

Summary of the Perfect Day:

It’s a revised version of the perfect day on repeat in Healdsburg. Wake up, grab coffee, and walk to the beach to watch all the happy dogs prancing and running. After breakfast or brunch, walk the long loop through the small town, which is filled with eclectic houses that have the greatest collection of fences anywhere (general rule: The more ramshackle and arbitrary the fence, the more expensive the house).  Walk to Carmel River State Beach or over to the Carmel Mission and along Scenic Road. Or rent bikes to cycle the 17-mile drive, which is now easy thanks to Mad Dogs & Englishmen bike shop—they have electric-assist bikes for the bike-adverse. Just don’t only do the 17-mile drive in a car. A late lunch at one of the below restaurants, and an afternoon consisting of another walk, a visit to the tasting rooms or tons of local stores (a bit overdone, but lots of people enjoy them), reading in the sun, or a nap if you bicycled all morning and had wine for lunch (sorry, not sorry).


Then: sunset.

It’s a notable event every day in Carmel (as long as the Marine Layer—fog—doesn’t stick around all day). Everyone heads to the beach, dogs and wine and snacks in tow, and celebrates the sun dropping into the Pacific. Drinks, dinner, sleep, wake up, repeat.

Perfection.

Further Afield:

Carmel is close to Monterey, which is a bit busier and more touristy (Aquarium, etc.).  Carmel Valley, about 5-6 miles from Carmel-by-the-Sea, is becoming a destination as well, filled with winery tasting rooms and a small collection of bars and restaurants. Point Lobos is also a short hop from downtown Carmel, and a great place to walk or hike to check out the spectacular views. And Big Sur is only about 20 miles away. Lunch at the nearby Post Ranch Inn is never a bad idea.  Within 20-30 minutes outside of Carmel, you have access to incredible places and some of the best California coastline.

Hotels:

If, like us, the invite to stay with the Hendersons doesn’t come through, there are tons of Air BnB’s/VRBO, and lots of hotel choices. We’ve tried nearly all of them, and they could all use a little of the updating that, due to demand, they haven’t really needed to do.

  • L’Auberge Carmel has a great location about four blocks off the beach, and an interior courtyard. Make sure to request rooms 28 and 30 (in that order).
  • The Carriage House Inn is a fan favorite—cozy and in a great location, with no awful bedspreads.
  • Cypress Inn is a quaint mainstay and very dog-friendly.
  • La Playa has spectacular gardens and outdoor spaces, but needs an update.
  • You can also stay at Pebble Beach if you prefer, but make sure to spend enough time in Carmel—it really is a gem.

Restaurant Favorites:

  • The gold standard is Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel. It’s a little more formal, but the most quality meal in town.
  • Seventh and Dolores for steak (though service is sometimes spotty).
  • Cantinetta Luca (owned by the Aubergine owners) and its sister, Salumeria Luca, if you want to pick up goodies for a picnic on the beach or in your courtyard.
  • La Bicylette for pizza and other great dishes.
  • L’Escargot, a local French favorite.
  • Grasing’s, which has a great bar and cocktails.
  • Casanova has an exterior courtyard that seamlessly indoor and outdoor spaces.
  • Dametra Café for something more Mediterranean.