California is known for its coast. From the Oregon border to the Mexican one, the state’s beautiful beaches are famous throughout the world. But the towns behind them are just as picturesque, and the prettiest of all is Carmel-by-the-Sea.
My family spent countless weekends in Carmel—as it’s called for short—when I was growing up. The town’s location just two hours south of San Francisco made it easy to go for a night. But I haven’t been to Carmel in years, and on this trip I’m eager to explore the treasure trove from my childhood.
My mother and I wake up early and hop in her car to drive south for a little Northern California road trip. We arrive in Carmel mid-morning and are greeted by the little chocolate box of a village full of shops, restaurants, and boutiques. The main street from which everything radiates is Ocean Avenue, and we park there, ready for some shopping.
Carmel is famous for its boutiques, from art galleries full of pretty glass things to specialty shops selling everything from teapots to Alice in Wonderland paraphernalia. In fact, as we make our way down Ocean Avenue, I start to feel like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole and made my way back to Britain.
Everywhere I look, there are quaint thatched roof cottages and shops selling teacups with Peter Rabbit and Will and Kate on them. By the time we get to the beach at the bottom of the street, the fog has rolled in and I feel like I’m at the seaside on a cold summer day in southern England. Curiouser and curiouser.
Back up the hill, we duck our heads into a few more boutiques, Elizabeth W being a particular highlight, before making our way to the famous Carmel Plaza shopping center at the top. Luxury goods stores surround a sunken garden, and we walk past Tiffany and Bottega Veneta before exploring the fountains and flowers below.
All the shopping makes us thirsty, and we deicide to quench our thirst in nearby Carmel Valley. A few minutes’ drive from Ocean Avenue is Chateau Julien winery, the only active winery in the area. We try some wines in their spacious tasting room, then head farther inland to Carmel Valley Village. The road there is surrounded on both sides by wine tasting rooms and restaurants, all of which are housed in buildings that look like they’ve come straight out of an old Western movie.
We taste wines at Cima Collina, which is housed in a historic 19th century creamery that later became a post office and stagecoach stop. There we learn that Carmel Valley Village is home to 19 wine tasting rooms representing wineries from all over Monterey County.
Heading back to the sea, we check into our hotel for the night, Tradewinds Carmel, where a complimentary room has been arranged for us by Visit California.
The rooms—which have been featured in Architectural Digest—surround a pretty garden with lush greenery and flowing fountains. Ours is decorated in contemporary east-meets-west decor, with accented pillows and a little bamboo fountain of our own.
After we settle in, we head a few blocks back into town for dinner at Cantinetta Luca. The Italian restaurant has invited us for dinner that evening, and we dine on heavenly burrata with olive oil and sea salt, golden balls of arancini, and a delicious cocoa pappardelle with wild boar sausage and mushrooms. Dessert is a chocolate hazelnut torta, and it leaves us divinely full.
It also leaves us ready to start the next leg of our Northern California road trip, which takes us just north to Carmel’s neighbor, Monterey. To be continued…