Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Magical Carmel

After the hustle and bustle of Disney, Carmel {and al fresco pesto!} was just what the doctor ordered!

From the Orange County airport, we hopped a quick flight to San Jose, and then rented a car for the 1.5 hour drive to tiny, beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea.  We stayed in a fantastic Air BNB {the current list price is a bit higher than what we paid} - 3B/3B with oceans views, one block from the beach, super charming décor, everything you could possibly need in the kitchen, and a quick {albeit uphill} walk to the downtown district. I cannot recommend it more {and Carmel, in general} if you're hankering for a NoCal escape. I ended up sleeping on the couch for several nights {due in equal parts to a wicked case of strep throat and the unfettered access to HGTV programming} with the windows thrown wide open to the sound of the waves -- throat plague aside, it was glooooorious.

I'd traveled to Carmel & Big Sur with my parents and aunt in college, but it happened to be the summer I was weaning off of large doses of anti-anxiety medication, and I was an absolute hell-bitch the entire time {#selfawareness}. I remember how beautiful that part of the country is but definitely did not fully appreciate my surroundings at the time... so I'm pretty pleased I got a Do Over!

We had four full days in Carmel which ended up being perfect.  The kiddos and I spent the first morning exploring the beach while E worked.  It was quite windy and the water was freezing, but those nuggets cared not!  They adored wading in the waves, climbing "sand mountains," making sandcastles with Solo cups, and watching all the surfers.

We hit up the Monterrey Aquarium on Day 2 {which I'm pretty sure is the only thing I was appropriately impressed with during the Paxilpocalypse of 2004}. We were there right when the doors opened at 10am {buy tickets online to avoid a line} and absolutely delighted in hours spent strolling amongst the sea life.  I could watch the jellies all day long, and we all loved the sea otters {definitely catch the daily feeding demonstration -- and get to the tank 10 minutes early so the little ones can get a front row view}.  We took a lunch break at the sit-down restaurant inside the aquarium; we supped with a perfect view of the bay and binoculars to spot sea lions, pelicans, dolphins, and otters {the food in the buffet café also looked pretty good!}.

Outside the Harrison Memorial Public Library

Day 3 was spent hiking along the coastline at Point Lobos State Nature Reserve.  Y'all know how much we love our National and State Parks, and this one does not disappoint. Every single vantage point is breathtakingly picture perfect.  We saw sea lions and all sorts of marine birds, explored tide pools, marveled at the wildflowers, and stuck our toes in the sand after the steep hike down to Gibson Beach. We used the All Trails app to plan our route: We parked in the lot near the trailhead to Sea Lion Point, looped around that trail as well as Sand Hill Trail, then took the South Shore Trail all the way down to Gibson Beach and the Bird Island Trail, then back again.  This gave us some decent mileage at an "Easy" skill level {although there was much climbing and jumping on rocks to view the tidepools and the stairs down to Gibson Beach are ridiculously steep and narrow}: L hiked the entire way by herself with minimal whining while B walked half / pack-rode half.

with the "cha-cha ladies" at Carmel Bakery
When we planned this trip, we initially intended to hike in Big Sur a bit, but all the heavy rains washed away a bridge portion of Hwy 1 that links Carmel to Big Sur... So we spent our last full day, just meandering around Carmel.  We took a big morning walk along Scenic Road right along the beach and then played at Forest Hills park before lunch. We toyed around with the idea of checking out Pebble Beach but just didn't make it over there... Although I have on good authority the bagpipers on the lawn at Spanish Bay is an excellent way to audibly enjoy happy hour hor d'oeuvres.

We ate very well in Carmel -- I always love having a short-term rental so we can cook "at home," but we also enjoyed three fabulous dinners and one incredible lunch, as well as three separate bakery expeditions.  Terry's Lounge is the restaurant inside the Cypress Inn owned by Doris Day.  Sand dabs and artichokes on the patio under the watchful eye of Charlie Chaplin hit the spot after a day at the beach! Dametra Café is a Trip Advisor Top 5 Restaurant and was recommended to us by multiple peeps -- and boy, did it deliver!  Legit Mediterranean food + Greek music and impromptu dancing -- plus they treated our minions like royalty even though they were being tiny assholes for the majority of this particular meal. Treehouse Café is another great Mediterranean spot, and the patio really is up in the tree tops -- for a place with such pleasant weather, Carmel doesn't have tons and tons of patio restaurants, so this was a welcome outdoor dining experience. Le Bicyclette is French with a brick pizza oven and an adorable interior which pleased all parties involved for lunch. A friend {hi Monica!} recommended the chocolate mousse which apparently is as big as your head... Sadly, we were stuffed beyond the point of return and passed on dessert; I am still regretting this.  Carmel Bakery wasn't a total standout by any means but acted as a solid destination for our nightly vacation sugar fix. We never made it past our own kitchen for breakfast, but I was instructed Katy's will check that box for you quite nicely.

One small note on Carmel + Kids... There's a whoooooole lotta retirees in Carmel. Waitstaff and store clerks were beyond kind and considerate toward our spawn, but I definitely noticed some stink-faces shot in our direction and in the direction of other families with kids at several restaurants by other patrons.  I am never under the delusion that my children are perfect angels and damn, if I don't also dislike a rowdy gremlin disturbing my Adult Meals, but we don't take our brood to kid-inappropriate places, we make our reservations before 6pm, we bring quiet activities for them to do while we wait, and they are generally well-accustomed to dining out... Just be aware that there are some cranky Carmelians who apparently like their Early Bird Specials to have the atmosphere of a tomb.

No Stink-Faces in Thinker Toys!

I won't end on a sour note as Carmel-by-the-Sea will seriously charm you {and your unruly heathens!} from start to finish -- put it on your Travel Wish List immediately! 


  1. I always enjoy your vacation recaps. AND i totally empathize with your 2004 anxiety med wean. I tapered off of Cymbalta about 2 years ago when we began our fertility journey and it was so so terrible. Talk about brain zaps!

  2. Carmel is the cutest town! My in-laws took us in 2014 and we stayed at the Inn at Spanish Bay and the bagpiper was fabulous! I love sleeping w the windows open and how cute the town is.

  3. Beautiful! The weather you got is uncanny! I recently moved to the region (well kind of.. I consider NorNevada/NorCal similar being that I've lived the past 32 years on the East Coast). Anyway, the weather has been AWFUL in all of NorCal the past two winters due to a El Ninos (or maybe just climate change). We are super grateful that the drought is over but to see consistently blue skies like in your photos is utterly UNHEARD OF. SO, you guys hit the jack pot! Congrats!

  4. Gorgeous photos! We vacation in Carmel at least once a year since its an easy and short trip for us. We went a lot more before kids for the very stink-eye reason you mentioned. It such a fun place for the whole family, but family-friendly dinning is what it lacks. Anyway, glad you all had a fun vacation!

  5. My parents used to rent a house each summer in Carmel. You hit some great spots! Katy's is definitely my fave breakfast spot.
    Reunioning there in October with my college roommates and your recap has me daydreaming!

  6. Totally agree on the crank-pants old people. We took our three kiddos up there and it was OH YOU HAVE YOUR HANDS FULL comments or the stank face please don't sit near us at the restaurant. Looking forward to going back sans kids, mostly so I can enjoy the area more too!


happy little comments!