Tour de Northern California: Carmel-by-the-Sea

With Napa in the rearview mirror, I was excited to head south and explore the beautiful Northern California Coast. Everyone told me to stay in Carmel, but in my opinion (never been there, really had no idea), Carmel was cute, manicured, and probably just as over the top perfect as Yountville. Been there, done that, over it. I longed for a cliff side cabin, overlooking the dark sea with her waves crashing into the shore hundreds of feet below….dark, lonely, eerie, rugged. Everything Yountville was not. While trying to make our Big Sur plans about a week out,  I found that every single hotel room and cabin in Big Sur was completely booked (PCH exploration is popular in the fall) except for the legendary Post Ranch Inn, which was a startling $700 a night (starting price). I almost splurged on a one night surprise stay, but then came back to reality (Brittany, you are not rich, you did not just spend three weeks in Napa on vacation, you were working, your company paid for it, you are not rich). Okay, plan B.

We decided to head south sans a hotel reservation and agreed we would find a place along the way. We weren’t sure where we would end up, but with Monterey being so close, we had a last resort if we found ourselves homeless by midnight.

And then… we arrived… in Carmel…Carmel-by-the-Sea.                                                                      (space for dramatic, isn’t she beautiful sigh) I was a much mistaken and improperly presumptuous little lady who was happy to swallow her words the minute she stepped one ballet flat out of the vehicle. Where are we? Carmel was the most perfect place I had ever seen. Oh my, I fell hard for the charming little city by the sea. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, please do yourself the favor. The town was established in 1916 and their general plan was “a village, in a forest, overlooking a white sand beach”, and that it is. It’s a cozy little village surrounded by big, old trees, and overlooks a beautiful, sandy beach. There are no street lights, parking meters, or street numbers….that’s correct, there are no addresses to any of the homes, businesses, or cottages of Carmel. It’s magical. Every I time I turned my head turned came another, “ohmygoshssss, loooook, (hugedramaticsigh) is this reallllll?” I felt like I’d just left California, USA behind and entered another world, a fairy tale in a forest, overlooking the sea.

It was a chilly, gray day and we decided to explore the 1.1 square mile village at our leisure. I fell in love with the dutch doors which every business and home boasts and tiny art galleries, boutiques, book stores, and restaurants fill the town. About twenty minutes into our stroll we stumbled upon an adorable white painted wooden sign that read, “Casa de Carmel Inn” in forest green paint. It was charming and welcoming and I wanted it so, so badly. We walked into the small lobby and were told that there was one room available, sold to the girl with the curls! We got to choose from a bottle of red or white wine (bonus!), took our keys, unloaded our luggage in the room, and then stepped back out in the cool, salty air to find some beer and an appetizer. We knew we wanted a cozy, lively bar with cold beer and fresh oysters and we found just that up the street at A.W Shucks. We lucked out by walking in when there were exactly two seats available (yessss) which happened to be at the bar (awesome), at the end (amazing?), and at the window overlooking town (well this day was made for us). We had some good drinks, better eats, and finally got to unwind after a long day. Next we headed to rooftop bar, Vesuvio, where we lounged on a plush couch, under a warm heater, and toasted to a perfect day. We had a dinner reservation later that evening at the endlessly enchanting PortaBella, but by the time we got to our room we decided after a long travel day that pajamas and pizza sounded like a dream. Portabella is the type of restaurant where you want to enjoy an extra glass or three of unnecessary wine and 5 minute between each bite dessert to savor every single second of your special evening. It wasn’t happening that night. But will on my next visit. Which will be very soon. I really hope.

In the morning, as I sat on the bed enjoying the cool, thick ocean air coming through the open top door (love those dutchies), a woman approached with a wicker basket filled with hot quiche, 2 hard boiled eggs, fresh cheese danishes from the bakery down the street, fruit, and San Pellegrino Aranciata (is this real life?). After breakfast we walked to the ocean and then got ready, packed the car, and made our way a few miles south to Point Lobos State Park for some fun hiking and incredible views. It was a great start to another amazing day on the Tour de Northern California and more fun was awaiting as we began our journey down the most famous stretch of road in the US.

TdNC: Pacific Coast Highway…coming soon