After our time in San Francisco, we (re)packed our bags, grabbed the rental car (we had a convertible ford mustang, someone was extremely particular about this detail of the trip) and headed south along the coast to find Carmel.
Trust me when I say this place is as cute as a button, although why is that a saying, has anyone ever actually looked at a button and thought it was cute? The whole place has a European village style to it and if you want chocolate box toy town with a soul, then this is the spot for you. I mean, who doesn’t love a town where Clint Eastwood was once Mayor and still has a ranch (which we obviously had to check out but we’ll get to that later).
We rolled into town just after lunch and had a quick drive around (and I mean quick, it’s not all that big) checking out all the weird and wonderful houses before finding home for the next few days. Swiftly decamping at the Happy Landing Inn (dating back to the 1920's, its very sweet and twee but nothing fancy - homely vibes, the owner actually gave me a hug when I left), we headed out to explore and search for food (as always).
I fell in love. Now, lots of places look ‘cute’ but are often lacking something, back to that whole Disneyland feel where it’s all a bit like the Truman show and doesn’t feel as though as anyone actually lives there. But, for me at least, Carmel had all the charm without feeling like a theme park village. Grabbing a quick something in Grill on Ocean Avenue – ok but nothing to write home (or blog) about, we spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the beach, having a wander and popping in and out of shops (you’ll want to venture beyond Ocean Avenue to get a real feel for the place) before a quick turnaround for some pre dinner drinks.
Even the open signs wear flower crowns here!
Carmel is pretty laid back, so when I asked a local where was good to head to for a drink, she pointed me in the direction of AW Shucks and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We arrived at what is officially described as a ‘cocktail and oyster bar’. It’s not the kind of cocktail bar you would find in say, London and its cosy (small), but it has a hell of a selection of booze and my trusty oyster eating partner tells me the oysters are good to boot. Happy that I had finally found somewhere that served up a good g&t (tonic out of a bottle instead of a pump which is so so bad and surprisingly common on our trip so far) we settled ourselves in until it was time for dinner. If wine is you’re thing then there are loads of wineries in Carmel and they offer endless tasting sessions and teach ins. I’m a useless adult in the sense that neither coffee nor wine (unless we’re talking about something with bubbles) appeals to me so didn’t partake but it is apparently worth doing if that’s your thing.
The nice thing about being in a small town is that everything is close by so when dinner time came we just had a short stroll to La Bicyclette. I had heard only good things (and seen a bunch of envy inducing Instagram snaps) about this place so figured it was a must do whilst in town. A French inspired bistro, with super cute interiors (there is a little higgledy piggledy house inside that you can eat in) the hype is real, the food in here was ridiculously good and it had a lively atmosphere which is handy for me because I always tend to get louder and more animated as the evening goes on.
I went on a mushroom overload and had them swimming in butter to start with and then covered in truffle on a pizza. A-maz-ing. He tried out the steak and being the ultimate food sharer that he is (I’m not, you know Joey in friends…that’s me) he always sticks a little something of what he is eating on my plate for me to try and it was delicious. All the tasty meatiness without the awful chewiness you often get from badly cooked steak. We were well behaved and shared a desert of profiteroles but it was a shame really, I would have happily had a portion all to myself.
The menu changes weekly and is all locally sourced but if you’re a fan of the mushrooms and they’re on the menu…get them, they’re pretty heavy on the garlic though so be warned. Full of Frenchie goodness (well pizza is Italian but whose paying that much attention), we were done for the night and strolled back through the fairy lit town to bed.
Awake early the next morning, maybe because of jet lag, possibly because of the lack of air con and Sahara style temperatures (con of the hotel), we ventured out for a drive to make the most of the car and the coastal scenery and found ourselves at an entrance to 17 mile drive (there are a few).
The clue is somewhat in the name but the 17 miles is full of winding roads, golf courses, mega mansions and unbelievable views of the ocean. You have to pay $11 per car to cruise around but it’s worth it for the views alone and if you’re in to golf (me, not so much) then you can check out some seriously good courses (or so I’m told).
The map you get given at the gate lists 19 ‘points of interests’ ranging from vista points, beaches and club houses. We made a pit stop at all of them, finishing at Pebble Beach Golf Course which is apparently world famous but I’m not going to lie, I had never heard of it before we parked up outside. He wanted to check out the golf stuff, and I wanted to have a nose around the lodge and grab a cocktail.
All the sightseeing had rustled up an appetite so we grabbed a spot on the terrace overlooking the 18th hole and he chatted away about the US Open whilst I mostly paid no attention and checked out the menu.
Some crab cakes, salad and more US open chat later, we jumped back in the car and this time headed for Monterey.
The bay north of Carmel, Monterey is well known for its aquarium and always keen to cram some culture in to the day, we headed straight there (and paid the overly expensive $50pp entrance fee). Now I’m all for checking out some sea life and sights and the aquarium does loads of marine conservation works which is obviously important but I can’t say it was the most thrilling thing we’d done to date. There was a sweet sea otter show but that’s about as interactive as it gets and a cool jelly fish display but otherwise we both found ourselves a little bit…dare I say it…bored.
Maybe I’m being harsh but it just wasn’t my thing. Deciding we’d had about as much as we needed of checking out fish, we made our way back to Camel.
Perhaps inspired by the aquarium, the ocean called and we checked out the beach once back in town. The coastline around here is all pretty rugged and wild, it is seriously beautiful and the beach at Carmel is no exception. If you’re lucky enough and it’s the right time of year, you may even spot a whale or two. Our luck was out and we didn't.
Refreshed after all the ocean air, we hopped back in the car to check out Mission Ranch (drive down Dolores Street until you can’t get any further and you’ll find it). You know I said Clint still had a place in town, this is it. The restaurant and piano bar overlook a terrace which in turn is perched above marshland (I think…) with the sea peeping out in the distance, all very cinematic. So much so that I absolutely forgot to take any pictures, I'm good at this huh. Grabbing a drink (and checking that Mr Eastwood wasn’t in the building, he wasn’t – I’m guessing he doesn’t actually live here but does apparently drop in to the bar when he’s in town), we made our way out to the terrace to drink in the view. This is a hotel as well as a bar and restaurant so you can always stay and hope to spy Clint during your travels.
We hadn’t made any plans for dinner that night and instead had a walk around checking out restaurants as we passed. I’m sure you can agree that makes for thirsty work so we ended up ducking in to the bar at the Cypress Inn (co-owned by Doris Day if you please) to avoid dehydration and a few (ok maybe more than a few, but who’s counting here) drinks later we found ourselves in Demetra Café.
This was a funny little find, although I couldn’t fault the food, it’s a bit of an odd menu, half Greek, half American (I’m never a fan of a big menu and especially one that is having an identity crisis) but already sat down and ready for dinner we ordered. Halfway through eating a lamb kebab, a guy busted out from behind a curtain strumming on a little guitar and everyone clapped along (not me, too busy eating aforementioned kebab and a little bemused as to what was going on), I’m guessing for a semi Greek inspired dining experience. I’m not sure I would hurry back but I can’t say it was bad exactly in fact the lamb was super tasty, the whole thing was just a little peculiar.
Chatting away about plans for the following day, we were undecided if we should go whale watching or not. It wasn’t something we had thought about before but a lady at the hotel had mentioned it was worth doing whilst in town (I’m forever chatting away to people and asking what is good to do). I wasn’t so keen in case it was a wasted few hours at sea without spotting anything but he was up for it so we decided that we would check it out before driving the Big Sur the following afternoon. Plans in place and ready to turn in we headed back to the hotel (OK, we may have made a detour for a quick night cap but come on now, we were on holiday after all).
I'd love to visit again and maybe try out L'Auberge, the Hideaway or Cypress Inn for somewhere to stay and continue to roam around explore all the secret streets.
Ready for a spot of whale watching and adventures down the Big Sur next?