Galleries, boutiques, and a dog beach enliven this quaint former artist’s colony.
Carmel-by-the-Sea can seem merely quaint at first glance, with its storybook cottages and meandering tree-lined streets. Give it a little time, and this former artist’s colony on the Central Coast reveals richer charms. There’s a colorful history behind those whimsical houses, for example. One was designed by architect Hugh Comstock in the 1920s to store his wife’s rag doll collection. Another began life as a loom shop and later served as the ticket booth for the town’s playhouse. (It’s now a candy shop.) Stroll the beach or the trails at Point Lobos, just to the south, and you’ll see why Carmel continues to inspire so many artists and photographers. Examples of their work abound in the town’s many galleries. Carmel Visitor Center, San Carlos between Fifth and Sixth avenues, (800) 550-4333 or 624-2522, carmelcalifornia.org. Or try Carmel’s official travel site: carmelcalifornia.com. Area code is 831 except as noted.
Carmel’s elegant boutique shops along Ocean Avenue offer everything from haute couture to $1,000 fountain pens. But before you plunge in with your credit card, take the historic walking tour. Maps are available at the Visitor Center. For a good overview of the work of local artists, check out Carmel Art Association, the nation’s second oldest artist cooperative. Dolores Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, 624-6176, carmelart.org. Ocean Avenue drops steeply down to Carmel Beach, a long crescent of white sand where people and off-leash dogs frolic. Nearby Point Lobos State Natural Reserve offers some of the most stunning views of wind-sculpted Monterey cypresses anywhere along California’s dramatic coast. Route 1, Carmel, 624-4909, pointlobos.org. A fascinating mix of multimillion-dollar homes, from ornate cottages to a modernist glass box, line Carmel’s Scenic Drive. The Walker Residence, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, perches on the rocks at Carmel Point. To the south stands Tor House, built out of local stone by the poet Robinson Jeffers. Guided tours of Tor House on Fridays and Saturdays. 624-1813, torhouse.org.
Dogs have it made in canine-friendly Carmel. Many shops and inns welcome them with water bowls at the door. No place is friendlier than the Cypress Inn, co-owned by Doris Day. Dog owners include their pet’s name in their registries. An appropriate-size dog bed and treats await when they arrive. Lincoln and Seventh Avenues, 624-3871, cypress-inn.com. The charming Tudor-style 48-unit Normandy Inn offers a heated pool amid brilliant flower garden, right in the heart of Carmel’s shopping district. Monte Verde Street and Ocean Avenue 624-3825, normandyinncarmel.com. Almost all of the 20 rooms at the Carmel Fireplace Inn have fireplaces, a welcome feature on cool coastal nights. San Carlos Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, 624-4862, fireplaceinncarmel.com. The 35 rooms at Svendsgaard’s Inn, some with whirlpool baths, are arranged around lovely gardens and a swimming pool. Fourth Avenue and San Carlos Street, 624-1511, innsbythesea.com/svendsgaard.
Regulars keep coming back to the Flying Fish Grill for the won ton chips and ginger salsa, followed by Asian-inspired seafood dishes such as halibut with fermented Chinese black beans. Mission between Ocean and Seventh Avenues, 625-1962, restauranteur.com/flyingfishgrill. There’s always a crowd for brunch at Village Corner, where favorites include Mediterranean omelets, fluffy buttermilk pancakes, and yogurt parfaits with granola and fresh berries. Dolores Street and Sixth Avenue, 624-3588, villagercornerbistro.com/villagecorner. Despite its name, the Forge in the Forest is just a few blocks off Ocean Avenue (Carmel’s main street), with ample patio seating for warm summer evenings and a wide-ranging menu that includes spicy fish soup and ancho chile grilled pork loin. Corner of Fifth Avenue and Junipero Street, 624-2233, forgeintheforest.com. Casanova features a vast wine list and lovingly-prepared Italian dishes and French dishes. Fifth Avenue between San Carlos and Mission Streets, 625-0510, casanovarestaurant.com.
Photography by David H. Collier
This article was first published in February 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call head to verify information.
Check out the rest of our Monterey Peninsula package:
Carmel Valley: award-winning wineries and sunny weather
Monterey: the Monterey Bay Aquarium and more
Pacific Grove: Victorian homes and a lively main street
Pebble Beach: golf courses, fine dining, and 17-Mile Drive
Seaside and Sand City: sweet beaches and a happening art scene