Carmel by the Sea is located south of San Francisco and in the Monterey Peninsula. It is a California city of European charms that has not changed much in the past 50 years due to severe city ordinances that strive to keep the natural habit as true as possible. Signs cannot exceed a certain size and are typically made of wood materials. Local businesses support one another and chain restaurants are not allowed; in fact, they do not even have a Starbucks, though their many other local coffee shops fill the needs of the locals and tourists better than Starbucks ever could. This is an incredibly tight knit community that is currently celebrating their 100th year anniversary and we loved visiting it in March.
Carmel by the Sea has a stunning beach, upscale restaurants and shops, wine tasting rooms, antique stores, and an overload of art galleries (more than 80 one-of-a-kind incredible art stores). The homes and hotels resemble enchanted fairy-tale cottages more so than typical houses and buildings. European-inspired gardens are found on every property along with the most unique flowers. Carmel by the Sea is in close proximity to Big Sur, Pebble Beach, and Monterey so there is a plethora of things to see and do.
Where We Stayed
During my most recent trip to Carmel by the Sea, my daughter, Taylor, and I were hosted by the Hofsas House, a lovely hotel within walking distance of downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea. In only 4-5 minutes, you can be in the center of town for dinner, shopping, or wine tasting. The Hofsas House is a family business, now owned by Carrie Theis, her mother, and brother, passed down from her grandmother. This beautiful hotel has been in their family for 6 centuries. Since Carrie is warm, welcoming, and has a charming personality, it is no wonder that her hotel is so popular. Also it is pink, so you cannot miss it.
The Hofsas House Hotel walls are hand painted in Bavarian murals and themes by local artist Maxine Albro, who also did the whimsical prints in the lobby. The 4 story, 38 room hotel has charming rooms with modern conveniences including a mix of marble-topped antiques and furniture, a super comfy bed, and functional kitchenette. Hofsas House offers free continental breakfast, WIFI, and on-site parking. Their 80° pool is heated, open year round, and has views of the ocean, located only 8 blocks away. They are also pet-friendly, which is a big plus in my book.
The extra touches really set this business apart and the ones that impressed me the most were the fact that Hofsas House offers their guests binoculars for their nature or beach walks, umbrellas in the event of rain, Dutch doors for enjoying the climate, and our room even had a heated bathroom floor. If you are not familiar with the geographical location of Carmel, it gets cold. Very cold. In fact during our March visit, it was 45° at night. Our hotel room had a wood-burning fireplace which we loved. It also had a wet bar and small kitchen. Best yet, they also left us a mouth-watering hunk of triple creme and cheddar cheeses plus crackers from the Cheese Shop, a chef’s mecca for over 30 years. We were also treated to a taste of the Holman Ranch’s Chardonnay wine.
What is Carmel by the Sea Like?
A neat thing about Carmel by the Sea is that they do not have physical addresses but instead use the streets the place is between. For example, the Hofsas House address is between 3rd and 4th Streets and San Carlos. There are plenty of adorable stores offering Christmas knacks, gifts, souvenirs, hardware, home furnishings, jewelry, apparel, and toys. A thriving art community is the star of Carmel as they have dozens of galleries including Thomas Kincade, Dr. Seuss, Richard MacDonald, and Wyland.
Carmel by the Sea’s scenery is so beautiful that you will be overjoyed. I have never seen such a huge variety of flowers anywhere that I have traveled. I was constantly taking photographs at nearly every house, inn, and local business. The frame of trees are equally as gorgeous and this is a very green city. The beach is only a few blocks away so you can easily visit a deli (such as the 5th Avenue Deli) and pick up your gourmet picnic lunch to take over to the beach and enjoy. Try their fantastic curry chicken salad or their homemade quiche. They also offer beer, wine, soup, and salad bar. Fabulous!
Our Fabulous Breakfast
Although breakfast was provided by our hotel, we opted to visit Katy’s Place “a Carmel tradition” because on my trip 10 years prior, I had eaten at Katy’s and was still thinking about the delicious benedict I had. We arrived to find a long wait at the door, but we weathered the wait and rain to be seated at the bar, where we could watch the food being prepared. Katy’s Place stays super busy and the staff is very efficient at handling the large crowds. I could not keep from staring in awe at the grace in which this operation runs; every item came out looking picture perfect. Taylor had the Katy’s Combo (pancakes with eggs and bacon) and I chose the Santa Fe Benedict, one of the 20 benedicts on the menu. We both loved every bite of out meals. Katy’s is open for breakfast and lunch daily 7Am-2PM. Heads up, they only accept cash.
Our Fun Side Trip
One day, Taylor and I explored Monterey, including Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name. There are dozens of cheesy touristy things to do in the area, including the Spirit of Monterey Wax Museum, Doc Wentzel’s Old Time Portraits, miniature golf, and the Monterey Mirror Maze and Lazer Challenge. We were limited in our activity because it rained steadily the entire time we were there, but that was a good thing in this drought stricken vicinity. In fact, this was my first time in a place where water was such a commodity and it really made me aware of my usage.
Monterey is a marine sanctuary that is home to over 350 kinds of fish, 100 different plants, seals, sea otters, and turtles with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. Kayaking, fishing, and other water activities are popular. Monterey Bay is also one of the world’s premier cold water scuba diving destinations. Located near the waterfront is the stunning monument, dedicated in February 2014. It depicts Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck immortalized at Cannery Row with 8 other figures including a Chinese fisherman, 4 entrepreneurs, and Ed Rickett’s, known as the “father of marine biology”. The tiny plants around the monument are so pretty and ones that I had never seen before.
Carmel by the Sea’s Upscale Eateries
For dinner, Taylor and I ate at The Grill on Ocean Avenue, a restaurant of globally influenced California cuisine. Upon arrival, we opted for a mango margarita and peach Bellini. The Grill on Ocean Avenue’s bibb lettuce and gorgonzola salad is outrageously good (it even has currants and sweet pecans) and the service is remarkable. I liked the tasteful decor which was artsy and sophisticated, but not a bit overdone. See the full review here.
The Wine Offerings
Since this is wine country, a fun activity you can do at your leisure is the Carmel Wine Walk-by-the-Sea. You purchase a wine-tasting passport that consists of a tiny plastic case with 9 coupons inside as well as a map of the participating locations. Each coupon is redeemable for a wine flight tasting (4 pours) at any of the 14 tasting rooms, including De Tierra Vineyards, Wrath Tasting Room, and Silvestri. We only had the opportunity to tour one tasting room, Caraccioli Cellars, but we had a blast. Their top-tier grapes come from the Santa Lucia Highlands and the wines were all wonderful, my favorite being the rose Pinot. Our hostess was knowledgable and attentive. I loved the feel and look of Caraccioli Cellars, very medieval meets minimalist. Great news, the passport coupons never expire so you do not have to use them all at once. The plastic case design is super clever; we were impressed. Retail price for the passport is $65 and it is s a $90 value.
Another Epic Visit to Carmel by the Sea
Taylor and I loved our visit to Carmel by the Sea, complete with its enchanted village storybook feel. It was my second visit and I learned so many new facts about this cool community as well as sampled delicious eats and wine. Taylor was surprised how quaint and woodsy the town was considering their upscale reputation. The laid back charm of Carmel by the Sea is apparent from the moment you reach the town and you will feel relaxed and comfortable in any setting. They are most welcoming and I hope you can get over there to celebrate their 100th birthday with them. No, Clint Eastwood is no longer the mayor, but there are still dozens of reasons to drop by.
Have you ever been to California’s wine country?
Fun Fact: Hofsas House artist Maxine Albro painted murals side by side with Diego Rivera in San Francisco.
FYI: If you purchase your Monterey Bay Aquarium ticket from the Hofsas House, you actually get a 2-day pass admission ticket for the price of one.