Carmel-by-the-Sea is one of those storybook towns that is almost too charming to be true. Nestled along California's Monterey Peninsula, Carmel has this otherworldly sensibility enhanced by the English-like, fairy tale cottages, the abundance of local artists, an iconic beach and of course, the shopping. I recently drove down to Carmel, from the Bay Area, for a quick, 36 hour getaway that included tranquil walks along the picturesque Carmel Beach and Ocean Avenue, rest and relaxation at Hotel Carmel and plenty of holiday shopping at my new favorite, Carmel Plaza.
WHERE TO STAY:
Hotel Carmel couldn't be more perfect for a short stay in Carmel. Located just two blocks from downtown, this snug boutique hotel is as charming as it looks. Checking into the cozy lobby gave me all kinds of good vibes with it's adorable breakfast nook, living area with board games and a full cassette tape library! I'm ready to kick back and stay awhile. Outside, an intimate courtyard garden, with a cozy fireplace, is surrounded by modestly appointed rooms, most of which have inviting balconies, perfect for a bottle of wine and a book.
WHERE TO SHOP:
Right in the heart of downtown Carmel, on the corner Ocean Avenue and Mission Street, is Carmel Plaza, home to a wonderful collection of unique boutiques, gourmet food and wine shops, incredible restaurants and a bevy of community events and experiences. I loved spending my day there, meeting shop owners that are so passionate about what they do and reflect the essence of Carmel's laid back and charming village-like feel. Here were some of my favorites.
HOUSE OF CARDOON
After traveling all over the world as a buyer for Pottery Barn, Nora Lee Cavallaro was inspired to eventually relocate to Carmel from San Francisco and open her own concept boutique, House of Cardoon. The wonderfully curated and eclectic boutique exudes every bit of Nora's self proclaimed British-Francophile-Mexican-bohemian sensibility. Each treasure has a story behind it and if you're lucky enough to hang around for awhile, you'll get Nora to share them with you. Expect to find colorful, custom made leather chairs from Guatemala, candy-like stacking bracelets from Texas, hand knit metallic pouches from Paris, jewel-toned, lacquered brush pots from London, and whimsical art by California-based artists, including Nora herself. You won't wanna miss this gem - it's a feast for the eyes!
THE CHEESE SHOP
A trip to The Cheese Shop is an experience and a warning: you might never want to leave. After all, the purveyors of some of the best cheeses, wine and gourmet foods in the world have been doing this since 1973. Stop in to taste all the cheeses and if you have some extra time, head to the back of the shop where you can post up to a small, rustic bar to enjoy a tasting flight - one of which will never be like another. The gregarious and well-educated staff adds to the pure enjoyment of this institution.
You won't need to look further than Lala Blues for all your vintage denim needs. In addition to the wholesome stock of 501 Levis and Wranglers, you can find a well-curated collection of Ralph Lauren blazers, vintage college sweatshirts and even a stunning sequined dress for any of your upcoming holiday fêtes.
YEAST OF EDEN
If you love beer - in fact, even if you don't love beer, you must post up at Yeast of Eden for a bite and a brew. Allured by the limitless potential of beer made with wild and naturally occurring yeasts, J.C. Hill and Andrew Rose founded Yeast of Eden, a restaurant, rub and experimental lab for all kinds of exciting mixed fermentation beers. On an average day, you might witness Yeast of Eden's open fermentation process behind glass windows or find yourself intoxicated by the scent of fresh apricots or raspberries being added to the fermentation process. The food is equally impressive - most everything on the menu is Southeast Asian or Latin influenced and the perfect bold compliments to their wonderfully tart and unique beers. Don't miss the spicy beer vermecelli, pork belly bao and churros!
The beach has an undeniable calming effect, it's no wonder so many of us fantasize about living near it or at second best, bring it into our homes. Beachwood Home encapsulates everything we love about the ocean - it's colors, textures and scents. This coastal inspired boutique curates a beautiful collection of linens, decorative accents, candles, jewelry and oh so chic souvenirs. I fell in love with some of their oversized coral objects in gorgeous blue hues, seaglass tassel necklaces and hand-painted driftwood ornaments by a local artist.
- Carmel Honey Company: 14-year old Jake Reisdorf founded Carmel Honey Company after being inspired by a 5th grade homework assignment. His project was the catalyst for his interest in bees and eventually his own honey business. Not only is the locally harvest raw honey incredible delicious, Jake gives back to the community by providing honey bee talks to local schools and donating to organizations that specialize in honey bee research and conservation efforts. Be prepared to leave inspired by this young man and his passion for bees and honey.
- Cos Bar: If you avoid makeup counters at department stores as I do, then Cos Bar is for you. This luxury cosmetics boutique has everything you might find in your favorite department store but without any of intimidation and pressure.
- Roller Rabbit: I've been a fan of Roberta Freyman's Roller Rabbit as far back as when her Upper East boutique was one of New York's best kept secret. More than a decade later, Roller Rabbit's global inspired clothing, iconic pajamas and housewares can be found in 13 locations around the country.
- Land and Sea Golf: You can't possibly visit Carmel without being prepared to play golf or get your feet wet in the ocean. Land and Sea Golf is the perfect place for all things related to golf and surf . . . and then some, like hiking and travel. One of the coolest things they do is personalize a forged ball mark with hand-embossed letters. A sweet token to remember your time in Carmel.
More Places to Eat . . .
- Cultura: This downtown bistro boasts inventive Oaxacan-Mexican dishes and an impressive list of mezcals and tequilas. I stopped by for dinner and LOVED the simplicity yet complexity of the butter lettuce salad with jalapeño dressing. Also, on the seasonal menu is the chili relleno with kobocha squash, sage, and walnut crema. Deliciousa!
- Brophy's Tavern: If you're looking for something a little more laid back, be sure to stop by Brophy's Tavern for a pint and some fish and chips. And if you're staying at Hotel Carmel, you won't have to travel far to experience it, as it's right next door to the hotel lobby!
- Stationaery: Locals love Stationaery, an intimate 34 seat breakfast, lunch and coffee spot that sources most of their ingredients from Monterey and Santa Cruz County farms and ranches. Get the chilaquiles and the Mexican hot chocolate!
- Lula's Chocolates: Sea salt caramels coated in gourmet chocolate. Enough said.