Thursday, 21 June 2012
Text and photos by Carole Terwilliger Meyers
A well-established getaway destination, Carmel is best known for its specialty shops, cozy lodgings, and picturesque white sand beach. Carmel is also known for the things it doesn’t have.
No street signs, streetlights, parking meters, or buildings over two-stories high are allowed in town. No sidewalks, curbs, or house numbers are found in the residential sections.
These absent items help Carmel keep its village ambiance.
Lodgings are plentiful and varied, and many are family-owned and -operated. If you like to park your car and walk everywhere, pick a spot in town that is close to Ocean Avenue--the main street.
On my recent two-night visit, I stayed at Hofsas House, a German-style motel with half-timbered exterior.
While many inns here are very expensive, this one offers some bargain rates, spacious rooms, and a huge family suite that can sleep six.
All rooms feature Dutch doors, allowing you to open the top half to catch a sea breeze. A heated pool and two dry saunas are available, and a light breakfast of pastries, fruit, yogurt, and hot drinks is included.
Staying here, permits walking to endless diversions. We strolled the narrow passages of the intriguing Secret Garden and browsed the adjoining Pilgrim’s Way Books shop.
We stopped in at several art galleries, including an old favorite, Cajun artist George Rodrigue’s pop art blue dog gallery, and a new discovery, LuLu’s--the only gallery in the U.S. that specializes in the traditional 2,800-year-old art form of silk art from Suzhou, China (it is like fine embroidery, and each piece takes a year to make).
For dinner, we discovered Mundaka just a few blocks away. With a casual yet stylish atmosphere that includes lively background music and a DJ some nights, this place let us dine on a satisfying meal of tapas-bravas (fried potatoes), gambas (shrimp with heads on, cooked in white wine and garlic), boquerones (white anchovies drenched in luscious olive oil), coliflor (cauliflower baked with horseradish and Gruyere), and datiles (bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese and almonds). We ended the feast with gingibre (fresh ginger cake) and a pot of Moroccan mint tea prepared each day with fresh mint and served in an ornate tea pot.
Next morning, it was refreshing to walk down to Carmel Beach to wiggle our toes in the superfine white sand it is so famous for. Then we strolled back through the residential area to admire houses and flower. Back in town, we browsed yet more unique shops specializing in everything from music boxes to items that provide a chuckle.
Because it is a little farther away, we drove to the Carmel Mission. Father Junipero Serra established it in 1770 and used it as his headquarters for managing the entire chain of missions. He is buried here at the foot of the altar. Because the development of Carmel came after Monterey (which is famous for its adobes), this is the only historic adobe in Carmel.
Nearby, in a shopping center just across Highway 1, the bright, airy Rio Grill is known for its Southwestern/Mexican-style dishes and is a reliable workhorse for anything from a snack to a full meal. For lunch, we dined on the delicious signature roasted artichoke appetizer, scrumptious tri-tip empanadas, and a poblano pepper stuffed with a creative veggie mix.
A menu of creative, made-from-scratch margaritas includes the basic as well as the special - a blood orange version with chili syrup. This excursion just touches the surface of the pleasures of Carmel. While here, start a list of what you will do when you return.
- Hofsas House: San Carlos St./4th Ave., (800) 221-2548, (831) 624-2745; www.hofsashouse.com.
- The Secret Garden and Pilgrim’s Way Books: Dolores St./5th Ave., (800) 549-9922, (831) 624-4955; www.pilgrimsway.com.
- Rodrigue Studio: 6th Ave./Dolores St., (831) 626-4444; www.georgerodrigue.com.
- LuLu Silk Art Gallery: Mission/5th, (831) 620-1122; www.lulusilkartgallery.com.
- Mundaka San Carlos St., betw. Ocean Ave. & 7th Ave., (831) 624-7400; www.mundakacarmel.com.
- Carmel Mission: 3080 Rio Rd., (831) 624-3600; www.carmelmission.org.
- Rio Grill: 101 Crossroads Blvd./Hwy.1, (831) 625-5436; www.riogrill.com.
Carole Terwilliger Meyers, author of “Weekend Adventures in San Francisco & Northern California” (www.carousel-press.com/weekend.html), and the Travels with Carole blog (www.travelswithcarole.blogspot.com).
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