Carmel, California

Genie Davis November 3, 2010 No Comments


No, the town is not where they make caramels. No, they don’t have camels there, either. These were some of the questions asked when we first hit this picturesque California seaside town, a few years back, my family sharing a trip with another family, small children looking forward to the famous 17 mile drive as if 17 miles was the longest excursion ever. We’ve been on many longer and equally scenic drives since, but Carmel is still a cherished excursion. There’s a lot of beautiful scenery and interesting shops and historical sites packed in a small area just as sweet as the town name sounds.  

Carmel California 17 Mile Drive

The iconic images on the 17 Mile Drive are a Carmel treat.

Our most recent trip, last spring, included a stay at the stately, bucolic Carmel Valley Ranch. This sprawling property encompasses over five hundred acres and offers some simply amazing views of the valley and hills surrounding it. At twilight, suffused in golden and pink sunset, it’s a very special place. There are beautiful wooded areas on the property, and we saw racoons and deer right outside our porch. The rooms are very large, and many of them have separate living areas; so there’s plenty of room to stretch out. The rooms are spread out in separate villas, so you have a feeling of being in your own apartment in the pretty woods. It’s about ten minutes from town, and with two nicely heated swimming pools, it’s easy to relax, enjoy the views, play some board games on the privacy of your porch, enjoy a swim, stroll the winding paths through wooded landscapes and never leave. The in-room fireplaces are a nice touch for evening relaxation, too. And star gazing is great, as the property is mostly devoid of the coastal fog that appears in town.  

We left of course, and took that seventeen mile drive, the same way as eight million drivers did before us. This drive is not free, there is a ten dollar per car admission to drive the well known coastal route from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach. Along the way you’ll view the famous Lone Cypress, an iconic California landmark standing somewhat lonely on the edge of a pretty cliff for about two hundred and fifty years. You’ll see Spanish Bay and the famous golf courses of Pebble Beach and Spanish Bay. Fanshell Overlook is a great spot for viewing harbor seals in the spring, and a lovely soft white sand cove at any time of year. Point Joe is a rocky pinnacle that led errant seafarers to their doom when they mistook the point for Monterey Bay.  

Speaking for a family that’s driven many beautiful roads, those seventeen miles are indeed lovely, and its also a lot of fun to see California images immortalized in photos and books live and “in person.”  

Carmel Mission in California

We enjoyed the serenity and history at Carmel Mission.

After the drive, we explored the small, charming Carmel Mission. The Basilica Church is a lovely example of Spanish architecture, and the high ceilings give the church an open, contemplative feel. The Harry Downie Museum, adjoins the church offering a cohesive story of the founding and restoration of what was the second mission built in California. The small Munras Family Heritage Museum contains artifacts belonging to a well known Monterey family. Best of all is the sunny courtyard.  

A little history led us to a lot of fish at the well known Monterey Bay Aquarium just down the road from Carmel. From the kelp forest to a stunning attraction of flamingos, the variety and number of exhibits can occupy children and adults for a full day.  There’s an incredible exploration area for small children called the Splash Zone with a large circular waterbed play area, a touch pool filled with sea creatures living in a kelp forest habitat. Older kids will love the kelp tunnel with its overhead kelp arches making you feel as if you were inside the kelp forest and underwater. Fish, crabs, snails are circulating all around you here, and it’s a compelling spot to just stand and watch. Best of all is a water play area where you can create your own waves and use simple, fun models to explore the shape, composition and creatures that live along the bay area. With exhibits like penguins and jelly fish laid out in impressively large displays, it’s easy to stay a long time at the aquarium. We were ready for lunch however, and found it in the adjoining, laid back community of Pacific Grove at Holly’s Lighthouse Cafe. From curly fries to blue berry pancakes, this homey diner-style spot is a great place to take a break away from the tourist bustle of Monterey.  

Next it was time to take in a little fresh sea air and the best place for that is beautiful Carmel Beach. The fine sand and pretty cove like setting makes this a lovely spot; the waves are gentle, too. For browsing beyond shell picking, check out Ocean Avenue. The jewelry and antique stores may not be child-centric, but the gardens, courtyards and fairy-tale-like curly roofs on the shops are lots of fun. The courtyards have passage ways and arches, and are enjoyable to stroll and explore.  

We really enjoyed a stop at the Cottage of Sweets, a well known and beloved shop featuring many old fashioned candies to browse and enjoy. There’s a good selection of unusual and multi- cultural toys at the Thinker Toy shop nearby, entertaining for kids of all ages.  

Our children also liked making some beautiful, seascape inspired plate and cup designs at Glazes Studio. Younger children will enjoy the delightful outdoor setting of the Forest Theater, which runs kid-friendly productions throughout the year.  

Back at Carmel Valley Ranch we experienced our own forest production, watching a family of deer grazing in the dewy grass as the moon rose over the valley below our porch. The Carmel experience remains very sweet indeed.

avatarAbout the Author:

Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling.

Tags: , Travel Excursions

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