Carmel, the French Riviera of Northern California (Without the French)
I consider it the French Riviera and what makes this one particularly nice is that there are no French! 🙂 With that said, you do hear a lot of French amongst many other languages as tourists flock here when traveling to this part of the West Coast.
Carmel is hands down my most favorite area of Northern California. Every time I come home for a visit, I have to make a trip to this coastal town which is also home to one of the world’s most famous golf courses, Pebble Beach. Whether you are an avid golf player with a lot of money (it costs more than a pretty penny to play here but the experience and people you meet may just be worth the bank withdrawal), or just love the ocean, Carmel is the place to go!
The drive from San Francisco to Carmel is about 2 hours unless you take Highway 1 (the scenic ocean route) in which case it may take you a bit longer. If you do decide to take the scenic route, you should make a pit stop in Santa Cruz, home to University of California-Santa Cruz, the boardwalk, the surfers and if you are really lucky, a nice great white shark sighting. However, should you decide to skip all that excitement and take the inland route, you will have the good fortune of passing by Gilroy (the garlic capital of the US) and Salinas, also known as John Steinbeck country. At the end of July is the garlic festival so if you are in the area at that time and just happen to love garlic flavored ice cream or just have a strong distaste for vampires, this is the place to be.
I recommend checking the weather prior to making the trip as Carmel can more often than not be cool in climate due to thick fog. With that said, when you do decide to make the trip, I would recommend staying overnight (in summer, there is usually a 2-night minimum). I would also like to point out that summer in Northern California is not June-August but September-October, which is really the best time to visit. However, I have experienced incredible days throughout the year so it really is a matter of luck.
Should you have a dog, bring your pal along! Carmel is one of the dog-friendliest cities in the US and there is a nice selection of hotels for both you and your furry friend to relax and put your feet (or paws) up. More than that, should your 4-legged friend be thirsty or in need of a tasty snack, the streets are lined with water bowls and cookie dishes to make even the most homesick pooch feel at home.
The town of Carmel is quite small and quaint. The main street is called Ocean Blvd and leads to…you guessed it! The ocean. However, prior to reaching the beach, you will find this street lined with boutiques, cafes, art galleries, jewelry stores, incredible restaurants and much more. This is not your typical beach “resort” type town. Sure, there is a Hansel and Gretel looking candy store that sells taffy but it isn’t a five and dime. In fact, you may pay a little more for these handmade treats but it is well worth it. For the most part, it is an upscale area. Don’t think for one moment that Clint Eastwood would have destroyed his reputation being a mayor of anything but something exclusive!
What I personally love about Carmel is that I feel like I have left the US entirely. With the Spanish style architecture dominating the town, the multiple languages being spoken, the outdoor cafes and restaurants and the beauty of the Pacific coastline, it is a little getaway not too far from the city of San Francisco.
One of the key items you MUST make time to do is the 17-mile Drive, one of the most famous scenic drives in the world. With that said, it is important to have a car as this drive will take you through one of the most exclusive residential areas in Northern California, the Del Monte Forest, along the incredible Pacific coast where you can see the “Lone Cypress” made famous by Ansel Adams, experience the sights and loud roars of sea lions and seals, visit Bird Rock where a number of different bird species hang out, as well as other wildlife and introduce you to a number of world-renowned golf courses including Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Spanish Bay. Oh, and don’t think that just because you paid a tee time fee to play golf that you won’t have to share your green. In these parts, you will likely be spending 18 holes with deer or Canadian geese amongst other local inhabitants. So aim carefully please! When entering the 17-mile drive, you will be given a map of the area and you can pick and choose what you want to see. I recommend all of it! It is a stunning drive and one you might want to do more than once. I recommend having lunch one day at the Lodge at Pebble Beach. Here, you can sit either inside or outside on the terrace and look over at the Pacific Ocean. It is absolutely glorious. I wish I was there right now!
If you are not an avid golf player or fan, don’t worry. I am not either. However it is important to keep the golf schedule in mind as it does spill over into the town of Carmel and may hinder some of the activities of which you may want to take advantage. So, check out the Pebble Beach Golf Tournament schedule (which is usually in early February) before booking. However, Pebble Beach also boasts other types of activities including its Concours D’Elegance, one of the famous antique car shows, which happens every year in mid August. This is always a fun event and just an experience watching all the fancy cars driving along Ocean Blvd.
I cannot say enough about this amazingly beautiful area. It is truly a gem and a place you cannot miss. And even if you don’t have a dog but enjoy their company, you can pet your way through your visit as everywhere you look, there is a fluffy friend hoping to get a bit of attention. I am just waiting for Carmel to have its own dog show. Take that Westminister!
Stay tuned for Marin County (Tiburon, Sausalito and Muir Woods). For the outdoorsy types, you will like this one!