Recently named one of the top 10 cities in the United States by Conde Nast Traveler, Carmel, CA is a lovely, sleepy storybook town. For me, Carmel was the perfect destination for a romantic getaway to reconnect–mind, body, and soul–with myself and my boyfriend.
For the mind
1. Get a winocation on wheels. Did you know: Monterey County supplies Napa Valley with anywhere from 12% – 75% of its grapes each year? You’ll learn little nuggets of wine knowledge like this and get a chance to sample some of California’s best wines on The Wine Trolley Tour (http://www.toursmonterey.com/, 831 624-1700). Your first stop, Ventana (http://www.ventanawines.com/, 831 372-7415) brings you up to speed on wine tasting basics–such as how to hold your glass (by the stem, ladies and men!) and why legs don’t matter that much (at least your wine’s that is). From there, enjoy your ride to Carmel Valley in the old-fashioned, biodiesel trolley car with your guide Gary at the wheel–playing smooth tunes and sharing humorous narratives about your passing scenery. As soon as you reach Carmel Valley you’ll have the chance to eat, be it a box lunch or cheese platter ordered from the Trolley Tour, or finding a meal on your own–either way I advise taking the time to put something in your stomach besides (beautiful, delicious) fermented grapes. Now you can head off on your own to the numerous tasting rooms in walking distance with your trolley tasting tickets in hand. While it’s hard to go wrong when picking your stops, I HIGHLY recommend exchanging one of your tickets to taste the PARSONAGE Reserve Wines at the PARSONAGE tasting room (http://www.parsonagewine.com/, 831.659.7322). Truly some of the best wine I’ve ever had! No matter your tasting room picks, be sure to engage with your wine-tender and fellow tasters–everyone’s friendly and willing to share to their wine knowledge when asked.
2. Contemplate the curves, nooks, and crannies. It seems appropriate that a town named Carmel-by-the-sea can transport you into a fairytale. The unique architecture of many of Carmel’s homes and shops evoke thoughts of Brothers Grimm’s fairytales. Stroll through the town to take in its many curvaceous stone chimneys; imperfect, moss covered tile roofs; and handmade details that bring each whimsical cottage to life. While strolling through the main strip of town, don’t stick to just the streets. Around every corner of Carmel lies a new charming courtyard or secret passageway waiting to be explored.
3. Play where’s Dirty Harry. It’s like Where’s Waldo for adults. Here’s what you do: Go down to Mission Ranch (http://missionranchcarmel.com/, 831-625-9040) for dinner or cocktail hour (stick to just drinks if you’re dining on a budget) and see if you can spot the one and only Clint Eastwood. Owner of the ranch, and a former mayor of Carmel, Mr. Eastwood frequently visit the ranch to relax. Trust me, when you get into celebrity spotting mode, every older man starts to resemble the chiseled chin celeb.
For the body
4. Fuel up with classy caffeine. Decorated the way I dreamed my tea parties being as a little girl, Pastries & Petals (https://www.facebook.com/pastriesandpetals, 831-620-1400) is more than just pretty , it’s pretty delicious. Serving up fresh, homemade treats and honestly the best mocha I’ve ever had in my entire life (no exaggeration), Pasties & Petals is worth the walk as it’s slightly off the main streets of town. Service is friendly, and the food and drinks will keep you coming back each day of your stay in Carmel.
5. Stroll the rocky coast. Named “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world” by landscape artist Francis McComa, Point Lobos State Reserve (http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=571, 831-624-4909) is a just a short drive from Carmel. There are enough trails to hike and natural beauty to take in to make it a full day trip, so pack a picnic for lunch and park outside the reserve and walk in to avoid the $10 vehicle fee. Take your time, stop often to breathe in the fresh sea air, and be on the lookout for the obvious and not-so-obvious aquatic life around you. The sea lions are easy to spot (and hear) near Sea Lion Cove, but you’ve really got to keep your eyes open to find my favorite animal, the otter. Park employees and volunteers are set up throughout the reserve with telescopes and binoculars to help you catch a glimpse of these lovable characters, which often just look like logs floating in seaweed from a distance. While I only got to hike a portion of the reserve, I can definitely say that it’s a workout for the body and a reset for the mind.
6. Savor pizza at its finest. “Thin, crisp crust–slightly burnt on the bottom. Perfect proportions of cheese and spices. Tender tomatoes. A thin layer of flavorful oil,” my boyfriend exclaimed as he savored each bite of pizza with his eyes shut and his hand cupped in the air–expressing the deliciousness of the pie as a true Italian would. Do you really need to know more than that raving review to know you must try the pizza at La Bicyclette? Well, there really is one more thing you should know: their breakfast is amazing too! La Bicycletta is one Italian restaurant that really knows how to use its wood-fired oven right. (http://www.labicycletterestaurant.com/, 831.622.9899)
For the soul
7. Don’t eat, celebrate. Let me start off by being completely honest: I did not get to eat at the Dametra Cafe (http://dametracafe.com/, 831-622-7766)during my stay in Carmel. But that’s only because there was always a line out the door waiting to get in. Although I can not comment on the food, I can tell you that the atmosphere drew me in. Dametra’s is not a restaurant where you eat your dinner while constantly checking your phone for social updates. This is a place where you celebrate food. You celebrate life. You celebrate the company of everyone in the restaurant. You won’t need directions to where the Cafe is, as you’ll know when you walk by and hear festive music, clapping, and singing. Because of the restaurant’s popularity, I highly recommend make reservations.
8. Let go at sunset. Soft white sands under your feet and the yellow tint of sunset lighting around you. Scenes like this are what travel and life are truly about, if you ask me. They create honest moments, where people from all backgrounds can gather and connect, without saying a word to one another. The beauty of the moment connects you–to each other and the world. A white sand sunset at Carmel Beach (http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=567, 831-649-2836) is the perfect setting for you to let go of all your stresses and just be and breathe.
9. Indulge in the ingredients of the night. Bring one of your nights in Carmel to a close by making your way to Bistro Beaujolais (http://www.threecarmelrestaurants.com/carmel-restaurant-bistro-beaujolais.html, 831.624.5600) . Although set in the middle of an outdoor shopping complex, you’ll feel as if your transported to a secret garden in Paris. Soft string lights strung in lush greenery and a fire pit set the ambience while live, romantic music completes the mood. Order a meal (I recommend the ravioli), or just a local bottle of wine. It may be nothing extraordinary, but its a calm, relaxed, and romantic way to end the day. For me, it’s nights like these–filled with wine, music, and love–that I’m truly able to connect with myself (oh, any my boyfriend too 🙂 ).