By Joan Larsen
Wading in the Pacific Ocean – as the setting sun’s last rays lit up the skies before sunset – was magical. The last surfer was way out, paddling his board toward shore in a lazy fashion. Only the few of us on the beach saw the whale not that far behind the board’s end – seemingly uninterested in anything more than cruising along southward, following the coast edge. We stood in that shallow water, small waves lapping onto our legs, not believing our good fortune to have the setting so beautiful.
Like a magnet, Carmel-by-the-Sea is that favored piece of California that works its magic on its visitors year after year, drawing them back again and again. In perhaps what might be a record, for 34 years now the two of us have returned. Our feelings for this piece of paradise never seem to pale. We laugh when we return home, always saying that we feel “younger than springtime”. And – as our friends always seem to add that we look and act rejuvenated on our return – Carmel again has worked its magic.
The very best time to go? We hear that autumn is heavenly. If it is, then Spring has to be a close second. You will find us there, never tiring of its beauty and the new surprises around every corner.
Carmel is – well, the best word for it is “enchanting”. Yes, it is the home of Clint Eastwood and Doris Day among others. . . as who can resist this place? But what you will remember is walking down quaint little streets of storybook cottages that I have never seen matched. Anywhere.
It takes a while to notice that part of the pristine look of the byways with overhanging trees is that there are no numbers on the homes. No mailboxes. The local meeting-and-greeting takes place at the local post office when the mail is picked up. The pace is slow as there are slivers of inviting sidewalks in the middle of blocks that invite you to wander, providing a short cut to the next street – amidst masses of green foliage or benches that invite you to stop and stay a bit.
Many of the blocks of one-of-a-kind shops have doors propped open, enticing us in. “Browsing” the art galleries alone and at our own pace– without incessant sales pitches – seems to tell us that only top-rate talent resides here. Beautiful almost enclosed gardens with wrought iron benches seem “ours” to just watch the world go by.
Prepare to be relaxed.
When Doris Day settled here decades ago, she did not see the dogs she loved. So she changed all that. The well-known Cypress Inn is Doris’s and dog-friendly . . . and now there is a list of outdoor restaurants and lodging that welcomes your dog royally. (All the dogs I have seen in the village are seemingly better behaved than many people we see in our own towns. Just so you know.)
The Carmel area – to be very honest – brings out romance big time for those inclined. Yes, we have our favorite hotel “hideaway” – a low one with inner courtyards with fountains that are so hard to leave, views of the ocean of course, and included breakfast and an afternoon assortment of every fruit there is and every cheese. Carrying our largesse, it is then that we wend our way to our private balcony. Adding a bottle of wine (pretty wine glasses are already in your room) – and with cheese and fruit in abundance, we call it “afternoon delight”. Oh did I mention the large fireplace in our room that performs its magic in the late evenings?
Do you mind if I call staying in Carmel-by-the-Sea “the good life”?
And now, right next door: I call it “Pure Pebble” . . . but all of us have heard of Pebble Beach . . as upscale as it goes, and home of the premier golf tournament in February.
The gate house to the wonders of Pebble Beach lies just a stone’s throw from the beach we wandered that first night. When a place is a dream (and Pebble Beach certainly is!), you want to spend a great deal of time there. Picking up just baked French bread and such an assortment of spreads and cheeses to go with it and other things that seem appropriate for a picnic bench by the sea should not be forgotten.
Its famed 17-mile Drive cannot be matched on the U.S. coasts. The green of the many golf courses often have a scattering of deer that seem to stop and pose for us. We have to stop and stare. The pull-offs along the coastline invite walking on the beach, climbing rocks that had looked formidable to city folk before, and – OK , my favorite – tidepooling. When the tide is out – twice a day – the undersea world of tiny crabs, sea anemones, wonderful creatures that have lain hidden, are exposed. Walking from one exposed rock to another, you find tiny things – very much alive – who would not mind being picked up, preening themselves before walking on your hand. They only ask to be gently returned to their home after this adventure. For the two of us, those small things in life will never be forgotten.
Did I mention the homes around the golf courses or high in the hills? They are to kill for . . . and you will have treat after treat in store as you find yourselves far below the speed limit as you take them all in.
And just think: this is all yours for a glorious day by the ocean.
We are always asked how long we stay. I would say 4 to 5 days at a minimum. The whole Monterey Peninsula – of which Carmel-by-the-Sea and Pebble Beach are a part – is – to us – a precious getaway, a place to fully relax, take it easy, have no set plans. “Go with the flow” comes to mind. We come back yearly as we never seem to see it all. It “teases” us to want to come back. Its memories are the “forever ones”. It costs not a penny to sit on a rock out on the ocean and watch adorable sea otters doing nothing more on the waves but looking cute. I have found seals that seemed attracted to me, coming over like I was their mom. In fact, they seem to do it so often that I sometimes wonder if I was a seal myself in another life. They always seem to touch my heart when they come to say hello.
In all of my travels – and there have been many, I still would invite you to get that change of scene — as well as relaxation we all need in California’s Carmel and environs. You can’t miss . . . and I have a feeling you too will find yourself calling it “SIMPLY UNFORGETTABLE”.
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”