I am currently in Carmel for work for a week and am having an amazing time so far. Sunday was a very long day. I left my house at 5:30 am (eastern time) and didn’t arrive in Carmel until 6:30 pm. My original plan was to drive down from SFO past Carmel and visit the Big Sur area. Because of flight delays and the insanely long wait to rent a car at the airport, I was behind by 3 hours and was exhausted so I decided to just check into the hotel and not keep driving.
I have been to SanFran/Carmel once before, but it’s been 20 years. As soon as I got in the car and made my way down Highway 1, I was instantly amazed. The scenery along the coast is just breathtaking. I went up to Pacifica and drove down, making a quick stop at Half Moon Bay to try the famous fish & chips at Barbara’s Fish Trap. I ordered the kids version – only $7.50 and it did not disappoint. Probably the best I’ve ever had. And there were 2 large pieces, enough to sustain me until dinner. I got it to go so I could get back on the road. I stopped a few times along the way down to Carmel to take pics of the coast. I passed through Santa Cruz, which looked like a cute little town. It took me about 3 hours to get to Carmel from SFO.
Just as I remembered from 20 years ago, Carmel is just charming. After a few minutes of being here, I already want to live here permanently! I checked into the Normandy Inn on Ocean Ave. The innkeeper was very friendly and helpful. The room I’m staying at is upstairs and faces the ocean (only a very small view though). I quickly dropped off my things so I could walk around Carmel. Unfortunately most of the shops were closed, but it was still nice to walk around. Let me say, walking around will definitely burn some calories. Every road seems to be an uphill walk (not complaining – I need the exercise!). I had already done some research on restaurants and decided to try out Mundaka, a little tapas place tucked into a outdoor courtyard/garden. The ambience was very charming. I ordered 3 tapas: fried garbanzo beans, the egg/pancetta ravioli with fava beans, and the bacon wrapped dates with goat cheese and almonds. All three were delicious, esp the dates. I also had a berry flavored cocktail and a glass of house red wine. Very good. By the time I left, I was exhausted and headed back to the hotel to sleep.
My training course started at 1 pm on Monday so I had a few hours to kill in the morning. I went down to the complimentary continental breakfast at the hotel (which is from 7:30 to 10:30). It was surprisingly very good. I had a boiled egg, toasted bagel, coffee and took a banana and apple for the road. I headed down to Point Lobos State Park (just a 5 or so minute drive away) and was there for about an hour and half. Wow. This park is amazing. I wish I had more time to explore, but I just hiked the Cypress Grove Trail and the China Cove Trail. Each walk was less than a mile and a pretty easy walk. As soon as I began, I felt all my tension leave me. Every sense was delighted – the sights were amazing, the smell of pine and ocean, the cool breeze, the sound of waves crashing and sea lions barking faintly – all of this was such a pleasant experience. It was just what I needed. I took about 200 pics and the pics are beautiful but they don’t do the scenery justice. On the Cypress Grove Trail you are constantly treated to views of the ocean with waves crashing against the cliffs. The cypress trees are also beautiful, esp the ones with the red algae. I drove down to the China Cove trail and again was delighted to find such amazing scenery. There were sea lions basking in the sun on a big rock below. They kept looking up at us and were quite cute. Around the corner I was taken aback by the beautiful green water in China Cove. Walking a bit further was bird island – another amazing sight with hundreds of birds perched on the big rocks out in the ocean. I left the park wanting more, but was limited on time. I drove about 5 minutes down the road to Highlands Resort (Hyatt) for lunch at the California Market. I arrived at 11 and found out they didn’t open until 11:30. I walked around a bit, checking out the Pacific Edge restaurant – wow – was that a beautiful place, with windows everywhere overlooking the ocean. At 11:30 I headed back to the Market and was treated to a table outside right against the rail. Amazing views. Again, I could smell the faint smell of pine, which was truly wonderful. I ordered the grilled halibut sandwich with side salad and it was really really good. It was $22, but it was worth it for the view.
After my training class I quickly headed down to Big Sur. I got a later start than I wanted (5:30 instead of the planned 5 pm). My original plan was to go down to Pfeiffer Burns State Park to see McWay Falls, then eat dinner at Nepenthe, then see the sunset at Pfeiffer Beach. Of course it took longer than expected to get down to Big Sur. Partially because I kept stopping to take pics of the coastal views, but also because I was driving pretty slow due to my fear of the curvy roads. I gotta tell you, many times I was kind of terrified of the zig-zaggy roads. I’m a pretty good driver and usually drive like a racecar driver, but these curves and high cliffs were scary. But of course it didn’t stop me. I stopped off at several locations for breathtaking views. Bixby Bridge was a highlight. By the time I got to Big Sur I started to worry because it was already 6:30 and I still had several things to see/do before it got dark. I decided to keep going since I was already there to quickly see McWay Falls. I kept going and going and going and never found the Park. It didn’t help that my phone had no service so I couldn’t tell where I was. I should have written down the mile post as a marker. I ended up turning around because of time (I still wanted to go to Nepenthe and Pfeiffer Beach and didn’t want to drive back to Carmel in the complete dark). I did find Nepenthe, which was a treat. I walked in at 7 pm and asked for a rail table. There was one seat left. After a few minutes though I decided I should really just get a burger to go and take it to the beach. I didn’t want to miss the sunset there. So, I went up to the bar and ordered a bloody mary while waiting for my burger. It took about 10 minutes. I really wish I had more time to hang out here. It was a really unique, charming place. Loved the history of it (been around since the 50s, and family owned). Loved the bohemian and relaxing atmosphere. Loved the natural décor. And of course I loved the amazing views. I asked the bartender for directions to Pfeiffer Beach (I tried to find it on my way down but didn’t see any signs). He gave me the exact mileage from Nepenthe – 1.9 miles. He said it was a steep road off of Highway 1 that said “No RVs/campers”. He was right. I saw that sign…I turned and sure enough saw another sign that said Pfeiffer Beach. Note that you can not see the Pfeiffer Beach sign from Highway 1. It was another 2 mile ride down to the parking lot and I was trying to beat the sunset. Fortunately I did. There was no one at the toll booth so I didn’t have to pay the $5 charge. There were about 10 other cars parked there. I took my burger and my beach towel and headed to the beach. I was rewarded with unbelievable natural beauty. There were a few people there as well, some playing ball on the beach, some relaxing on the sand. I took a seat and ate my burger while watching the sun set. This was like a dream. I’m from VA Beach and live a half mile from the beach, so I’m used to pretty ocean views, but this was like no other. Amazing. Breathtaking. Stunning. I took about 50 pics of the sunset and the rocks and the “arch” rock. I wish I didn’t have to leave, but I had a 30 min drive ahead of me so I headed out as soon as the sun set. The drive back to Carmel wasn’t as scary since I was not on the ocean side of the road. I made it back to the hotel in 30 minutes. Before turning in I went into the lobby and had a little Brandy by the fire (they leave it out until 10 pm). As I was walking to my room I saw an animal scooting by my door. I thought it was the Inn cat, but as I looked closer I realized it was a raccoon! Eeek!! I stopped in my tracks. He spotted me, jumped on a nearby tree, crawled up and on to the roof. Haha! I quickly entered my room and shut the door and got ready for bed. The only negative of the hotel was about to be revealed to me. As I was relaxing in bed I could hear voices coming from both rooms on either side of me. The walls are very thin. Let’s just say that in one room I could hear every detail of their “actions”. I had to block out the noise with the TV. Fortunately it only lasted about 15 minutes.
My training course in Monterey started at 8 am on Tuesday so I didn’t have time for the complimentary breakfast so I decided to stop by Petals & Pastries based on Yelp reviews. Unfortunately breakfast itself didn’t start till 9 so I had to settle for the Pumpkin donut (a fellow patron suggested when she heard I was disappointed breakfast wasn’t available yet). I also bought a caramel latte and headed out. Man, that donut was delicious. The latte was very, very good too!
When my class broke for lunch I decided to head over to Pacific Grove and see Lover’s Point. It was pretty, but there wasn’t much too it. Perhaps because I had seen Pt Lobos and Big Sur the day before I was jaded. But it was still a very pretty park. I saw the famous squirrels on the rocks and snapped some pics. A quick yelp search pointed me in the direction of a local Mexican joint – Mundos. I called in a to-go order of fish tacos and guacamole, which was ready in 10 min. I quickly ate the tacos in my car – DELISH!! Some of the best I’ve had. Homemade tortillas and a flavor explosion. I saved the guac and chips for later.
Now, I’m back in my training class. After class my plan is to stop by Mission Ranch for a cocktail, a quick drive along the 17-mile drive, a stop at Pebble Beach gift shop to buy my hubby a golf shirt and dinner/cocktails at Roy’s to take in the views and the infamous bagpiper at sunset. I can’t wait! Stay tuned….