I’m not sure why, but Carmel’s crescent, white-sand beach always seems more expansive than I remember. Standing at the west end of Ocean Avenue, which terminates on a rise overlooking the sparkling beach, I marvel at what lays before us.
To the right, the dramatic bluffs of the legendary Pebble Beach Golf Links; to the left, landscape shrouded in Monterey pines. The two are connected by a mile-long, beach of fine white sand that feels sublime underfoot. I see a long piece of kelp strung out on the beach, curled into a smile. It seems quite appropriate.
October is the Monterey Peninsula’s summer. The sky is a deep blue and cloudless, a gentle breeze flows from the west, and the temperature is a perfect 72 degrees. And since it’s midday Sunday, much of the weekend crush of visitors has departed.
It’s the convergence of all the good things in this idyllic seaside town of 3,900.
It occurs to me: When I’m not in Carmel, I tend to think of it as a hyperbolic California cliché, but when I am, it’s apparent that Carmel really is a singular place. Being there is both comfortably familiar and magically special.
“It’s a village in the forest by the sea with a white-sand beach,” says Carrie Theis, general manager of Hofsas House (https://www.hofsashouse.com/), a 38-room boutique inn founded by her grandmother, Donna Hofsas, in the late 1940s. “Staying in Carmel is special because once you are here, you can walk everywhere. There are no buildings more than two stories, and ordinances have allowed us to keep the charm.”
A walk down Ocean Street toward the beach confirms the innkeeper’s opinion.
We pass tightly packed sidewalk gardens showing off everything from brilliantly colored annuals to curious succulents; shop windows offering ceramic sea otters, T-shirts, paintings, haute couture, artwork with multiple zeros on the price tags and chunks of polished tourmaline; and real estate offices touting photos of multi-million-dollar properties for sale. At one office, there is a listing for a home with a view of the iconic Bixby Bridge (https://www.visitcalifornia.com/attraction/bixby-bridge) that spans the Big Sur coastline. List price: $16 million.
The eclectic architectural styles of Carmel are eye-catching, too. Bavarian, Tudor, thatched-roof cottages, 1970s rustic, Spanish mission and fairy-tale cottages – all exist in a harmony that could never be imagined by the typical HOA.
And just to add to the village feel, “there are no street numbers here,” Theis explains. Buildings in the one-square-mile town are located in relation to intersections, description and/or the name of the house.
Carmel’s side streets offer a dozen tasting rooms that sell wine made of grapes grown in vineyards throughout Monterey County. Sampling these is another good reason for seeing the town on foot, Theis says. No need for a designated driver and finding the tasting rooms can be a fun treasure hunt.
“The tasting rooms are hidden and most of the shops are small. We have a minimalist philosophy here (when it comes to signage). They must be small and be made of wood or look like wood, and only one per business. And no big box stores or franchise food.”
If you choose to make Hofsas House your headquarters during a visit to Carmel, you’ll likely be greeted by Doris, Carrie’s 87-year-old mother, who helps serve the continental breakfast. Rooms are uncommonly spacious, individually decorated and some have fireplaces and an ocean view. It’s less than a two-minute walk to Ocean Street.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.