Part 2: Pacific Grove to Carmel (1 Day)
So the following morning, we headed back the same way on 17th street to the Red House Cafe, this time marveling at the charming and colorful wooden Victorian houses which all date far back in time. Pacific Grove is super cute! Sylvia sure speaks the truth and breakfast was marvelously delicious. We had the buttermilk pancakes and cinnamon brioche french toast ($10 on average), so fresh and prepared with great finishing touches. As in America, coffee is served with an endless bottom and before you know it, your cup is already full. Sylvia’s tips didn’t stop with breakfast options and she recommended a stop in Carmel Valley and a few other tips for food and wine in Carmel. We don’t usually go back to the same restaurant twice but this turned out to be a great move!
17 Mile Drive
Despite it still being foggy, as most summer mornings in this area are, we ventured out for another famous scenic road, the 17 Mile Drive. This private road connects Pacific Grove and Carmel along the Pacific Ocean, passing through the famous Pebble Beach and the Del Monte Forest along the Monterey Peninsula. Still in Pacific Grove, we drove along Ocean View Boulevard which turns into Sunset Drive towards the entrance gate of 17 Mile Drive. This stretch of oceanfront scenery is prime real estate property with simple yet inspiring houses with breathtaking views. People here have an excellent quality of life and certainly have a great view for their morning coffee.
Though not much happens in Pacific Grove on a Saturday night, we were happy to stay here for a couple of reasons. The first one is that Santa Cruz was not our cup of tea and would have pretty much been stuck there without enjoying the quieter southern side of the bay. The second reason is that 17 Mile Drive is a lovely scenic road, worth seeing in daylight so stopping at Pacific Grove for the night is a good option where you can then start the next day with the 17 Mile Drive (mind you it might be foggy).
We entered the 17 Mile Drive via the Pacific Grove Gate paying the $10 per car toll to the Pebble Beach Corporation (as if they need it), which runs this place. The name is a bit tricky since quite a few roads are crisscrossing the wealthy gated community of Pebble Beach so staying on the 17 Mile Drive can be a bit tricky, look out for the signs. The first stop is Spanish Bay, a wide and rugged stretch of beach with good views to the adjacent Pebble Beach Golf Links and its surrounding enormous mansions. Spanish Bay is also home to a few shipwrecks who crashed along its waters many years ago.
There are quite a few places to stop along the road but everything is dwarfed by the mother of all stops, The Lone Cypress Tree, which is the icon of Pebble Beach. This Cypress tree has been perched on a seaside cliff for over 200 years and is by far the most visited place along this stretch of road. From here, we continued along the drive stopping at a few spots before heading out in Carmel Gate. You can appreciate the beauty of this road even on a cloudy day. It’s well worth the $10 toll.
Since it was still cloudy, we wanted to wait a little bit before entering Carmel and so, on a tip from Sylvia back from the Red House Cafe, we ventured out to Carmel Valley, a short 20-minute drive inland. The rule of thumb in this area is that the seaside is foggy and the valleys are sunny. Drive just a few minutes inland and the sky opens up to that famous California sunshine. The drive was lovely, with great views of the valley below, home to wineries, ranches and of course… golf courses. Carmel Valley itself is tiny and there a handful of dining and wine tasting options, however, on Sunday, most are either closed or open late. So after a short stroll in the sun and a drive through one of the side streets up to the hills for some fine views (and once again envious wooden cottages), we headed back to Carmel.
Carmel-by-the-Sea, simply known as Carmel is the residential jewel of this area. An extremely affluent community, the residents of this small town will do everything to preserve their way of life and have been known to pass peculiar municipal laws for this reason (no neon signs are allowed and no high heels over 2 inches are allowed without a special permit). Houses are not street numbered and each has its unique name! With a great beach, a historic Spanish Mission and a lovely nearby national park – Carmel owes its modern-day notoriety for its countless number of art galleries, an extreme abundance of fancy cars, great wealth, and one famous former mayor… Mr. Clint Eastwood.
Where To Stay In Carmel?
Carmel is the perfect place to base yourself in for one or two nights while exploring the area. We spent one night at Carmel Lodge which was a great improvement from the previous night’s stay. The lodge is one of the most affordable options in Carmel but that doesn’t mean you need to compromise comfort and cleanliness. Rooms are usually large and comfortable with a simple breakfast delivered to your room.
Exploring Carmel & The Area
Parking is easy in Carmel and free for the most part. We parked our car near the beach and walked the rest of the way. By noon, the sun managed to fight through the fog and starting our visit with Carmel Beach made a lot of sense. Carmel Beach was one of the highlights of our trip and definitely our favorite spot in Carmel (mind you, it was sunny).
This soft white sand beach is wide and long giving you plenty of opportunities to find your own spot. We were treated to quite a spectacle of dozens of dolphins swimming nearby, super close to the beach. You could see that the water was full of nutrients and the dolphins were having a field day. To join the party, packs of Cormorants were hunting Kamikaze style, diving headfirst into the water to catch the fish. You could stay here for hours gazing at this! We strolled along the beach finally settling down on one of the sand dunes, which are much warmer than the beach below, to enjoy the sand and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. We also enjoyed a nice stroll along the path just as you enter the beach, where you can catch a glimpse of the cypress trees and ocean-facing houses that will surely make you jealous.
We ventured out to town via Ocean Avenue, Carmel’s main street. Our first stop was the Cottage of Sweets for some lovely chocolates and an assortment of candy by the pound. The staff is very friendly and you’ll find anything here, even my favorite- Dutch licorice. One block up the road was Carmel Bakery, where we had lunch. This nonpretentious place has an excellent selection of baked goods and delicious sandwiches.
From there, we headed right on Dolores, soaking in the obscene amount of Ferraris, Porsches, Rolls Royces, and even McLarens. If you like fancy cars, you’ll like Carmel. We stopped at Cantinetta Luca, which was recommended to us by Sylvia back in Pacific Grove, to make dinner reservations.
Back on Dolores, this time to the other side of Ocean Avenue, we stopped in one of Carmel’s many passages, the Secret Garden. These are small well-kept alleys, each with its own flavor. The Secret Garden was quite cool and led to a Tibetan shop with lots of relaxing sounds and incense burning in the air- super tranquil!
In between these stops, we couldn’t miss the wonderful art that is on display (and of course, sold) in the dozens of fine art galleries that line Carmel’s streets. A particular one that we enjoyed was Renoir Art Galleries on 6th Avenue between Dolores and Lincoln. You’d imaging art galleries being quite a pretentious place, however, art advisor Jim Seregos welcomed us in and was a wonderful host with a wealth of knowledge about art and life itself. He showed us the different collections and introduced us to Mario Simic, whose fine work is on display. Mario, Serbian by origin, has been living and creating in the US since the ’70s. He’s famous for his magnificent artwork of iconic American landscapes and by staring at some of his paintings (ask Jim to show you the moonlight painting), you are whisked away on a great journey to nature’s finest spots. It was really interesting to have a conversation with Jim and Mario, and to get a sense of this line of business (not to mention the art is simply spectacular).
It was around 4 pm at this time and before checking in at our hotel, we had one more stop to make. We made the 15-minute drive to Point Lobos Natural Reserve. It’s $10 to get in by car or a donation if you walk in on foot. This park is home to numerous small tidal coves with the towering cliffs of Big Sur visible to the south. There are a few good (and short) hiking trails with the main highlight being Sea Lion Cove (though there are other good options, including scuba diving). Carved by the ocean, Sea Lion Cove is home to hundreds of seals and sea lions. When we were there, they were catching some last rays out on the rocks so we couldn’t see them (rangers do offer binocular view) but we sure could hear them. They were so loud, it sounded like a bad orchestra trying to play Mozart. Overall, it was a really nice visit, with our first taste of the rugged nature to come. If you’re lucky, you might spot some Gray Whales.
For dinner, we headed to Cantinetta Luca, a lovely Italian restaurant. We had the Napolitana pizza and gnocchi. The pizza was pretty good but the gnocchi was quite small. Wine is also quite expensive, with $12 per glass for a 6 oz. glass (it’s pretty big though). The nighttime also gave us a great opportunity to really appreciate the art as the streets were empty and the galleries light up their front windows.
- 17 Mile Drive has some excellent scenery but it’s harder to appreciate the beauty when it’s cloudy. Not much you can do about that….
- Being out west, we wanted to enjoy the sunset with some great Pacific Ocean view at the Highlands Inn but once again, the weather dictates everything as there is a rare chance you’ll see a sunset here as the clouds move in late in the afternoon.