Carmel River State Beach. Tribune News Service
In California’s Big Sur, land meets sea in the most amazing ways. Meanwhile just up the road in Carmel, nature meets art, cars, charm, golf and money. It’s hard to look away. And once you get there, hard to leave. At least that’s how it seemed a few weeks ago when my wife and I dropped in. Neither of us had seen Carmel for a while, and I’m guessing that’s true for many in Southern California, especially since last winter’s storms forced the indefinite closure of Highway 1 in Big Sur near Lucia.
But Highway 1 was always the slow way from Los Angeles to Carmel. The faster way hasn’t changed: Spend 5 1/2 hours racing up I-5 and US 101 and, boom, here you are in a remote civilisation of rocky coastline, immaculate cottages, Dutch doors, coddled dogs with unleashed beach access, a shoreline full of wind-bent cypresses and (is this the most outlandish thing?) up to two hours of free street parking. We arrived on a sunny fall day. The summer crowds had gone, but there were plenty of well-heeled visitors on hand, browsing the boutiques of Ocean Avenue.
In fact, as we walked, we gradually realized that thousands of Porsche drivers were converging for a convention, one of many luxury-car events the area hosts every year. At every parking lot and intersection, Boxsters, Cayennes and Spyders of every vintage and hue were multiplying like intricately engineered bunnies in spring. “Hey,” said one wiseacre, stepping into a gaggle of car people on the patio at the Mission Ranch. “Is this the Ford Fiesta group?”
Even for a pair of Angelenos who have seen plenty of outlandish landscapes and economic extremity, the beauty-and-wealth situation was striking. This makes choosing a restaurant or lodging tricky. But the quality is high. And you don’t have to be wealthy to enjoy a lot of Carmel. In fact, it might be easier to slip into eco-rapture over the waves and birds and sand and driftwood at Carmel River State Beach if you’re on foot or pedaling along on two wheels. And you’ll definitely need to leave most possessions at home in order to hike the 2.2 miles up to Inspiration Point in Palo Corona Regional Park.
You can check out the artists and their easels down on the beach at the foot of Ocean Avenue — or ignore the artists and enjoy the sand, surf and cypress trees twisting in the breeze. If you’re around on a Thursday between 10am and 2pm, you can grab berries or hummus or cheese or dumplings and hear a street musician at the two-block Carmel-by-the-Sea Farmers Market on 6th Avenue between Junipero and Mission streets.If you’re around any weekday, you can step into Harrison Memorial Library on Ocean Avenue, admire architect Bernard Maybeck’s 1928 Spanish Eclectic design, then pitch in on a puzzle. There’s always one in progress in the reading room, open to all comers, and on chilly days, the librarians light the fireplace. (But on weekends, the building is shut up tight.) Instead of spending $350 per night for a hotel room, which is easy to do, we booked a “glamping” tent at the recently revamped Carmel River Inn for $226 per night. When we saw the ragged state of the inn’s office, we were tempted to run away, but once we reached our tent — one of several introduced this year — we found it it had electricity, a king bed, a big screen, a half-kitchen and its own ample, solid-walled bathroom, all a few minutes’ drive from the heart of town. Thumbs up, especially if you get warm weather.
If we were going to sleep a little fancier, I might have headed into the village to book Le Petit Pali at 8th Avenue, which opened in June. Instead, I took time to tour its 24 elegant, low-key rooms and suites, which start at roughly $350 on fall weekends. (Its sibling, the 34-room Le Petit Pali at Ocean Avenue a few blocks away, is also pleasant, but the 8th Avenue lodging is on a quieter street with a bigger patio.)
Tribune News Service
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